This past November we saw another controversial election take place in our country. I say “another” because I want to think through it with sober-judgment (Rom 12.3), which means I want to guard against the tendency to inflate the effect this election has on our current age. For others the last two elections had a similar effect.
There many political power struggles that take place all over the globe everyday, so this is nothing unique to our country. In fact the story we are looking at today in Daniel 1 is written in the same vein. The context or background of our story today begins before we even read Daniel 1. The book of Daniel is continuing the story of a family that became a nation called Israel. The nation was built around a series of covenants that were building on top of each other. When you study ANE culture it was not uncommon for a nation to have code book or civil code that all the citizens agreed to live by. For Israel this code is what we would call the Torah or Law. In the Torah we see their were “blessings” and “curses” for keeping or disobeying the laws in the kingdom (Lev 26; Duet 28). This was no ordinary kingdom, but a kingdom built by the God of the universe. For many years God warned Israel if they would not stop disobeying God there would be consequences or “curses” that would result. One of those was God would remove from the land He had given them. They would be taken captive by another nation. They would be exiles scattered among the nations. This is where our story picks up
Theme: God’s grace provides sustainable wisdom in our crisis’s of faith.
1. Personal and Populace Crisis—Daniel 1.1-7.
Hopefully you have read Daniel 1 by now, so I am going to talk about our text assuming you have. I don’t think it would hard for any of us to imagine the personal crisis Daniel, his friends, his family, and his nation are going through right now. Everyone saw the entire nation taken captive by another nation and there was nothing they could do about it. Many would have been asking questions like, “Where is God? Is our faith meaningless? In our darkest hour God is no where to be found.” Others could have been thinking, “We were warned. We were told this would happen. God is punishing us and we deserve it.” There is certainly some merit to both lines of thinking. The author of Daniel wants us to wrestle with those questions.
While he wants us to wrestle this crisis he also immediately interprets the event for us. When we stop and take a look we see one of his conclusions right away in verse 2—“And the LORD gave.” This subtle phrase comes up again in verse 9 and 17, which tells us its significance to the author. Whenever an author repeats words or phrase He is attempting to drive home his point. The author wants the reader to immediately know that while this nation has conquered Daniel and his family, it was ultimately God who did this.
What does this tell us friends? First, I believe this teaches us that the author has a “theocentric” view of human history. When the author looks as historical events he interprets through what He knows about God. Humanity is not the center of his world, no, God is. Second, this teaches us that the faithfulness of God does not seem positive. When I was a child, I would not have seen the discipline or correction my parents were giving me as grace and mercy. But listen to what few passages tell us:
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”—Hebrews 12.5-6
God’s discipline and correction of us is sign that He cares. He is treating us like His children. Correcting someone can be a loving act. Yet, many of us refuse correction and discipline because we just want people to affirm our every action. I’m it is not loving to let someone die when you know what could save their life. One of my favorite OT saints realized this. Listen to what he says to his wife after going through an intense personal crisis:
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.—Job 2.9-10
Friends there will be times when God “gives” us over to our oppressors. “Shall we receive good from God, and…not…evil?”
I believe we see this perfectly lived out in the life of Jesus Christ. Daniel and his friends knew they lived in a wicked generation. They knew they were not sinless men. Jesus was sinless; He lived a perfect life, yet even He was given into the hands of His oppressors. And why was Jesus able to live this way? Jesus’ life was governed by a pursuit of joy, happiness and satisfaction. But for Jesus He sought the joy, happiness and satisfaction of God above all else. This was the greatest source of His own personal joy but also the greatest source of His personal torment. For all who strive to live this way it will be the same. When we really set out live for the glory of God, far above our own personal comfort, the approval of others, our desires for success, and etc. then we will truly find joy. But until we meet God face-to-face in glory it will be a fight! This has been personally true for me and I am sure for many of you. Many times this can send us into a crisis of faith. And while it is very personal, there are many here who have been there too. We are not alone in this.
2. Exercising Wise Convictions—Daniel 1.8-16.
While Daniel and his friends were going through personal and populace crisis this was the end of their story. Daniel 1.8 is a transitional verse. In order to understand it we need to examine some of the details in the previous section. We learn from Daniel 1.3-7 the Babylonian tactics for assimilation. They would take the best, brightest, and good looking young people and reeducate them in Babylonian way. They would have studied literature, philosophy, religion, mathematics, science and medicine. We learn from verses 6-7 these men were even given new names—Babylonian names.
Even though Daniel is young, probably in his late teen years, he recognizes the significance of what is going on here—READ Daniel 1.8. Now it is widely debated what Daniel would have considered “defiled,” it is not main point of the author. The point to notice is how masterfully God works through the faithfulness of this young scared confused Israelite. It is very easy to not notice the radical statement in verse 9—READ Daniel 1.9. Before Daniel even discusses with this government official his grievance he has been “given” favor and compassion in the sight of Him. Once again we see God sovereign gracious, silent, quiet intervening in human history. Many times this is the way grace works friends. It is subtle, silent, quiet, but powerful. Grace does not mean we don’t have any responsibility. In my younger years I worked a lot because I was an athlete. You work out hard, and as hard as we work we don’t always know how are muscles will react. In the words of the apostle Paul, “one planted, another watered, but God gives the growth.” In the midst of their turmoil Daniel and his friends are seeing the silent steady gracious hand of God at work.
When we consider Daniel’s age, how handled this whole situation, we cannot help but be amazed. Notice what happens in verse 10. Daniel learns the heart motive of the chief eunuchs actions. He is motivated by fear, not reverent worshipful fear, but fear for wrath. Whenever you put pressure on someone and it threatens their “worldview” it will reveal the motivations of their heart. Once Daniel learns what is motivating the chief eunuch he is able to figure out a plan that would keep him happy and safe. The plan would still require faith. They were not putting their hope in their plan but in God.
3. God’s Grace Fuels Sustainable Wisdom—Daniel 1.17-21.
We learn from Daniel 1.17 that not everything Daniel was learning from the Babylonians was inherently evil. God gave Daniel and his friends, tremendous ability to excel in some worldly wisdom. God would not do something He considered vile or unholy.
The book of James tells us there is a difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God (James 3.15-17). James 3.17 tells us, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” What did Daniel seek in verse 8? Purity—He sought to live a life that was compelling, controversial, set apart, holy. What Daniel is trying to model, and James is trying to tell us, God’s grace governs the Christians wisdom. Notice in James 3.17 it says we will be reasonable, but not argumentative. We will engage other worldviews with grace, humility, peace, gentleness, full of mercy. And the beauty of what we see in Daniel 1.21 is the grace of God sustains our wisdom. It makes our wisdom, the wisdom of God, relevant no matter what age we live in, no matter the crisis, no matter the circumstance. I was talking to a friend of mine this week who does not love Jesus, and she admitted some of her struggle is the claims of the Christian seem barbaric and irrelevant to our age. Friends the Word of God is living and active. It is the churches role in every age to winsomely show them the relevance of God’s Word. This will require studious discipline. May we all pray God will give us the grace and humility to learn, have skill in literature, and wisdom that will help all people everywhere love and treasure the God we serve.