Daniel: A Living Example For Today’s Society

It is God’s intention that every generation recognize the timelessness of the Bible. The story of Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), walking in the scorching, fiery furnace, is food for thought for our lives. The Bible is not just a handbook telling us what we should and should not do. The Word of God tells us about God’s timeless purpose for our lives.

About 600 years before the birth of Christ, Daniel saw his nation overrun by her enemies and his life uprooted. Together, with a group of other Jewish prisoners, he was led as a captive to a place called Babylon. While in Babylon, Daniel experienced the challenge of living faithfully in a culture devoted to a vastly different set of values and priorities.

As Daniel and his friends entered their new world, they would live out convictions that were destined to put them out of step with their powerful captors. Yet, in the middle of a pagan world, Daniel became a  government leader, serving under three kings; as an historian, recording what God did in his day; and a prophet, predicting the future and interpreting dreams, speaking God’s truth to the leaders.

As Daniel’s story develops, Judah is being invaded and business is at a standstill. The prophet Jeremiah knew why because for over 20 years he had pleaded with the people of Judah to return to God. He warned them that if they refused, the Babylonians would take them into captivity for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:1-1; 1 Daniel 1:1-7). King Nebuchadnezzar decided to take the best and brightest of the captives from the nation of Judah and use them to advance his nation. He used the best minds and abilities to make Babylon a strong nation. This selection process demanded they meet high standards: they had to be good looking and without physical defect, skilled in wisdom and able to learn and discern. These young men would become wise men. This strategy presented some subtle challenges. Yes, they would be better off than the slaves in Babylon, but their situation produced challenges others would not face. These challenges came from several areas:

1. Environmental Conditions:

These are the problems that either shape our character or reveal it. The key questions here was, would Daniel be able to maintain his purity, having been taken to a strange pagan land at an impressionable age?

2. Lifestyle:

The king’s delicacies were not necessarily bad. However, it was food that had been offered to Babylon’s false gods and eating it was believed to endorse those idols.

3. Allegiances:

First, the king planned to change their dedication to the one true God by requiring them to study under the astrologers of Babylon. Second, his goal was to change their worship by changing their names, which would indicate a shift in allegiance to the Babylonian gods. They all had names that pointed to the God of Israel.

Nebuchadnezzar’s goal was to change their way of life—thinking, eating, and worshiping. How would they respond to this character test?

Daniel responded by recognizing that eating the king’s food raised an issue of principle (Daniel 1:8-14). He saw something about the food that prompted a response similar to what we find by King David in Psalm 119: 11. What did Daniel see? First of all, the king’s food wasn’t  sanctioned by the Word of God—that is, it was not prepared according to the dietary principles of Israel. But what was probably a greater issue for Daniel was a pattern that appeared in other areas of his life. He didn’t want to do anything that would honour the gods of Babylon. Eating and drinking food and wine offered to idols were  violations of the Word and the honour of the true God. The path of least resistance would have been to go with the flow, but Daniel’s objective was obedience to God, despite his environment.

Daniel and his three friends took a stand the other captives apparently did not take.

“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” (Daniel 1:8, emphasis added)

This is the key attitude. He had a variety of options, but he was determined to be true to the living God (Daniel 1:9-10). Daniel used diplomacy and showed a proper consequence. Even here, we see the work of God in preparation for this moment. Daniel took his stand and God gave him favour with the chief of the eunuchs who agreed to Daniel’s request for a 10-day trial of eating only vegetables. It was a small test of faith that would prepare Daniel for the greater tests of faith to come regarding God’s deliverance.  
The test worked and showed that Daniel and his friends knew what Israel forgot. God honours obedience. At the end of the 10 days, Daniel and his friends came out stronger than the others because God worked on their behalf. As a result, the diet was allowed to continue. Daniel’s life had  stayed firm because he was committed to a purity that flows from obedience to the Word, and it gave him a foundation for living in a difficult culture. Yes, God’s blessing was confirmed as Daniel and his friends were declared to be ten times better than all the scholars of Babylon (Daniel 1:15-20).

At the end of their training, Daniel was probably no more than 20 years old. At that young age, Daniel was set apart for service and lived a life of distinction under a powerful pagan government (Daniel 2). As the story continues, Daniel and his friends will rise above the challenges with a deep confidence in God.

In Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar’s sleep was disturbed by dreams. But it was one particular dream that concerned him. The king awoke in turmoil and summoned his advisors. Daniel and his friends were not called, perhaps because  they were still in training. However, the king did call his magicians, astrologers, sorcerers, and the Chaldeans. When the Chaldeans told the king that interpreting his dream was unfair because only the gods could do such a thing, they unwittingly set the stage for Daniel’s God to do just that! Once they admitted their inability to understand the dream, Nebuchadnezzar exploded!  He was so enraged  he ordered all the wise men, including Daniel and the other youths in training to be executed.

The king sent out Arioch to kill all the wise men of Babylon. But when Aroich approached, Daniel was able to speak to him  with counsel and wisdom. Daniel asked him for an explanation of the death decree and Arioch told him the entire story. Making the most of the opportunity, Daniel went in and asked the king to give him time to interpret the dream. Next, Daniel went to the house and made the matter known to his companions Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, that they might seek mercies from God concerning this secret in order to avoid  perishing with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Daniel shared his heart’s burden with his friends, and together they began to seek mercies from the God of heaven. This is a powerful expression of their spiritual confidence (Daniel 2).

As they prayed, God unveiled the secret of the king’s dream to Daniel. This was not a big surprise! With the proverbial noose still around Daniel’s neck, his first response was not to gain relief or to use his knowledge to his own advantage. Rather, it was to worship God—the God of power and provision. Daniel gave God all the praise for answering his prayer. What a marvellous display of worship! Would it have been inappropriate for Daniel to thank God for saving his life? Of course not! But it seems that even this miraculous rescue was secondary in Daniel’s mind to the wonder of the God who performed it.

Daniel’s response should cause all of us to examine ourselves to see where our own focus lies. When we fail to put our confidence in God, it is easy to lose our focus. Our perspective becomes blurred, and we see the trees rather than the forest. Yet, Daniel’s focus stayed clear during a time of life and death. God enabled him to perform rather than wilt under pressure. Daniel was able to succeed where the other wise men had failed. This was not false humility. It was a sincere understanding of his role in the event. To this young man, the issue was clear—it was about God, not himself. Daniel recited the dream and its interpretation accurately but the key result is a declaration of the glory of Daniel’s God.

Our choices during changing times tell a lot about us. Where is our focus in times of pressure? Are we scrambling to protect ourselves at all costs? Are we doing desperate things that harm others in the process? Or, are we more concerned about how our actions will reflect on God?

In your thoughtful moments, ask God to showcase His presence in your life. Like Daniel and his three friends, let us use these moments to line up with eternal purpose and honour of God.

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