Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The first 5 verses of Daniel reveal the tragic devastation sin can leave in its wake. Israel paid a high cost for sinning against God. The result was disaster.
Due to sin, Israel lost prosperity, peace, freedom, and the right to choose a leader. To Babylon, Israel forfeited her best minds and most capable youths.
People tend to downplay the seriousness of sin. Some deny it exists. Yet it is no coincidence the deeds the Bible calls sin are actions that cause ultimate misery in a society: murder, adultery, divorce, absentee fathers, stealing, etc. Sin, whether acknowledged as such or not, produces sadness. It yields momentary pleasure, but quickly leads to heartaches that grind on and on and on.
As a youth, righteous Daniel experienced the ugly under-belly of sin. He had to see the downfall of his country, the degradation of his king, plus endure the horrors of invasion, siege, and exile.
Leaving Israel would test Daniel’s mettle. Nebuchadnezzar knew that it would be easier to brainwash the Hebrew youths, to seduce them spiritually, away from home, friends, mother’s voice, father’s eye.
Young people, be careful when you leave home. It grieves me to know most of our teens will cast away their faith when they leave home to go to college, marry, or take a job. Leaving the nest is a time when many stray from God, but Daniel had come to know God so intimately that even as a teen he had only one desire ( to please God. He had internalized faith. Even away from family and temple, Daniel served God.
Too often our teens tie faith to a particular youth group, staff member, pastor, local church. If faith is not internalized, when the familiar external trappings of religion are removed, too little internal spiritual fortitude is left behind to stay the course.
Teens, internalize faith. Have daily private time, regularly read the Bible, talk to God, romance Jesus. Seek to know Him intimately, personally, one on one. Have a significant walk with Him that requires no one else to make it happen.
Daniel 1:6-7 “Among them, from the descendants of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The chief official gave them different names: to Daniel, he gave the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.”
These youths were mere slaves, hostages, trophies of conquest, impersonal cogs in the machinery of helping Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to build Babylon, a world-class city, one worthy of his empire.
To convince these youths they were no longer their own, Nebuchadnezzar changed their names, names which reminded them of God, family, country.
The King wanted them to feel like nobodies. This is one of Satan’s subtle weapons. He wants us believers to think we are nothing special. This mindset can result in sin, because a huge deterrent to sin is to be ever aware we are special to God, and that what we do leaves everlasting impressions on those around us.
What we do matters. Waiters and waitresses truly are turned off to God’s cause by church people who give small tips on Sundays. Our profanity does have everlasting impact . . . on others. Our anger and meanness do drive people away from God. Satan makes sure people watch how we act, especially if we sin.
Daniel never fell into this trap of seeing his actions as unimportant. Remembering what he did mattered, he remained firm, did right, and as a result pleased God and positively influenced others. He could have easily said “I’m nobody special,” but a believer never has the luxury of getting lost in the crowd.
We are not merely a cog, we matter to God and others. Remember this as Daniel did. Avoid sin. Committing sin is never a minor matter. Holiness is serious business. We will answer to God for what we did or did not do for Him.
Daniel 1:8a “Daniel determined that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine he drank.”
The king’s food, dedicated to pagan idols, was ceremonially unclean. Daniel’s refusal to partake teaches us three vital lessons about him.
First, Daniel loved God more than he loved sin. Knowing sin would break God’s heart, Daniel avoided it. Daniel feared sin more than he feared anything else in Babylon. “Let a fiery furnace burn my body, let lions eat my body, let my body be forsaken to die in a desert, but don’t let my body be tainted with sin.”
The commonest food would suffice if free from ceremonial pollution. Wealth, power, prestige, success, and acceptance were nothing compared to making God happy. Daniel knew no action was too small for God to notice, no sin too little to hurt God. And God had been hurt enough by the sins of Israel.
Indeed Magazine (2-21-06) recently dealt with how, in an era of casual love, a parting of the ways in marriage is often no big deal. Chris Tiegreen wrote, “Uncommitted hearts don’t break very easily. God’s heart doesn’t work that way. . . . God’s pain is agonizing.” God’s heart “loves passionately, it wounds deeply,” is profoundly hurt when we sin. Thus Ambrose, in one of my life quotes, said, “If I were standing on a wall between Hell and sin, I would leap into Hell rather than into sin.” Daniel loved God more than he loved sin. Do we?
Second, Daniel loved God more than he loved human applause. Pagans knew nothing of a God who required holiness. To them this kind of behavior would be foolish. The steward helped Daniel but made no pretense of understanding him. To Daniel, social pressure was nothing. God was everything.
Daniel was not ashamed to be identified with an unpopular minority. The Hebrews were reduced to being dregs of the earth. YHWH looked defeated, the law appeared to be crumbling, the Temple was polluted, the nation enslaved, but Daniel stayed loyal. He chose to remain identified with God’s people.
Mordecai, in a later era of the Exile, was pressed by the King’s servants, “Why won’t you obey the King and bow to Haman?” His reply, “I am a Jew” (Esther 3:4) showed Mordecai was not ashamed of God’s people.
Jesus walked into the Jordan River to be baptized. By doing so He identified Himself with an unpopular group, the John-the-Baptist crowd.
Elijah opposed pagan prophets on Carmel. He thought he was the last one standing for God. He stood true anyway and planned to go out in a blaze of glory.
Do people we work with know we love Jesus? Do they know we are devoted to living our life obedient to the Bible? Do they know we pray? Do we pray for them? Do we stand out from the crowd, or is a scorecard needed to tell the players apart? If we are God’s, let’s be marked as such. Daniel loved God more than he loved human applause. Do we?
Third, Daniel loved God more than he loved himself. His natural inclination would be to indulge, to prefer the King’s dainties. It would be logical to soften the rigor of captivity by self-gratification.
Daniel chose vegetables and water not because he liked them, but because he loved God more than he loved himself. We err if we think Daniel had no feelings. We sometimes think the heroes of God in the Bible had no desire other than to do the will of God. This is not true. Having feelings and natural desires like anyone else, they hurt.
Joseph eventually saw God’s good in his trip to Egypt, but when he was 17 his brothers saw his anguish of soul, his distress when he pleaded with them. Abram couldn’t totally leave his family overnight. The pain was too much. He stopped at Haran for years. Paul didn’t want to be stoned to the point of death at Lystra. It hurt! Pain! He was so ravaged that his enemies thought he was dead, but Paul went to the next town, expecting to suffer the same fate again.
With Daniel, serving God was not a matter of deciding “What will I gain from it? How can I avoid discomfort?” To him it was a matter of principle. He chose not the easiest path, but the right path. He tenaciously clung to doing right, regardless of the pain, his feelings, or his comforts. They could change his name but not his nature. He might burn but never turn. He could die but not deny. He loved God more than he loved himself. Do we?
Everyone knew where Daniel stood. In the depth of being where one really lives, Daniel decided not to compromise. We should do the same for Jesus. We must “remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart” (Acts 11:23b).