Exceling in Babylon
How can we as Christians live boldly for Christ in a culture that doesn't support or take kindly to our belief system? Daniel 1 shows us that we have all the resources we need in order to excel while living in exile.
Sermon starts at approx. the 36 min mark.
In the last few weeks Gallup has put out its “Houses of Worship” poll. This poll has been conducted for the last 80 years. But this year the poll revealed something that might be termed historic. It was a monumental shift in American life. The poll surveys religious life of American people and it found that (for the first time in our nation’s history) less than half of the population of our country identifies as a member of a religious house of worship. The World and Everything In It podcast reported that only 47% of American households claim formal affiliation with a church, synagogue, or mosque.
Now, while that might be historic, that’s probably not all that surprising to any of us here. We’ve been seeing the cultural shift for some time. We’ve been rolling down the hill of secular-humanism for quite some time. If anything, some of you might be surprised that that this is the first time this has happened.
But more and more we are living in a culture that is at odds with our faith. The disparity between the world around us and the life we aim to live is becoming more and more stark. That is why I believe the book of Daniel has so much appeal. Daniel is a book of hope. It is a book of courage. It is a book that encourages us to live boldly for Christ. And it is all because Daniel is a man who lived in a situation much like ours.
As we see from our text today, Daniel was dropped into a world that was radically different. The foods were different, the language was different, the laws were different, the religious practices were different. Everything about Babylon was different. And you might say that it was not just different, it was inhospitable to his way of life.
Daniel, along with the many other Jews of his day, was in exile. And now the challenge before them was to live for Lord in this context that was less than welcoming to their faith.
I think you can see we have a lot in common with Daniel. And as we come to this first chapter this morning, I think you can see that this book should have some appeal. But I hope you also see that this first chapter helps those of us who are exiles to excel. That’s the purpose of this chapter. It is written to provide exiles with the encouragement they need to keep on keeping on in the faith.
We might not be in Jewish people in ancient Babylon, but we are Christians who are living outside of Eden. Ever since the fall we have not been in our rightful culture. And the culture of America is becoming such that we are more and more living like aliens in this world. And this book and specifically this chapter can help us to excel because it reminds us of what we have. It reminds us that we already possess everything we need in order to live boldly for Jesus Christ.
Despite the paganism around us, we as Christians can excel in exile because we have first and foremost, a sovereign God.
I. You have a sovereign God
This is probably going to be repeated ad nauseum throughout the book of Daniel. Just as you heard about the faithfulness of God and the promises of God in Joshua, you can guarantee that we are going to be talking about the sovereignty of God over the nations again and again. That’s what this book is all about. And that is the very first note that is declared in this book.
In the first two verses we read about how Nebuchadnezzar came against Jehoiakim in Jerusalem. But it reads differently than you may expect. You’d expect that it would say, “Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and took the city.” Or “Nebuchadnezzar defeated Jehoiakim.” But it doesn’t say that. It says that God gave Jehoiakim into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. It was not Nebuchadnezzar that was so strong or that Jehoiakim was so weak. It was all the Lord’s doing. Jehoiakim could have had lasers and B-1 Bombers at his disposal. Jehoiakim could have been much more technologically advanced than Nebuchadnezzar. It wouldn’t have mattered; because God was the one who was waging the war.
Daniel wants us to know that our God is so great that he can just hand nations over. Jerusalem didn’t stand strong because of it’s walls, it was fortified only by the power of God behind it. Those walls could have been made out of Play’Doh. If they were faithful, nobody could have conqured that city.
The same holds true for the end of our passage. At the end of our passage we read about Cyrus. You understand that Cyrus was a Persian. It’s Daniel’s way of saying, “Big bad Babylon isn’t all that tough in God’s eyes.” God can bring that one down and hand that empire over to someone else just as easily.
And that’s something we all need to keep in mind. Whether you are under a Biden administration or a Ho Chi Min regime. It really doesn’t matter. You are at every minute upheld by the sovereign hand of God. As a matter of fact, there’s nothing you need to fear because when it is your time to die, then there’s no possible way you can stop it. But until that point, you can be assured that you are invincible. You are therefore called to serve without any kind of reservation. And as you serve, you can take comfort in the fact that God will do among the nations exactly what he purposes to do.
Because you have this kind of God, you can excel in exile. But that’s not the only reason you can excel. You can excel because you also have a keen understanding.
II. You have a keen understanding
You a keen understanding of what the world is trying to do to you. You know that the world is out to get you. It wants to destroy your faith. It’s trying to seduce you and get you to embrace the cult and culture all around you. But you know that the Scripture says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
We understand it all that much more clearly because we see the struggle right here in our text. Verses 5-7 reveal how Nebuchadnezzar sought to completely indoctrinate these Hebrew children into the life and culture of Babylon. The aim was complete assimilation into the religious life and culture of Babylon. And ultimately the goal was that they would forget the Lord.
First, it begins with isolation. Nebuchadnezzar scooped them up and took them to Babylon. The idea is that, once removed from their own land and taken to Babylon, they could be freed from some of that heritage and better amalgamated into Babylonian culture.
This is not that much different from the strategy of Marxism or John Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau and Marx both said that the main component of secularizing the population is removing children from their homes and getting them away from their parents. These kids need to be put in schools from the earliest possible ages. And it wasn’t just for the education purposes. They knew that the parental connection would be prohibitive to the process. Once the kids are isolated from their parents, it would be easier to isolate them from the principles of Scripture. They then could be inculcated in the theories of man, romanticism, and reason.
But of course isolation is followed up by education.
Daniel and his compadres were not merely locked in a room by themselves. They were given instruction in the literature and language of Babylon. This would not only include instruction in the religion of the Babylonians, but all the sciences and novels and history—all of which would of course be coming from the Babylonian worldview. It would have been Hammurabi’s law, rather than Moses’ law. It would have been the Gilgamesh story of the flood rather than the one that we find in the book of Genesis.
Mind you, this is how education works in our world today too. When you send your child off to the government schools, you are going to get the government’s view of science and mathematics and literature. Instead of getting a healthy dose of 6 day creationism, you’re going to be told that the world is billions and billions of years old and that you came from a monkey. You’re probably not going to read Pilgrim’s Progress or Johnathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. You’ll probably get some set of books pushing Critical Race Theory or some divergent sexuality narrative. At the very least, you’ll get something blandly secular, which has no reference to the Lord at all.
That’s what Daniel and his friends were subjected to. They were not just getting Ph.D.’s in Babylonian linguistics. It would have been an indoctrination into every aspect of religious life for three whole years.
You’ll also notice that Nebuchanezzer even changed their names. (Identification)
You have to understand that this was an attempt to eradicate their previous cultural ties and ties to the Lord, maybe on an even more personal level. Each of their names were Hebrew names; names that were directly linked to the Lord. Daniel means “God is my Judge.” His name was changed to Belteshazzar, which means “treasure of Bel” or “Secret keeper of Bel,” Bel being one of the chief gods of Babylon.
Hananiah means “The Lord has been gracious to me.” His name is changed to Shadrach, which likely has to do with the Babylonian god of evil or sun god. The same goes for the others. All of their names have something to do with the Babylonian religious system. The naming process was something of a direct attack on their faith, attempting to break it down and transform it into a Babylonian faith.
For three years every time someone calls your name they’d not only get your attention, they’d be sending you a message: You belong to Marduk. You are Babylon’s child now.
Finally, you have the issue of the foods that they were to eat. What I call, adaptation or assimilation.
Now there are a couple theories on this. One is that the food would have been sacrificed to the Babylonian idols. The food would have been considered unclean because to eat it would be to participate in the religious life of the Babylonian cult.
Another view says that eating these delicacies would simply be a way of showing how wonderful it is to be Babylonian. They would eat these foods and, in doing so, realize how good they have it in this land. They’d then forget about the land of Israel and all the ties they had to it, specifically the God of Israel.
This was the fatal flaw of the Israelites in the wilderness under Moses. They wanted the leeks and the melons and the onions. They wanted to go back to the smorgasbord they had in Egypt, and to the Egyptian gods, and (as a result) they would not have to live with the daily provisions that the Lord gave them.
Any way you look at it, the dining room table was an issue of faith. It was all about religious affiliation and indoctrination
But the end goal was not that much different from the goal that every Christian faces in every age: Will you allow yourself to be assimilated? Will you give up your God and embrace the gods of the world around you? Will you conform to the culture, will you allow yourself to be seduced by the propaganda? Or will you seek to remain faithful to the one and only true and living God?
Really, that’s the question that faces the people of God in every age. It was the original question, wasn’t it? Back in the Garden of Eden, the question that Satan raised over the fruit was this very question. Will you conform to Satan and allow yourself to become affiliated with the likes of him? It’s the question that faced Israel prior to the deportation. It’s what got them to this point in Babylon. The question that they had to answer is, will you remain faithful to the Lord? Or will you conform to the Canaanite culture?
And we already know that this question is the same question that has continued to face the church even down to our very day. Will we embrace the secularism and the gods of our own age? Or will we hold to the Scriptural view of life?
When an edict comes down from the Oval Office saying, “Trans culture is normal” the question that you face is “Will you accept this? Will you throw off the Biblical view of sexuality or will you stay true to Christ? When the cultural elites tell you that “science” says otherwise, the question that you face is, “Will you truly hold to a book which they say is outdated and written by a bunch of guys having some sort of wild religious experience.”
Now the good news is that you know that the culture is trying to do that to you. And you know that it can be quite sly in the ways that it goes about it. It’s in the movies, it’s in the books; it’s all around us. But you also know that you need to resist it. It is not something that we are not completely ignorant of. So we are already one step ahead. Since we have our radars up and have this keen understanding, we can still excel in Babylon.
But there’s a third thing we have, and it is perhaps the most important to our being able to excel. We have a sure help.
III. You have a sure help
Look at verse 9. It says, “And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.” I want you to zero in on that word compassion. That’s an important word.
Ian Duguid, in his commentary on Daniel, points out that the word compassion here is also used in 1 Kings 8. It’s where Solomon prays at the dedication of the temple. Do you remember that scene? He asks the Lord to bless them when they turn to him and pray. And Solomon prays that, if they ever are expelled from the land due to their sinfulness, he asks that if they turn and pray that the Lord would grant them “compassion in the eyes of their captors.”
That which Solomon prayed for is being fulfilled right here. Daniel has barely gotten out of Jerusalem and God is already showing himself to be a God who is ready to help his people. He’s showing himself to be one who is ready to pour out mercy. He’s ready to be faithful to the promises of Scripture and show forth his covenant kindness.
When the passage starts out God’s people are under judgment. But here you find that even in Judgment God is pouring out grace upon grace. He’s still true to his word. He’s ready to come to the aid of his people. When they are in need and when they are looking to Him and trusting in Him, the Lord is there to help.
Now, I’m not saying that Daniel’s help is the norm. I don’t want you to think that this is some health and wealth gospel. If you find yourself in a predicament, bingo bang-go God is going to sweep in and get you out of it. That’s not what I’m preaching.
What I am saying is that you can expect God to be true to his word. You can expect that God will be faithful to the covenant that he has made with you. This is reminding us that those who look to the Lord will always have his personal care. If you are living in dependence upon him and putting your trust in him, you can be assured that he will pity, protect, and provide for you.
And, as a result, you can live boldly for him. The people in the exile would hear the story of God’s faithfulness to Daniel and God’s faithfulness to Solomon’s prayer and that would have caused them to be encouraged. It is a megaphone that shouts: Our God has not abandoned us. Our God is ready to be our help and our deliverer. And in this world, we can depend upon God to be working all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
Now this is where you have to understand what is going on here. A lot of people will preach this passage and say, “Look at how wise and suave Daniel is. Daniel has a sly way of talking to his superiors and he persuades them to be lenient. That’s not what is going on here at all. This is not about how smooth Daniel is. This is about what the Lord is doing. And that’s why it should be so encouraging to us. It’s not about how Daniel is so smooth, it’s a reminder about how God is merciful; it’s about how He is our never failing help in times of trouble.
And living in this pagan culture, you should remember that you have a sure help at all times.
The last thing that our passage tells us is that you have a bright future.
IV. You have a bright future
Our passage ends with one short line about Daniel being in Babylon until King Cyrus. Now, you have to understand that there are about 70 years and 6 kings between Nebuchanezzer and Cyrus. Cyrus heads the Persian kingdom that would be the empire that arises after the Babylonian empire.
But Cyrus is mentioned here simply for the fact that it is under him that the Jews are allowed to return to their land. You may be familiar with the prophecy by Isaiah where he predicted the return of the exiles and gave the name of the king who would make the edict. He mentioned Cyrus 400 years before Cyrus lived.
So Daniel beings with the exile under Jehoiakim and he points out that the Lord was the one who gave Israel over to the hands of the Babylonians. But here at the end of the chapter he closes with a quick notation about Cyrus to key in the fact that God would not cast his people off forever. There would be redemption. God’s people have hope because God has an ongoing plan to redeem them and fulfill his covenant promises.
And we as NT believers have even a greater hope. For we have the redemption that is brought to us in Christ. We don’t just look to the restoration after the exile, but we have the greater restoration that is provided in Jesus Christ. Not only do we have in Christ the restoration from sin and death, but we have the hope of a redeemed world; we have the hope of a future kingdom where Babylon is completely cast down.
And our passage might even hint at the hope that we have this hope in Christ. For Daniel is one who stands out as truly unique, almost like a messianic figure.
We read in the opening few verses that he was one of those choice men who were carried off to Babylon. First is stays that he was of the royal class or nobility. It might be that Daniel was a prince in Israel. And it says that he was one without blemish (v. 4). That word is an odd word to use. For in Scripture, it is the word that is typically used in reference to the burnt offerings. The animals that were offered had to be without blemish.
But then we also find that Daniel has unique powers. One of the most amazing things is that he gets fat off of vegetables (v. 15). That doesn’t usually happen. Either Daniel was sneaking some snickers bars or God gave him a unique blessing.
(Verse 17) You could also say that he possesses a form of divine understanding because of the wisdom he acquires. Not only does he excel in learning, but he has the power to interpret visions and dreams. It’s supernatural.
What’s more, God’s favor rests upon him so that he is able to pass the test. That’s really what this is. This passage presents us with a test of whether or not Daniel will capitulate.
It is ultimately the same test that Christ under went in the wilderness. Satan tempted him with food; He wanted Jesus to capitulate to the world’s standards and forget the Lord.
Ultimately, Daniel is a type of Christ. And it is a reminder that no one will have any kind of hope in this world if we do not have one who is the unblemished Son of David, which becomes the sacrificial offering given up to God for his people.
And it is this sacrificial offering that gives us that bright future and hope. It reminds us that God is still working out the promises that he spoke there in the Garden of Eden before we were ushered out. We have the full hope that the Lord will bring about the fulfillment of his covenant promises to crush the head of Satan. We won’t be exiles from Eden forever, because it’s written in the blood of His Son.