Daniel was a statesman forcibly removed from Jerusalem and taken to Babylon. Despite the pressures he encountered to compromise his faith, Daniel resolutely remained faithful to God. Perhaps the meaning of his name, “God is Judge,” motivated him to faithfulness. The book named for the main character divides into two sections. Daniel 1-6 provides an autobiographical description of the pressure to compromise in a pagan culture. Daniel 7-12 portrays God’s directing history toward its climatic, victorious conclusion. The book of Daniel, therefore, offers both challenge and encouragement on an individual level and on the big cosmic drama. Humans build godless kingdoms, yet God builds an eternal Kingdom. The primary message of Daniel is that God’s people are never at home in a godless culture.
What lessons does Daniel provide for believers living in the context of an unbelieving culture?
First, pagan culture will attempt to lessen the resolve of believers through education (Dan. 1.3-5). Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, proclaimed his power over Judah through two actions. First, he carried vessels from the temple in Jerusalem to the temple of the Babylonian god Marduk. By action, he claimed that Marduk possessed more power than Yahweh. Second, he carried the best and brightest young men (likely older teenagers) from upper-class families to Babylon for reprogramming in the wisdom of Babylon. The religious reprogramming involved giving the young men pagan names.
Babylon exalted its role as a city of wisdom. Rather than biblical wisdom, the wisdom of Babylon focused on magic, omens, evil spirits, astrology, religion and mathematics. Daniel described the Babylonian educational process as equivalent to a modern bachelor’s degree. Perhaps the king planned to return the men to Judah in leadership roles. God blessed Daniel with a godly heritage as suggested by his name; consequently, he experienced the finest pagan education and remained faithful. Unfortunately, many Christian parents send their children to universities without the preparation necessary to help the students survive on a campus hostile to Christian values.
Second, believers survive ungodly culture by making resolute commitments of faithfulness (Dan. 1:8-10). On the basis of religious principles, Daniel refused the food provided by the king. Daniel feared moral and religious defilement for three reasons. First, Babylonian food did not meet dietary restrictions set forth in the Law of Moses. Second, the hosts sacrificed a portion of food to pagan gods. Third, eating the king’s food meant accepting the king’s lordship. Refusing to eat would have insulted the king. Rather than making a demand, Daniel respectfully and politely asked permission. God actively intervened by giving Daniel favor with the Babylonian official. God previously granted favor to Joseph and Esther in the context of ungodly culture (Gen. 39:4; Est. 2:9). Daniel remained resolute despite peer pressure from other captives and potentially losing the possibility of advancement.
Third, believers must understand they will be tested in an ungodly culture (Dan. 1:12-15). Recognizing the necessity of testing, Daniel proposed a test. Let the Jewish men eat vegetables for 10 days. The Hebrew term translated “vegetables” means any food grown from seed, thus describing grain, fruits and vegetables—the equivalent of a modern healthy diet. The Jewish men flourished with the diet and the practice became permanent (vv. 15-16).
Fourth, in an ungodly culture, believers can trust God for wisdom (Dan. 1:17-19). Nebuchadnezzar’s officials provided education in the worldly wisdom of the Babylonians, but God prepared the young men for their leadership roles. God gave them knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Knowledge describes ability in reasoning skills. Understanding denotes insight and ability to interpret the nature of issues. Babylonians prided themselves on wisdom, but God gave the young men true wisdom. Daniel and the young men demonstrate Proverbs 1:7. In addition, God gave Daniel a spiritual gift of dream interpretation.
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