Daniel in Babylon
Monday, June 7, 2010
Living for God in a Hostile World
Daniel in Babylon
Daniel in Babylon
The book of Daniel contains both history and prophecy. Its twelve chapters divide comfortably into two halves, six and six. The first six chapters are mainly the personal history of Daniel and his three contemporaries, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; while the second group of six record those visions that God gave Daniel setting out events that were, at that time, yet in the future. Daniel’s name means ‘God is my judge’ and succinctly identifies Daniel as a person who wished to live under the eye of the God of his fathers. It was also at the heart of the testimony of the three Hebrews who were his colleagues and friends. Because of their obedience and willingness to honour God in all places and under all circumstances, these four were used to bring the knowledge of the one and only true God to idolatrous and cruel monarchs.
Israel, as part of the Fertile Crescent, was always under threat of invasion by larger nations who wished to control that area of the Middle East. Their security rested in Jehovah. However, in 605 BC, the Babylonians successfully invaded Israel and began a series of deportations in which many inhabitants were banished from the land of their birth and forced into slavery. So we must begin by asking a question. How did Israel get into such a mess so that the bulk of its population were removed from their homes and exiled to a foreign land? The answer is to be found in the Bible. The Chronicler, who records the history of Israel, gives the cause of the captivity in his writings: “But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy ” (2 Chron. 36:16). So despite decades of solemn warnings by Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah, Israel’s flagrant apostasy and immorality brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
From a human viewpoint, it seemed that the religion of the Hebrews had been completely discredited. Jehovah, the Lord God, was apparently inferior to the gods of Assyria and Babylon. When the Babylonians destroyed the Temple, they claimed that their gods were mightier than the God of Israel. Therefore, it was essential at that time for Jehovah to display His power in such a way as to prove He was the One true God and the Sovereign Lord of history. He had to demonstrate that He had allowed His ancient people to go into captivity, not through weakness, but rather to maintain His integrity as a holy God. But if Israel had failed, what instrument could He find to demonstrate His wisdom and power?
He looked for a man - and found Daniel
Let us examine how God took one young Hebrew lad, trained him and used him to witness to the then most powerful monarch in the world. We will also meet his three young friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
Babylon and the Babylonians
In Old Testament doctrine Babylon represents the world against God. For example, the king of Babylon is used to typify God’s implacable enemy, Satan. Isaiah’s prophecy names the Babylonian monarch but uses language that can as easily be applied to Lucifer, the fallen angel, whose other names are the Devil and Satan. “For you (the king of Babylon) have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ ” (Isaiah 14:13–14)
The father of the Babylonians was Nimrod. His name comes from a root which means, ‘he rebelled’. The Targums (the ancient Aramaic writings of the Hebrew people) comment, “Nimrod began to be a mighty man in sin, a murderer of innocent men, and a rebel before the Lord” and “from the foundation of the world none was ever found like Nimrod, powerful in hunting and in rebellions against the Lord”. The beginning of his kingdom was Babel. It was a kingdom founded on apostasy from God and supported by tyranny and oppression. The marks of his kingdom were (i) pride (ii) unity (in rebellion against God) and (iii) the use of a false religion to oppose the true worship of God. At the time of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and arrogance were evident for he was repairing and restoring Nimrod’s tower of Babel! So if Daniel was to stand for God, he is going to have to stand in a hostile environment. He will have to stand in a world that will make it as difficult as possible for him; a world that will try to make him conform to its customs, habits and views.
A little background information
Let us begin about 609 BC. At that time Egypt was in control of the land of Israel, and Pharaoh Necho put Jehoiakim on the throne as a vassal king. Jehoiakim was a consistently a wicked king. He cut up a scroll of Jeremiah’s sermons and burnt it. He tried to capture and kill Jeremiah but was thwarted through the intervention of God and his friends. In the summer of 605 BC, the son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon, led his troops against the Egyptians; his name was Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah had already prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would prevail, and Judah would serve Babylon for 70 years (Jer.25:1-11; cf. Hab.1:1-17). So the Egyptian army, led like sacrificial lambs to the slaughter (Jer.46.10), received wounds that all the balm in Gilead could not heal (Jer.46.2,11). Jerusalem was besieged and surrendered to the Babylonians.
At that time, while Nebuchadnezzar was in Jerusalem, his father Nabopolassar died. Realising the throne was in jeopardy Nebuchadnezzar took his troops the short route across the Arabian Desert, and was crowned king on 6th September 605 BC, only 23 days after his father had died. When he left Jerusalem in haste, he deported some prisoners to Babylon, sending them the long way round. Among them were Daniel and his friends. He also took some sacred vessels and treasures from the Temple, and he made Jehoiakim swear allegiance to him.
Jehoiakim, uneasy paying tribute to Babylon, rebelled, and although he was killed by other enemies within the land, Nebuchadnezzar marched against Judah once more. In 597 BC he again conquered Jerusalem, and took more sacred vessels and treasures, deporting more of the population. Among those deported this time was a young priest named Ezekiel.
Five years later, in 592 BC, Ezekiel, at the age of 30, began to prophesy to the exiles in Babylon, explaining why God had not only decided that Babylon should control Judah but had also designated Jerusalem to be destroyed: and why the Shekinah glory had departed from the Temple. The third military campaign against Israel which was designed to quell any further opportunity at rebellion against Babylon rule, took place in 586 BC when Jerusalem was completely destroyed along with its Temple. It was at that time that the massive deportations, involving the bulk of the population of Judah, took place.
Nebuchadnezzar’s successes were not down to his prowess alone but were the work of the Lord of Hosts. The theme of God’s absolute sovereignty is both implied and demonstrated through these events. Because it was God who gave the nation into Babylon’s power, it would be God’s hand that would snatch them away again, when they were ready to renew their covenant with Him and play their part in His programme of redemption. God’s purposes for Israel were to restore them to blessing and in accordance with His will laid out in the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. The defeat and subsequent humiliation of Judah were part of God’s dealings with them as wayward children. During this black period in the history of Israel, those of the godly remnant needed to have faith in God and His purposes. Habakkuk, who had himself questioned God over His use of the Chaldeans (another name for the Babylonians) as a rod of discipline, advised the faithful to trust the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying: “... the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4).
Babylon is out to change you!
As we said, the first captivity included Daniel and his three friends. Nebuchadnezzar followed a policy of conscripting the most intelligent people to public service, even those of a different ethnic or cultural background. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were incorporated into the government training programme, the Royal Academy of which Nebuchadnezzar was the Principal. Babylon, as an instrument of Satan, had a purpose - to negate the witness of the people of God. Babylon was out to change them.
First a change of name
Daniel (God is my judge) was renamed Belteshazzar (a prince of Bel): Hananiah (Jehovah has favoured) to Shadrach (Royal Scribe): Mishael (who is what God is) to Meshach (Guest of a king): and Azariah (Jehovah has helped) to Abednego (Servant of Nebo).
Secondly a change of diet
Among the Hebrew exiles at that time, it was widely understood that the two main reasons for the Babylonian captivity were disobedience and idolatry. Obedience of God’s Word as laid out in the Torah (the Law of Moses) had been neglected, and worship of the deities introduced by the wives of King Solomon had increased. Therefore God had activated that part of His Word (namely the Land Covenant) that dictated that such disobedience and apostasy would lose Israel the tenancy of Canaan.
For Daniel and his companions, eating the Babylonian food constituted disobeying Torah dietary laws, and becoming unclean by eating foods offered to idols, thus repeating those sins that had brought the nation under the judgement of God and triggered the captivity. Daniel wanted to continue to live under the scrutiny of God, as his name indicates (‘God is my judge’), but how could he refuse the direct commandment of the king? With great wisdom, and putting into operation the principle, ‘the just shall live by faith’, Daniel offered an alternative. Put us on a more simple diet of vegetables and water and observe the results. Their trust in God was rewarded by better health than those who ate the Babylonian diet.
Moreover, Daniel and his three colleagues continued in their studies and received from God special intellectual ability, not because of their diet, but because of His approval of their faith and commitment to His Word.
Here are four young men who were prepared to: (i) discipline their bodies: (ii) discipline their minds and (iii) discipline their spirits. Because they disciplined their bodies, God gave them better health than their diet warranted. Because they disciplined their minds, God gave them wisdom beyond their years. Because they disciplined their spirits, God gave them knowledge of His purposes, His will and His ways.
At the end of three years training in the royal academy, they were examined in respect of their abilities. Nebuchadnezzar, himself very well educated, was personally responsible for their oral exams (their finals), and found them “ten times better” than all the wise men of Babylon.
We too live in Babylon, that is a world against God, and Babylon will try to change us. Try to change our name – make us embarrassed to be called Christians. Try to change our diet – that is - change our Christian lifestyle, thus leaving us little time to read the Bible, little time to study the Word, little time to pray and also make it difficult for us to have fellowship with other likeminded Christians; even our honesty might be compromised. But for those who hold fast to good Christian behaviour and habits, and pursue a life under the banner, ‘the Just shall live by faith’, then the God of Daniel will do His part and bless. There is no guarantee that our health will be improved and our mind quickened but certainly our time will be more productive.
Posted by Mountjoy at 6:24 PM