You do not belong here. That’s tough. Being different – awkwardly so. Standing out where everyone notices. Where you set yourself up for ridicule, or worse. That takes courage that takes conviction. That takes resolve. You don’t belong here. To be different. The conviction that it takes is the faith that your king is KING. HE is absolutely sovereign over every king and president, every world event of this week, and over your next breath.
A child of God is different but not alone. We can and should expect that statement – you do not belong here. But we can stand strong because God is sovereign. That is the story of Daniel… a story of a statesman, a politician, a leader, a man absolutely convicted of the power of God – a believer. Through and through. Even in a foreign land…. Daniel sang the Lords song.
How do Gods people in exile live?
- Going to Babylon
- Living in Babylon
- Not belonging to Babylon
Going to Babylon
We read in verse 1, “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand along with some of the articles from the temple of God.”
Little could mighty king Nebuchadnezzar ever have known that this would be the conquest that would be remembered in history? Jerusalem and Judah weren’t exactly mighty empires. He had actually just finished taking out the much greater Egyptian empire. You would think the world would remember that one – but no – that one is left for students of ancient history and instead this conquest is in the Bible. Why – Because God wanted it remembered. God is giving us a hint of what really all of history is about. It is about a battle between the kingdom of God, and Babylon, the kingdom of this world
Verse 2b gives a hint of this when Nebuchadnezzar carried the vessels to the temple of his God in Babylonia. Literally what is written there is “These he carried off to the temple of his god in the land of Shinar.”
Shinar – the land of Shinar… ring any bells? This is exact the same place where the tower of Babel was built. So right in the opening verses we have Jerusalem the city of God - The capital of the kingdom of God. And we have Babel the headquarters of the kingdom of darkness. These two stand opposed to one another from the beginning of scripture all the way through revelation where Babylon is finally and ultimately destroyed.
I am sure Nebuchadnezzar probably thought that Israel and Jerusalem were done forever – but in scripture we get a picture of it from God’s perspective. In verse 2 it says, “The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand.” I am sure even the Israelites didn’t see it this way… they probably were thinking where is God in all this? Has he forgotten? Did he forget? Is he unfaithful? No, just the opposite, he is being God – he is keeping the promises that he made to them when he warned them not to rebel and sin against them. If they had only read his Word they would know exactly what was going on.
You see God is ALWAYS faithful to his word. ALWAYS – he had warned his people that this would happen. Do not take chances with God’s Word, every single word remains true forever.
Here we see the curse on God’s people, as Moses has already said in Lev 26, Deut 4 and 28-29. It is sin which has mislead the people from the land of the living to the land of the dead. God is patient but his judgement will come....
Already they had spiritually become like the nations, Nebuchadnezzar was just finishing the job in reality.
They had not been the light of God to the nations. They had not been faithful to his word. And therefore God would punish them, and remove them from his sight. The question that we always need to be asking is are we always looking for ways to grow more faithful in obedience to his word. Is that all we want? Nothing but his ways? Are we being faithful to our calling to be a light to the nations? A light to this city? Are we being the voice of truth in a wicked and perverse generation?
God’s people were being handed over to Babylon, to the city ruled by the prince of this world, to learn a lesson, and to speak into that world the truth of Gods kingship. God was disciplining them as a father does his children. And as a father he would not abandon them there, even though they might have felt like he did. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” God will never ever abandon his own no matter how you feel. God is there.
Living in Babylon
This king takes them into exile and picks out the top of the crop to serve him. He tells his official Ashpenaz in verse 3, and 4 “To bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility – 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. These guys had a high IQ, were good looking, in top physical condition. They aced every class and their school always won the rugby tournament.
It is interesting that the king picks out some young guys, teenagers that he thought could easily be indoctrinated. Some say they were as young as 14. He re-trains, reprograms them – to think differently, to believe differently – indeed to be different. He even changes their names!
Nebuchadnezzar was not the first leader to see the value in influencing the young to work for his kingdom. University campuses are full of people who are being retrained for the kingdom of Babel. I don’t know how many of you are in education, teaching or learning. You are on the forefront of this battlefield. You are in the line of fire daily. You have the challenge and opportunity of a lifetime there to be a light and change a future generation.
Let’s take a look at this reprogramming for just a second. Babylon’s program was a combination of threat and promise, of enforcement and encouragement. For example, Babylon offered them the best in society. Well fed, well clothed, well off. The allure and promise of earthly wealth is always before them. It’s so much easier to lead people astray when they are full, wealthy and comfortable. They get sleepy, not as watchful…
These four young Hebrew men were given Hebrew names: Each of their names contained the word “God”, and that word was removed and replaced with the name of one of the local gods/idols. Babel wanted these men to forget their God and their fatherland.
Just in case they still would not forget God, Babylon would also threaten them as we shall see. Faith would lead to standing out, ridicule, and later worse. The kingdom of this present darkness knows that most people assimilate far easier if you feed and provide well for them. And then make fun of them if they persist in faith.
Satan is still using the same old tricks, and our hearts so often dance to his song. I sometimes wonder if we realize how often we are exposed to this, and whether we dismiss it too easily. We are so at home in this world, like a fish in water, we do not realize how much we accept unquestioningly.
We live today in an era of tolerant pantheism. And your God is only acceptable so long as he stays in his corner, that is: church, family, and personal quiet-times. But do not try tobring your God to the world of science or culture, others gods reign there. Do not bring your God to campus or to the office, that’s where we’re busy with real life. Just keep your faith to yourself..
But our faith is a public faith. And at some point it will take a stand.
Please notice where he takes a stand though. Daniel and his friends did not object to learning the language and literature of the Babylonians. You see being a citizen of new Jerusalem does NOT mean we should not build up the walls of our castle and be isolationist. We are salt and light. That is what a Christian is. This is a book about who is in control. Daniel believed God was and therefore he didn’t play the defensive game of holing up and not engaging the culture. God’s sovereignty does not give us the right to hole up to protect the church! The opposite!
We are sojourners. Temporary residents. And temporary residents can have an amazing impact on a country. But they can also bring a country down. Immigrants bring a country down when they build up protectionist walls, and know nothing of the culture around them, so that they have nothing to talk about. But on the other hand they can have a deep and lasting impact when they keep their Christian identity while still being part of the social environment.
The Babylonians wanted to erase God from their hearts. They wanted to change their identity as Gods people, and make them citizens of the world. They wanted them to be like everyone else…
But they underestimated these teenagers; Or rather, underestimated the reality of their God. Although they were bombarded from every corner with the doctrines of the world, although every news outlet seemed to be saying they were wrong, although they were alone in a vast empire - They would not surrender , because they knew that their God reigned, and he would bring them home.
We don’t belong to babel. This present age of sin, death and darkness. We as VGK have to remember what makes us different while still living in Bellville, and learning what makes people around us tick. We have to learn their idols, know their culture, learn what they like, so that we can be salt and light. This takes wisdom. This takes prayer. This takes fellowship. But we also need to remember what makes us different. To know where will we draw the line. To hold onto Christian identity, while living in the world.
Not belong to Babylon
Go to any place in the world and you will always find Afrikaners that braai. That is who they are. It is part of their “Afrikaans-ness”. God’s children are just the same. Wherever you go you will find them together, they encourage one another, rejoice in their God, point each other to Christ in Word and sacrament.
The church has a culture, formed by the work of Christ. And this lifestyle can adapt to any culture today but it can also influence it.
We must engage in this practice consciously. This starts at a young age. Parents, we must deliberately raise our children in the fear of the Lord, in the traditions of the eternal kingdom. Prayer, scripture, fellowship, so that when the time comes they will stand firm and say I am Gods child. I will be faithful to my sovereign God in a hostile environment.
This moment came for Daniel and his three friends when it came to food, v 8. 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. It is exactly at this point that the main actors change. It is no longer the Babylonian empire and the king making the decisions, it is Daniel. The story becomes shaped by a captive’s decision.
But Daniel resolved… He made a commitment. He proposed in his heart: You see, people do not drift toward holiness. As one theologian says, “We are more likely to drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We lose self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude (Trick) ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
It takes resolve to be a Christian. Commitment. Work. Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s big theologians, realized this from a young age. From his teenage years onward till his twentieth birthday he made a number of resolutions, seventy to be exact.
They include. “I commit never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God… I commit, that I will live just as I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. I commit, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be. I commit, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected the last trumpet would sound under an hour.”
Resolved. Daniel drew a line in the sand. It could have cost him his life. He did not object to the change in his name, nor to royal service on behalf of the Babylonian Empire. But he would not “defile” himself (Dan. 1:8). For many of us today Daniel’s stand seems a little idealistic.
And Daniel decided to make his stand on food… good food at that?! There is debate on why he would not eat the food. I think it was because this was food sacrificed to idols. The king wanted them to eat his food which had been sacrificed to his gods, so that whatever they did, whether they ate or drank they should do all to the glory of the Babylonian gods. It was like unholy communion every time they ate. Daniel only worshipped and served one master. So here he resolved to draw the line. He knew that not just Sundays but all of life must be shot through with service to God – with worship.
In the sovereignty of God, the chief to whom he was responsible, Ashpenaz, happened to favor Daniel. Actually it was God working behind the scenes v 9, “God caused the official to show favor.” But his fear for a worldly king overcame the favor God has instilled in his heart. Just as David feared God more than man, this man feared man more than God. I am guessing he probably knew about Nebuchadnezzar’s temper. It comes up later. Legendary.
Daniel wisely makes him a deal… wait ten days… no one needs to know. Then compare us with the people that are eating the other food and treat us accordingly. V. 12 Do you see Daniel’s tact and charm? He doesn’t kick up a fuss, he doesn’t play the martyr. Sometimes we think that to draw a line means you are stubborn, recalcitrant and uncompromising. But Daniel makes a friendly request, and – can you believe it - they look healthier than the other people. Daniel’s God was, and is, faithful.
As we read in verse 15-16. But not only does he give them great physical health, he gives them more. We read God blesses them and “gives them knowledge and understanding of all things, of literature and wisdom, and Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” Here again we see the intersection of Gods sovereignty and our own passionate involvement. This knowledge was not just sapped into him. They worked, memorized, and studied, they did their exams. But ultimately it came from God. And since it came from God we are not surprised that when the king checked them out, in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questions them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. O, how the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
The kingdom of this world will fall, but the kingdom of his Lord and of his Christ will live forever! Although youths grow weary and fall, those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. That is why the end of the chapter, the very last line is so special…
Dear church you live in a similar time, but Daniel was only a picture for us, and you have infinite more reason to hope in the promises and sovereignty when the world comes at you. He is with you always, to the end of the age – these were the words of Jesus after his death and resurrection.
Jesus Christ was a king who was sent into exile, who entered the domain of darkness, who came to Babylon, the realm of human sin and pride. He was the exiled one. God the Father also gave him into the hands of sinful kings! Exile from God. God forsook him on the cross so that he could be there for his people in exile.
The one who came into the world but was not from it. The one who could talk to anyone (Sinners and tax collectors), and yet remain pure. The one who resolved to go to the cross. He subjected himself to death and so raided and gave a death blow to sin, death, and Satan. He was raised on the third day and exalted above all things. So that the ultimate exile would one day end.
He will keep you, he will guard you by his Spirit as you stand against the indoctrination program of this world, and it will try, because it hates what you stand for. As Jesus prays, “the world will hate you, for they are not of the world anymore as I am of the world.” You are living in the kingdom of God, and therefore your life is his. You belong to him body and soul.
Is there anything worth dying for? Probably not—if all there is to life is our brief earthly span, and all that is important is what happens to me. The trouble is that when a culture runs out of things to die for, it runs out of things to live for. Because we believe in something bigger than our lives, because Jesus is alive, there is a reason to be faithful. To draw the line. To speak the truth. To be a Christ follower. He gives the strength by his spirit.
Through the daily battles, through suffering, sickness, even death, through hate, and ridicule your God is with you. He cares. He will guide you, he will protect you.
Read: Daniël 1
Sing: Ps 96:4, 5; 81:11,12; 78:21; 37:21-23,25; 146:6,7,8