Message 1 | Daniel 1:1-21 | November 5, 2017

Introduction

Daniel offers moral examples. The book of Daniel is a good example of a book in which readers may often focus on the human characters in the book while potentially missing the emphasis on God in the book. To some degree it is good and appropriate to draw life lessons from these characters. In fact, Paul tells the Corinthians to observe their heritage and learn from them.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were . . .  8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor 10:6-12 ESV)

In Daniel, we could learn from the faith displayed in the lives of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, avoid the pride of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, mirror Daniel’s prayer life, and be challenged to stay true through times of difficulty like Daniel. But if we limit our study to just the moral lessons drawn from the characters in the story, we will miss what is the primary focus, and that primary focus should be the character of God that is revealed in the passage.

God’s sovereignty the primary theme. It is God’s sovereignty that is the primary attribute that is revealed. Therefore, God’s sovereignty in the affairs of men is the predominant theme throughout the book. Israel is beaten. The temple is in ruins. There are no sacrifices. There are no rituals. There are no offerings. There are no functioning priest. The people are in exile – outside of the promise land, outside of the place of blessing. The king is in prison. What is it that God desired to communicate to his people at this point in their history? They needed to hear that they were the faithful remnant. This fact is the major theme in Ezekiel and a minor theme here in Daniel. They as well needed to hear that God was still in control.  This is the major theme of Daniel. God is sovereign in the affairs of men.

Everywhere we look, God is sovereignly designing and controlling the plans of men. (1) God directs the destruction of Jerusalem due their disobedience to Him. (2) God controls nature by allowing Daniel to remain healthy when he does not eat the kings meat. (3) God gives Nebuchadnezzar a vision and Daniel the interpretation. (4) God humbles Nebuchadnezzar. (5) God writes on a wall and tells Belshazzar he is about to be overrun. (6) God controls nations as he provides a prophetic account of the upcoming world powers and then works it out accordingly. (7) God controls circumstances as he protects Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion’s den. What can be clearly seen in the book of Daniel is that God controls and directs the future, and we can have a relationship with the sovereign of the universe.

 Overview of Daniel. The first 6 chapters of Daniel are in the form of a narrative or biographical stories. We do find in chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about a statue and it is prophetic, but otherwise all 6 chapters are stories. It is in these chapters that we read of Daniel’s exile, the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar going mad, the fall of Babylon, and Daniel in the lion’s den.

The second half of the book, the last 6 chapters, are primarily prophecy or eschatology. They consists of three visions by Daniel and in the middle is a beautiful prayer by Daniel which is then dramatically answered in person by the angel Gabriel.

Over the course of the next 2-3 months, we are going to do a short series through Daniel, primarily focusing on the first chapters of the book and the prayer of Daniel in chapter 9.

Historical setting of Daniel. As we step into the story line of Daniel, the date is 605 BC. The Northern Kingdom of Israel has already been conquered 117 years earlier (722 BC). All that was left were the two remaining southern tribes of Judah. In 605 Nebuchadnezzar, crown prince and general of the Babylonian army, defeated Egypt (who had too late joined Assyria for assistance) at the battle of Carchemish.  It must have been around this time that Nebuchadnezzar went through Israel and took some of the elite Israelite young men and some of the Temple vessels. Three times Babylon came through Judah and took captives, but it was in this first exile that Daniel and his three friends were taken, and in chapter one of Daniel they begin their Babylonian Captivity.

Purpose statement for chapter 1. God’s sovereignty is both the foundation for and the source of our strong convictions. It is the foundation in that I can only have confidence in any conviction I may hold because I truly believe that God is in control and will accomplish his purpose and will work out his revealed will. God’s sovereignty is as well the source for our convictions because it is God who gives the will and desire to hold to our convictions and is the source of truth for which our convictions are grounded.

Characteristics of healthy conviction (1:1-16)

Healthy convictions are ideally rooted at a young age. Daniel was between the age of 13-15 when he was taken into captivity.[1]  We can probably safely assume that Daniel’s friends were as well around this age. It seems that at this age they had enough training that would keep them true to God throughout their life in captivity. In contrast, remember that Daniel and his friends were not the only ones taken into captivity, but they were the only ones (apparently) that remained true to God’s commands, at least of those taken to the city of Babylon.  At another place and surrounded by different temptations and circumstances, Ezekiel remained true to God as well.

Take a moment to acknowledge two realities. (1) At his young age, Daniel clearly was able to retain and follow the truths that he had been taught as a young child. I think this ought to challenge us to never underestimate what our children are capable of learning and putting into practice. (2) If Daniel possessed enough knowledge of Jewish law to refrain from those things which would have been displeasing to God, apparently people invested in him through teaching him the truth. His parents (and probably others) invested in him while he was young and taught him the truth.

Healthy convictions are not altered due to circumstances. Daniel was immersed in a new culture and world view, and yet he did not bend to the ungodly cultural practices. These men were away from their home and family.  They were very young, and were in a country where they were regularly pressured to change. They were put into a three year program which was intended to train them to become Babylonian leaders.  In this program they were taught all the literature and language of the Chaldeans which included: language, science, history, and philosophy. As well, their names were changed, which was a common practice in the Ancient Near East. Changing someone’s name was (1) part of changing them entirely and (2) a way of displaying subjection to their captor.

Daniel (God is my Judge)  —  Belte-shazzar  (Protect his life)

Hananiah  (YHWY is gracious)  —  Shadrach  (Meaning is uncertain)

Mishael  (Who is as God)  —  Meshach  (I am of no account)

Azariah  (YHWH has helped)  —  Abed-nego  (Servant of Nego)

It would have been very easy for these young men to cave into the pressure of their new surroundings. In fact most people would probably expect it, and it appears that the vast majority of other young people taken did give into the pressure.

Healthy convictions are in harmony with our actions. Not only did Daniel hold internally to his convictions, he practiced them outside of his comfort zone.  He was surrounded by the ungodly and actively encouraged to give up his beliefs and change his practices, but he did not. Daniel and his three friends (1) disobeyed the king rather than God and (2) chose to reject the best of the menu.

Eating this meat would have been wrong for them for a number of reasons.  (1) Much of the meat would have been meat disallowed for their consumption under the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 14:3-20).  (2) The meat had most likely already been offered to idols, and their eating of the meat would have been unacceptable.  It was common for the meat offered to idols to be taken to the king because the meat was deemed to be blessed by the idols.  Most often the meat offered to idols was only for the consumption of the king.  (3) This act would have implied loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar.[2]

Holding to convictions is deemed more important than the potential consequences. The consequences were broad and potentially severe. While not terribly severe, one consequence was as simple as rejecting the best food available to them. Minimal but probably a little hard to pass up at times. A little more severe would be that they were likely sacrificing their chances for any kind of promotion. After all who wants to promote the stubborn young man who doesn’t do what he’s told? But even that was not as severe as it could have been because his actions were directly disobedient to the king of the greatest world power at the time. Obviously there could be severe consequences. Ashpenaz indicates that he fears for his life if Daniel’s plan were to fail. It’s probably safe to assume serious negative consequences would as well befall Daniel and his three friends if they were complicit in some failed plot. And yet, the potential consequences, severe as they may have potentially been, were not more pressing than their desire to obey God.

Foundation for Healthy Conviction

God’s Word. They must have known the law of God to know that they could not eat the meat. Their knowledge of God’s Word was strong enough to combat all error taught them in three years of education. They daily chose to follow God’s word, and not be swayed by their peers.  (i.e.  Ashpenaz in vs. 10, the other youth in vs. 13)

Godly fellowship. It is common throughout the book of Daniel to see these four men finding counsel and strength in each other.  Faithfully walking with the Lord is not an easy thing to do, and is not meant to be done alone.  God has given us great gifts in godly friends and counselors.  We need to take advantage of them and also avoid ungodly friendships and ungodly counsel.

Faith in God’s Power. Throughout this book these four men show a belief in the Power of God. Here they suggest a ten day trial period in which they are sure that God will prove Himself powerful.

Rewards for Healthy Conviction (1:17-20)

The blessings that these young men received fell into three categories. (1) They received physical blessings. We read in Daniel 1:15 that “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 food.” (2) They as well received political blessings. “And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king” (Dan 1:19 ESV). (3)  They received intellectual blessings. “And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom” (Dan 1:20 ESV). To such a degree did Daniel receive wisdom that Ezekiel uses Daniel’s wisdom as the premier measure of wisdom.[3]

The rewards that we find in this chapter were the unique ways in which God chose to reward these four young men. His rewards in our lives will most likely look extremely different. We will probably never rise to such positions of power and authority. Nonetheless, when we serve God faithfully, He rewards us and positions us where He sees fit.

Our Security Found in God’s Sovereignty.

God’s justice was displayed through God’s sovereignty. “The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into” the hands of the Babylonians. Consider how at times God’s justice may result in our discomfort. God’s justice displayed in the life of Israel resulted in Daniel’s dramatic discomfort. While Judah was being judged for their disobedience, Daniel was not at fault personally, but he was deeply affected by the sin of others.  God’s justice was the perfect plan for Daniel. I can imagine he might have struggled accepting that on his trip to Babylon.

God’s benevolence was displayed through God’s sovereignty. “God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” (Dan 1:9). Note the sovereignty of God displayed in this passage.  For the benefit of one of His children (and for His ultimate glory) he providentially worked in the life and mind of the “chief of the eunichs”.

“God gave” Daniel and his friends “learning and skill in all literature and wisdom” (Dan 1:17). The necessary tools that Daniel and his friends needed for God to work out His plan were given to them.  While Daniel benefited, there was nothing of which Daniel could boast. The sole purpose of giving the gifts was so that God would be glorified through them. As believers we are abundantly blessed by God, let us not forget that those blessings are for His glory, not our own. As well, understanding that He was gracious in the giving of the gifts, we should be gracious in using and ministering with those gifts.

Conclusion

God’s sovereignty is both the foundation for and the source of our strong convictions. It is the foundation in that I can only have confidence in any conviction I may hold because I truly believe that God is in control and will accomplish his purpose and will work out his revealed will. God’s sovereignty is as well the source for our convictions because it is God who gives the will and desire to hold to our convictions and is the source of truth for which our convictions are grounded.

 

 

[1] A number of qualifications were necessary before young men were eligible for training in Babylon.  The trainees had to be a certain age. “Young men” is the translation of the Hebrew word yeladim, which may refer to children, boys, or young men.   Young points out that according to Plato, “the education of Persian youths began in their 14th year,” and it is reasonable to assume that the Babylonians commenced the training of young people at about the same age as the Persians.  (Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, page 60)

[2] “The reasons for defilement, which they saw, would have been basically two: first, that the food would likely include at times meat declared unclean by the law of Moses; and, second, that it would regularly be food first offered to the Babylonian gods. . . it would have been to give recognition, though in an indirect manner, to the existence of Babylon’s false deities.   Food first dedicated to gods was thought to insure to the eaters the favor of those gods . . .  Everyone eating it, then, would have been considered as also desiring favor and thus giving recognition and obeisance to the Babylonian deities. (Leon Wood)

“From several extant descriptions of divine repasts, the following sequence can be reconstructed.  First . . . water for washing was offered in a bowl.  A number of liquid and semi liquid dishes . . . and containers with beverages . . . Next, specific cuts of meat were served as a main dish.  Finally, fruit . . . Having been presented to the image, the dishes from the god’s meal were sent to the king for his consumption.  Clearly, the food offered to the deity was considered blessed by contact with the divine and capable of transferring that blessing to the person who was to eat it.  This person was always the king.” (A.L. Oppenheim,  pg. 188-189)

[3] Ezekiel 28:3 you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you

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