By Simon ManchesterSunday 30 Jun 2013Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Daniel – Private Faithfulness
Our Heavenly Father,we pray that today you would open our eyes to see wonderful things in your word and we pray that you would open our hearts to respond to you as is fitting. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We are going to study Daniel,the book of Daniel,in the Old Testament for 12 Sunday mornings. A book which even children love,especially the first 6 chapters,and a book which,according to one writer,hardly anyone understands the last 6 chapters. It is a very important book the book of Daniel,it doesn’t just teach some stories which are good adventure,it shows a spiritual battle taking place which is a clash between the rule of God and the opposition of God. Our title this morning for Chapter one is “Private faithfulness”,it is a phrase I once heard in a speech given by an outstanding Christian man in the United Kingdom. He was thanking his minister for public ministry,but also for private faithfulness and the phrase really struck me because of course public Christianity is easy but private faithfulness is hard. Private faithfulness is the essential which gives public ministry integrity and maybe power. The man who made this particular comment,thanking his minister for private faithfulness,died this week,but the significance of what he said continues and Daniel 1 of course continues.
We have 2 headings this morning:
1. Delivered to Babylon (verses 1-7)
2. Devoted to Yahweh (verses 8-21)
Apparently someone has ordered this series,you know these talks go onto the radio in the mornings,and somebody has ordered this series of Daniel so you might pray that something useful gets said,since I haven’t a clue what is going to be said in the next 12 weeks! But there’s our two points this morning: Delivered to Babylon / Devoted to Yahweh.
1. Delivered to Babylon.
The date is 605BC and you’ll see in verse 1 of chapter 1 that the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. We’ve heard this before,we’ve heard this in other series. We’ve heard about the siege of Jerusalem,we’ve heard about people being taken from Jerusalem off into Babylon,and we saw it when we studied Ezekiel,we’re now seeing it again as we study Daniel. I want to remind you,however,of the incredible significance and seriousness of this sentence. I mean I can only say to you that if during the week if somebody came and completely bulldozed this building and took all the bricks one hour west and built a Hindu temple,it pales into insignificance compared with what is taking place when we read that Babylon came and besieged Jerusalem. One commentator has put it like this: “the city that Israel called ‘The joy of the whole world’ is blockaded,assaulted,defeated,raped and pillaged by alien hands. The temple,which David and Solomon had dreamed of and built,where Yahweh humbly met with His people,is desecrated and torn apart. Its furnishings are taken hundred of miles away to grace the shrines of pagan Gods. In a city,which is Babylon,which stood for power and pride,the royal line of Israel’s kings is decimated to all appearances and the God of Jerusalem appears to have been defeated. That’s the significance of that first sentence,and I want you to keep that in mind as you think of Daniel just being taken off to Babylon with his friends.
But look at verse 2: “and the Lord delivered the king into Babylon’s hands along with some of the articles from the temple of God.” You see those two verses one after the other,the Babylonian king came and attacked Jerusalem,verse 2 and God gave him,God gave him what he thought he was taking. Here is the secular news: Babylon attacked Jerusalem. Here is the biblical news: God enabled the capture of Jerusalem. The Babylonian king conducted his expansionist policy with a huge amount of bragging and boasting. It pleased God to hand His people over to the man he had appointed to do the siege. The first verse of Daniel 1 you see is secular history,the second verse is biblical theology.
Now the importance of this is huge because there are things happening in biblical history,and in all history,which are observable and they may make the newspapers,or they may not make the newspapers,but they effect us,they impact us,they have some significance for us,and the bible says that there is nothing that takes place which is independent of God or is irrelevant to God. His hand is on everything,he controls everything that takes place. You can read the paper,you can say that’s the complete story. You can read the bible,you can get the complete story. One you see is reporting from a secular point of view,one is reporting from an actual biblical point of view. And just as in the New Testament there are all the plots you remember to kill Jesus,the religious plot,the political plots,the personal plot of Judas,the satanic plot,and when it has all happened the disciples stand up in Acts chapter 2 verse 23 and they say this happened because of the plot of God. It was His purpose,it was His plan,to provide a saviour who would bring forgiveness of sins. So God who had promised his people in the Old Testament,promised land that if they wandered away from Him he would exile them,is now fulfilling His promises – here they are they have moved into Babylon. And it is not just the siege of Babylon which has caused this,behind this is the promise of God,the work of God,and in the very midst of this apparent tragedy,the hand of God. Well it is a dreadful thing,as I say,to go into exile,but it is not a meaningless thing,because God tells us why He is disciplining His people. There is something worse isn’t there,than trouble,trouble is difficult,but there is something worse than trouble and that is to live in a meaningless framework where everything is random and nothing is explained and nothing is sure and nothing has an outcome. That is absolutely dreadful. And as these Israelites go off to Babylon,they know from the scriptures that there is someone,Yahweh,in the midst of their trouble who is faithful to His word and who is merciful,and who explains what is happening.
In verses 3-7 you’ll see that the Babylonian king,Nebuchadnezzar,was brilliantly planning to take the cream of the Israelite people and start them serving his Babylonian plans. So look at verses 3 and 4 “The king ordered the chief of his court officials to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family”,and these are sort of excellent people aren’t they,outwardly excellent. The sort of people that a pagan king would want: young men without any physical defect,handsome,showing aptitude for every kind learning,well informed,quick to understand and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. Pagan kings choose the cream,don’t they? That’s their aim,that’s their game,that’s their hope. And this Nebuchadnezzar brings the best of the Israelites to be trained in Babylonian thinking and then you’ll see verse 5,he also assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table,so he gave them,or offered them,Babylonian privileges – royal food. And in verse 6 he gave them Babylonian names.
I was reflecting on this through the week and I thought it was interesting that we remember Daniel as Daniel we don’t remember his Babylonian name but even though the other three were very faithful,as we will see in chapter 3,we remember them by their Babylonian names: Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego. But Daniel to the end of the book is known as Daniel. Whatever name is given to him,the writer,and it may well be that Daniel himself is the writer,but he ignores the name. But what Nebuchadnezzar does is as close as you can get to brain washing because he wants the heart the mind the soul and the strength of the Israelites. And so they are relocated,and that of course is very difficult,they’re re-educated in Babylonian thinking,they’re going to be re-orientated to the Babylonian agenda,and they’re going to be renamed with Babylonian names. If I shook your hand this morning and I started calling you Mohammed on a regular basis you would know that there was an agenda,and though you may have a name which has got a wonderful link to the scriptures,or something which is western,when your name is suddenly changed and used regularly you know that something is happening.
It looks as though everything is against the people of God,the siege is against them and looks as though it’s victorious,the Babylonian enemy is against them and looks extremely pervasive and even God seems to be against them because there they are under judgement. But built into the first 7 verses,in verse 2,is this wonderful word,God delivered. The word delivered is Nathan,the boy’s name Nathan. God delivered. And as one writer says “it is clear that to be in Nebuchadnezzar’s hand is not to be out of God’s hand.” That is a very wonderful and significant thing,isn’t it? The Old Testament believers here are apparently now in Nebuchadnezzar’s hand – no,they are actually in God’s hands!
The New Testament believer is apparently in the hands of some enemies – no he is actually in God’s hands. The New Testament believer looks as though he or she has been thrown into the hands of sickness to do their worst – no,he or she is actually in God’s hands. The New Testament believer feels as though he is in the hands of sin,and he cannot do anything,but no he is actually in God’s hands. The New Testament believer looks as though he is in the hands of death,but he is actually in God’s hands. No wonder we have something to say when the world is stuck.
A lady rang me this week to say that she and her husband listen to the talks from this church,and they don’t come to the church,but she wondered if I would visit them,because she said,her husband has a brain tumour,and is going down quite rapidly. He is in his thirties and they have 3 small children,and they wonder if I would come and say something to them. Now it is a hard question isn’t it? But it is not impossible,because it is possible to say to somebody who seems to be in the worst possible position,”Do not be afraid,actually you have never ever been removed from the hand’s of God”. Nothing will pluck you,said Jesus. So delivered to Babylon,but by God,for a purpose. That’s the first.
2. Devoted to Yahweh
In verse 8 we see that Daniel makes a decision and that is that he is not about to switch kings just because he has switched countries,and he refuses the royal food and the royal wine. Verse 8 “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and the wine,and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” Why does he do this? Interestingly he doesn’t fight the 3 year training,he doesn’t even fight the new name,but he fights the royal food. Some people think this is an idol issue that maybe the food was linked to idols,some people think it is an unclean issue that he was being asked to eat non kosher food,and there are 3 or 4 other theories that people come up with for this particular verse. I am persuaded that the reason is that he has been asked to sit,or he is being asked to take some part in the king’s table. It is the table which is the key. To share in someone’s table is to be invited to their fellowship,it’s to be invited to their circle,it’s to be invited to their agenda. The wonderful proof of this is of course where we regularly come together,as best we can,to share in the Lord’s table,because the Lord has incredibly,astonishingly,invited us to His fellowship,to His circle,and to His agenda. And He has done that of course by dropping every barrier,because Jesus died to remove every barrier and He invites us to come humbly and thankfully and to sit at His table,in His fellowship,His friendship,His family,and His purposes. So the table you see is a place of fellowship or agreement and it can be a place of evil or it can be a place of great blessing. In an evil context no servant of God can afford to cooperate,and that’s why Daniel draws the line. He will not join the Babylonian table. He will not give his heart to the Babylonian agenda,his heart belongs to Yahweh. The point of this,of course,includes the fact that you can go to a very godless place,it doesn’t matter where you are Monday to Friday,or wherever you are,you can be God’s servant there. You can also be taught ungodly information,and we all have a stream of ungodly information coming into our ears,some of which we choose and some of which we don’t,but it is possible still to have the bible as our compass. And we can also even be given externals like a pagan name or a pagan address but still our conviction is that God is our ruler. That’s what Daniel does in Babylon you see,it marks him out as God’s servant. It’s as if he asks the question for himself and he asks you today and me today if God is your king,if God is my king,how do I live like that?
Sinclair Ferguson says in his commentary,”some Christians are heroes in their daydreams,faithful on great and public occasions and in rarefied atmospheres when others will be impressed,but true faithfulness in scripture is first exercised in small things and in private. So we must ask ourselves as we live our Christian life and we think that we can divide between the public and the private,or we can divide between the big and the outward,and the small and the inward,we must ask ourselves how we are going to demonstrate that Christ really is king of all. And here on a small but crucial level Daniel makes his decision and he nails his colours to the mast and he says ‘My king,even in Babylon,is Yahweh.’ It’s his private faithfulness you see,he is not against Babylon,he doesn’t go and sit in church all day and say I’m a monastic,he is in the real world. He’s not for Babylon either,he doesn’t say,’I can be bought. Tell me your price’.
Someone told me a friend of theirs was invited to a company not too long ago and the invitation handshake,and this was some years ago,maybe 15 years ago was six hundred thousand dollars! Now it gets difficult doesn’t it when you are bought,to stand up. Daniel says,’I won’t be bought’,he makes it very clear at the beginning,but he is in Babylon,he is a light in Babylon,he is a witness in Babylon he says,’I have a king his name is Yahweh,if you watch me you will see,it will emerge.’ Jesus said in Matthew 5 “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and somehow they will know and give glory to your Father in heaven.” I wonder if there is anything more important for us,for Christians,to think through or to rethink: how does the wonderful kingship of Christ,under which we are hugely blessed,how does it impact in the private and the public? What for example in private needs to be surrendered? As Daniel surrendered a place which was quite luxurious and beneficial to him but which would compromise him. We might ask for example whether our time is used for Him. I know that it’s a pedantic thing and it might seem very legalistic but has it ever occurred to any of us that our time is His? Are there habits that we have settled into,speech,manner,attitude,which cloud our fellowship? Are there patterns of relating or behaving which are unworthy of Christ and need to be repented of? Paul says in Colossians “whatever you do whether in word or deed,do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” There isn’t anything which shouldn’t be affected by the lordship of Jesus. And how do I communicate in public that I have a king and that the king is not me? When I live in a world where everybody acts like the king is themselves? It is a difficult thing isn’t it,we do want to be normal in our neighbourhoods,we want to give the impression that we are just like everybody else,we want to show our neighbours that we are like them,we go to the same movies,we watch the same television,we spend on the same things,we travel to the same places,we get fit like they do,we do all the things that are normal,don’t’ we? We do in our best moments hope that this will help us to relate and not put people off the Christian faith,but in our worst moments of course we just don’t want to stand out and suffer. Sadly as I look at my own life,and perhaps this is true of you,the goal to be just like everybody else is working. I worry that the neighbours look at me and may well say “he’s just like us really. We go to the pub,we go to the club,he goes to church but there is nothing different about us.” And that is a concern and something that we ought to prayerfully think through. I don’t have clever answers for you but I do think we should say to our Lord,as a result of reading Daniel 1,”Oh Lord if Daniel was able to make clear that you were his God would you help me to do that.” Because Daniel you see in exile avoided the mistake of just being like everybody else. He did something which caused them to ask questions,he was privately committed to Yahweh,and it emerged in a public resolution.
Jonathan Edwards when he was a keen teenager wrote 70 resolutions for himself some of them were very hard to keep but it was his aim to be a distinctive Christian. Here are 4 of them:
• I resolve not to do anything but what would tend to the glory of God
• I resolve to live as I will wish I had if I reach old age and look back
• I resolve (he said) to fight my corruptions however unsuccessful I may be,and
• I resolve to live and not do what would be shameful as Christ returns.
Well there is a thoughtful guy,working out how he might live distinctively. And you see that God in verse 9 helped Daniel because the chief official cooperated with his food request,and then in verse 14 at the end of the 10 days they looked,verse 15,healthier and better nourished than any of the others. This is not a vegetarian chapter,this has got to do with seeking first the kingdom of God and having Him honour you for it and I need to say to you that God always honours His people but not always in this life. For some people the honour is ahead,the prize is ahead,the crown is ahead,but there are occasions where God honours quickly and immediately to encourage us and here is one example with Daniel. They are enrolled by the king Nebuchadnezzar and they have come in as slaves,are they are quite quickly shown the blessing of God in the king’s service. And as we will see in chapters to come that is going to be very significant.
Well let me finish by saying this to you – because Daniel is very faithful I do not want you to go out this morning praising Daniel. Daniel is incredibly needy and dependant. He’s in exile he cannot get out of exile if he wants to get out of exile. He is cut off from home,he is cut off from his destination,for 70 years. He is an alien and an exile for a lifetime,that’s how needy and dependant he is. And yet God is the one who begins the process,chapter 1 verse 2,and God is the one,chapter 1 verse 21,who will get him out. God is the one who knows how to bring him in and God is the one who knows how to take him home. God is totally the master of this situation. Daniel is also totally dependant on God for daily needs. What he decides to do with the food is quite a risky thing but God is at work in all the details,and it pleases God to help him. And God is at work also in bringing Daniel to a position of usefulness.
If your problem is Daniel,and the problem for these 4 men was exile in Babylon,if that’s your problem,if you are a Daniel type of problem,if you are a Babylon type of disaster then of course your solution is God the king God the saviour. But you and I don’t live in Babylon and we have much,much,bigger problems than Babylon. What if your problem at the moment involves personal unworthiness? That can be a crippling thing can’t it? The sense that everything really does depend on your worthiness,and since your unworthiness is unworthiness,what a dreadful position to be in. If your problem is mortality,if your problem is fear,if your problem is a bigger danger than Babylon,what will you do? And Daniel chapter 1 tells us that the same king and saviour lives,and rules,and saves,and loves,and delivers,and blesses,and guards,and guides,and provides,and even makes us useful. Into such a situation as the world in which we live God himself came. He came as Jesus and lived and suffered and conquered. He knows the beginning of our days and he knows the end of our days. He knows our daily needs and he knows our daily troubles. We are not alone. He is our king and he is our saviour. The God that Daniel totally depended on,totally needed,is the same God that you and I totally need and can totally depend on. They were delivered to Babylon which was a painful process but it was the deliberate plan of God. They were devoted to Yahweh but what was even better was that Yahweh was steadfastly devoted to them.
Let’s pray,let’s bow our heads:
Our gracious God we thank you for this wonderful book and this wonderful chapter. We thank you that you are utterly faithful to your promises,even promises of judgment. We thank you for your purposes for your people where you know the beginning and you know the end and you know the middle. We thank you that you have especially enter into our very dilemma in the person of the Lord Jesus and you’ve brought to us salvation,deliverance,strength,encouragement,hope,and we pray our gracious God as we are your people,in your world,under your rule,you would help us to honour you with our lives and we pray that you would help us to rejoice in your faithfulness. We ask it in Jesus name Amen.