Preface – Mapping Daniel: Before I go on a trip, I like to study the maps for orientation. Our orientation to Daniel tells us he was a Jewish statesman who occupied roles of power in the Babylonian and Persian Empires for over seventy years (605 BC – 536 BC). His life and writings demonstrate God’s total jurisdiction over earth’s secular history and future, even when it appears the divine plan and people have failed. The whole book is summed up in two words in Daniel 4:26: “Heaven rules.” The form and features of Daniel, which serve as a backdrop to the book of Revelation, are full of encouragement for believers seeking to live godly lives in a secular society. The book falls into three sections: Chapter 1 is introductory; Chapters 2-6 tell five stories, all ending with the sovereignty of God over rulers and over history; and Chapters 7-12 give four apocalyptic visions revealing the immediate and ultimate course of history.
Introduction: One of the most popular TV shows right now is a science fiction program called “Under the Dome,” based on a novel by Stephen King, in which a small town in Maine is suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by some kind of invisible dome or barrier. Inside that dome, everything begins to break down, and it taps into people’s fears about what’s happening under the larger dome of our sky, in other words, on our earth. I watched a couple of episodes of “Under the Dome” but I stopped watching because of the offensive caricature of the one person who was portrayed as Christian and who was caught under the dome. His character is a drug-dealing, murderous, egomaniacal idiot. And it reminds me of something William Lane Craig wrote in his excellent book, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision”—“Secularists are bent on eliminating religion from the public square. The so-called New Atheists, represented by people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, are even more aggressive. They want to exterminate religious belief entirely. American society has already become post-Christian. Belief in a sort of generic God is still the norm, but belief in Jesus Christ is now politically incorrect. How many films coming out of Hollywood portray Christians in a positive way? How many times do we instead find Christians portrayed as shallow, bigoted, villainous hypocrites?”
Well, in times like these we can take tremendous encouragement from the life of the young man Daniel. He and his three friends found themselves virtually alone. Daniel and his four friends were godly men in a pagan world, and they were constantly libeled. Yet they were more than conquerors because the “Heaven rules,” and the Most High is sovereign over all the empires of earth. So let’s begin at the beginning, with Daniel 1:
Vs. 1: In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. Verse 1 is undisputed history, referring to King Nebuchadnezzar II. This famous king occupied the throne of Babylon for forty-three years and he was known for conquering a land and deporting its intellectuals and artisans. You can go to the leading libraries and museums of earth and find archaeological artifacts and discoveries related to Nebuchadnezzar. At Berlin’s Pergamum Museum, you can see the Ishtar Gate, one of the gates into the inner city of Babylon, built by Nebuchadnezzar II. At London’s British Museum you can see several artifacts relating to Nebuchadnezzar, including bricks from antiquity bearing his name and a clay cylinder describing his palaces. In the Louvre in Paris are tablets of laws dating to the time of Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonian Empire didn’t last very long, but Nebuchadnezzar made the most of it. He was zenith in history. So Daniel’s story begins with the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C.
Verse 2: And the Lord delivered Johoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. Go back and look at verses 1 and 2, because these two verses give us the theme of the book of Daniel. Verse 1 gives us the raw facts of secular history, and verse 2 shows us that behind the raw facts of secular history is the hidden hand of the sovereign God. Verse 1 tells us what every history book in the world might say, but verse 2 tells us what only the Bible can explain. Verse 1 says that Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and besieged it; verse 2 says that God allowed it to happen and delivered Judah into his hand.
Verses 3-7: Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and nobility—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. 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. Among those who were chosen were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: To Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshack; and to Azariah, Abednego. This was Nebuchadnezzar’s policy. He wanted a unified kingdom and so he took the finest minds and men from the various nations and Babyloniazed them. And notice that he did so in body, mind, and soul. One commentator called this brainwashing.
- First in body—he put them on a diet of Babylonian foods.
- Second in mind—he enrolled them in the language and literature of Babylon.
- Third, he messed with their souls and spirits by giving them new names, names that corresponded to his gods. Their old names, in keeping with Hebrew traditions, incorporated the name of the God of the Bible. For example, Daniel meant, “God is my Judge.” The suffix, El, was a Hebrew word meaning God. But his new name incorporated the prefix Bel, which was the name of the Babylonian god.
This morning I talked about the pressures young people face when they arrive at college, they check into the dorm, and they are immediately subjected to pressures on campus and in the classroom that can damage their spiritual life. There’s nothing new about that. That’s exactly what happened with Daniel and his three friends. But now we come to verse 8, and one of the vivid and descriptive sentences in the Bible regarding person convictions and commitments:
Verse 8: But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief priest for permission not to defile himself in this way. This is where Daniel chose to draw the line. To be honest, I don’t know why this was the deciding issue for him. He was none to happy about his name change, because he kept calling himself Daniel throughout the rest of the book. He couldn’t do anything about being enrolled in pagan classes, though he didn’t have to believe everything being taught him. But there was something about the king’s food and wine that violated his conscience. Perhaps it had to do with eating kosher foods. Scholars and commentators are unsure of the exact way in which Daniel felt the royal diet would violate his principles; but whatever it was Daniel made up his mind not to be defiled.
This is the key. We have to draw the boundaries in advance. We must make a solemn advance decision before God to refuse to cross the boundary lines of sinful behavior. What comes to mind immediately is dating. I know a guy who wanted to date a particular girl and they did go out on a date. But when he asked her the second time, she very politely but firmly said, “No, I like you but my primary focus right now is becoming as mature and strong as I need to be spiritually, and I’m not ready to date anyone in a serious way.” She knew her mind.
Another couple did start dating, but they make a covenant at the very beginning of their relationship that they would not become physical with each other unless and until they were married. When it comes to our use of the Internet, to the materials we read and watch and view—we have to make up our minds in advance.
Verse 9: Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel. As soon as you make up your mind not to be defiled, you’ll find you have an ally in your battle—the Lord will help you. He’ll even cause others to act toward you in a certain way. So Daniel and the royal official devise a test, and Daniel and his friends become vegetarians. At the end of ten days they looked healthier than any of the young man who ate the royal food. The passage goes on to say that God gave these young men special gifts and talents to use for his glory. The king of Babylon thought he was training these young men as leaders in his kingdom, but the King of Kings was preparing these young men to infiltrate the Babylonian Empire and serve a higher and holier purpose. The Lord wants to do the same with us.
Verse 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. A godly life and a biblical lifestyle is the healthiest way of living on earth.
Verse 21: So Daniel remained there until the first year of Cyrus. That would be 536 BC. So the chapter opens in 605 BC and it ends in 536 BC. That gives us the general duration of Daniel’s divine service, and it covers a period of about 70 years.
Conclusions: Let me end by summarizing some principles:
- God is in charge of the times and the seasons, and the Most High rules in the affairs of men. That’s true in a macro-way with the nations; and it’s true in a micro-way in our own individual lives.
- We’re sometimes encircled by a pagan culture that tries to brainwash us but God wants to wash our brains and equip us for his service.
- We have to resolve in our hearts and minds not to defile ourselves or to violate our consciences, and as we make that resolution we have the Lord’s help.
- God intends to use us in mighty ways to infiltrate this world system and advance His kingdom, if we’ll “dare to be a Daniel.”