Daniel was one of the first exiles taken to Babylon. The first few verses of the book of Daniel place the story in the 3rd year of the reign of King Jehoiakim who reigned in Judah for a total of 11 years (2 Chronicles 36:5-8). He wasn’t a great King and did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God (2 Chronicles 36:5). During his reign King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and God gave him into his hands. Nebuchadnezzar carried off articles from the temple as well as taking some of the best of their young men.
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service 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.Daniel 1:3-5
Taking these young men to Babylon was a really big deal – they were the future of their nation. These young men may have been aged as young as 13-17 years old and were part of the ruling class. In Babylon they were placed in a 3-year training programme to prepare them to oversee Jewish affairs in the Babylonian Empire. The intention was to assimilate them into the new culture so they would lose any inclination to rebel. They would then be equipped to be administrators in their home country, with the advantage of knowing the people and their customs, but still working for Babylon. Among these young men was Daniel. He was willing to cooperate in studying Babylonian literature and language, and was even given a Babylonian name, Belteshazzar. We’re told that God gave Daniel and his friends knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning (v17).
1. Drawing our lines of no compromise (1:8-21)
It’s not easy leaving home and having to adjust to new surroundings and challenges. It is not surprising then, that a crisis of conscience erupted when the first meal was served. The Israelites considered the food from Nebuchadnezzar’s table to be contaminated, because the first portion of it was offered to idols. Likewise, a portion of the wine was poured out on a pagan altar. Ceremonially unclean animals were used and were neither slaughtered, nor prepared, according to the regulations of the law.
Daniel was faced with a choice, either he could say nothing and just keep his head down, or he could take a stand and refuse to conform. Daniel demonstrated the strength of his convictions by making a stand on this issue. He played his part in that culture, but refused to compromise on something that he felt went against God’s law. We too need to make a stand on things that we know to be wrong. We may have to refuse to get drunk with our friends, get involved in crude conversation or innuendo at work or conduct our relationships in the way the world around us does. Whatever the issue, the key is not to compromise our faith. Daniel was willing to live differently to those around him, despite the consequences he might face as a result. It will not be easy to stand out from those around us and we may be ridiculed for doing so. But, if we are to live for Christ, it is a choice that we must make. If we make a stand early, it will be easier to do so again in the future.
Daniel asked the chief official, Ashpenaz, for permission not to eat the food and the wine and we are told that God had caused him to show favour and compassion to him. But Ashpenaz was afraid of the King and was fearful that he would have his head if he saw them looking worse than the other young men. Daniel then approached the guard who Ashpenaz had appointed over him and his friends. He suggested a 10 day trial to see whether they would look any worse for it. God blessed the stand they made and in fact we are told that after 10 days they looked better and healthier than the others. At the end of their training programme, King Nebuchadnezzar spoke with them and found no-one to be their equal. So they entered the King’s service and were so successful, that in every matter of wisdom and understanding they were 10 times better than all of the King’s magicians and enchanters. Time and again God blesses His people who are willing to take a stand for Him and live distinctively.
2. No compromise in Worship (Daniel 3:1-30):
The 2nd example concerns a golden image (30 metres high, 3 meters wides) which the King setup. He called together all of Babylon’s dignitaries and instructed them to fall down and worship the golden image whenever they heard music of all kinds. Anyone who refused to fall down was to be “immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace” (3:6). Some astrologers saw this as their opportunity to denounce the Jews, and specifically, Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They explain to the King that they paid no attention to him and did not serve his gods or worship the golden image he had setup. Understandably the King was furious at their disobedience and he summoned them. He gave them a further opportunity to comply and if they did not, they would be thrown into the fiery furnace. Here is how they responded:
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King 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 deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
The King carried out his threat and they were thrown into the furnace which was so hot that the soldiers who took them in were killed instantly. God however, came through for these faithful men and the King soon saw that not a hair on their heads had been singed. As a result of their refusal to compromise, the King praised their God and made a decree that if anyone said anything against their God they would be cut into pieces and their houses turned to rubble. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego also received a promotion! Once again during exile, God’s people remained faithful despite the subsequent threat to their lives. God’s reward was further blessing and that should be a great encouragement and motivation to us to remain faithful to God!
3. No compromise in Prayer (Daniel 6):
In chapter 6 the story is back with Daniel under the reign of King Darius. The King appointed 120 satraps to rule the land and he placed 3 administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. We are told that “Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (v3). But this did not go down well with the other leaders and so they sought to discredit him. However, they were unable to find any grounds for corruption and concluded that the only likely basis for a charge would have to relate to his religion. So they setup a ruse to catch him out; specifically, they urged the King to issue an edict that “anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den” (v7).
Daniel was confronted with a test of loyalties, but he knew what he needed to do. He went home and he prayed – in fact he kept on doing so 3 times a day just as he had previously. The other leaders went to visit him and found him asking his God for help. So they went to the King and told him “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day” (v13). The King was greatly distressed, but he soon found that his hands were tied because the edict had been put in writing and could not therefore be repealed.
The order was given and the King told Daniel “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” (v16b). But when the King came back the next morning, Daniel told him that God had shut the mouths of the lions. When Daniel was lifted from the lions den, “no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God” (v23b). Instead, the King had his accusers thrown into the lions den and they were instantly killed. The King issued another decree that people in every part of his Kingdom had to fear & reverence Daniel’s God. Then he praised God:
“26 …For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. 27 He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”Daniel 6:26b-27
Once again Daniel refused to compromise against all the odds. And yet God brought him through these challenging moments and made him prosperous. Ultimately, God is on the throne and we serve Him above all.
Some people in their pursuit of holiness cut themselves off from the world. Our call to holiness is not something we should be willing to compromise on, but still some withdraw to their Christian cliques. Others can get so immersed in their culture, that they are barely recognisably different from the world. We must now allow ourselves to be conformed by the world around us. When Jesus prayed for his disciples in John 17, He asked His Father that they would be ‘in the world’, but ‘not of the world’.
15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.John 17:15-19
We need a balance between our willingness to be involved in the world and our resolve not to compromise. It is this principle which comes so clearly from the life of Daniel. We will have to work through many of the difficult situations and issues we face in the light of scripture. While the Bible does not give us all the answers to those issues, it does give us the necessary principles in order to be able to decide where will will need to refuse to compromise.
Questions for Discussion / Thought
- What kind of environment did Daniel face in Babylon and how does it compare to the world that we live in?
- How did Daniel react to this new environment and what can we learn from it?
- Why do you think that Daniel resolves to not eat the royal food and wine?
- What would it take for you to remain faithful even under the kinds of dire consequences these exiles faced?
- What can we learn from Daniel’s attitude and actions when our Biblical convictions are challenged?
- How do we strike a balance between being ‘in the world’ while not being ‘of the world’?
See other posts in this series: Far From Home