November 2011 - Vol. 54

Going Against the Tide
Lessons in faith and courage Daniel and his friends in Babylon Part I

Adapted from a presentation by John Keating given during the Adelante Conference 

Daniel, a key Old Testament prophet, is one of my favorite young heroes. He lived in the time of Israel’s greatest disaster – during the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple, and the Babylonian exile of many of its people. 

In the Book of Daniel we read the firsthand account of Daniel being deported from Jerusalem to Babylon, along with three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. When Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, conquered Jerusalem in 606 B.C., he decided to bring back some of the best and the brightest of the youth of Israel to become his servants, to be taught the culture and language of Babylon, and to be assimilated into what he considered to be the vastly superior Babylonian culture.

How did Daniel and his three companions react to their deportation and new life in Babylon? 

They could have chosen to be resentful towards their captors, and in anger rant against them:  “These are the rats who destroyed our nation, wrecked our city, tore down the house of God and stole the holy things, blinded our king and took us off into captivity.” Like an underground resistance movement, seeking to undermine both culture and society, they could have chosen to act as “God’s terrorists” and try to take it down. 

Did they experience shame and insecurity before the apparently stronger victorious culture they were now immersed in? They could have reasoned that the safest thing to do was to simply to huddle in a corner, keep their head down, and hope that their captives would just leave them alone. But that would amount to living like a coward.

Another option they might have considered was to assimilate to the new culture with open-arms and open-heart. “If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em…” That would have required a readiness to forget who I really am, and just jump right into living like everyone else around me.  A decision to simply accept the prevailing culture, go along with it, be shaped by its values and its customs, and look as much as possible just like everyone else.  A lot of the Jews in exile probably did this.  You know what happened to them? They disappeared.  Their lives proved relatively meaningless for God’s greater purpose for his people and for the world.

Daniel and his three friends chose none of these options. They chose instead the course which the prophet Jeremiah gave: 

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”  (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
Jeremiah’s instruction was very simple. Know who you are in God.  Love who you are in God.  Be who you are wherever God places you.  Live in great hope, and grow as a people of God.  Live for him and with him, and love those around you with his heart. 

Models for today
In a number of ways I think that Daniel and his friends are excellent models for young Christians today:

  • Daniel and his friends were young.
  • They found themselves living in a foreign culture, which generally paid no attention to their faith, and when it did, was relatively hostile to it. 
  • Furthermore, they found themselves in circumstances in which they were being taught the wisdom of this foreign and unbelieving culture, and they had face the strength of this culture directly, on their own.
  • Their own people were passing through a very bad time during the Babylonian exile.  They did not enjoy a good reputation, or much honor. It wasn’t a big advantage to be associated with the people of God, and the temptation for these young people to be ashamed of their own people, and to avoid being associated with them, must have been considerable.
Daniel and his friends were all naturally very bright, talented, and good-looking (you can read the description in the first chapter of the Book of Daniel).  However, Daniel and his friends did not rely upon their natural benefits for their success in life.  Nor did they allow the low reputation of their people to be a reason to evade identification with them, or to call into question their fidelity to God.

Faith, courage, boldness, and humility
Somehow, and for some reason known only to God, these young people were chosen by the Lord for a particular mission. God’s hand was upon them; his grace was with them; and they knew it. What was their response to the challenges of this situation? They chose to stand together in the Lord and to act with faith, courage, boldness, and humility. And God was able to do a great work through these young people – far beyond what they could have expected or even hoped for. 

As we can see from these verses, Daniel obviously had a lot going for him, and it would have been a strong temptation for him to do his best to look like the “winners”, the “beautiful people” of the society around him, to assimilate as much as he could, to make his background very low profile, to become practically indistinguishable from the other promising and gifted young people around him.  Many of the other young Jews who were deported to Babylon probably did just that. They are not mentioned here in the book of Daniel, or anywhere else, because their lives proved meaningless. They didn’t make a difference with their lives. They had no impact for the Lord of any great weight, and they have been utterly forgotten. 

Standing out from the crowd
Daniel and his three friends stand out from the crowd. Not because they were more handsome, nor more naturally gifted with grace, charm, intelligence, or anything else. Rather, because they were faithful to the Lord and to their people, and to the covenant which God had established with them.  They knew who they were, and they were not ashamed of it. They knew who the Lord was, and they were true to him. 

Their fidelity was costly. It required faith, courage, and boldness on their part, and put them at various points in mortal danger. It also put them in a place to be blessed and used by the Lord in extraordinary ways that resulted in their being placed in ever higher roles of influence and of authority in the society/culture that they were called upon to live in. This in turn required of them even greater care, vigilance, and fidelity. It made them even more the target of enemies who feared their influence and authority; the accusations and attacks of enemies only increased the need to respond to their circumstances in faith, in righteousness, with boldness, courage, and humility.

Daniel’s dedication
In Chapter 1 in the Book of Daniel (verses 8-16) we read how Daniel decided firmly in his own heart that he would not defile himself by partaking of a number of the pleasant and desirable things that were offered to him in his favored role. They were things that were forbidden by the Law, but hey, everyone was eating them and enjoying them, and besides, he had to eat something and this was what was available. Even from the point of view of being prudent and reasonable, you could make a good case that it could have been acceptable for Daniel to take part in what was being given to everyone. 

But in his zeal for the Lord and for the covenant which his people had with the Lord, Daniel not only didn’t wimp out, he decided that he wouldn’t settle for normal prudence. Rather, he would boldly go out on a limb, and in faith he would give the Lord the chance to do something extraordinary for him and in him. 

First Daniel went to the chief eunuch and asked for special consideration (see verse 8, Chapter 1). This was already rocking the boat, and could have been asking for trouble. He risked the possible displeasure, anger, and rejection of the chief eunuch – on the one hand, trusting that the Lord would give him favor in his eyes, but on the other hand, also being ready to face the consequences if the Lord chose not to do so. As it turned out, the Lord did give him favor and compassion in the eyes of the chief eunuch. However, the man was (reasonably enough) afraid for his own skin (because it was the king himself who had decided what the young people would eat), and was reluctant to make the kind of exception that Daniel and his friends were requesting. 

Radical plunge in faith
Daniel and his friends took a deeper and more radical plunge in faith (see verses 11-13, Chapter 1). Running the risk of getting into serious trouble with the chief eunuch, they went to the eunuch’s steward to propose a test that relied completely upon the sovereign intervention of God in his life. Putting themselves completely in the Lord’s hands, they proposed that the results of the test would be so clear and apparent that the steward himself could make his own decision after observing those results. They also found favor in the steward’s eyes, and he agreed to the test. Daniel and his friends went onto a very strict vegetarian diet that would be safely keep them within the dietary demands of the Law, hoping in the Lord for results that were totally beyond their control. The steward must have been blown away by their request:  healthy young men asking to not have to eat the meat, the deserts, or to drink the wine, so that they could live on vegetables and water?  This is a serious sacrifice of love in itself on the part of Daniel and his friends – a three year special fast!

Anointing for greatness
God acted in these young men of faith, courage, boldness, and humility, anointing them in a special way (see verses 14-16, Chapter 1). They had shown themselves capable of standing firm for the Lord, of going against the current around them. This opened the way for the Lord to give them extraordinary grace, and to cause them to stand out – again, not merely on the basis of their personal merits, but on the basis of an anointing for greatness that the Lord himself was giving them. 

It was manifested in two different ways: First, they end up with better color, health, and physical vitality than any of the others around them, who supposedly were eating much better.  The 10-day test became a three year program, and the Lord sustained and strengthened them supernaturally.

Second, they were granted by God a degree of wisdom and insight so far above that of the other youths that they became standouts even among the established wise men and magicians of the realm (see verses 17-20, Chapter 1). God wanted them to stand out, so that he could glorify himself through them. Beyond this, Daniel was given a spiritual gift of understanding visions and dreams. It is this gift which makes him famous in the kingdom, and which makes him one of the four great prophets of the Old Testament. God also gave them favor in the eyes of king Nebachudnezzar, who gave them a special place before him, and throughout his reign the king found their wisdom and counsel 10 times better than that of anyone else among his wise men, enchanters, and magicians.

Lessons for today
 I think we should examine Daniel’s example very deeply. This is not just a nice story. It is instruction from the word of God about how to live as young people in an alien culture in a way that is faithful to God, and available for the mission that he is entrusting to us. It would have been so normal, so easy, so obvious for Daniel and his friends to take the safe way, to follow the crowd, to not rock the boat, to not do something in their faithfulness to God that would make them look strange and different. 

  • They didn’t take the easy way, nor the coward’s way. 
  • They didn’t allow themselves to be seduced by the offer of wealth, power, and pleasures. 
  • They also didn’t take the hostile and aggressive way that would see their surrounding culture as the enemy. 
They recognized that, even in a situation of many challenges and difficulties, they had a special identity, a call from the Lord. They pursued fidelity to the Lord with a humble boldness that won them the favor of those whose favor they needed. They went out on a limb in their trust that God would intervene on their behalf, that the Lord would use them where he had placed them, and that their best response in every circumstance would be faith and faithfulness, with a blending of boldness and humility which allowed lots of room for grace to do its work.

Let’s choose to follow their example and allow the Lord to strengthen us in faith, courage, boldness, and humility.

[Next month Part II: Faithfulness and Courage Under Fire 
– Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego]

From the Book of Daniel 
Chapter 1
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoi'akim king of Judah, Nebuchadnez'zar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoi'akim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 

3 Then the king commanded Ash'penaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, handsome and skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to serve in the king's palace, and to teach them the letters and language of the Chalde'ans. 

5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the rich food which the king ate, and of the wine which he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6 Among these were Daniel, Hanani'ah, Mish'a-el, and Azari'ah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshaz'zar, Hanani'ah he called Shadrach, Mish'a-el he called Meshach, and Azari'ah he called Abed'nego. 

8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's rich food, or with the wine which he drank; therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs; 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, "I fear lest my lord the king, who appointed your food and your drink, should see that you were in poorer condition than the youths who are of your own age. So you would endanger my head with the king." 

11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had appointed over Daniel, Hanani'ah, Mish'a-el, and Azari'ah; 12 "Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's rich food be observed by you, and according to what you see deal with your servants." 

14 So he hearkened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's rich food. 16 So the steward took away their rich food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 

17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all letters and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 

18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnez'zar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hanani'ah, Mish'a-el, and Azari'ah; therefore they stood before the king. 

20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. 21 And Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus. 

John Keating is Vice-President of the Sword of the Spirit and a frequent speaker for Kairos and Sword of the Spirit conferences and retreats. He is an elder in the Servants of the Word, a missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord. He currently lives in Manila, Philippines.
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