Daniel 1:1-8

Our current contemporary culture brings new challenges to our Christian faith with each passing day. Daniel was a young man who grew up in a culture of traditional family values. Then he unexpectedly found himself in a culture that was foreign to everything he had known. His value system, his truth claims, his moral compass was challenged repeatedly at every turn. His world evolved into a world of pluralism and paganism.

Daniel could have blamed his challenging circumstances on societal ills, the court system of his day, the government, the media, the educational system or any number of a myriad of other places where Christians in our contemporary culture point fingers of accusation today. However, Daniel seems to step out of the Scripture and into our modern culture to show us some principles that will enable us not only to exist in our culture, but also to engage it and even thrive in it as well.

Like Daniel, we too find ourselves in a world that has passed from a Judeo-Christian culture to one which in many ways has become an anti-Judeo-Christian one. He has left us a book in the Old Testament that bears his name which is filled with contemporary applications that enable us to put into practice some time-honored biblical principles for addressing our contemporary world.

Can we really expect to change a crumbling culture around us? It is interesting to watch the church of Jesus Christ in the various ways it attempts to address the culture today. Some compromise – that is, they allow the permeating, pluralistic philosophy of the day to subtly take away the focus from the exclusivity of Christ. Others condone the culture. For some it is much easier to adapt to the culture and condone alternative lifestyles, not only in the pew but also in the pulpit.

There are others who condemn. Some people respond to the culture by simply beating their Bibles a little harder and screaming a little louder as though that were going to win a lost generation. And thank God there are some who learn from Daniel to confront the culture and engage it by speaking the truth in love.

The events of September 11, 2001, have left an indelible mark on the American psyche. Now is the church’s moment to rise up and capture a culture. Daniel was a young man who suddenly found himself in a culture that was foreign to everything that he’d known as a youngster. He steps out of the pages of Scripture and into our world today with some valuable principles that give us tremendous advice in confronting our own culture.

Daniel was keenly aware of the tendency to simply give in to the culture around us. Sadly, this is happening in so many churches today. Some of us with good intentions have leaned over looking into the culture and studying it so long we’ve actually fallen into it ourselves. I do not believe Daniel is speaking softly here in these opening verses of Daniel 1. He is passionate. He is saying, “Don’t give in, be resistant.”

He draws the line. He does not draw the line on nonessentials. He draws the line when it comes to the Word of God. This is the point at which he resisted. He didn’t give in to a culture around him. He made some tough decisions. In order to see a picture of the biblical background that brought him to this platform we must ask ourselves a few questions.

We should begin by asking the “where?” question. Where does Daniel take place? There are two places mentioned in the early verses of his book. One is Judah. After the reign of King Solomon the twelve tribes of Israel divided. There were ten tribes in the Northern Kingdom and two tribes in the Southern Kingdom. Judah and Benjamin were in the south. Jerusalem was the capital of the Southern Kingdom. They had 19 kings that ruled over them over a period of three and a half centuries. Eleven of those kings were bad and eight of them were relatively good.

In contrast, the Northern Kingdom never had one good king. They went into the Assyrian captivity in 722 B.C. Thus, Judah is the Southern Kingdom. The Southern Kingdom is where Daniel was born and raised. The other place mentioned is Babylon. All humanistic thought can trace its journey back there to the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). In Daniel’s day the Babylonian Empire was the world power. Its capital was about 50 miles from the modern city of Baghdad, Iraq. Babylon was the capital of pagan worship and was without question the world power of its day.

Next we come to the “who?” question. Again, we’re introduced to several people. There is Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. He designed the wonders of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was an amazing man who built an incredible city and developed a world empire. We also are introduced to Jehoiakim who was the king of the Southern Kingdom at the time. He was nothing more than a puppet. He led the Jews by inner-corruption to worship other gods and did evil in the sight of the Lord. (2 Kings 24:19) The Bible tells us that he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. (2 Kings 24:4)

We’re also introduced to a young man named Daniel who was a descendant of good King Hezikiah. He was a boy under the revival of Josiah and that move of God’s Spirit had a profound impact upon his life. He was an extremely bright young man who, if he had lived today, would have been the type of young man who would have had an appointment to one of the military academies or one of the respected institutions of higher learning in our world. His world was turned upside down when he was taken into Babylonian captivity by Nebuchadnezzar with the first group of exiles in 605 B.C.

Next we come to the “when?” question. Daniel 1:1 tells us that these events took place in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim. That is, 605 B.C. These were days of severe punishment for Judah. A group of bright and outstanding young future leaders were taken captive to Babylon. In 597 B.C. another group was exiled. Then, in 586 B.C. the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and the city of gold herself were laid waste and destroyed and the rest of the remnant was taken into Babylonian exile. Thus, by the time the captivity was complete Daniel had already been living in Babylon for almost 20 years.

This brings us to the “what?” question. What was this that was taking place? It was nothing short of the judgment of God. God was punishing His people. In fact, the Bible puts it like this; the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar] hand. (Daniel 1:2) God was in control. God was pushing the buttons on His own remote control. There’s a sense in which Nebuchadnezzar was nothing more than the remote control in the hand of God Himself. In fact, in Jeremiah 24:9 He refers to Nebuchadnezzar as my servant. Some of us in our modern day have forgotten that God judges sin.

The Babylonian captivity was the direct judgment of God upon His people. This captivity into Babylon had been predicted in detail years before it happened (Isaiah 39:5-7; Jeremiah 25:8-12; 2 Kings 20:17-18). However, Judah would not repent. Judah had seen what had happened to the Northern Kingdom. Judah had heard the warnings of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Hezekiah. Judah had been spared by miraculous intervention during the Assyrian invasion. They got to the place where they began to think they were indestructible. Can we help but think of our own America? Most of us today are not hearing God’s warning to us, much less heeding it.

Thus, Judah was taken away into the captivity of a pagan world and culture. One only has to read Psalms 137 to see what it was like. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it. …How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? (Psalms 137:1-6) Daniel reminds us that it is the hand of God that is in the rise and fall of nations (Daniel 2:21). Yes, the Lord gave Jehoiakim, King of Judah, into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. If God would do that with a people He called the “apple of His eye” what makes us think that we are so invincible here in America? The Babylonian captivity was nothing less than a judgment of God upon His own people.

Finally, we come to the “why?” question. Why did God allow it? God allowed the Babylonian captivity to scourge His people. The Bible says, Whom the Lord loves He chastens. (Hebrews 12:6) God punishes His own people out of a heart of love for them. Not only was the captivity to scourge His people but to purge His people.

There were many good things that came out of the Babylonian captivity. Israel never again followed after idols, not even until this day. The Old Testament began to come together under men like Ezra. The remnant returned to Jerusalem and in it was the seed of our Messiah. In captivity Daniel and the others carried the message of God to heathen lands. Centuries later when the Magi would come from the East to worship the Christ Child we would be reminded that they heard about Him because of the witness of a young man named Daniel that was handed down through the generations in their geographical vicinity.

There’s an interesting plot that unfolds in Daniel 1:3-7. Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was to gather the brightest young Jewish minds and bring them into the Babylonian environment and culture. He set out to re-educate them and to retrain them. His plot and plan was to eventually place them in charge of the coming exiles and then one day place them back in their home country to rule there on behalf of Babylon.

It was a clever plot. These young men who accompanied Daniel into exile had impressive resumes (see Daniel 1:4). They were young men with no physical defects. They were handsome. They had high SAT scores. They were well informed. They were equipped to understand. They had social graces. Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was to brainwash these monotheistic boys into polytheistic Babylonian leaders.

He set out to change their language (Daniel 1:4). To be accepted in any new culture one needs to learn the language. The first thing Nebuchadnezzar did was to change the language of Zion to the Babylonian language. Anyone on the mission field today knows the necessity of this. One of the first things missionaries do before engaging their various new cultures is to learn the language of the people.

Nebuchadnezzar also set out to change their literature (Daniel 1:4). Literature is the window through which most cultures present themselves. The king sought to fill these young minds with Babylonian philosophy, Babylonian science, Babylonian astrology, and Babylonian religion. His goal was to re-educate them away from the roots of their previous belief system and all of its traditional values. We’re doing that in America today and simply call it “values clarification” in many public education systems.

Nebuchadnezzar not only set out to change their language and literature but also their lifestyle (Daniel 1:5). He appointed daily provisions of his own delicacies. In other words, these boys were provided with gourmet delights straight from the King’s table. Now remember these boys were Jews and lived by a strict kosher diet. Nebuchadnezzar’s intent here was far more than simply introducing them to new food, he was about the business of seeking to change their very lifestyle.

Nebuchadnezzar also sought to change their loyalty (Daniel 1:7). He did this by changing their names. All four of these young men’s names spoke about who they were and from whence they’d come. Daniel’s name meant “God is my judge.” Hananiah’s name meant “beloved of the Lord.” Mishael’s name meant “who is like God.” Azariah’s name meant “the Lord is my help.” These were the names of the young men who accompanied Daniel into Babylonian exile from Judah. All of their names were changed to Babylonian names, which were related not to Jehovah but to Babylonian deities. Nebuchadnezzar was seeking to change their loyalties. He wanted to train these young people to handle Jewish affairs of the exiles and then rule over the people once they were back home in Jerusalem. They had tremendous leadership abilities. His goal was clear. He set out to change their very way of thinking and their very loyalties.

We look at this today and say that is terrible. Yes, but we should look more closely around us. Our brightest young minds are being re-educated and retrained by humanistic philosophy right here in America. We are the Babylon of the modern world in many ways. Gloria Steinem, in a Saturday Review article in March of 1973, stated that by the year 2000 “we will, I hope, raise our children to believe in human potential and not in God.” And we wonder why prayer and Bible reading and the Ten Commandments and creation science have no place in the education of America’s young minds? What happened in Babylon has been repeated today in America. Our young people find themselves in the same culture in which Daniel lived in his day.

How could this happen in America? It happened the same way in Babylon. These were planned techniques designed to gradually change a young person’s conscience, values, and behavior. We have taught a generation of young people that they have a right to develop their own personal values apart from their parental influences or authorities. We have convinced a generation that there is no right from wrong and that there are no moral absolutes nor moral truths. “Tolerance” is the buzzword of this generation.

Daniel walked in this same world but he did not give in. He was resistant. How? It was not because his parents protested or picketed. They obviously did the best thing parents can do for their children. They trained him in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6). We should find it interesting that Daniel did not say “no” to a Babylonian education. He knew how to handle it. He had parents who had built something into him. They named him “God is my judge,” Daniel. They taught him and instilled values in him.

Christian parents seeking to raise children to live in a 21st century Babylonian culture in America should not think they can leave it to the school nor the church to instill these values. We should dispense with the notion that “it takes a village” to raise a child. No, it takes a mom or a dad to train these precious lives in the way that they should go. When we leave it to the village they will pull our kids down every time!

Daniel could not change the influences around him but he did have control over his reaction to these influences. Daniel purposed in his heart. (Daniel 1:8) Even though he was learning a new language and a new literature and a new lifestyle he drew the line when it came to eating the king’s meat. He had a biblical admonition regarding this. He purposed in his heart not to do it. Here was a young man who would not compromise.

We should find it interesting that there’s no attempt on Daniel’s part to separate himself from the culture around him. Daniel was no isolationist as some are today. He was capable of interacting with the pagan culture around him without being contaminated by it. We should know that we will never be salt and light and influence our culture if we’re totally isolated from it. Daniel actually learned from his culture. He compared it to what he understood from God’s point of view. What we need today is what Daniel had – that is, a knowledge and perception of what is biblical and what is not. Part of the problem with our own pagan culture is that the church has retreated from it for years. Some of us have given in to it and given up on it. Then, very subtly in place of influencing it, the culture began to influence the church, so much so that we are hard pressed to see the biblical pattern of the church we find in Acts in many modern churches today.

Look at Daniel. He went along with the teaching because he already knew what he believed. He went along with the name change because he knew that they could change his name but not his heart. But Daniel drew the line when it came to “eating the king’s meat.” Now, one would think it might be just the opposite – that is, that he would go along with something like food and say no to the name change. On the surface, had you asked me, I might have advised him to stay away from the literature, to not pollute his mind with the godless morals of the pagan ideas. Why did Daniel say yes to the education but no to the food? He drew the line on what the Word of God said. There’s no strict prohibition to taking a different name or learning what others believe. However, in that Jewish dispensation there was a strong prohibition about what Jews could eat. Not only was Nebuchadnezzar’s food not kosher, it had been offered to idols. Daniel did not refuse the king’s meat because he was a vegetarian or a dietary fanatic. He obeyed the Word of God. He took his stand upon the Word of God.

One of the reasons so many of us fall into our own world culture is that we do not know what the Bible says and thus we compromise and assimilate ourselves into the culture with no real convictions. Seldom do we “purpose in our hearts” so that when the time comes and we have to make a decision, we’ve already made it in our heart and mind. Daniel was just a teenager at this time. Most of life’s major decisions are made in our youth. Decisions regarding our careers, our marriages, our friends, our habits, even decisions of trusting Christ are made when we are young. Daniel had made his decision long before he got to Babylon. He “purposed in his heart” to stand upon the Word of God. Daniel did not wait until he got to an intersection of life to decide which way he would turn. He had already made his mind up before he got there.

What are the criteria we should use in our culture today to determine which activities to engage in and which not? Some would say peer pressure. For Daniel it was the Word of God. He set his mind. He purposed in his heart. Life is full of intersections and compromise is the name of the game in our culture today. It is the American way of life. Daniel is saying to us across these centuries, “Don’t give in, be resistant.”

What about us? We are going out this week into a world that seems to be out of control. What are we going to do? We are all under pressure to conform to the culture, to give in. Daniel was under incredible pressure himself. Everything changed around him. His language changed. What he was reading changed. His diet changed. His name changed. The names of his friends changed. Babylon was trying to squeeze him into its mold so he would look like the rest of them, talk like the rest of them, act like the rest of them, dress like the rest of them, eat like the rest of them, be like the rest of them. It was a decisive and deliberate attempt to cut him off from his own culture and his own religious roots.

The same thing is happening in America today. When we open our eyes we see it plainly. There is so much pressure to conform to the culture. Learn from Daniel. Purpose in your heart to draw the line at the Word of God. We belong to the family of God. We have our own culture, our own language, our own literature, our own lifestyle, and our own loyalties. When we look around and our world looks out of control, remember that Daniel reminds us it was “the Lord” who gave Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. God is in control.

So what should we do? We should take Daniel’s advice. “Don’t give in…be resistant.” Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, dare to have a firm purpose, and dare to make it known!

O.S. Hawkins is president and chief executive officer of the SBC Annuity Board. He is a Contributing Editor to Preaching.

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