in a World That Doesn't
Scripture Reading: Daniel 1:8-21
This morning we will be looking at the book of Daniel. One interesting thing about the book of Daniel (and you wouldn’t know this unless you read it in the original languages) it is written in two languages. The first chapter is written in Hebrew while 2:4-7:28 are written in a language called Aramaic. But then a funny thing happens. It then goes back into the Hebrew language in chapters 8-12. That’s interesting because Aramaic, at the time of Daniel was the international language of commerce, much like English is today. To put it another way, many scholars think it was written this way because Daniel doesn’t just contain a message for the Jews, it contains a message for the world. (And they would be right about that.)
The book of Daniel records a period of Israel’s history that was particularly dark. Their nation has been destroyed by the Babylonians and the remaining survivors have been carried away into captivity. That means they were forced to leave their homeland and live in a foreign country. Some of them, like Daniel, were even forced to change their name. For example, Daniel’s name became Belteshazzar.
Try to place yourself in Daniel’s shoes for a moment. Your homeland was attacked. People, friends, neighbors, family members have been brutally abused and killed. Daniel a godly man and he had to leave the city in ashes and the temple behind – the temple where you once worshipped was destroyed and several of the artifacts from within the temple, artifacts that were once used to worship your God are now stored in a treasury in the temple of the Babylonian gods. (And they did this because they believed that it showed that their gods, who they believe gave them the victory, proved themselves to be more powerful than your God.)
To make matters worse, you are forced to serve the king who was responsible for all of this.
Moreover, most scholars think Daniel and his companions were only young men when this all occurred. Historical records indicate many kings would select young men between the ages twelve and fourteen to be trained to serve them.
Now I want to pause for a moment and point that out to our young people. Daniel was a godly person that God used in a big way and he was just a young person. And he was also a person of unshakable faith and of courage in the face of persecution. And he was younger than some of our young people in the assembly today. And that means God can use you too, regardless of how young or old you are.
Babylon a dark place spiritually. The people practiced paganism and worshipped pagan gods. Life was far from easy for Daniel and his companions.
Why would God send a godly man like Daniel into a spiritually dark place?
Let’s look to something God said to another prophet that explained why he placed a godly man in a dark place. Listen to the words God spoke to Jeremiah:
"7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
- Jeremiah 29:7 (ESV)
Keep in mind that Jeremiah lived in roughly the same time period that Daniel did. And what God is indicating here is that Jeremiah was sent to the place where he was so that he could pray for his aggressors and God says in praying for them, Jeremiah would find healing for himself.
Have you ever thought about things that way? Have you ever found yourself in a terrible situation and all you could think of was how badly you wanted out of it? I want you to consider that maybe God put you there for a reason. Sometimes we find ourselves in spiritually dark places so that we can pray for and help others in spiritually dark places.
You know, Paul said something similar to this when he wrote:
"9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— "10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world."
- 1 Corinthians 5:9–10 (ESV)
Paul wanted to be clear. As Christians, we shouldn’t cozy up to other Christians who are engaged in sin and show no signs they are willing to stop. But that doesn’t mean that we avoid being around people who aren’t Christians who sin. Paul says if you tried to do that you would have to leave the world to get away from them because they are all around us everywhere. Paul understood that God placed Christians in the midst of a dark world so that they could pray for the world and act as a positive influence on the people around them that are lost in darkness. They were supposed to serve others as lights in the world.
Daniel and three of his friends were chosen to become the king’s servants. But serving Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t easy. One night the king has a dream at night and he calls his wise men to see if they can tell him what he had dreamt about and if they couldn’t tell him they were to be put to death. Now that’s an evil, tyrannical king that would be nearly impossible to please!
Daniel and his companions had to go through three years of training to learn how to serve the king properly. Kings were very particular. Only the most handsome men (they couldn’t have any deformity or any blemishes of any kind if they were going to serve the king). They had to be intelligent and able to learn the Chaldean language. So to keep up their appearances they were served a special diet to keep them looking their best. The only problem was that the Babylonians didn’t follow the same dietary restrictions that the Jews did – restrictions that God has placed in the law. By law, the Jews weren’t allowed to eat things like pork or shellfish or other meats from unclean animals and yet they were asking Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah to violate their dietary laws.
Verse eight contains a subtle, but powerful phrase about Daniel. It says:
"8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself."
- Daniel 1:8 (ESV)
Keep in mind Daniel was taking a huge risk here. There were several other men who could take his position. The Babylonians could simply kill him if he didn’t want to obey and replace him with somebody else in a heartbeat. But Daniel had already made up his mind that he was not going to violate God’s law regardless what the chief eunuch decided. Daniel made an incredibly brave move here. He would obey God even if it cost him dearly. Daniel was uncompromising.
Daniel is an impressive person from several perspectives. But one of the ways Daniel is impressive is how wise he is biblically. Daniel understands how to reach a culture effectively because he has figured out how to do it the way God wants him to do it.
And He didn’t complain. We don’t know what Daniel’s background is exactly but verse three indicates that he was a descendant of the king or some type of nobility. That means Daniel has gone from the ruling class to being a servant. Then he’s asked to forget about all of the Jewish customs and traditions and go through three years of training to learn the Babylonian culture and understand their customs. And they even take away the Jewish name (that change had a Jewish meaning “God has judged”) and they gave him a Babylonian name. How would you like someone to call you by the wrong name? (Wouldn’t that add insult to injury?) And he’s treated very poorly by the king throughout his story. And yet we never read about Daniel complaining. But then it came to asking him to break God’s law and he stood his ground.
It’s important to understand at this point. He doesn’t actively campaign against the king. He doesn’t slander other people. He doesn’t take a shot at Babylonian culture or its food. He didn’t demonstrate at that point. Daniel is in a dark world and Daniel’s conviction is simply this: “I will not defile myself.” Daniel realized that it’s not him against Babylon. It was only Himself fighting to serve as a faithful example for the Lord.
That may not sound like much. But more than once it is going to have a profound impact on the king and the world that surrounds him. And what I want us to think about is that the same is true for each and every one of us. All we can do is serve as a faithful servant and pray that we have a positive impact on the world around us.
Application: Four Things That Made Daniel a Successful Witness in a Lost Culture
#1) Daniel is Respectful (Daniel 1:8)
Daniel asks the chief of the eunuchs to allow him to do his job without defiling himself. Daniel didn’t take the judgmental, holier-than-thou approach and explain to the chief eunuch how ungodly the Babylonian culture was and how wrong it was to eat foods that God had forbidden. And he says this to the chief eunuch who is part of a society that was built on excess and wild, immoral partying and they believe in gods and mini-gods. This is not a godly man and yet Daniel is respectful of his authority. He politely asks to do his job without violating what he believed in.
The Bible tells us that is exactly how we are supposed to respond to authority.
"18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust."
- 1 Peter 2:18 (ESV)
Peter is telling us that God wants you to obey the authorities He has placed in your life even when they’re not good. Why? Because God sometimes places us in those places to pray on the behalf of other people because in their welfare we find our own welfare. In other words, just like God told Jeremiah it is best for us when we learn to pray for and to seek the welfare of others.
Daniel made it clear that he wasn’t looking for a fight. He didn’t insist on having his way and in stead went out of his way to be respectful to his superior and he asked. And that goes a long way no matter where you may find yourself in life. It will work better with your boss. It will work better with your spouse. It works better with everyone you encounter in a position of authority above you. Hold fast to your convictions, but be respectful.
Sometimes we can take the right position while taking the worst approach.
There was a husband was home watching a football game when his wife interrupts.
"Honey, could you fix the light in the hallway? It's been flickering for weeks now."
He looks at her and says, angrily, "Fix the lights now? Does it look like I have GE written on my forehead? I don't think so."
His wife responded, "Fine."
Then his wife asks, "Well then, could you fix the fridge door? It won't close right."
To which he replied, "Fix the fridge door? Does it look like I have Whirlpool written on my forehead? I don't think so."
His wife responded, "Fine."
She says, "Then could you at least fix the steps to the front door? They are about to break."
"I'm not a carpenter and I don't fix steps," He says. "Does it look like I have Ace Hardware written on my forehead? I don't think so."
"I've had enough of you," he said, "I'm going for a drive!"
Soon he begins to cool off and starts to feel guilty about how he treated his wife and decides to go home.
As he walks up to the house he notices that the steps are already fixed.
As he enters the house he sees the hall light is working.
As he goes to the refrigerator and notices the door is fixed.
"Honey," he asks, "how did all this get fixed?"
She said, "Well, after you left I sat outside and cried. Then a nice young man came along and asked me what was wrong. I told him and he offered to do all the repairs and all I had to do was either give him our television or bake a cake."
The husband said, "So what kind of cake did you bake?"
She replied, "Do you see Betty Crocker Written on my forehead? I don't think so."
Ralph Waldo Emerson Once Said: “Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear what you are saying.”
It’s a lot easier to hear someone tell us something we don’t want to hear if they treat us with respect.
Politeness and respectfulness makes us more likable, its disarming, it makes us easier to agree with and most importantly it is biblical.
"21 The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness."
- Proverbs 16:21 (ESV)
#2) Daniel Is Sincere (Daniel 1:12)
When Daniel made the request of the chief eunuch he was asking a lot. If Daniel’s plan didn’t work out…if he looked worse after refusing the king’s prescribed diet he could cost the chief eunuch his head. So he asks the chief eunuch to give it a ten day test to see if it worked.
Now I want to pause here to point out that there is something going on here that isn’t recorded in scripture. This eunuch was willing to let Daniel have his way. He didn’t have to test anything for ten days. If Daniel and the others refused, he could have turned them in and had them executed. But he didn’t. Based on everything else we can read about Daniel I’m convinced that the chief eunuch saw something in Daniel – he saw that he was a respectful, honest man of conviction and he was willing to give him a chance to prove himself.
So often, how others respond to us is determined by how we’ve conducted ourselves in the past. As someone said, “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and only moments to lose it.” How you treat people on a daily basis, whether or not you show yourself to be a person of integrity, of character is going to play a big role in how much they choose to place their faith and trust in you in the future.
#3) Daniel Is Humble (Daniel 1:10-16)
In verses ten through sixteen I want us to take note of Daniel’s attitude. I want us to focus particularly on verse thirteen:
"13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.”"
- Daniel 1:13 (ESV)
Daniel showed immense humility. He was, in essence saying, “We trust your judgment. At the end of the ten-day period you be the judge and whatever you determine, we’ll accept what you say and then you can deal with your servants however you see fit.”
Keep in mind we’ve already pointed out that Daniel has already decided that He is not going to violate God’s commands. What the chief eunuch doesn’t know is that, when Daniel says “deal with your servants according to what you see” he might mean “then you can do with us as you see fit” which might mean chop off our heads. But I think its more than that. The book of Daniel reveals Daniel to be a person of enormous faith. I believe Daniel had faith all along that he would ask and pray and God would work out the rest.
Daniel would have been familiar with the book of Proverbs which says:
"1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will."
- Proverbs 21:1 (ESV)
In summary it means God is in control. Just like you can take hold of a garden hose and direct the water wherever you wish, God is in control of the kings and leaders hearts. He can move them to do anything he desires. This is one of the ways his divine plan never fails.
Someone once said that there are two kinds of people in this world. One walks into the world and says, “here I am” and another who walks in and says, “there you are”. The first one walks into a room and expects everyone to think they are so important that they should notice them and come up and talk to them. The second is looking to come into the room and find people to make the other person feel special, important.
#4) Daniel Has a Strong Work Ethic (Daniel 1:17-20)
"17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. "18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. "19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. "20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom."
- Daniel 1:17–20 (ESV)
I don’t think these verses mean that God simply zapped them with special abilities and they took a nap for the next three years then when the king tested them they miraculously graduated at the top of their class. On the contrary. They worked hard to learn their part and God blessed everything they did.
Why did God give them these abilities? Notice that everything Daniel has asked up to this point was so that he could serve God faithfully. So God saw to it that David was allowed to do so. And when they worked to learn how to serve the king they were ten times better than anyone else. That wasn’t just raw talent. It was God working in them! God gave them these abilities so that they could have this powerful witness over the king’s court and the Babylonian kingdom.
So, think about the four things that made Daniel a successful witness in a lost culture:
Daniel was respectful
Daniel was sincere.
Daniel was humble.
And Daniel had a strong work ethic.
Think about how these things could help you influence others in a positive way if you were to weave them into your character.