Daniel speaks today. Our tendency to read this prophetic book as either all past or future-oriented misses the significant impact it can have on us today. Chapter 1 is the first indicator that this book has present tense value for the church. In chapter one Daniel demonstrates what it looks like to be committed to your relationship with God above all else. Daniel demonstrates and invites us to trust God despite disaster and obey God despite success.
The first seven verses set the context of the book. Jerusalem is besieged and overtaken by Babylon. As a result King Nebuchadnezzar takes captive all the young men and seeks to train them in the culture, religion, and practices of Babylon. Among these youth is Daniel. The young man was likely around the age of 14 and found himself suddenly in service to a wicked King who has destroyed his home, killed his people, and taken him captive into a strange and foreign land. What an awful place to be. It gets worse too, because once there he has his named changed from Daniel – which means God judges me – to Belteshazzar – which means Beltis protect the King (Beltis refers to one of the Chaldean gods). His very name is changed to reflect his new allegiance to the gods of Babylon. He has no say in these things, of course. He is a complete victim of the wickedness of this invading army. And yet, more surprisingly the text of Daniel tells us that it was God who did these things. Verse two tells us, “the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand.” This is God’s doing!
Daniel and his friends have just experienced great devastation and disaster, yet their faith in God remains. As a slave in this new empire they are put through the Babylonian indoctrination program and informed that they will become servants of this despotic ruler. They have had so many things taken from them, and yet Daniel remains faithful to the Lord. He will not allow his circumstances to dictate his faith. Rather than allowing this disaster to serve as the filter through which he views God, he views this disaster through the filter of this knowledge of Yahweh. He will trust in God despite his experience of disaster. He will not partake of the King’s food regimen because it would “defile” him. He would rather risk his life than damage his relationship with the Lord. He will remain faithful.
This same scenario applies to us today too. We live in the same broken world. We experience victimization, heart-ache, disaster, calamity, and the like. We know what it is to be disappointed with the life we have, or the experiences we are going through. We know what it is to lose family, to be betrayed by friends, to be far from home, to lose comfort and safety. We know what it is to be violated, to have our will take away, to have our future dreams crushed. Do you allow your disappointments to filter your faith? Do you allow your heart-ache convince you that God doesn’t care, God isn’t real, God won’t help? Do you believe despite your circumstances? Do you trust God regardless of disaster? Daniel models faith in the face of discouragement well. Jesus model is better. In Luke 22:42, Jesus seeks the weight of the cross before Him and pleads for another way. Ultimately, however, he says, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” He believes in the goodness of His Father, and the will of God, despite what lays ahead of Him. You can trust, God, friends, regardless of how things have turned out for you now.
Secondly, however, Daniel models obedience to God despite success. As a slave he experiences a great deal of success and victory in his training. He works hard, studies well, and rises to the top of his class. He “favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” (v. 9). Even Nebuchadnezzar finds that Daniel and his friends, “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” (v. 20). He has succeeded in this foreign country, in this new empire. Against all odds, even despite refusing to adhere to the King’s dietary expectations, Daniel and his friends rise above everyone. Yet, this success will not compel him to surrender his relationship with the Lord. His initial refusal to adopt the dietary customs of Babylon is a commitment to let nothing come between him and God. He will be faithful no matter the cost, no matter the temptation, no matter the success. Victory in the eyes of the world is not worth failure in the eyes of God.
Jesus warns us of the same. In Matthew 16:26 he says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” John warns us not to “love this world” (1 John 2:15). Success tempts us to be more pragmatic than Biblical. We think that if we are attaining victory in life, work, family, relationships, parenting, finances, etc. then God must be blessing us. Daniel did not know whether God would bless him or not, he only knew that he must be faithful. He would obey even in the face of success’ temptation. Will we? Will you commit to obey God regardless of what temptation offers you? Even if it costs you?
We can trust God despite disaster. He is in it and He is with us. We can obey God despite success. He is worth whatever it costs us. Daniel is a book about living for God in a wicked world. It speaks volumes to us as we experience the same reality. Will we trust and obey? The old hymn tells us there is no other way to be happy in Jesus. Trust and obey means to surrender to God’s will and seek to live in it. This is the path to finding true joy, peace, and rest in a wicked world. Daniel knew it. Do we?