This is the first entry to feature Daniel, one of the most inspiring characters in the Old Testament, and hits on topics such as TAKING A STAND AT WORK, STICKING TO YOUR CONVICTIONS, and TRUSTING GOD IN DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES.
When you read the book of Daniel, remember that you are not reading a “story”, but true exploits of your spiritual brother who is waiting for you in heaven – it is very emotional and encouraging!
The following is quoted from Dr F LaGard Smith’s narration:
While Jeremiah is having his problems with Jehoiakim, several captives in Babylon are being singled out for duty in the king’s service. The requirements for their selection are unusually demanding, and to be chosen would be considered an honour even under normal circumstances. Among them is a young man by the name of Daniel, who distinguishes himself by refusing to eat food or drink wine from Nebuchadnezzar’s royal table. For this act of faith, Daniel and three others with him are exceptionally blessed by God. After three years of special training, they enter the king’s service and are found to excel in understanding whenever the king inquires of them.
Wow! Isn’t it great right from the start? Daniel and his friends were the equivalent of what in Singapore would be called “President’s Scholars”. In America, we might look at these guys as potential “Rhodes Scholars”. In Britain, they would be the students who get top marks at Eton, Harrow, and Winchester.
They would have been born sometime during Josiah’s reign and presumably would have heard the preaching of Jeremiah. They might have been Jeremiah’s best disciples, because it appears that they may have already learned the language of the Babylonians by 605 BC. When Josiah died in battle, and the spirituality of Judah began to go down the toilet with the sinfulness of the new king, perhaps these intelligent young men smelled the coffee and were only too ready to go into exile as part of what they perceived to be their purpose.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I were in a country that had been overrun by the reigning super power of the day, and if the king told me to jump, I might say, “How high?” And if I were chosen by said king to be in his pool of advisors, I think I would be completely flattered and there would be no way I would consider rejecting anything (especially the nicest food from his table, which tends to be my weakness anyway!) And if I were a teenage boy who had never turned down food before – well you get the picture…talk about self-discipline!
An American Olympic swimmer visiting Singapore said the biggest trial he was facing was figuring out how to ignore the buffet breakfast every morning before his training! (He confessed that after the first morning he sank to the bottom of the pool!) Honestly, Daniel and his friends had to have tremendous faith in God and an immense amount of self-control to be able to make this decision. I guess it helped that they were together. And of course, God didn’t let them down – they benefited in every way from their decision to not defile themselves with the possibility of eating unclean foods from the king’s table. Daniel and Co are incredible examples of what we all need to do as disciples of Jesus!
Amazing how Daniel was ready to make a stand for something that might not have been sure was a sin but that could possibly be one. That reminds me of the admonition Paul gives us in Ephesians 5:3 “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.”
(I have some friends who use this passage to show that being a vegetarian is healthier. However, it is not certain whether the diet helped them or God was miraculously sustaining them just for taking a stand. I certainly believe that eating vegetables and fruit of all varieties is healthy, and nowadays, there are so many additives to the meat that it might not be a bad idea to cut down, but I digress…)
I do think it is fun when God-fearers excel in the world because it brings glory to God. Paul tells us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). When we strive for God’s glory at work, at school, and at other pursuits, we are truly being lights that shine. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16. “…so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe…” Philippians 2:15
I suppose the lessons from this story are that when you stand up for God, you will be blessed (in some form or other), that having great spiritual friends really helps, that being righteous causes us to shine like stars, and that denying your self-indulgent nature is always a good thing!
The next section of the story is almost comical as it highlights the bizarre character of Nebuchadnezzar and the amazing way that God brought glory to himself through Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar was a classic Narcissist, but I will explore this more in a future entry, when we look at the fourth chapter of Daniel (the one where the king has to live like a wild animal.) Nebuchadnezzar was completely unreasonable and asked his coterie of wise men to interpret his rather involved dream – with a twist – the wise men had to first tell him the dream! Now I have heard of irrational despots, but this takes the cake! And yet the Bible tells us how this once again brought glory to God. Please remember this story the next time you are in a desperate situation. In fact, the whole first half of the book of Daniel is filled with stories of a righteous guy trying to shine at work who kept getting put into desperate situations, and how God always saw him through. I love it!
Back to the story – what did Daniel do when he heard that he was about to be killed for no discernible reason by a maniacal ruler? He clarified the situation, remained hopeful, (didn’t get hopeless), asked for more time, told his spiritual friends about it, and prayed to God! Lessons here – when others are manic, do not panic! When Satan threatens the day, keep your head and pray! (OK these sound corny – I’ll move on!)
Daniel didn’t use his wisdom to glorify himself, by the way. He shared the glory with his friends who had prayed with him. He got the vision, but they had prayed, so he shared the credit as he thanked God. (“you have made known to us the dream of the king.”) Not doing things for personal glory is an important lesson for us to remember – God gives us our gifts. “…but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries…” When we take the credit, we are missing out on an opportunity to glorify God (not to mention probably getting all the glory we are going to get here on earth and missing out on any glory in heaven). Remember what happened to King Herod when he didn’t give glory to God? If you are so inclined, check out the story in 12th chapter of Acts…
Back to Daniel…Now if we look into the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had, it is fascinating! The dream, which was a vision of a statue made of different kinds of metal, illustrated how the Babylonian kingdom (gold) would be followed by the Medo-Persians (silver), followed by the Greeks (bronze), followed by the Romans (iron and clay). And how God would set up HIS everlasting kingdom during this time. That kingdom would be built on a rock, not cut from human hands, which would smash all of the other kingdoms. Wow! What a dream! Most of our dreams are probably a result of indigestion…but look at this one! No wonder the king made Daniel his chief advisor. Perhaps God engineered this in order to have loyal and God fearing Jews overseeing Babylon so that the captives wouldn’t be too mistreated. In any case, God lifted up Daniel and his friends and used them for His own purposes. When we submit to God and trust him, whether it be with an unreasonable boss or in any situation, God is watching and He is able to bring glory to himself through our righteousness. (Reading this always makes me think of Peter Smith, the American brother who helped us so much in Jakarta because he was a “Daniel”. Thanks, Peter!)
Stay tuned for more of Daniel in the months to come. However, for next few weeks, we make our way back to Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to learn more from these awesome prophets.