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Daniel (2010)

Captivity

Daniel  1

Lesson audio

 

Purposes of this study

It has been some time since our little group has been concerned with the subject of prophecy. Part of that has been the press of other concerns; another part is the teacher’s reluctance to tread on the various theories of Revelation. Indeed, prophecy is not the entire reason for studying Daniel. There are indeed three reasons:

  • First, there is the study of the character of Daniel himself. He is indeed a hero of the faith and as such his life is worth study.
  • Next, there is the question of how God deals with an unrepentant nation. We see this in Israel in the Old Testament, but perhaps it has its application to America today.
  • Finally, we need to see the surety of prophecy.

God punishes his nation

we begin by examining the Scripture:

Daniel 1:1-21 NASB In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. (2) The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god. (3) Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, (4) youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king's court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. (5) The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king's choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king's personal service. (6) Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. (7) Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego. (8) But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. (9) Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials, (10) and the commander of the officials said to Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king." (11) But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, (12) "Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. (13) "Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king's choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see." (14) So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. (15) At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king's choice food. (16) So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables. (17) As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams. (18) Then at the end of the days which the king had specified for presenting them, the commander of the officials presented them before Nebuchadnezzar. (19) The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's personal service. (20) As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm. (21) And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king.

God warns the nation in general

It is no secret that God warns the nations who worship him about their conduct. Indeed as the Scripture says, righteousness exalted people but sin is a reproach.[1] Jeremiah puts it this way:

Jeremiah 18:7-10 NASB "At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; (8) if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. (9) "Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; (10) if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.

You see the point. It is not just that God concerns himself with the nation of Israel, and no others, but rather all those nations who have any awareness of him or of his righteousness are subject to his judgment. Much of this is done in the general nature of the moral universe. As we say, what goes around comes around. So it is no surprise when a nation falls for its moral failures.

Prophecies

In the case of Israel however, we have specific prophecies which relate to this event. To begin with, there is what is written in the law of Moses concerning the nation of Israel and its obedience to God. Listen to what Moses says:

Deuteronomy 28:47-52 NASB (47) "Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; (48) therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you. (49) "The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, (50) a nation of fierce countenance who will have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young. (51) "Moreover, it shall eat the offspring of your herd and the produce of your ground until you are destroyed, who also leaves you no grain, new wine, or oil, nor the increase of your herd or the young of your flock until they have caused you to perish. (52) "It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which the LORD your God has given you.

Indeed, the entire chapter is instructive. But this is not the whole of the matter. Before this king was born, God had prophesied through Isaiah exactly the events. In the 39th chapter of Isaiah, we see him giving a warning to King Hezekiah about the foolishness of his showing his treasures to the ambassadors from Babylon. But note Hezekiah's reaction:

Isaiah 39:8 NASB Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, "The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good." For he thought, "For there will be peace and truth in my days."

You see the point no doubt. Despite this prophecy of disaster, Hezekiah's only thought is that he will have peace and security in his own time. The comparison with Neville Chamberlain is just too obvious.

But God does not content himself with prophecies from the past to remind those in the present. He sent Jeremiah to speak with King Jehoiakim. Listen to his words.

Jeremiah 25:8-13 NASB "Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Because you have not obeyed My words, (9) behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,' declares the LORD, 'and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. (10) 'Moreover, I will take from them the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. (11) 'This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. (12) 'Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,' declares the LORD, 'for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation. (13) 'I will bring upon that land all My words which I have pronounced against it, all that is written in this book which Jeremiah has prophesied against all the nations.

Interestingly, there is no reaction from the king. No doubt he thought Jeremiah just one more gloomy prophet of doom, ready to be ignored. Note, however, that God does not necessarily use the righteous to punish his people. In fact, it seems to be his preference to use the heathen to bring home his prophecy of destruction upon those who used to be righteous.

Object: repentance

God's dilemma is the same as that of many parents. You don't like smacking your child on the rear end, you'd really rather motivate them with rewards than punishment, but -- sometimes you just have to take action. Nothing else works. But do note that the object of this exercise is not just punishment, but repentance. God does not desire the destruction of anyone. He especially abhors the destruction of those who claim his name. He lays out his method for repentance in very simple terms:

2 Chronicles 7:14 NASB and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

A loving heavenly father views punishment as a means to the end of repentance. But note, in this instance, the punishment went on for 70 years. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine whether or not there is a lesson here for the United States of America.

Nebuchadnezzar

Hostages

it might occur to you to wonder why Nebuchadnezzar took these people to Babylon with him. It is a common occurrence of the time. There were at least three good reasons to do this:

  • First, the people would be brought back as trophies. Nothing makes the king so popular as a triumphal entry which shows how much loot he has acquired and how many captives he has taken as servants.
  • Next, these young men would also be hostages. They were taken from the nobility, and therefore their presence in Babylon would deter their parents from rebelling against the king.
  • Then too, the young men were the best and brightest. By taking them into his service, he acquired some very useful servants who could be trained to his will.

One other item of note: as you can see, they were placed in charge of the master of the eunuchs. That means these young men were castrated. This is a very good way of breaking up the local dynasty.

Religious impact

You will note that Nebuchadnezzar took a large variety of trophies from the Jewish Temple. No, I do not know if he took the Ark of the covenant. But the trophies were taken were a very obvious reason: they tell the world that my God is superior to your God, since I have your God’s possessions in my God’s temple.

In addition you will notice that Nebuchadnezzar changed the names of these four young men. It is interesting to see the transition:

  • Their Hebrew names were these: Daniel - God is my Judge; Hananiah - The grace of the Lord; Mishael - He that is the strong God; Azariah - The Lord is a help.
  • Their Chaldean names were these: Belteshazzar signifies the keeper of the hidden treasures of Bel; Shadrach - The inspiration of the sun, which the Chaldeans worshipped; Meshach - Of the goddess Shach, under which name Venus was worshipped; Abed-nego, The servant of the shining fire, which they worshipped also.

See the subtlety of their approach. They do not force the captives to worship their gods, but they do put a subtle pressure on them since they now have the names of those gods. It is a form of voluntary coercion.

Training

You might ask why the Babylonians took so much care and training these young men. There are a number of reasons:

  • First, they would be totally dependent upon the king. This would ensure their loyalty to the King and not particular factions in court or out of it.
  • Thus, they would also be impartial in giving advice and in carrying out the king's business. This promotes honesty, diligence, and reliability. These might even be useful virtues in civil servants today.
  • It is also an example of wisdom. By charitably treating your captives, you lessen the bitterness of captivity and defeat. This makes them more amenable to supporting you as the rightful ruler.

Separation

Why does Daniel refuse the king's food?

It might seem odd at first that Daniel refuses to eat the food set before him. At the very least, we might consider this bad manners. But Daniel, a devout Jew of the Old Testament, had at least three reasons to do so:

  • First the meat could have been sacrificed to idols. As such, the Jewish law would have prohibited him from eating it.
  • Second, the meat in particular may have been considered unclean in the Jewish law. It is well known that the ancient Jew would rather starve to death than eat unclean meat. In fact, the Romans noted that this did happen with Jews can find in their jails.
  • What might surprise you, however, is the third reason: these may be considered the dainties of an evil man.[2] As such, Daniel would have seen them as temptation to join in the evil doings of the Babylonians.
A matter of will

You will notice in the Scriptures that Daniel "made up his mind." Other translations have the phrase "resolved" or "purpose in his heart". The concept that the Jew of this time, and the question of our time, are to be separate from the world is stressed throughout Scripture. Note please, that this is a matter of the will. It is not an emotional response, but rather something that the Christian decides to do and systematically carries out.

This is not something that we make up out of our own imaginations. Rather, it is obedience to the command of God. So it is that the Christian must study the Scriptures, so that such separation will be as God commands it, not how we imagine it. We are to be "in the world, not of the world."

Notice that this requires faith. Daniel displays this in his request to the chamberlain to be fed only vegetables and water. He is confident that God's dietary laws will produce a better result than feasting at the king's table.

How it's done

Daniel goes about this in an exemplary way. First, note that he does so peacefully. There is no sense of rebellion, no sense of “we are going to do it our way," but rather he does so respectfully. He cares what others think of his faith. It is his objective that they respect his beliefs, and might even be attracted to them. It is a lesson to Christians: if you scream your faith in anger, how do you really expect to be heard?

This concept, the separation of the Christian from the world, is an essential one. Daniel is an excellent example. As the apostle John put it,

1 John 2:15-17 NASB Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. (17) The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

The example is before us. Let us go and do likewise.


[1] Proverbs 14:34

[2] Psalm 141:4

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