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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:God faithfully gives Daniel and his friends what they need for life in exile
Text:Daniel 1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Preached:2010
Added:2010-06-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 19:1-3
Psalm 139:1,2,13 (after the law)
Psalm 111
Hymn 50:1,2,6,7
Psalm 117

Reading: Luke 2:41-52
Text: Daniel 1
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,

 

It doesn’t seem like we hear a lot about worldliness anymore in our churches.  Maybe that says something about how successful worldliness has been in infiltrating our ranks.  What is worldliness?  We could say that it is conformity to the world of unbelief.  It’s when Christians accommodate themselves to the non-Christian culture and society around them.  Worldliness is in evidence when there’s very little difference between Christians and their unbelieving neighbours.  When you tell people that you go to church and you hear things like, “Oh, I didn’t know you were religious,” or “Oh, I didn’t know you were a Christian.” 

 

Our Lord Jesus taught us that we are to be salt and light in this world.  There is to be something distinguishable and obviously different about the children of God.  But the question is: how does these things come to the surface?  How can we be different?  We don’t really belong in this sinful and unbelieving world in which we live.  Yet God has placed us here and he’s done so for a reason.

 

As we begin looking at Daniel this morning, we’ll see that this is a book which addresses these sorts of questions.  Chapter 1 already takes us quite far in exploring how a believer can live in the midst of an unbelieving and ungodly society.  Here we see four young men, probably 14 or 15 years old at the beginning, maybe 18 at the end, trying to survive in a pagan world.  These four young men trusted God.  They looked to him in the midst of their difficult circumstances.  They understood their relationship to him and his regard for them.  As they looked to God in faith, God gave them what they needed for life in a heathen land.  Loved ones, we can trust that God will do the same with us. 

 

This morning, I bring to you God’s Word.  We’ll see that God faithfully gives Daniel and his three friends what they need for life in exile.  We’ll consider God’s gifts of:

 

1.      Chastisement

2.      Conviction

3.      Compassion

4.      Cultivation

 

Daniel is the story of a Jewish exile and his friends in Babylon – at least the first few chapters – chapters 7-12 give us some of Daniel’s visions and prophecies.  The question is, why were they in Babylon?  The first two verses of chapter 1 give us the answer.

 

In the year 605 BC, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it.  He surrounded it and cut it off from the outside world until it surrendered.  Eventually, it did and Jehoiakim, the king of Judah at the time, was taken captive.  Jehoiakim, the royal family, and the middle and upper classes of Judah were deported to Babylon – that was the first stage of what we call “the exile.”  It’s the most significant event in the later Old Testament period.

 

Not only were all these people deported, but also some of the items from the temple in Jerusalem.  This was the beginning of the end for the temple.  It was the beginning of the end of God’s dwelling among his people.  These items from the temple (from Daniel 5 we know that they included gold and silver goblets) were then installed in the temple of Marduk in Babylon.  That indicated that Marduk had conquered Yahweh, the LORD.  However, as the book moves on, we’ll soon see that the news of Yahweh’s demise was all wrong.  In fact, the victory of the Babylonians had nothing to do with Marduk and his power, but actually everything to do with Yahweh and his power.

 

The LORD had not relinquished his power when Nebuchadnezzar ended up at the city gates of Jerusalem.  The reality was that God had brought him there.  God had brought him there for a reason.  God also put it in his heart to deport all those people to Babylon.  The hearts of kings are like rivers and God directs them wherever he wishes.  So it happened here too.  This is emphasized in Daniel 1:2, when we find “the Lord delivered Jehoiakim into” the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.  God handed him over. 

 

But why?  Deuteronomy 28 tells us of the curses for disobedience for the people of Israel.  If they would not obey God and if they would defile the land with their rebellion, then we read in Deuteronomy 28 that God would drive them and their king “to a nation unknown to you or your fathers.”  They would become “a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule.”  That chapter goes on to relate more of exactly what the Jews could expect if they rebelled against God.  And all those things came to pass exactly as they had been threatened to.  The people of God plunged themselves into idolatry, syncretism (mixing the worship of God with the worship of idols); they gave themselves over to rebellion and God did exactly what he said he would do.     

 

However, it’s important to remember that these curses and punishment were not punishment for the sake of punishment.  Rather, it’s better described as chastisement.  Chastisement is punishment for the sake of discipline.  Chastisement is what parents give to their children whom they love and whom they want to go in the right direction.  Chastisement is unpleasant, but necessary.  The exile was a form of chastisement and it was for the good of God’s people.  They were supposed to learn from this and repent and again turn to God and his promises in faith.

 

The New Testament also speaks about chastisement.  When the Corinthian church tolerated incest and allowed the guilty parties at the Lord’s Supper, Paul said that people in their church were sick and dying because of it.  It was a sign for them to repent and turn back.  When the Lord Jesus dictated his letter to the lukewarm church in Laodicea in Revelation 3, he told them, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline (or chasten).  So be earnest and repent.”  Chastisement is a gift of love from our God.  It may not feel like a gift, indeed, no punishment is pleasant at the time, but it is often what we need to put us on the right path again. 

 

God brought the Jews to Babylon for a reason – to stir up in them repentance and a deeper commitment to him.  We see that commitment and conviction emerging with Daniel and his three friends.  It begins with a command from the king in verse 3.  He orders Ashpenaz to enlist some of the best young Israelites for service in his court.  As a brief aside here, the NIV says that Ashpenaz was the “chief of the court officials.”  In the Hebrew he is said to be the “chief of the eunuchs” not only in verse 3, but throughout this chapter.  Most, if not all, of those who served in the royal court were eunuchs (castrated men).  They were eunuchs for security reasons – they could be trusted among the women.  This is a detail which undergirds the historicity of what we read here and for that reason alone, it’s important.  After all, there are critical, liberal Bible scholars who claim that the story of Daniel is just a pious myth written many years after the time of Nebuchadnezzar.  The historical details refute these wrong views.      

 

Ashpenaz, the chief of the eunuchs, was to oversee the education of these young Jewish men.  They were to be taught the Babylonian language and study the literature of their new surroundings.  They would be schooled for three years and all that time they would also be eating the king’s food and drinking the king’s wine.  The idea behind that was to assimilate the exiles.  They were to become more and more Babylonian and less and less Jewish.  Their Jewish identity was to be obliterated.

 

Part of their Jewish identity for many Israelites consisted of their names.  With the four young men in this chapter, all their names include a reference to God.  Daniel – God is my judge.  Whenever you see “el” on the end of a Jewish name, that’s a short version of “Elohim,” the Hebrew word for “God.”  Hananiah – Yahweh is gracious.  Whenever you see “iah” at the end of a Jewish name, that’s an abbreviation for “Yahweh,” God’s personal covenant name.  Mishael – who is what God is?  And then Azariah – Yahweh has helped.  If their parents were faithful, they would have given them these names to keep the memory of God alive. 

 

Now these four young men are in Babylon and they’re given a name change as part of their forced assimilation into this pagan culture.   Their new names all incorporate the names or titles of Babylonian gods.  We find Bel, Marduk, and Nebo in various forms.  The meanings of these names are much disputed among scholars and we don’t need to spend any time on them.  What is interesting is that as Daniel gives them, these names appear to have been deliberately mutilated.  Just to take the first one, Belteshazzar should be Belshazzar, but Daniel mutilated it when he wrote it down.  That may indicate that these four young men didn’t approve of their name changes and didn’t take them very seriously.

 

Through the rest of chapter 1, Daniel continues to refer to himself and his friends by their original Hebrew names.  They wanted to preserve their identity as God’s children, as those who believe in God and in his promises.  It was a matter of conviction to continue to be called by the name of God, to find their identity in him as they were living in exile.  That conviction was a gift of God worked in them by the Holy Spirit.

 

Loved ones, our situation is much the same.  We’re not in the promised land.  The new heavens and new earth are still coming.  We are pilgrims, aliens, exiles.  We need to remember our identity here too.  In our baptism, God placed his Name on us and called us his.  That’s a beautiful gift from heaven.  As we look to Christ in faith, we are united to him, we are in Christ.  That’s one of our most basic convictions as we live as aliens and strangers in this world.  Our identity is bound up with Christ.  He lives in us through his Holy Spirit and that produces other convictions as well.  For instance, Peter speaks about recognizing our status as aliens and strangers and how that means that we are to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against our soul.  That’s at the end of 1 Peter 2.  We’re to live good lives among the pagans so that they will see our good deeds and give glory to God when Christ returns.    

 

These four young men endeavoured to live like that.  They were striving to live out of love for God and thankfulness for his grace.  Being a royal courtier in training meant eating the king’s food and drinking the king’s wine.  When Daniel became aware of this, he knew that this just wasn’t possible for him and his three friends.  Daniel put it on his heart that he would not defile himself with the royal food and drink.  He was in Babylon because his people had defiled the Promised Land with their idolatry, pride, and disobedience.  Daniel and his friends were just boys when all that was going on.  But now as they’re on the verge of manhood in Babylon, they show that some among God’s people still believed that holiness was something to strive for.  To the first readers of Daniel’s prophecy, it would also be sending a message:  look at these young men, with faith in God, they stood up.  Their faith in God produced conviction and a desire to please him and obey him.  If young men who probably don’t even shave do this, you should too! 

 

What exactly was the problem that Daniel and his friends had with the food and drink of the king?  We’re not exactly told and it’s difficult to say for sure.  Was the food unclean according to the dietary laws in Leviticus?  Did the king enjoy eating roast pork every day?  But then why would they have a problem with the wine?  It was permissible for the Jews to drink wine.  Was it because the food and drink had been offered to idols?  That’s possible, but again, we can’t say for sure because the text doesn’t tell us and there’s no other source to fill us in.  All we can say is that Daniel and his friends had the conviction that eating the king’s food and drinking the king’s wine would somehow defile them and make them unclean and that wasn’t an option for them.  Even if we can’t exactly put our finger on it, somehow this was contrary to God’s will. 

 

They had a conviction and they were going to stand up for that conviction.  Remember these were just young men, probably 14 or 15 years old.  They were convinced that their identity as God’s children required them to take a stand.  Others among the Jews in exile in Babylon were not as principled.  You can be sure that there was a lot of compromise.  More often than not, that’s also our story.  We tell the boss that Sunday is our family time and that’s why we’d rather not work, rather than telling him explicitly that Sunday is the Lord’s Day, our day of rest and worship.  We could think of other examples too.  Compromise and accommodation to the world.  Loved ones, that’s why we need to continually look to Christ.  We need him and his perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of all our compromises and accommodations.  We need him to give us his perfect obedience, his perfect walk of life which never involved any compromise with unbelief.  With faith in him, we are right and perfect before our Father.  And faith in him also unites us to him, so that his heart of whole-minded devotion to God increasingly becomes ours.  Faith in Christ leads to love for God and obedience to God, putting to death compromise and accommodation more and more in our lives.  Loved ones, that has to be true of all of us, old and young alike. 

 

However, note that in our text, it was these young men who led the way.  In this there is a challenge to our young men too, to you young men who are in your teenage years.  Look to Christ in faith, love him, and listen to his Word.  Open your eyes.  Be aware of the ways in which the world tries to draw you in and make you one of their own.  To deaden you spiritually with addictions to things like pornography or alcohol or drugs.  To distract you with the promise of happiness through big money.  To divert you with an obsession for the passing pleasures of this world in things like music, movies, games, and other forms of entertainment.  Young brothers, beware of the deceitfulness of sin and the lies of the world and always keep in mind that you are an exile, a pilgrim, you don’t belong here.  You’re different because you’re in Christ.   

 

Daniel brought his request to the chief eunuch.  Notice that he makes a request – in doing this, he has respect for the authority that God has set over him.  Verse 9 tells us that God worked in this chief eunuch so that he had favour and sympathy for Daniel.  He had compassion on him.  This was also a gift of God that allowed Daniel and his friends some room to maneuver.  The chief eunuch could have turned Daniel away, fired him, perhaps even have had him executed for such a request.  But because of God’s work, he gave him a fairly gentle answer.  Because of fear, he couldn’t allow such a thing.  If Nebuchadnezzar saw the Jewish young men looking all scrawny, he would blame it on the chief eunuch and maybe have him killed.  No, this just wasn’t possible.

 

But Daniel didn’t give up.  His next step was to go a step down to the guard who watched over him and the other young men.  This time instead of a request for a permanent change of diet, Daniel asked for a test.  He suggested that they be allowed to eat only vegetables and drink only water for ten days.  Incidentally, the vegetables here would have included any sort of plant, including wheat and barley and whatever else.  After ten days, Daniel said, then they could compare them with the other young men and see the difference.  This was found agreeable – again a gift from God.  He turned the heart of the guard to allow the test.

 

At the end of the ten days, there was a surprising result.  People don’t usually develop, let’s say “fuller features,” from a vegetarian diet.  But these young men did.  They came out looking healthy and strong and so the guard knew that there was no danger from the king in allowing them to continue.  Here again, the compassion of God is evident in blessing these young men for their desire to keep themselves undefiled from the world.  So they continued in their training for the full three years.

 

During that time, God cultivated in them the gifts they needed for service in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace.  They were given knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.  They became intelligent young men who had a knack for languages and a good grasp of the world in which they were living.  Note here that these young men didn’t flee the world in the sense of totally abandoning it to go live in a Jewish ghetto.  They didn’t try to run away from the palace.  They fled the world insofar as the world was trying to make them conform to sinful beliefs and practices.  But they were still in the world, agreeable to learning the world’s languages and the world’s knowledge.  Scripture doesn’t tell us that there was anything wrong with that.  In fact, it was what they needed to do in that context.  Being godly and fleeing worldliness doesn’t mean setting up a little ghetto or commune for yourself and your fellow believers where you have no or little contact with the unbelieving world around you.  Brothers and sisters, we ought to be outward looking and engage our neighbours and yes, love them, not only in words, but also in deeds.  Love them, not just as potential converts, but to love them as people, as God’s creatures.  To develop relationships with them and to seek their good in every way we can.

 

Daniel and his friends were taught and they accepted the teaching and God used it to help them in their life as exiles.  But Daniel was singled out for special gifts.  We’re told that he was also able to understand and interpret dreams and visions.  Of course, this becomes more important as the rest of the book unfolds.

 

Then after three years, the chief eunuch brought Daniel and his friends before Nebuchadnezzar and he had an opportunity to interview them and find out what they’d learned.  He was impressed with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.  They were the best.  The king questioned them about all sorts of matters and he found them to be exceptional, far better than any of his home grown magicians and enchanters, special wise men who would advise him.  As a result the four young men entered the king’s service and Daniel in particular served in that capacity for a long time, until the first year of king Cyrus when he would have been over 80 years old. 

 

Keep in mind that Daniel was a prophet.  His friends too were acting in a prophetic way, even if Scripture nowhere explicitly calls them prophets.  They were all together called to confess God’s name in the midst of a pagan culture.  They were called to advise the king and give instruction and direction.  And this they did.  In that prophetic office, Daniel and his friends pointed ahead to the Lord Jesus.

 

In Luke 2 we read of our Lord going to the temple in Jerusalem as a young man.  He was twelve years old, just a couple of years younger than the young men as they entered the Babylonian courts for their training.  Here too was a young man filled with great understanding, surpassing those who were much older than him.  He was being prepared for the prophetic office that he would fully take up at his baptism.  There he was anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief prophet and teacher. 

 

We share in his anointing.  We too are prophets and when we think about our status as exiles and pilgrims, it’s good that we remember that these things go hand in hand.  Christian pilgrims or exiles are prophets.  We are prophets.  We confess the name of our God as we live out our days here in anticipation of our homecoming.  We are to constantly hold out his name, our identity in Christ, and never be ashamed of who we are by grace.  Through him, we too have great understanding, though it’s not the wisdom that impresses the world.  Our understanding is foolishness to the Greeks (to unbelievers), but it is the wisdom of God for all who believe.  Through Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, we understand the nature of this world, who made it, and where it’s going.  Through Christ, who is our wisdom, we understand man, who made him, what happened to him, and what will happen with those who believe and with those who do not.  Through Christ we know the way home – he is the way!  Through Christ, we have riches of which the world does not know.  These riches we ought to use and share, not only for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of the world in which we’ve been placed.  With our eyes fixed on Christ, we have the antidote to the poison of worldliness which sometimes infects Christian pilgrims.      

 

Loved ones, worldliness is a constant temptation.  Perhaps we have forgotten how worldliness is such a threat to our spiritual health and our relationship with God.  This morning we’ve been given a reminder of how important it is to be in the world, but not of the world, to have faith and conviction in our daily pilgrimage.  As we wrap things up, let’s also be encouraged to again look for the great day of our Lord Jesus.  After his return and the final judgment, we will live with him in a new world.  In that world, the distinction between being in the world and of the world will be meaningless.  The struggle will be gone.  Why?  Because we will be home.  AMEN.

 

Prayer:

 

Heavenly Father,


We praise you for your faithfulness to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.  Father, we have again seen your great deeds, your loving gifts, and we adore you.  No one deserves your love and grace, but you are kind and merciful to your people who trust you.  Help us to be a trusting people as we live our days in this world that’s not our home.  Father, please create in us a holy homesickness.  We confess that so often we love the world and the things of the world.  We’re easily deceived, distracted and diverted.  Father, please forgive us for the sake of Christ our Saviour.  We ask for  a richer measure of his Holy Spirit so that we would see our identity and live it out here in this world.  Father, we also want to be an outward looking people who have a heart for our neighbours.  We ask there too that you would work this in us with your Holy Spirit.  Please give us opportunity to develop relationships with unbelievers and help us out to reach out to them with the gospel.

 

Father, we also bring before you our intercessions.  This morning we pray for...                                                                                        




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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