CAPTIVE’S COMMITMENT Daniel 1–3
“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 in this way”(Dan. 1:8).The pressure to conform is intense in every society. But Christians today, like the teenage Daniel, are called on to express commitment to the Lord by taking a personal stand for what is right.
Modern critics have supposed that Daniel was written in the Maccabean period, about 165B.C by someone who used Daniel’s name to win acceptance for his writings. The underlying reason for this position is refusal to believe that anyone writing about 573B.C, when at age 90 Daniel edited his memoirs, could with absolute accuracy have predicted the history of the Middle East. Yet Daniel’s visions so clearly describe some 400 years of history that only two options exist: admit the supernatural origin of his revelations, or date the book after the events it describes. Yet internal evidence shows that the writer knew intimately the inner workings of the Babylonian and Persian courts, and had information that was not available in the Maccabean era when the critics say Daniel must have been written! Such details as specific administrative titles, later changed, and Belshazzar’s co-regency with his father, with many others, so perfectly fit the historical setting that fabrication can be ruled out. Also, Daniel is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:14, 20 and 28:3, admittedly an early book. And the Book of Daniel was itself accepted as Scripture by the Jews of the Maccabean era. The notion that the Jewish scribes, who so respected their holy books, could have been taken in by a contemporary fabrication, strains credulity. It’s good to know as we read this fascinating Old Testament book that any lessons we draw from Daniel’s experience are rooted in the real-life experiences of a person like ourselves, rather than in the fictional activities of a mythical hero. And it is comforting to realize, as we explore the prophetic revelations of Daniel, that just as God’s predictive Word came to pass in earlier days, His predictive Word concerning what lies ahead for us is as certain and as sure.
Daniel and three friends carefully followed Jewish dietary laws while in training for service in Babylon (1:1–16), and were blessed by God with wisdom (vv. 17–21). Daniel achieved high government rank by explaining Nebuchadnezzar’s prophetic dream (2:1–49). God rescued Daniel’s three companions, thrown into a blazing furnace for refusing to worship an idol erected by Nebuchadnezzar (3:1–30).
Understanding the Text
“Trained for . . . the king’s service” Dan. 1:1–7.
Young Daniel and at least three Jewish companions were registered in the royal academy, to be trained for three years. At the end of that time, they would be tested and given appropriate positions in the Babylonian administration. On the surface it seems the four Hebrew youths were offered a great opportunity. But there is another way to look at it. They were enrolled with young people from other conquered lands to be used. This was no act of benevolence by Nebuchadnezzar. It was just smart politics. Why let talent go to waste, when you have a gigantic empire to run? Take the brightest and best from every subject people, and use them. Daniel and his friends, like the students from other nations, were totally aware of their minority status. An individual might attain power and wealth. But he would always be something less than the true Babylonian nobility. People in a minority frequently try to adjust by adopting the views and ways of the majority. They conform and eagerly ape their masters. Or they may fight assimilation, becoming sullen and angry and rude. It’s always painful to feel oneself an inferior—particularly if you know that you are being used. But Daniel and his friends show us a better way to respond when we feel we’re being used because of our minority status. “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine” Dan. 1:8–10. The first step in adjusting to minority status is to determine what boundaries our commitment to God establishes. As a Jew, bound by the dietary laws of the Old Testament, Daniel knew he could not adopt the diet of the Babylonians. Last evening I heard a teenage boy who called “Talk-Net.” He was a member of a minority too—an 18-year-old who had not yet had sexual relations with a girl. His girlfriend had been urging him to have sex. He resisted, feeling that it wasn’t right, and wanting to wait for marriage. But he was full of fears. What if his girl told other teens? What if it got around that he was “different.” Adolescence was so important; he wanted so desperately to fit in. This time the “Talk-Net” host, a man, encouraged him to remain chaste and live by his own values. It would be a big mistake, the host said, to betray the one person he had to live with all his life—himself. It was good advice. But still lacking. There must be an even stronger anchor for our moral choices than personal values. To stand firm under the intense pressures to conform that exist in any society is always hard. To succeed, a person needs what Daniel had: a strong sense of identity as one of God’s people, and determination to live to please God rather than others. “Please test your servants” Dan. 1:11–16. Some believers try to wall themselves off from social pressure by being obnoxious. If you develop an attitude of contempt toward “those people,” and show that contempt in everything you do, most folks will let you alone. Daniel took a very different route. While living by his own values, he was both friendly and respectful. Not at all defiant, he “asked permission” to choose his own diet. He was sensitive to the possible difficulties his stand might make for the Babylonian official over him, and proposed a test period of 10 days to allay that official’s fears. Daniel shows us that the believer can relate positively to the people of the world, even while rejecting the values of society. Because Daniel was this kind of person, he was able to testify about God to the most important persons in Babylon, including Nebuchadnezzar himself. God does not want us to isolate ourselves from the people of this world. He simply wants to inoculate us against its values. “God gave knowledge and understanding” Dan. 1:17–21. Here “knowledge” is accurate information and the skill required to apply that knowledge to solve practical problems of government, while “understanding” is the perceptive ability needed to sort out the false from the true and do so to make good decisions. How striking that Daniel was gifted with the abilities needed to administer a great empire. God places His own in every strata of society. No group should be left without an internal witness to the power and grace of God. When Nebuchadnezzar personally tested the graduates of his royal academy, Daniel and his friends were “ten times better” not only than the graduates, but than their instructors. The impression Daniel made in the secular arena laid a foundation for his later spiritual impact on the king. “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means” Dan. 2:1–10. The archives of Babylon contained many books on dream interpretation. It was popularly believed that dreams were an avenue through which the gods spoke to human beings. No wonder Nebuchadnezzar wanted to understand his troubling dream! He also seems to have been suspicious of his own wise men. He insisted they tell him the dream before they interpreted it! It seemed a reasonable test. Since the professional class that gave the king advice claimed to be able to interpret the supernatural, they ought to demonstrate access to supernatural sources of information. This morning the business news reported an astounding growth in astrology magazines, and described a new “upscale” product soon to enter that field. It’s amazing how many people turn to astrology, never thinking, as Nebuchadnezzar did, that it might be wise to test the supposed supernatural abilities of any such advisers. Only Daniel was able to report the dream and to interpret it. And he was careful to give God the glory, explaining to Nebuchadnezzar that he, Daniel, had no supernatural abilities but that “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” If we truly want supernatural aid, why not appeal to God? “He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven” Dan. 2:11–23. Note two things about Daniel’s approach to God. First, he enlisted others to pray with him for God’s help. Yes, God does hear us when we pray. But gathering others to pray with and for us is an act of faith: we have faith that God hears all His children, and we have faith that when believers pray together God works powerfully through them. Second, note that when the answer to prayer came, Daniel devoted himself to praise even before he went to the king! Daniel truly did put God first. This was undoubtedly the secret of his personal piety and his public achievements. “Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind” Dan. 2:28–49. The giant image Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream represented his own and succeeding Mesopotamian empires. These are the same empires seen in later visions of Daniel. Each of the empires is destined to be succeeded, until all are ultimately crushed and supplanted. In the end, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people.” Daniel had demonstrated the ability that Nebuchadnezzar had required. Here was proof of contact with the supernatural. Here was evidence that there is a God in heaven. As a result Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel and gave his three Hebrew friends important posts. Most important, the experience was the beginning of what we might consider the conversion of Nebuchadnezzar himself. God is at work even now in the most unlikely of unbelievers. The pagan king, author of a recovered poem expressing both his own arrogance and gratitude to his god for his advancement, had been given a dream by God. This had launched a course of events that impressed him with Daniel and with Daniel’s God. Who knows what God may even now be doing within the heart of some “unlikely” person in your life? “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold” Dan. 3:1–30. Nebuchadnezzar’s construction of a giant, gold-coated idol does not conflict with the report of his respect for Daniel’s God. In that day the worship of several different deities was common, and the idea of exclusive devotion to a single God seemed strange. Thus the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel’s three Hebrew companions, to worship the king’s idol, seemed totally unreasonable. Nebuchadnezzar took it as a personal affront, and when the three calmly refused to participate, the furious king ordered them thrown into a blazing clay furnace. There the three were joined by a fourth Figure, and walked safely despite the flames. Nebuchadnezzar was impressed. Again this absolute autocrat had experienced the power of God, this time overruling his angry decision to execute the three Hebrews. The king quickly issued a command that no one say anything against the God of the three Hebrews. After all, what ruler aside from the Exodus Pharaoh would be foolish enough to ask for trouble! And he promoted the faithful three again. Many have wondered where Daniel was when this great worship service took place. Some assume he was traveling, some that he was ill at home. More important is, why wasn’t Daniel there? I suspect the reason is that Nebuchadnezzer already held Daniel in some awe, and would not have been surprised if he had refused to worship, or if he were rescued by a miracle. But here were three relative unknowns among the thousands of administrators in Nebuchadnezzar’s empire. These three, like Daniel, were faithful exclusively to Judah’s God, and their God acted to save their lives. By having this stand taken by the three rather than Daniel, the king’s focus was shifted to God from God’s servant, Daniel. God showed that He would act for anyone who was fully committed to Him. What an important lesson for anyone on a journey toward faith to learn!
But Even If(Dan. 3)
I like guarantees. That’s why, after checking on all the local services that promise to protect our home from underground termites, I went with Sears. Sears not only offered a competitive price, but promised to repair any damage caused by underground termites to the house or its contents—up to $250,000! Now that’s a guarantee! Of course, in our walk with the Lord no such guarantees are provided. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego understood that when they stood before a furious Nebuchadnezzar. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.” God surely is able. And then they went on. “But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” God can save us. We believe He will. “But even if He does not” we will serve the Lord and Him only. What the three exhibited was a quality that you and I need in our own spiritual lives. Complete commitment. Commitment so complete that even if God does not exert His miracle-working power on our behalf, even then we will serve God and Him only. I’m not sure, but I suspect the faith of the three Hebrews was almost as impressive to Nebuchadnezzar as the miracle. It is to me. And it reminds me that as much as I like guarantees, I must commit myself to God in every situation of life with absolutely no assurance that He will perform miracles on my behalf. But then, you and I do have one guarantee, after all. Our God, who has power to do whatever He wills, is wise enough to do not what I want, but what is best. And this is the best guarantee of all.
Be loyal to God and He will surely be loyal to you.