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Good morning, everybody. We’re going to read Daniel chapter 1. And so I’ll read for us. We’re going to read the whole chapter, which is 21 verses. So be patient.
Daniel 1:1, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Babylon to the house of his god; and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.
“Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Babylonians. And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king. Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Now God had brought Daniel into the favour and goodwill of the chief of the eunuchs. And the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, ‘I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces looking worse than the young men who are your age? Then you would endanger my head before the king.’
“So Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, ‘Please test your servants for 10 days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king’s delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants.’ So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them 10 days.
“And at the end of 10 days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies. Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
“As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
“Now at the end of the days, when the king had said that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them 10 times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm. Thus Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus.”
Well, let’s pray together. Let’s ask God’s gracious help. Loving Father, as you have caused this Word to be written for our blessing and our instruction, we pray that your Word would be our rule and guide, that your Holy Spirit would be our teacher, and that your honour, your glory would be our great concern. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
So my friends, today, we are beginning a short series in the Old Testament Book of Daniel. Not many people know a lot about Daniel, although a lot of people have heard of the lions and the den. And almost everybody interestingly knows that phrase, “The writing on the wall,” which comes in chapter 5. Well, I want to begin by giving you the key to the Book of Daniel, which is that God’s kingdom is over all earthly kingdoms, and God’s kingdom outlasts all earthly kingdoms. That’s the key to the book. God has a kingdom which is over all and outlasts all earthly kingdoms. We will get hopelessly lost if we read Daniel and think that it’s all about brave men doing brave things, when it’s actually about God, who makes his people new and brave. So the Bible is a God-centred book. It’s not a man-centred book. And I want to look at Daniel chapter 1 under two headings. I hope you can remember these two. The first is God’s promises kept. And the second, God’s people kept.
First of all, God’s promises kept.
If you were listening through the reading, you’ll know the chapter 1 begins with what looks like a tragedy because the pagan king of Babylon invaded Jerusalem, the old Testament city of God, chapter 1, verse 1. It’s about 605 BC. It would be hard to describe the shock of this for God’s people. Let me give you a corny comparison, illustration. Just imagine if the Chinese government decided to invade Australia and they decided for just amusement to bulldoze this particular building and to expel all church members to China. And then they were to take the stones of this building and use them to build a pagan temple. You would be shocked. That is a small example of what Babylon did to Jerusalem in chapter 1, verse 1.
And the shock of course you see is because Jerusalem had been really set up by God. He had helped David to capture the city. He’d helped Solomon to build the temple. He had promised to protect the place and make his home in Jerusalem. He’d done all these things. But he had also promised that if his people turned away from him and ignored his will and his Word, that he would punish them. And he warned them again and again through the prophets. If you read the prophets of the Old Testament, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, and some of the minor prophets, Ezekiel as well, you’ll see that there is a warning after warning that if the people of God reject God, reject his Word, reject his will, that he will reject them from Jerusalem.
And now we see in Daniel chapter 1, it’s happened. The famous king Nebuchadnezzar has come in and laid siege to the city. You can imagine the Babylonian news on television that evening as the news comes on, and the presenter says something like this, “We are very pleased with ourselves. We’re very capable and wonderful people, of course, and we have just captured Jerusalem.” But if you look at chapter 1, verse 2, you’ll see that it says the Lord gave it to them. So a Babylonian announcement, “We have captured the city of Jerusalem.” Biblical reality, “God has given to Babylon the city of Jerusalem.” And the reason God did this was because he was keeping his promises that he would punish his people for their disobedience.
Let me give you one example from Jeremiah chapter 13 of hundreds of examples that we could take from the Old Testament, but this is what Jeremiah said to God’s people when they lived securely in the land, but were turning their back on God. He said, “Pay attention. Do not be arrogant. If you do not listen, the Lord’s flock will be taken captive. Judah will be carried into exile, carried completely away because you have forgotten the Lord, your God.”
Interestingly, it was the Babylonian policy to collect the best of the people they conquered. Other nations would not do this. The Assyrians, for example, would just move in, decimate and scatter people everywhere. But the Babylonians would collect the best of the people and take them home for their service. And you see in chapter 1 verses 3 to 7, that they began to look for the fit and the smart and train them for Babylon. And the process… There’s a five-fold process in verses 3 to 7.
First of all, verse 4, they would teach them the language of Babylon. Pretty obvious. Then secondly, they would teach them the literature of Babylon. In other words, the history. Then thirdly, they would draw them into the inner circle. Some of them would be drawn into the inner circle of the king. This would go on for three years. That’s the full thing. For three years. That’s number four. And fifthly, they would give to these people new Babylonian names. Well, this is what we call indoctrination, radicalization, brainwashing. And it must’ve been a shock beyond belief as the people of God began to ask questions in Babylon like this: “Has God lost? Has Yahweh who rescued us given up on us? Did Babylon defeat Yahweh? Is the whole plan of God over? Has he stopped keeping his promises? Will there be no future for his people? Will there be no Messiah? Is it all finished?”
And the answer is no and yes. He is going to keep his promises to punish, but he will ultimately of course keep his promises to build a people. So God’s not going to abandon his promises. He’s not going to abandon his plans, but he’s not going to allow his attestment people to drift carelessly and do nothing about it. God will create, build, secure, and carry through his purposes for his people.
There’s a very fine preacher in Scotland called Eric Alexander. And he says in one of his sermons, these words, “The most significant thing that is happening in history is that God is building a church of people and there will come a day when he will pull down the scaffolding of world history. And do you know what he will be pointing to when he says, ‘This is my master piece?’ He will be pointing to the church of Jesus Christ. And though he keeps his promises to punish and to discipline, he will also keep his promises to restore and build his church.” You remember Jesus said in Matthew 16, “I’ll build my church. The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
So that’s the first thing, God’s promises kept. In this case, it’s promises to discipline or punish his people before he restores them.
Now, secondly, God’s people kept.
You’ll see in chapter 1, verse 8, that Daniel, whose name incidentally means God is my judge, refused the part of the program that involved the royal food and wine. Now, why did Daniel do this? You’ll notice that he didn’t say no to the language lessons. He didn’t say no to the literature lessons. He didn’t say no to three years of training. He didn’t even say no to the changing of the name, but he said no to the royal food.
Now, some people have said, well, this is because it was a non-kosher food. It was Gentile food. Some people have said it was a vegetarian thing. He wanted vegetables, verse 12. Maybe some kind of health cake. Others have said that it was an idolatry thing, that this food must’ve been offered to idols. I don’t think any of those explain Daniel’s decision. I think the answer is in chapter 1, verse 5. He did not want to be part of the king’s table, because if you join the kingdom or the table of the king, it means you join the fellowship of the king. You join the close bond of the king. You join his inner circle. You join in his agreement. And that’s why, of course, the Lord Supper is so precious to us because when the Lord invites us to his table, he invites us to his fellowship. He invites us to his inner circle.
But Daniel was saying in chapter 1, verse 8, “I’m not going to be serving this king, primarily in Babylon, because I’m serving the king who is Yahweh.” In other words, although he was in Babylon, he was not forming a rebellion against Babylon. He was prepared to have the Babylonian name, the language, the training, but his king was going to be God. In other words, he drew a line in the sand. This was a very costly thing to do.
I remember a friend of mine who was invited to join a company which subsequently collapsed and went bust very publicly told me that the day he shook hands with the CEO, $600,000 went into his bank account as a welcome present. That was 25 years ago. It’s very hard, isn’t it? When you’ve been bought like that to go against the flow. Daniel was making a very costly decision. He was going to live in the centre of Babylon, but he had raised a little flag as if to say, “I belong to Yahweh. You cannot buy me.” This is an incredibly important moment for the whole of the book. He’s basically saying, “I have a king. It’s not the king of Babylon. My king is Yahweh.” He has been dragged off to exile, he has been programmed to work in Babylon, but he’s not going to give his heart to Babylon. It belongs to the king who is Yahweh.
I was talking to a girl not long ago, who works for SBS. And SBS, as you know, must be committed to everything but Christianity. I asked her if she was really the only Christian at SBS and she said, no, she’d found some others. And they’d actually formed a little prayer group to pray for God’s changing of people within SBS. I’ve no doubt that if she was to be asked by the boss of SBS, “Is your primary allegiance to SBS?” She would have said, “No, it’s to Jesus Christ.”
I remember hearing a young man who was being interviewed by a boss for a job and he was asked what his priority was in life. And he said this, “My second priority, sir, is to serve you as well as I can. And my first priority is to go to heaven and to take as many people with me as I can.”
God, you see, he was keeping his people in Babylon, keeping them safe. He was ruling their hearts, making them his people. And so Daniel in verse 12, asked for different food, which wouldn’t affect their usefulness. And after 10 days, they were found to be healthy and well. Why does the chapter make such a lot of this food issue? Because Daniel is drawing a line in the sand to say who his king is. It’s not a lesson in vegetarianism. Read Acts chapter 10 and 11, and you’ll see that God has given all foods acceptably for us. But you’ll notice in verse 17 that God went beyond the Babylonian education to give wisdom to these young men beyond what they would have picked up in the training. He gave them knowledge and understanding, and he even gave to Daniel, the gift of visions and dreams. In other words, they had honoured him and he was now honouring them.
Then when Nebuchadnezzar, in verse 19, interviewed these young men, he found them to be super gifted. And so they entered into Nebuchadnezzar service. And actually Daniel was probably there in the king service, king after king, for 70 years. Now, friends, this is a classic example of living in God’s world under God’s rule. In other words, you may be working for men, but you’re primarily working for God. Just as Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 29, “Settle down when you get into Babylon, you’re going to be there for a good long time. Get married, plant your garden, do everything that is needful, but it’s not your home. And the king there is not your primary king.” Paul also, didn’t he? He taught the servants in Ephesians, “Serve your masters, your earthly masters, knowing you have a heavenly master. It’s Christ you’re serving.”
So that’s how the Book of Daniel begins. God’s people have been exiled because he keeps his promises, but God’s people are being kept because he keeps his people. We must remember that there is a King, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings who deserves to be on the throne. God has installed him. Christ has won a great victory, overseen death and judgment. He deserves to be on the throne. And everybody will give account one day to this King of Kings, but we know that he is our Saviour, that he has died for us, that he has taken away our sin, that we can meet him safely on that day because of his death on the cross. We do have a King and we do have a Saviour. His name is Jesus Christ. Let’s be thankful that in every place Christ has his people. He has people who are serving him primarily as their King, and he’s able to look after his people.
I close with a quick story that I heard of a family who were missionaries in Thailand, and they were being persecuted by some of the monks who actually set up a protest outside their house for being in their country. And the protest consisted of ringing bells early in the morning and chanting and burning incense. So this family decided that they would set up a breakfast in the streets before the protests began. And when the protesters came, they found that there were tables and chairs laid out and a breakfast for the protesters and for the people of their streets. This made such an impact on the people of the streets that they told the monks, the protesters, to leave them alone and to push off.
I wonder my friends, as you listen to me, whether you can say, “Christ is my King. I do trust him. He’s died for me and he does have my first allegiance.” God is a God who keeps his promises and God is a God who keeps his people. Remember the words of Hebrews 13, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.”
Let’s pray. We thank you our heavenly King that you rule over all. We thank you that you’ve made it possible for us to walk with you acceptably because of the death of the Lord Jesus, and that we will meet you joyfully. We pray that you would help us in the time you’ve given us in this world to give to you our allegiance, as well as our gratitude, and to serve you primarily above all others. And to be your witness, your signpost in your world. Please protect us. Keep your promises, keep your people, we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.