Daniel : Living in Babylon

How to Survive and Thrive Amidst the Babylons of Life

Date: June 12, 2011
Scripture: Daniel 1:1-21
from the series Daniel

Introduction

1 - In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.
2 - And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These [Nebuchadnezzar] carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
3 - Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility...
4 - ...young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.
5 - The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
6 - Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
7 - The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
8 - But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.
9 - Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,
10 - but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”
11 - Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah,
12 - “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.
13 - Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”
14 - So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
15 - At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.
16 - So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
17 - To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
18 - At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar.
19 - The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service.
20 - In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
21 - And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus .
Have you ever found yourself in the midst of an UNEXPECTED time of crisis—one of those times when a nightmare hits and you never saw it coming? For example, there might have been a time when you got an unexpected DIAGNOSIS from your doctor...or a time when you had to deal with the unexpected DEATH of a loved one. Perhaps you remember a horrible day when you were the recipient of an unexpected ACCUSATION. Someone claimed you did something wrong—and you knew were innocent. Maybe you know someone who was forced to deal with an unexpected DIVORCE. They were shocked when their spouse said she was having an affair. Maybe you were forced to deal with an unexpected FINANCIAL LOSS...or your spouse was gone overseas in an unexpected . With the forth anniversary of 9-11 Mumbai still fresh in our minds, we remember that shocking morning when so much happened that we did not expect—things that changed the world as we know it.

Sermon

I bring all this up because today we are beginning a study of a truly REMARKABLE young man who was forced to deal with an unexpected crisis very EARLY in his life. I’m referring to the prophet Daniel—who was taken from his homeland into captivity in Babylon when he was only 13 or 14 years old. And when I say REMARKABLE I mean it because Daniel was an amazing guy. He was literally the best that Judah had to offer—he was the cream of the crop.
The words of verses 3 and 4 of our text paint a very thorough picture of just how remarkable Daniel was. First, these verses say he was from a family of high social status—part of the royal family itself. He was also physically flawless—no doubt a consequence of the fact that his family was wealthy—so Daniel would have had good clothes and the best food—a nice home. I don’t know about you but when I read about him I picture a young Amir or Sharukh, better because Daniel was not only good looking—he was intelligent—bright—quick to understand. Here’s another thing. The Bible says he was “qualified to serve in the king’s palace...” which meant he also had a high level of what we would call “emotional intelligence” — or “people smarts.” In other words—Daniel knew how to read people—how to communicate with people—people of all temperaments. Let me put it this way. He had that rare kind of gracious “give and take” personality that made him very good at dealing with fallen human beings like you and me. But, best of all—Daniel was a Godly young man—absolutely devoted to our Lord and His chosen people. Add all these characteristics together and it’s easy to conclude that Daniel was unique. He was a very special person. Gene Getz puts it this way, “Daniel is one of the few principal characters of the Old Testament concerning whom there is not one word of criticism.”
Now—like all young men his age, Daniel would have had dreams of how he thought his life would turn out — and — coming from nobility as he did —well, he would have assumed that his dreams were almost certain to come true. Daniel would get a great education under the best Hebrew teachers of his day... and then go on to glittering success in whatever field he chose. He’d meet the right girl, build a great marriage, live in an enviable home, raise a wonderful family, and occupy a prominent place in the temple. In short, Daniel would be an overachiever. He would do great things for God and God’s people. He would be a leader in his homeland... someone who was looked up to and admired.
But—life did not turn out the way Daniel planned, did it? No —the UNEXPECTED came — and you can almost feel the heartbreak that came with it in verses 1 and 2 where it says, “Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and besieged it.”
Now, to put this in the proper context, let me take you through a lightening review of Hebrew history up until this point —and I do mean LIGHTENING —so hold on to your seats. The Hebrew people became a nation while in slavery in Egypt. They were delivered under Moses. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years and then finally entered the promised land. After a period of time they reached their peak as a nation under kings David and Solomon. Solomon built the glorious temple —and then in the kingly administrations that followed there was a long, slow decline fueled by a cycle of rebellion then repentance then rebellion and so on. Soon there was more rebellion than repentance and eventually, the kingdom was divided into a northern kingdom, Israel, which was destroyed... such that all that remained was the Southern kingdom called Judah. Then when Daniel was a young man, Nebuchadnezzar came and with very little effort destroyed all that was left of the nation that was to have been God’s representatives on this world... His holy people—and if you’re thinking, “Why did God let this happen?” I’d remind you that the Hebrews brought it on themselves. They ignored the warnings given by God’s prophets and used their God-given freedom to sin. I like what Warren Wiersbe says about this. He writes, “God would rather have His people living in shameful captivity in a pagan land than living like pagans in the Holy Land and disgracing His name.”
Well, because of this, everything changed for Daniel. His dreams remained just that—dreams—dreams that quickly faded away like the morning mist. Contrary to his hopes—Daniel would come to adulthood and spend his life in a foreign land. Instead of being served, he would give his best service to an alien, pagan king. But, understand, he lost much more than his dreams! He lost his culture. He lost most of the relationships he had cherished. He probably lost his parents and siblings. He lost his native tongue and would have to learn to speak a foreign language. In short, he would live and die in a place that he never wanted to be. He would never go home again. Daniel and his three friends would even lose their NAMES—and in his day your NAME was very significant. We see this in the fact that each of their OLD names—their Hebrew names—had a reference to God in it. The little syllable “el” — Dani-el and Misha-el, came from El-ohim and the syllable “yah” in Hanania-ah and Azaria-ah—it came from Yah-weh. So their names reminded them that they belonged to God—that they were His.
Daniel’s name literally meant, “the Lord will judge” so through his whole life, every time Daniel had heard his name spoken, it was a reminder—a promise—that, “The Lord will judge. He will set things right. The Lord will see that justice is done.” But now, He’s not Daniel anymore. Now he was given the name “Belteshazzar” which referred to a pagan Babylonian god and meant, “Bel protect his life.” Can you imagine how that felt to this Godly young man—to hear a pagan prayer every time his name was called—a prayer that made it look like God wasn’t calling the shots anymore? And—the same was true for the re-naming of other three. The name of the true and living God was replaced by the names of the false gods of Babylon. These new names that Nebuchadnezzar gave them was his way of saying, “You have a new king now and a new religion. Give yourself to me. Allow Babylon to define your identity.”
Daniel’s dream for his EDUCATION changed as well because Nebucadnezzar said he and his fellow captives were to be educated in a “Babylonian school.” Now the Babylonians were great builders, calculators, and military strategists, but their religion was steeped in superstition and myth... and Daniel along with his three friends were forced to study all this nonsense—they were forced to receive an education that was bathed in a pagan world view. I’m reminded of the way our Christian children often have to study material in secular schools that contradicts what we believe as Christ-followers.
Well, the question I want us to deal with this morning is this: “What do you and I do when WE end up in ‘Babylon?’” This is an important question for us to answer because we all will. I mean, if you’re young and life has been fair to you thus far, trust me—unfairness is coming. There will be “Babylon” times when life does not turn out the way you want or expect. Remember—this is a fallen world—a world where one thing we CAN expect is that the unexpected—the unfair—the unwanted will happen. In some way or another your dreams will fade or be replaced by nightmares. So, you need to decide—what will you do when this happens? What do you do when you find yourself like Daniel, in “Babylon?”
You know, there’s a whole field in the social sciences that involves the study of people who experience suffering, major crises, or trauma.  Well, Daniel was definitely one of them. With God’s help he not only survived in Babylon—he thrived there.  This morning I want us to look at them. Here’s the first characteristic we see in the way this remarkable young man responded to a huge unexpected crisis.

(1) He RESOLVED—to honor his God-given convictions.

Daniel refused to live as a passive victim of circumstances beyond his control. He refused to get TANGLED UP in stuff that would cause him to betray his deepest beliefs. In short, Daniel RESOLVED to honor God. Look back at verse 8 and I want you to note that this is a very important verse. In fact, in many ways it is the HINGE POINT of this entire book of Daniel. Everything turns here. You see, up until this point the Babylonians seem to have DETERMINED everything. They’ve been in the driver’s seat. For example: Nebuchadnezzaer DETERMINED to conquer Israel. He DETERMINED to cart off it’s most sacred objects and its best citizens—people like Daniel. He DETERMINED their new names, their new identities. He DETERMINED to enroll Daniel and his peers in that Babylonian version of Harvard or IISC. He picked their major. He selected the classes they would take and the books they would read. He even selected their college meal plan. They would be fed RICH FOOD and WINE that came straight from the king’s table.
Well, the easiest thing in the world would have been for Daniel to think he was just a passive victim in all this—a victim of forces way too big for him. But he didn’t do that. And so, as verse 8 says, at this point the INITIATIVE in the story shifts. We see this in the way one Hebrew word is used. It’s the word for “RESOLVED” or “DETERMINED.” As I said, the first two times it’s used to refer to the Babylonians. They are DETERMINING this and that. But in verse 8 it’s DANIEL the captive—Daniel the prisoner—Daniel makes a decision—and at this point the verb is strengthened. It’s as if it is underlined as it says, “Daniel RESOLVED in his heart to honor God.” I’m reminded of Popeye who would endure Brutus’ attacks and criticisms but eventually he would draw a line in the sand and say, “That’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more!”
Well, that what Daniel did. He DECIDED—he RESOLVED that enough was enough. He would not defile himself by participating in the meal plan that had been selected for him. So, he went to the dean of the school and said he didn’t want the Adkins diet of all that meat nor did he want a college keg party with all the alcohol he could drink at every meal. And please note—he made this decision BEFORE the food was put on the table—before he would be tempted by the smells of that feast which should remind us that we must do our own resolving... we must commit to follow our own convictions BEFORE temptation sets in. By then, it’s usually too late.
Well, the REASON Daniel did this—the reason he refused this MENU is not because he was a vegetarian. He ate meat like any good Hebrew. No—it was because he knew that the meat from the KING’S table would have first been offered to a pagan god and so sharing in that food would be the same as honoring that false god. Plus, he knew that Nebuchanezzar believed that by first offering his food and drink to these gods, he would receive special blessings. And Daniel did not want the king or anyone to conclude that he and his friends had prospered physically intellectually, and spiritually... because the food they ate and the wine they drank had been offered to pagan gods. In short, he did not want these pagan deities to be honored in anyway whatsoever. And it appears as if these four men were the only ones of these “choice Hebrews” who drew this line in the sand. The rest gave in and pigged out—no Jewish food pun intended.
In any case, I want you to understand that it took a great deal of COURAGE for Daniel to stand up like this. I mean Nebuchadneazzar was not the kind of leader who cut people a lot of slack. Here’s an example from his life to show you what I mean. In 2Kings 25 a puppet king named Zedekiah rebelled against him. Nebuchadnezzar captured Zedekiah and his family and had his sons killed right before Zedekiah’s eyes. Then he had Zedekiah’s eyes put out so that the last thing he saw was his sons being killed. I mean, the dean of the school, Ashpenaz, wasn’t kidding when he said that Nebuchadnezzar would have his head if this turned out poorly. That’s who Daniel is dealing with here. But that doesn’t bother Daniel. He remembered his REAL name and the message it contained. He believed in his heart that GOD is the only true judge and he resolves to honor God no matter what. Resilient people—people who survive and thrive in the Babylons of life—are like this. They cling to their Christian convictions. They don’t use circumstances that are beyond their control as an excuse to give in to temptation. They build their lives on God’s loving laws and refuse to get TANGLED UP in sin.
And note Daniel’s “people smarts” in the way he went about this. He said, “Let’s just try this for ten days, sir, and then you be the judge.” He exercises amazing initiative, courage, and tact—not to mention faith that God would work and God did—miraculously—because no health food diet will make that kind of difference in 10 days. I can tell you by experience that DIETS take MUCH LONGER than that to work. If they always worked that fast, we’d all be skinny!
But God worked—and the guard was so impressed with what happened to Daniel and his friends that he took everybody’s steak and wine away and put the whole school on the health food diet.
By the way the word for vegetables here in VERSE 12 is “ZEROA” and, as Beth Moore points out, it literally meant “everything that grows from sown seed...” so it would have been not just veggies—but fruits, grains, and bread that was made from whole grain—so they ate well.
Okay—let me stop at this point and ask—is there anywhere in your life where you are getting TANGLED UP in sin—ENSNARED by the world’s ways? Has your “Babylon” pulled you in to some activity that you know God does not approve of?

And isn’t that true?! There is the husband who never intended to lose his family but he decided it was okay to flirt around the boundaries of adultery... and now he pulls himself from the wreckage of a smoking marriage. He got tangled up in a Babylon. There is the business person who decides that cutting an ethical corner here and there will make a ride to the top quicker. Now she’s a collision waiting to happen. Perhaps some of you have hooked your suspenders to the wrong thing and you’re feeling the pain right now. You tried to ease the pain of your Babylon with some sinful pleasure—and now you are feeling the hurt that always comes our way when we live contrary to God’s will.
I mean, so many people never intend to sin—but because they don’t resolve as Daniel did to stick with their convictions as a child of God—they allow themselves to get pulled in. Listen, friends, the world is tying to tempt us to settle for less than God’s best—why not resolve to say NO?! Why not plant your feet firmly and say, “NO—I’m going to be God’s person.” You’ll never SURVIVE in Babylon—much less THRIVE until you do.

(2) Here’s the second thing Daniel did. He committed to live in COMMUNITY with like-minded people.

He knew that as a stranger living in a strange land he needed all the support he could get so he formed one of the first believer small groups with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They would go to school together. They would study and pray together and face decisions together. Listen, you can’t handle the Babylons of life on your own. You will never survive and thrive outside of community. As Christians we need each other. Let me ask—are you in touch with a group of Christians? You need to be! You need the encouragement of others. You need them to hold you accountable. You need their prayers on your behalf. You need their strength to lighten your burdens and their smiles to magnify your joys.
As many of you know, my mom has had a hard time recently—she’s been in a Babylon of sorts.
Three of the last four weeks she was hospitalized. She had to undergo thin line crack in her hand  and is finally on the road to recovery. None of her children live any closer than two hours—so we are very thankful for her neighbor family. They have been an amazing community for my mom. When she was first stricken ill, they came and sat up with her all night. They set up a hospital bed for her to use at home as long as she needs it. They arranged for her meals; they take her to her doctor appointments. One of the church members has even moved in with her and promises to stay as long as she needs her to. I mean—they are truly friends that stick closer than a brother. I hate to think what would have happened to mom in her most recent Babylon without that precious community of believers. And if you don’t have a community like that—if you’re not an ACTIVE member of a local church then you need to find one. You need other Christians to survive the Babylons of life. As someone once put it, there are two things you can’t do alone: be married... and be a growing Christian. You need community. Join us here at Potter's Home. We would LOVE to have you!

(3) There’s one other quality that Daniel had. He BELIEVED that because God is sovereign, his life—including his suffering—had meaning and purpose.

You know researchers say that the main factor that causes people to give up in hard times is NOT the intensity of their suffering—but rather their belief that their suffering has no meaning. I mean, it’s not the pain they go through that makes them give up. It’s the meaninglessness of it. People who study this kind of thing find that suicide notes rarely speak about failing health, rejection, finances, or even physical pain. No—they say things like, “There is no point in going on. There is no reason for me to keep living.” Well, Daniel was different—he trusted in God’s complete sovereignty. He knew that God always works for our good and His glory—even amidst the “Babylon’s” of life. He knew there was purpose in his pain. And he was right. Our text shows how much God was already at work. Listen as I show you all the ways God was busy fulfilling His purposes—even in Daniel’s captivity: Verse 2 says that “GOD delivered Jehoiakim” into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands. Verse 9 says that “GOD caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel.” As I said a moment ago the good physical report we read of in verse 15 was the result of God’s miraculous intervention. He made the 10 day test succeed. Verse 17 says that “GOD gave these four young men knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. GOD gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams.” So, Daniel believed in God’s power and providence from the very beginning. He was convinced that even the defeat of Judah and the loss of the temple that looked so tragic...was not just a random meaningless event. God was not asleep. No—God was up to something in Babylon even in that place of great suffering. He knew that this time of suffering was the only thing that would turn some of His chosen people back to Him. Plus, as it turned out, hindsight shows that God loved the people of Babylon. He even loved Nebuchadneazzar and was reaching out to them in all of this. Listen—to survive and thrive in the Babylons of life you have to know that God loves you—and that He is all-powerful and always at work. You’ve got to know that He’s got it all in control. You’ve got to trust God’s heart. You’ve got to believe He knows what He is doing and that there is purpose in your pain. Daniel and his three friends knew all this—and because they did, instead of being transformed they became transformers themselves. They JOINED God in His work and He used them to bring great glory to His name even in a pagan land. As we’ll see in our study, their spiritual and political influence was enormous. So, the question we must ask ourselves in our own Babylons is not, “HOW can I get out of this?” but rather, “WHAT can I get out of this? How can God use me—even in this?”
You know, Daniel outlived Nebuchanezzar, his successors, and even the Babylonian empire. He lived until the days of Cyrus, ruler of the Medes and Persians—and the thing that kept him going all those decades is that he knew that His God was more supreme than any king.

Invitation

As we come to our time of decision—I want us to do our best to emulate Daniel in his boldness. I’d like to ask you a couple questions—and challenge you to respond publically by raising your hand. First, are you willing to boldly—publically—say this morning that you are committed to living by YOUR God-given convictions? Will you pledge to go against the flow if necessary?
Will you say today that when the world tells you to do one thing and God tells you to do the opposite, that you will obey God? Will you do this? If so, raise your hand. BE A DANIEL!
Thank you. Here’s my second question. If you aren’t involved in Christian community—you don’t have a church home—you don’t have believers like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to help you keep this first commitment... if you don’t have a group of believers with whom you are committed... will you pledge today to find one... join this local church... get in a Sunday School class or other Christian small group... if you’ll make that pledge will you raise your hand? BE A DANIEL! Thank you.... last question! Will you raise your hand this morning as a way of saying, I am going to trust God. No matter what comes—no matter how hard life gets—I am going to trust God. I’m going to look for Him at work even in the hardships that come my way and do all I can to join Him in that work. If you make that commitment, will you raise your hand and be a DANIEL? Thank you. Now let’s stand and sing—and if God leads you to come forward and share these or other decisions with me then come!
BENEDICTION:
Let the PEACE OF CHRIST rule in your hearts
since as members of one body you were called to peace. Let the WORD OF CHRIST dwell in you richly
and whatever you do... in word or in deed
Do it all in the NAME OF CHRIST giving thanks to God the Father through Him
--
The Rev. Lenin Kumar
The Potter's Home International Church
The Christian Living

Theology   Character   Fire

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