DUNCAN/Take time to be holy
Please turn with me in your Bible to Daniel 1:1-21. The context of this book is the Babylonian exile which occurred from approximately 605 BC to 537 BC. This exile, though it may have looked like God was not in control, was in fact, according to God’s own prophets, His punishment against Israel’s sin and rebellion. That is a key to understanding the book of Daniel and his whole view of the sovereignty of God. Throughout the book, Daniel gives us a God-centered view of life. It was written for the people of God living in a world which opposed them. As such, he calls them to perseverance, faithfulness, and hope. With those truths in mind, there are four important lessons that we can learn from the first chapter of Daniel. Firstly, we must grasp and embrace that God is sovereign even in His people’s tragedy. Secondly, we must be aware of the schemes of worldliness. Thirdly, we must consciously resolve to resist worldliness in our minds and desires. Fourthly and finally, we must remember that God honors faithfulness.
I. God is Sovereign Even in His People’s Tragedy.
In verses 1-2, we see God’s indignation. God had promised through Jeremiah and Isaiah and through the other prophets, that if the children of God turned their backs on Him, He would carry them off into exile, and that is precisely what is recorded for us in verses 1- 2. But even in the midst of that terrible news, there is a great word of truth for us. We learn that God is sovereign even in His people’s tragedy. In the first verse, it may look like the God of Israel has fallen prey to the false gods of Babylon; however, the second verse makes it clear that even the exile itself has been done by the determinant counsel of God. In referring to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel says, “The Lord gave Jehoiakim, king of Judah, into his hand.” Here we see a beautiful balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. You will also notice in verse 2 that we are told that the children of Israel are taken into Babylon, but they are taken into the land of Shinar. We know the very first use of the name Shinar traces all the way back to Genesis, chapter 11, and to the story of the tower of Babel. Do you see what Daniel is doing here? He’s reminding us that this is not just a battle between the nation state of Judah and the nation state of Babylon. This is a battle between the city of God and the city of man, between Jerusalem as representatives of God’s people and Babylon. The exile is not a proof that God’s plan has failed; it is a proof that God’s plan has been fulfilled. The exile is not an accident. It is a work of the will of God.
II. We Must Be Aware of the Schemes of Worldliness.
In verses 3-7, we are told how Nebuchadnezzar and his men planned to brainwash the nobility of Jerusalem. Notice the four-fold strategy that Nebuchadnezzar uses to take over the minds and the desires of the people of God. First, he isolates these young Israelites away from Jerusalem, away from their families, and away from the means of grace. And isolated from the means of grace, he hopes that they will be open to the thinking of the Babylonians. Secondly, notice that they are indoctrinated. Specifically, they are taught the language and the literature of Babylon. The goal is to indoctrinate them into the thinking and worldview of Babylonians. Thirdly, notice also that he puts before them rich food and delicacies and great privileges in the court by giving them high living and comfort. By giving them position and status, he hopes to wean their desires from their God and to draw their desires to Babylon. Finally, he attempts to bring confusion in the very hearts and minds of these young people by giving them new names connected with the god of the Babylonians so that they will forget who they are. This reminds us that how we think about God, about ourselves, about others, and about the world around us, determines how we will live. As believers, we are to be concerned to be faithful to the scriptural principles and scriptural worldview set forth for us in the Word of God.
III. We Must Resist Worldliness in Our Minds and Desires.
In verses 8-16, Daniel resolves to be holy, humble, and faithful in his resistance to the worldliness around him. He makes up his mind that he will not be contaminated by the court of Babylon. Yet he resists with genuine humility. In his humility, Daniel offers a respectful request regarding their diet that the Lord eventually causes the court official to honor. During this time, Daniel resolves to be holy. He is also humble in his response. And he is a man who believes. He trusts and he expects that God would be faithful. Daniel may not have had any idea of how God was going to honor his desire to be faithful, but Daniel was confident and his faith was confident. He was assured of God’s power and of God’s promises. Do we have that kind of resolution? As believers, we ought to have the highest expectations, not out of presumption, but out of confidence in the Lord’s power and His providence.
IV. We Must Remember that God Honors Faithfulness.
Finally, in verses 17-21, we see that God honors Daniel and his friends in their faithfulness. He elevates them to positions of influence over the Babylonians. Daniel and his friends excel their peers when the testing comes. Their desire to stand firm in this experience prepared them for further tests. Was not our Lord’s life the same way? He went from test to test in increasing intensity on the way to the cross. And if it is so in the life of Daniel and his friends, and if it is so in the life of our Lord, should we not expect it to be so in our own? God is in the testing of our life. Daniel and his friends were faithful in the midst of their trials because they believed that God was sovereign over those trials. Trials give formation, direction, and character to our lives. They are all part of the tapestry God is weaving in history. The Lord uses them to build up our strength and to prepare us to surmount greater obstacles and perhaps fiercer temptations. One of the lessons that we learn in this passage is that it is not who you are, or where you are, but what you are that matters in God’s kingdom. It is our character and faithfulness not our situation that matters. May the Lord, by his Holy Spirit, make us like our Savior who taught us how to live a kingdom life in a fallen world.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at email@example.com.