Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 60: Living in Babylon
Daniel 1: 1-21
August 28, 2011
· RNX Survey
Scripture reading: Daniel 3:26-30
Q Are we a Christian nation? Not was it or should it, but is it?
Q More important: How do you think your answer will affect how you think, respond, and live?
Years ago I read a Christian review of “Armageddon;” their big complaint was the lack of reference to the Bible. Guess what, they weren’t praying when they said “God” either.
· If we are a Christian nation and Armageddon was a Christian movie, that might be a reasonable complaint.
There are two ways that you can understand our situation as Christians in this America, using the two main cities of Daniel’s world.
1. Still living in Jerusalem: God is honored, at least in theory. The culture supports your Christian identity.
2. Exiled in Babylon: A city that is at the best neutral to our beliefs, but more likely downright hostile.
This about how this affects your perception: As Christian nation, we are doing a pretty crummy job, but as a secular nation, we are doing pretty good, considering.
We are now living in Babylon. For the past while much of the Western world has been like Jerusalem, but it has been Babylon for the past while, and I don’t see that changing.
LIving in Godless Babylon
Living in Babylon is not easy, in fact it is pretty complicated:
Q So how do we stay separate, no longer having our values, our perspectives, and attitudes shaped by it?
Q On top of all of that, how do we stay separate while still being a light for God in this world?
This is where Daniel comes in: One of the key themes of Daniel is that it is possible to live a faithful life in exile, surrounded by pagan influences and propaganda.
Daniel and Co. in Babylon
Like Ezekiel, Daniel was in that first group of exiles.
NIV Daniel 1:1-6 ¶ 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 he 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.
We know from Plato that in that region training started at age 15, so these young men, who included Daniel and his friends were teenagers.
Think back to when you were 14 or 15. I was 14 I went on my first mission trip. I was in Jamaica for 6 weeks without my family and it was quite a culture shock.
Yet I was still surrounded Americans who shared my values and beliefs. We were did our training on a ship were we learned more about God in addition to learning awesome dance moves.
But Daniel and his friends were forcibly ripped from their family, their culture, and the temple, which was the only place they had to worship God.
Furthermore, this passage describes how the Babylonians were more or less trying to brainwash them – being renamed after pagan gods, trained in their literature, eating their food.
· It’s kind of like the Borg – resistance is futile.
And here at the age or 14 or 15 they had to decide for themselves if they would be true to their God and how to do so while in Babylon.
Daniel and his friends navigated this with great finesse; they weren’t bullheaded, refusing to ever compromise. Neither did they unthinkingly drift along with the tide.
They’re an example of the tightrope we walk, giving in at some points, compromising at others, and standing firm at others.
1. When to give in
Daniel 1:7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
When they arrived in Babylon, the first order of business was to change their names. These weren’t friendly little nicknames, nor names that were easier to pronounce like Ellis Island. These were political statements:
· Daniel meant “God is my Judge”; Belteshazzar meant “O Lady [wife of the god Bel], protect the king!”
· Hananiah meant “Yahweh is gracious”; Shadrach probably meant “command of Aku [the moon god].”
· Mishael meant “Who is what God is?”; Meshach meant “Who is like Aku?”
· Azariah meant “Yahweh is a helper”; Abednego meant “servant of Nebo”
How did they respond to these blasphemous new names? They didn’t throw a fit, they just accepted it because it was not a hill worth dying on.
· I know who I am inside, call me what you like!
When to compromise
There are many things that happen here is Babylon that we don’t care for, but tackling those causes are pointless. Even if we could win them, we would have wasted a lot of effort and political capitol that could be spent on more important things.
Q What are the name changes and other upsetting unchristian and antichristian things that you have to deal with?
Are there disrespectful comments made at you work? Attacking attitude on Facebook? People swearing around you?
Q How about removing “In God we trust” from the Pledge of Allegiance and our money?
I think that it is retained because the majority wants it. But if that changes and it is removed, will that be a battle worth fighting, or do we tolerate it because “we know who we are”?
We have to ask, as Daniel surely asked:
Q Does this force me to personally dishonor God and break his commands, or is something that I find very distasteful?
Q Is it important enough to fight over, knowing that fighting this battle will keep me from be able to fight others?
· Story of Starbuck’s customer in drive through.
2. Respectful compromising: The food
As we read on:
NIV Daniel 1:8-16 ¶ 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.
Q Why didn’t Daniel want to eat the food?
He said he didn’t want defile himself. Contrary to what I have always thought, it wasn’t’ because the food was not kosher. The meat may have been, but the wine wasn’t.
· BTW: I love good study Bibles, they pull out great insight.
Some commentators said (and I agree) that Daniel and his friends avoided the luxurious diet as a way of protecting themselves from the temptations of the Babylonian culture.
They used their diet to help them keep their distinctive Jewish identity and avoid assimilation into Babylonian culture (which was the king’s goal with these conquered subjects).
· It’s not that the meat and wine were wrong, and Daniel did eat and drink later, but they need to stay separate.
But notice how polite they were: No religious superiority, no rudeness. They tried to strike a compromise – let’s try this.
When I was in third grade at our local public school, I was unbeknownst to my parents, given some “real life ghost stories” as reading material. When they found out, they did not approve, so they negotiated with the teacher to find me other material.
· Living in Babylon we may be asked to do thing that aren’t only distasteful to us, but we feel are personally detrimental.
The first step is to attempt to respectfully negotiate a compromise. Try to find something that works for both sides.
· It may be a school assignment: I remember on tests giving the “right” answer, then my answer.
· It may be a work situation, such as consistently working on Sundays or community group.
Begin with prayer and then be respectful; God may grant you favor like he did Daniel and friends.
Q But what if it doesn’t work?
Then you need to ask some hard questions: How much is this damaging me? Do I need to go from politely dissenting to respectfully refusing?
Q How bad is the damage and how high the consequences?
In Daniel’s case the consequences would have been execution, so they were willing compromise if need be.
· At that point you trust God to keep you safe even in those situations.
But there are times that you cannot compromise and you need to know when to stand your ground:
3. Standing their ground:
As you may remember, years after these events, Nebuchadnezzar created a 90 foot tall gold statue and commanded everyone to bow down to it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, had worked with the system to this point, but this was a line they couldn’t cross.
· Their names had changed, been immersed in Babylonian culture, been willing to eat their food, but not worship another god.
NIV Daniel 3:13-18 ¶ Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” 16 ¶ Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
We know from the opening reading that God did save them, but that was not a given. They were willing to die for this.
There are some things that you have to stand your ground on, regardless of the consequences:
· You may be told to cheat for your boss.
· You may be required to sacrifice your values to stay in a relationship.
· The day may come when you are ordered to deny your faith.
The line is when you are being required to do something that is not simply distasteful or questionable, but that is outright wrong, that violates God’s commands.
· At that point, you have to stick up for what is right and accept the consequences, without whining.
4. Engaging culture:
But living in Babylon wasn’t just about what they didn’t do, it was also about what they did do. In verse four, we are told that they learned the “language and literature of the Babylonians.”
Back in that day, there was no separation of church and state. They were being immersed in Babylonia religion, language, law, astrology, fortune telling, and many other things that would have been offensive to them.
Yet they studied them, and studied them well. They were at the top of their class:
NIV Daniel 1:17-21 ¶ 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.
This is a 180 difference from a fundamentalist isolation from the world. This is closer to “beating them at their own game.” More importantly, it is our model for engaging culture.
We need to study and understand the culture that we live in so well that we can speak their language, engage in their conversations and do it better than them, but then be able to speak God’s wisdom in those conversations.
Blessed to be a blessing
But this isn’t simply for entertainment or curiosity sake. We are on a mission. Remember what God spoke to the exiled community through Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 29:7 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Daniel and his friends would have heard that message. I imagine it would have been very encouraging to them as the questioned if they were doing the right thing by working with the Babylonians.
This goes back to the very purpose and foundation of Israel:
Genesis 12:1-3 ¶ The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
God set the nation of Israel apart so that he could bless the world through them. That has always been his purpose, and now, even in the midst of their disobedience, they had a chance to fulfill the purpose.
Through Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego God blessed this pagan nation. Through them he gave them wise council that doubtlessly shaped the nation and its policies.
· They remained faithful to God even as they fully engaged their culture, and were able to be a great light.
This was their calling, and it is still our calling. We have been adopted into Israel and now we are the ones who are blessed by God in order to be a blessing to the world:
· We are blessed with wisdom and perspective.
· We are blessed with love and compassion.
· We are blessed with money and possessions.
All of these are now thing that we bless others with, providing we remain in this world and faithful to God.
· PPT: Please text Janna; service is almost over: 333-4505
Q & A