Introduction to Daniel
Do you ever feel like a stranger in this world? In particular, do you sense that the values you had growing up are nearly extinct in the generations coming up today? I think many of us, myself included, can relate to that feeling. I’m only 40 years old, but this is already a very different world than I grew up in.
This morning I will begin a new series in the book of Daniel. One of the many reasons I believe the Lord has led me to preach through this book is because I believe faithfulness to Christ is going to become increasingly difficult in the years ahead.
As it pertains to the book of Daniel, let me give you some brief context. The book of Daniel chronicles his experience in the Babylonian captivity around 605 B.C. The book itself opens after King Nebuchadnezzar’s first siege of Judah when he brought Daniel and his friends to Babylon.
Daniel is obviously the author of the book, though some modern liberal scholarship prefers to attribute it to someone else written hundreds of years later, probably because they don’t believe in its prophetic witness.
Here’s the main idea (quoted from Danny Akin): "Even in times of great trial and opposition, Christians must remain faithful to God and his gospel, imitating Christ’s own steadfastness as he endured persecution and death for our sakes.”
Therefore, “When we find our feet forcibly planted in the soil of an anti-God, anti-Christian culture, it is absolutely imperative that our hearts be drawn to heaven and our minds be immersed in the Word of God.”
Let’s begin by reading how the book begins.
1 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 gave Jehoiakim 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 Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that 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, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
God Works Through Hardship
First of all, let’s point this out. The Babylonian captivity is first and foremost a result of the Lord’s judgment on his people for their disobedience. We are told this in Leviticus 26:33.
33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.
God does not tolerate disobedience, and he is willing to scatter his people through judgment should they choose to defy him. The truth is that the same thing can still happen today, resulting in extreme hardships. Yet, even though that is true, you must understand that for Daniel and his friends, and for us as well, that hardship and judgment does not mean that God is not at work in your life.
Dale Davis says in commentary on the book of Daniel, “Sometimes God may allow hardship to reach us because he wants his mercy to reach beyond us.” God’s purpose in hardship is not to crush you. God’s purpose in hardship here was not to crush Daniel and his friends. Rather, God’s purpose in hardship is to refine you and to make himself known.
Sometimes God allows us to go through hardship because it is only through hardship that we realize that the grace of God is sufficient for us.
So, Daniel and his friends are taken by the king. They are uprooted from their homeland and placed under the indoctrination of the Babylonian Empire.
Look at the second verse to see how this happened.
2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim 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.
In other words, King Nebuchadnezzar and his men plundered Judah, took the vessels of the house of God and brought them back to put on display. What was the purpose of this? The purpose was to put on display before Daniel that King Nebuchadnezzar was more powerful than Daniel’s God. It’s to show Nebuchadnezzar’s power, strength, and victory over Israel. It’s to intimidate Daniel and his friends.
Nebuchadnezzar is doing the exact same thing. It’s a way of silencing anyone who dissents from the ways of the Babylonians. Here’s the truth, and this still applies today in our culture and in our society:
When godless people take over a nation (like Nebuchadnezzar did to Judah), the only way forward for godless leaders is for them to silence dissent and punish those whose religious views don’t go along with their agenda, and the result of such godlessness is always indoctrination.
We’ll see that here in this text and in this story, and we can easily point it out in our own society. The key to all of this will be learning how to faithfully follow Jesus when it’s hard. We have to learn how to thrive in Babylon.
This is what happens to Daniel. Let me show you the four steps taken by King Nebuchadnezzar intended to brainwash Daniel. And these 4 steps are happening to us right now as well.
Isolation (Verse 3)
This was the first step in this entire process. Look at verse 3:
3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility,
In other words, what the king did was isolate Daniel and his friends and others from their people. These were young men as the text says. They were taken from their homeland, from their family, and from their friends and placed within the wicked system of the Babylonians.
They were sent off away from the familiar and into the unknown. They were isolated without a support structure to help them endure. You likely have a sense of this now. Have you ever felt isolated in your values and beliefs? Daniel sure would have.
Indoctrination (Verse 4)
Upon being isolated from their friends, the king sought quickly to indoctrinate them.
Daniel 1:4 (ESV)
4 ...to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
In other words, the king wanted them to learn his ways. He wasn’t bringing them their to feed them and educate them and give them a loving place during their captivity. The king wasn’t trying to make them comfortable. No. Not at all. His intention was to change them by indoctrinating them.
He would force them to read and study the literature and language of the Chaldeans. They would be immersed in the polytheistic array of deities of the ancient Near Eastern world. This was the king’s way of brainwashing them. He wanted to turn them into Babylonians.
Assimilation (Verse 5)
Once they were isolated and indoctrinated, the next step had to be assimilation.
5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.
Not only did the king want to forcibly indoctrinate them, he wanted to fully assimilate them into the Babylon lifestyle. He assigned them new food to eat, new wine to drink, and new ways of living that would make them indistinguishable from the other Babylonians.
And finally, confusion...
Confusion (verses 6-7)
How did he do this? He changed their names. He sought to change their identity. This is where we are introduced to Daniel and his friends, Hannaniah, Mishael, and Azariah.
Now understand this, the king changed their names. In the ancient world, the meaning attached to a name was a big deal. Daniel mean as “Elohim is my judge.” Hananiah means “Yahweh is gracious.” Mishael means “Who is like Elohim?” And Azariah means “Yahweh helps.”
So what did the king do? He gave them new names. Daniel and his friends now have their names changed to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, all in honor of the Babylonian gods.
You see how this change happens? Do you see how godless people can take over a society? The king tried to isolate, indoctrinate, assimilate, and confuse Daniel and his friends. They stood strong, but when the same happens to you, will you be able to stand strong?
This is what happens when godless people take over. It is the only way for godless people to take over godly people. The intended purpose is to silence the voice of the one true God.
The big question before us is this: is this same thing happening today in our own culture? The answer is yes. It is happening now.
Here’s how this happens in our own culture - and you have to be willing to see this.
When you disagree with the mainstream culture and its ideology, then you will find yourself quickly isolated, indoctrinated, assimilated, and ultimately confused. When you go along to get along, you quickly find yourself left behind. The ideology of the world is not interested in compromise. The ideology of the world is not interested in religious freedom. The ideology of the world is taking a torch and burning down every bit of orthodox Christianity it can find.
But your response is likely this: “This is America. There’s no so such thing as silencing free speech or my religious freedom. Nobody can take that away.” You might not believe me that you will need to be more like Daniel in Babylon than yourself in America. But here me out -
The problem is this - and I have a feeling my generation knows this more than other generations - the levers of power throughout society, particularly when it comes to the distribution of information and religious freedom, those levers of power now lie more within the tech giants at Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon than they do within the government, and the government has little power to stop them.
The culture doesn’t need the government to do its bidding, and the government has seemingly less and less interest in protecting religious freedom. Social media controls what you see and what information you have access to. Say the wrong thing and you will quickly find yourself on the receiving end of their anger.
Find yourself on the wrong side of their ideological opinions, and you will find yourself quickly banned from the very place where most speech takes place. And not ironically, the culture, big tech, and government policies always take aim at the Christian views of the world because it is specifically the Christian worldview that threatens the advance of secularism at large.
If you don’t believe me, hear me out for a moment. Let me give you a few examples because you need to know that you will soon need to be more like Daniel in Babylon than yourself here in America.
Ryan Anderson, a fantastic theologian and historian, has had one of his major books banned from Amazon because they didn’t like his Christian views on transgenderism. Why is that a big deal? Amazon controls about 80% of the book market, so do you think any publishing companies are going to get behind an author whose books are banned from 80% of the market? The tech giants can quickly isolate Christians who disagrees with their agenda. Starting to sound like Daniel and his friends being isolated, right?
Emilee Carpenter of Maine is a photographer who, because of her faith in God, refused to photograph a homosexual wedding and lost her lawsuit and had to pay fines of over $100,000. Emilee Carpenter was forced by the government to fall in line or shut down.
Again, regardless of the legitimacy of the claim, the effect is the same - get in line with the secular agenda or pay a price that’s good and likely to cost you your livelihood.
Chris Routson of Ohio was fired for sharing his faith with a co-worker on his personal time off because the co-worker complained to management that sharing faith was inappropriate and invasive. Chris Routson was isolated because of his faith. He lost his job for doing evangelism off the clock.
Kevin Cochran, the former Fire Chief in the city of Atlanta, was fired for writing a book that disagreed with the homosexual agenda. He’s a Christian man who wrote a book on his own time as a private citizen, and he was fired for it. He eventually won a $1.2 million dollar settlement against the city, but the message is clear: disagree with the agenda of the world, and you’re going to pay a price for it.
Not everyone has the time, money, or resources to fight these issues in court, so most people will fall in line instead of risking their livelihoods.
And what about children? Secular views of the world dominate - absolutely dominate - the school systems and especially the university. Christian beliefs about the world, gender, and personhood are shut down, and if they aren’t shut down, the vast majority of other students will quickly withdraw themselves from Christians who dare speak their minds, leaving many children isolated. Do we really expect children to have the strength to stand up to the world when they might be one of a few in their class or school with similar Christian values?
Again, you might disagree with some of the claims on a legal basis, and that is perfectly fine. But, you cannot disagree with me that the impact of all these types of cases has a chilling effect on Christians who fear speaking up because of what it might cost them. The tech giants can quickly brainwash the world with the click of a button.
When the tech giants control what you see, they can manipulate what you believe to be true about the world. When the tech giants control what you see, they can manipulate what you believe to be true. And when they can manipulate the secular society at large, the secular society will quickly turn on you like Nebuchadnezzar laying siege to Judah.
They can isolate Christian views about the world. And this happens all the time. And on and on it goes.
And the sad reality for many believers today is that it’s easier to fall in line and assimilate to this new culture than it is to stand out and stand up for what is right. Those who do stand often find themselves isolated and confused.
I do want to be clear - I don’t have a persecution complex where I believe every little encroachment on religious freedom warrants some sort of public outcry. I am not one prone to panic or fear. I’m also not prone to hyperbole or exaggeration.
I do think, however, that to ignore these issues is to have your head stuck in the sand. For every example I’ve mentioned, there are a dozen more.
Ignorance is not bliss when livelihoods are destroyed because someone doesn’t fall in line with the demands of a rapidly secularizing society.
If you don’t already, you are going to find out that following Jesus means you’re going to need to be more like Daniel in Babylon than you are yourself in the America you grew up in.
It won’t be a swift sudden change overnight. It will be the slow, day by day, isolation, indoctrination, assimilation, and confusion of the world that will cause Christians to become brainwashed.
This is exactly how King Nebuchadnezzar sought to brainwash Daniel and his friends. Yet, Daniel and and his friends stood strong in the faith. They never surrendered, and God rewarded them.
Listen - Daniel thrived in Babylon. What Nebuchadnezzar meant for harm, God intended to use for good.
And the truth is, whatever harm comes your way because of the world we live in, God can and will use it to make himself known. You, too, can thrive in Babylon. How?
Thriving in Babylon
So, the question is: how do you grow and thrive as a believer in the days ahead? We will explore this more in the weeks ahead, but let me give you these biblical principles now:
1. Look to the Example of Jesus
Understand that it’s not you the world hates. It’s God.
Jesus said - John 15:18.
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
Nobody likes to face rejection from the world. I think it’s one of the reasons we are so scared to do evangelism. But, let’s remember the words of Jesus. It’s not us the world hates. It’s God. Jesus told us to expect this. He went on in that same passage to say that if they persecuted him, then they will persecute us also.
2. Recognize Christ’s Presence
Jesus has promised you his presence, so you can endure
Matthew 28:20 (ESV)
20 And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Whatever we endure in this life, we have this promise - that Jesus is with us. We are not on our own. We belong to Christ, and nothing can separate us from his love.
3. Pray for Your Enemies
You know it’s easy to get all up in arms about the ways of the world. We tend to be ready to fight and always have a defensive posture against the world. There’s a time and place for that, but do you also pray for those who seek to do you harm? Remember the words of Jesus here too:
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Listen church - right now and in the years ahead, you really will feel more like Daniel in Babylon than yourself in America. I’m not saying America is Babylon. I don’t believe that. I am saying, however, that following Jesus will be more costly in the years ahead than it has been in years past. How will you respond? Your first response must be prayer.
Look to the example of Jesus. Recognize his presence is with you. And pray for those who persecute you. That’s how you thrive in Babylon. Daniel and his friends will face many more challenges, and we have much to learn from them. Faithfulness to Christ is our goal regardless of what the world says or does. Church, I don’t fear the future. I’m not afraid of the rising tide of secularism, and you shouldn’t be either. After all, light shines brightest in the darkness, and the light of Christ in you will be what draws the world out of darkness! Go and be light this week.