When we watch the football on TV, or when we watch anything on TV, we’re used to seeing the action from different angles and perspectives. TV production companies don’t use one camera only; they have multiply cameras to record the action and to show us what’s happening from multiple angles. And so, when a goal is scored, we might see it from the left side first of all; and then we’ll see if from the right side of the pitch; and then we’ll see it from behind the striker; and then we’ll see it from behind the goal; and perhaps we’ll even see it from overhead. Multiple cameras and multiple perspectives. And, of course, this can lead to interesting results, because when it first seemed that one player fouled another player, when you see the same incident from another angle, you’ll see that the player who claimed he was being fouled was only play-acting, and he wasn’t really fouled at all. And, of course, we now have VAR, so that there’s an extra official watching all the action from a special room, miles away from the match, but who is able to review what’s happening on the pitch and advise the referee if he’s missing something or if he made a mistake.
We’re used to this now: we’re used to seeing the action from different angles and different perspectives. And that’s what verses 1 and 2 of Daniel 1 are like: these two verses are giving us two different perspectives on the exile of God’s people to Babylon. We have one perspective, or one angle, in verse 1 where we’re told that in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. That’s one perspective on what happened; that’s the perspective of the historian who reports the facts about what happened at a particular time in history. At a certain time in history, one person went to this place and he did this thing. That’s one perspective.
But then verse 2 provides us with another perspective on the same event. Verse 2 says:
And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand….
This is the perspective of the theologian who understands that the Lord God Almighty is working out his plans and purposes for the world; and from his throne in heaven he is upholding and directing all of his creatures and all of their actions. So, it’s true that Nebuchadnezzar came and besieged the city of Jerusalem; and no doubt he planned that military campaign carefully, which was part of a larger campaign involving other nations. Nevertheless, the theologian understands that standing behind Nebuchadnezzar, ruling over all things in heaven and on earth, granting him success in his battles, stands the Lord, the one who made all things and the one who directs and controls all things.
And this is one of the big themes in the book of Daniel. Who is in control? Who is in charge? Who is the one who controls and directs the events of history? Is it Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon? Is it any of the other kings who succeeded him? — and as we read through the book of Daniel we’ll come across a number of kings. Who is in control? And the answer, of course, is that the Lord is in control: he made all things and he directs all things. He’s the Lord of history and he’s working out his plans and purposes for the world, raising up this nation and tearing down that nation; exalting this person and humbling that person. All events and places and people are under his authority and he’s the one who knows the future, because he’s the one who has decided what the future will be. This is one of the great themes of the book of Daniel; and it was something which the people of Israel needed to know at this time in their history, because at this time in their history, it may have seemed that their God was not in control.
Why might the people of Israel have doubted whether God was in control? Well, it was because the land of Israel — the Promised Land which the Lord had given to them — had been overrun by their enemies and many of them had been taken away to far off lands. And many of them might have wondered whether the Lord their God was still in control or was Nebuchadnezzar’s god was now in control of all things.
Well, why had the Israelites been taken into exile? In order to answer that question we need to think back to the time when the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai in the days of Moses. At that time he promised to bring them into the Promised Land, which was a land flowing with milk and honey, a land like the Garden of Eden. And the Lord promised to bless his people if they obeyed him, so that they would be kept safe and would have everything they needed. However, the Lord warned them that if they disobeyed him, and turned away from walking in his ways, and turned to other gods, then he would bring curses on them so that they would suffer in many ways. If — in their misery — they realised the sin and confessed it and turned from it, the Lord was ready to forgive them. But if they persisted in their rebellion, then their suffering would only get worse, and one curse after another would fall on them until, in the end, the Lord would remove them from the Promised Land and send them into exile. Well, that’s exactly what happened: the people turned from the Lord and disobeyed his commandments and they worshipped other gods.
Daniel introduces us to Jehoiakim. He became king of Judah after the defeat and death of Josiah in 609BC and after the very short reign of his brother, Jehoahaz. According to 2 Kings 23 Jehoiakim did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He was the king Jeremiah tells us about in Jeremiah 36, who took the scroll containing God’s word; and he cut it into strips and burned each strip in the fire. He despised the word of the Lord and he did what was evil in God’s sight.
And so, the king did what was evil; and the people did what was evil. And though the Lord had been patient with his people for many, many generations and had given them time to repent, and though he sent them prophets to call on them to return to the Lord, they kept sinning against him; until, in the end, the Lord did what he had warned them about and he sent them into exile.
And so, we read here how Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon lay siege to Jerusalem in Jehoiakim’s third year. Babylon was to become a mighty empire, and it would conquer many nations. But as we see from verse 2, Nebuchadnezzar’s victory over Jerusalem was due to the Lord, who handed over Jehoiakim and Jerusalem into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.
So, who is in control? Who rules over all things? Who rules the nations of the world and all their peoples? It may have seemed to the exiles that Nebuchadnezzar’s god was in control. And they had to bear the sight of seeing Nebuchadnezzar carry off to Babylonia their king and some of the holy articles from the temple in Jerusalem. Their king was taken away, presumably to swear an oath of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar before returning to Jerusalem to rule the land as his puppet king. And the holy articles from the temple were taken away to be placed in the treasure house of Nebuchadnezzar’s god. So, from one perspective, it must have seemed that Nebuchadnezzar and his gods were in control.
But Daniel reminds us that the one who is in control of all things is the Lord God Almighty. Whenever Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar, the Lord was doing what he had warned he would do; and he was the one who handed over his rebellious people into the hands of their enemies. And as we go though this book together, it will become clear that the Lord rules over all things; and even the pagans kings — which we’ll read about — came to acknowledge that Daniel’s God is the one who rules over all things in heaven and on earth. And, of course, as the one who rules over all, he ensured that — when the time was right — he brought his exiled people back to the Promised Land. And as the one who rules over all, he ensured that when the time was right his Son and our Saviour would come into the world to redeem God’s people from their sin and misery and to bring them into his own kingdom of grace, a kingdom which will never be destroyed and which will never end. And, when the time is right, his Son and our Saviour will come again to bring to an end every other kingdom of the world and to establish his own kingdom as the only one.
And we need to remember this when everything about us is changing and when unbelief is on the rise and the church is persecuted in some countries and mocked and abused and criticised in others. We’re puzzled by these things and we wonder what is happening in the world. Whereas in the past the church seemed large and strong and influential, it now seems so small and weak and so many people despise us. And so, we’re puzzled by all that has happened and the way society has changed. And we wonder what is going on? And so, at times like these, we need to remember and believe that the Lord God Almighty is still on this throne in heaven and he rules over all; and he’s working our his plans and purposes for the world and for Christ’s church; and he will continue to rule over all things until the day when his Son comes again in glory and power.
The Lord rules over all things. And he rules over all things in order to help his people to remain faithful to him in an unbelieving world. And that leads me to the second main point this evening.
You’ll see from verse 3 that Nebuchadnezzar ordered his chief official to select some of the Israelites from the royal family and from the nobility. He was to select young men without any physical defect; who were handsome; and who showed aptitude for every kind of learning; who were well informed; and quick to understand; and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. In other words, he was to find the best of the best in Israel: not just members of the nobility, but the best of the nobility: those who were handsome and intelligent. And the reason for selecting them was to educate them in the language and literature of the Babylonians. They were to be steeped in the language and classic literature of Babylon, so that they would become good Babylonians and would forget all about their old life in Israel and fit in to the new life they were to lead in Babylon. The whole process would take three years.
As part of this re-education programme, they were assigned a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. Furthermore, they were also given new names. And now we’re introduced to Daniel and his three friends, whose names were changed as part of this re-education programme. Their original names were good Hebrew names and testified to the faith of their parents, because Daniel means ‘God is my Judge’; Hananiah means ‘The Lord shows grace’; Mishael means ‘Who is what God is’; Azariah means ‘The Lord helps’. Those were good Hebrew names and testified to their faith and devotion to the Lord. But the new names were pagan names and were based on the names of the pagan gods of Babylon.
So, these men — and they were probably only teenagers when this process began — were given new names; and they were given new food to eat; and they were taught a new language and literature. It was all designed to re-educate them, to re-programme them, so that they would forget the world they had came from, and conform to the ways of this new world in Babylon.
But what we discover about Daniel and his three friends is that there were prepared to remain faithful to their Lord. Though they had entered a new world — an unbelieving world in Babylon — they did what they could so that they did not conform to the ways of Babylon, but remained faithful to the Lord their God and to the ways of the old world in Israel. We see it with regard to their names, because although Daniel records in chapter 1 that their names were changed by the Babylonians, he still refers to his friends by their old names in verses 11 and 19 of chapter 1 and in verse 17 of chapter 2. When we were living in Naas, some of the Brazilians and Poles who worshipped with us, spoke English when they were with us, but at home they spoke Portuguese and Polish. Well, perhaps in the same way, when Daniel and his friends were alone, they used their old names to remind them of where they really belonged.
And, of course, they resisted conformity to the ways of Babylon by refusing to eat from the king’s table. And so, we read in verse 8 that Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. Now, it’s not at all clear how this food and wine might have defiled him. Some say that probably the food and wine had been offered to one of the pagan gods first; and therefore Daniel did not want to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols. The problem with that view is that the vegetables which he did eat were probably offered to idols too. Others say that they could not eat the food because of the Old Testament dietary laws about clean and unclean food. For instance, Jews were not allowed by God to eat pork. And so, for that reason, Daniel would have refused to eat the food that was offered to him. The problem with that view is that the Lord permitted his people to drink wine. Another suggestion is that he did not want to become dependant on the king. Therefore, instead of eating what had come from the king’s table, he resolved to eat only water which comes from the Lord and vegetables which come from the Lord. He turned down the king’s rich food and wine, and relied solely on what comes directly from the Lord. That’s another possible explanation for why Daniel and his friends refused to eat from the king’s table. However, we can’t be sure what the reason was, because the text doesn’t tell us. However it’s clear that as far as Daniel was concerned to take the king’s food was wrong. And the wonderful thing is that the Lord helped Daniel and his friends to stand firm and to remain faithful to the Lord.
We see this in what happened. So, although the king’s chief official refused Daniel’s request, he still looked with favour upon Daniel and did not punish him as a trouble-maker, which he might have done. Then, when Daniel asked one of the guards to let them eat only vegetables and water for a trial period, the guard was willing to let them. And then, when the trial period was over, the Lord ensured that Daniel and his friends looked healthier and better nourished than any of the others who ate the king’s food. You see, the Lord was with them to help them to stand firm and to remain faithful.
And we see the Lord’s help in other ways too, because look at verse 17 where it tells us that the Lord gave to these four young men knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. So, the Lord helped them with their studies and enabled them to grasp all the things they needed to learn. It wasn’t simply that they were naturally brighter than the others on the training programme; it’s clear that the Lord had chosen to give them the knowledge and understanding they needed to excel. Furthermore, the Lord gave to Daniel the ability to understand visions and dreams, which will become important as the book proceeds.
And so, do you see how the Lord was helping them? These four young men were resolved to stand firm and to remain faithful. They did not want to conform to the ways of Babylon. And the Lord helped them. And sure enough, when the time of the training was over and they were all brought before the king for a kind of final examination to find out what they had learned and how suited they were to serve the king, Daniel and his three friends stood out from others as the best students. And verse 20 is probably a summary of the king’s verdict on them over the years. Listen to what it says:
In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times batter than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
How did these four young men become ten times better than everyone else? It was the Lord. The Lord was with them to help them to stand firm and to remain faithful and to do well. He helped them when they spoke to the chief official and the guard about the food. He helped them when it was time to examine their health after the trial period. He helped them to do well with their studies. He helped them when they were examined by the king. They had resolved to remain faithful to the Lord; and the Lord was faithful to them and he helped them.
Adam and Eve
Daniel and his three friends were faced with a temptation. Would they disregard the Lord and his ways? That’s the temptation they faced. Of course, it’s reminiscent of the temptation which Adam and Eve faced in the beginning, because the temptation they faced was whether they would disregard the Lord and his ways, who commanded them not to eat the forbidden fruit. So, would Adam and Eve disregard the Lord and his ways?
Well, whereas Daniel and his three friends stood firm and remained faithful to the Lord, Adam and Eve gave in to the temptation and they disobeyed the Lord’s clear commandment. And it’s been the same ever since, because again and again believers face the same temptation. We’re tempted to disregard the Lord and his ways and we’re tempted to conform to the ways of an unbelieving world. It’s easier for us to give in and to fit in with the ways of an unbelieving world than to stand firm and to remain faithful to the Lord. Though we know we’re to stand firm, nevertheless we’re often just like Adam and Eve instead of being like Daniel and his friends who stood firm.
Like Daniel and his friends, we live in an unbelieving world, a pagan society, which does not honour the Lord. And every day we feel the pressure to fit in and to conform to their ways and to their way of thinking about the world and about what’s true and what’s false and what’s good and what’s bad. The world calls good what the Lord calls evil. And the world puts us under pressure to conform to its ways; and to fit in with what they believe; and to agree with them and with their ideas about what is true and good. Every day we’re taught the ways of the world — because we hear it in our schools and colleges and in the workplace; we read it in our books and magazines and newspapers; we hear it on TV and the radio and online; every day the world teaches us what to believe and what to do; and it teaches us to think about the world as if God does not exist. We’re continually put under pressure. And often we give in as Adam and Eve did, instead of standing firm as Daniel and his friends did.
Well, by standing firm like that, Daniel and his friends anticipate the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, just as they left their home in Israel and came into an unbelieving world in Babylon; so the Lord Jesus Christ left his home in heaven and came into an unbelieving world. Just as they were tempted to conform to the ways of the world around them and to eat the food that would defile them, so the Lord Jesus — when he came into this unbelieving world — was tempted by the Devil to become a sinner like everyone else. But just as Daniel and his friends stood firm and faithful, so the Lord Jesus stood firm and he resisted every temptation of the Devil and he remained faithful to his Father in heaven.
And the Lord Jesus who stood firm against the Devil and who remained faithful and obedient to his Father in heaven — even to the point of death on the cross — calls on us to stand firm and to be faithful. And he commands us in his word not to conform to the ways of the world. He commands us to be like him and to do what he did. But here’s the thing; and this is important: he also gives us the help we need to do so, because he gives us his word to show us how to live as his people in the midst of an unbelieving world. And he gives us his Spirit to renew our hearts and minds to know and to do his will. And he gives us the inner strength we need to stand firm against all the wicked schemes of the Devil and to remain faithful in the face of temptation. Do you remember how the Apostle Paul puts it in Ephesians 6 where he talks about the armour of God and the spiritual battle we all face? He didn’t just say:
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty strength.
The Lord gives us the help we need, the strength we need, to stand firm and to resist the wicked schemes of the Devil who comes and tempts us. And the Lord gives us the example of men like Daniel and his friends to encourage us to stand firm. If they were able to stand firm, then we too can stand firm. If they were prepared to face the wrath of the king, if they were prepared to face the fiery furnace and the den of lions, then so too can we, because the Lord who helped them is the same, yesterday, today and forever, he does not change; and since he helped them, he will also help us.
And, of course, he promises never to leave us or to forsake us. So, he promises in his word that he will watch over us all through the day and all through the night; he doesn’t slumber nor sleep, but he’s always watching over us to help us. He sees us when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed at night. He’s familiar with all our ways. And so, in all our ways we can look to him for the help we need to stand firm, believing that he is with us to help us.
Daniel and his three friends lived in Babylon, a wicked and godless, pagan place. But they remembered that they were also citizens of Israel, members of God’s chosen people. And so, they resolved, so long as they lived in Babylon, not to conform, but to remain faithful to their Lord. And believers today need to remember that by faith we have been raised with Christ to the heavenly realms. So, though we live in this world, we really belong to another world, to a heavenly world with Christ our Saviour. We’re citizens of this country, but we’re also citizens of heaven, which is our true home. And so, as we go about our lives each day, we need to remember where our true home is and we must remember to live as citizens of heaven above. Instead of conforming to the ways of this world, we should live in conformity to heaven above; instead of fitting in to the world around us, we should walk in the ways of the Lord.
But we also need to remember that the Lord does not leave us alone. When his people resolve — as Daniel did — to stand firm and to remain faithful, he will give us all the help we need to stand firm and to remain faithful. Just as he helped Daniel and his friends, so we can count on him to help us. And even when troubles and sorrows come to us, we can rest in the knowledge that our God is on his throne in heaven, that he rules over all people, and he is in control of all events. We can rest in that knowledge, trusting that our God will use even the troubles we face and the trials we endure and the opposition we encounter for our good and for his glory.