Sunday, June 6, 2021

Israel taken captive into Babylon: The Victories and Visions of Daniel

The hanging gardens of Babylon, the ancient majesty of a mighty capital city, splendid and mysterious, beautiful, yet danger lurks in every corner. This is not home. This is not the city of God. This is not Jerusalem. This is not Israel. This is the capital one might say of the kingdoms of darkness. And so enters the hundreds of thousands of Israelites, taken into captivity, by King Nebuchadnezzar. And among them, four men, who would change history forever, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and Daniel, all well educated young men of the royal court of Israel.

Now they are placed into the service of the King of Babylon.

It says in Daniel 1:3-7 (NET) 3 “The king commanded Ashpenaz, who was in charge of his court officials, to choose some of the Israelites who were of royal and noble descent— 4 young men in whom there was no physical defect and who were handsome, well versed in all kinds of wisdom, well educated and having keen insight, and who were capable of entering the king’s royal service—and to teach them the literature and language of the Babylonians. 5 So the king assigned them a daily ration from his royal delicacies and from the wine he himself drank. They were to be trained for the next three years. At the end of that time they were to enter the king’s service. 6 As it turned out, among these young men were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7 But the overseer of the court officials renamed them. He gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar, Hananiah he named Shadrach, Mishael he named Meshach, and Azariah he named Abednego.”

This is pretty common, they’re trying to assimilate the Jews into the culture and ways of Babylon. This tends to happen when immigrants come into a new country they assimilate to a certain extent into the values, customs and beliefs of the country they enter. But you’ll notice that throughout history, particularly from AD 70 to 1957 there was one group of people that never assimilated into the countries they spent time in, that was the Jewish people. They kept their unique cultural and religious heritage, and as a result many times they were feared and mistrusted and treated as outsiders. But it was God’s way of preserving the Jews as his own unique people, to one day be restored to Israel.

It’s the same thing here, as Israel is taken into captivity, they continue to stand out as a special people, beloved by God. Even in exile, God still loves the people of Israel and guides them.

So as they start trying to change these young men into Babylonians, Daniel decides that he is not going to submit to the reconditioning, the brain-washing, you might say, in Daniel 1:8 (NIV) it says "But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way."

So Daniel and his friends request permission to not eat the fancy food of Babylon. And they are allowed to do this, because God is with them.

It says in Daniel 1:17-19 “God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind. 18 At the end of the time that the king had said to present them, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king interviewed them, and among all of them, no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.”

God was with them in exile. He gave them wisdom, understanding, and they became advisors to the very king of Babylon. Amazing. God helps us. Even in exile. He helps us.

And we are in exile right now, as Christians. We’re in the world, a world that is not our home. We can tell too. Because the ways of the world hurt us. The evil of the world hurts us. I feel it every day, the pain of the sin I see all around me. It hurts so bad. But it’s because we’re exiles. This world is not our home. We’re citizens of heaven. We’re made for another place. And the world can tell that we aren’t part of the world, so the world doesn’t like us, it doesn’t accept us. And that’s OK. We should be worried if we feel too at home in the world.

So Daniel and his buddies are advising the king. And the king has some very disturbing dreams. He sees things in his dreams that he can’t explain. So he gathers together all his advisors and asks them to explain the dream to them. But one catch, he says, you tell me the dream that I saw, and then interpret it. I’m not going to tell you the dream, if you’re really seers and mediums and spiritual people, you should be able to tell me the dream. He’s smart, he knows if he tells them the dream, they could just make up any interpretation they want. But none of the advisors can tell him his dream. So the king says, then you’re all a bunch of liars and he orders them all put to death.

But Daniel finds out about this order, and he asks for time, to seek the Lord and try to understand the dream and it’s meaning. So God gives Daniel the information he needs, and he tells the king about his dream, he dream of this giant statue, made of various substances, bronze, gold, clay, and so on. And Daniel explained that the statue represents King Nebuchadnezzar powerful kingdom and kingdoms that would come after his. Then in the dream a rock struck the statue and destroyed it. And Daniel explains that the rock hitting the statue was the kingdom of God, that would destroy those kingdoms, and bring in the final eternal kingdom.

King Nebuchadnezzar is so impressed that he makes Daniel his chief advisor and gives him great honor, and honors the God of heaven. But later the King is so amazed with the dream and the power of his kingdom, that he makes a giant statue, just like the statue he saw in his dream. And he gathers his people together and insists everyone bow down and worship the statue.

So everyone bows down and worships this giant statue the king has made, every except Shadrach, Meshach and Abedigo. So everyone, probably thousands of people, are bowing down before this statue, and only three people are left standing, these three Israelites.

The King is so angry that he has his soldiers seize the 3 men. And his soldiers bring them to the king. And the king asks them why aren’t you bowing down before the statue? He said, if you don’t you’re going to die, you’re going to get thrown into a fiery furnace.

From Daniel 3:16-18 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. 17 If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can[f] rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if he does not rescue us,[g] we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”

Bold response. Basically they say, God can rescue us from you. But even if God doesn’t rescue us, we won’t serve any of your false gods. That should be our response when facing difficulties or persecutions, or struggles, look, God can rescue me from this situation, but even if he doesn’t, I’m still not turning back. Easy to say, harder to do, right?

So the King is enraged by their response and he has his guards throw them into the furnace. And he orders the furnace to be fired so hot, that the guards who them in die because they get too close.

But as they look into the furnace, to watch the 3 men die, they realize, they’re inside the furnace, completely unharmed!

It says in Daniel 3:24-26 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm. He said to his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?”

“Yes, of course, Your Majesty,” they replied to the king.

25 He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”[k]

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and called, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God—come out!””

So the three Israelites come out of the fire, and they are completely unharmed. Their clothes don’t even smell like smoke. And King Nebuchadnezzar gives glory to the one true God. Our God.

Afterward the King had a letter sent out across his entire kingdom ordering the peoples of Babylon to worship the one true God of Israel. Amazing, how God can turn our tests into our testimonies, often times our most difficult moments will become a catalyst through which God will spread his word around the world.

Over time King Nebuchadnezzar again rebels against God, and his son becomes King. His son also rebels against God and in an incredible moment they see a hand writing on the wall of the king’s chamber, declaring destruction. Later, the next king became Darius the mede.

Daniel continues to serve under King Darius, and he once again distinguishes himself as a greater leader among the people. Daniel does so well that Darius decides he’s going to put Daniel over the whole kingdom. So now you’ve got the other advisors of the king getting very jealous of Daniel and how much Darius likes him. So they start to scheme and plot against him.

It says in Daniel 6:3-9 3 Daniel[b] distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm. 4 The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We will never find any charge against this Daniel unless we find something against him concerning the law of his God.”

6 So the administrators and satraps went together to the king and said to him, “May King Darius live forever. 7 All the administrators of the kingdom—the prefects, satraps, advisers, and governors—have agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an edict that, for thirty days, anyone who petitions any god or man except you, the king, will be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Therefore, Your Majesty, establish the edict and sign the document so that, as a law of the Medes and Persians, it is irrevocable and cannot be changed.” 9 So King Darius signed the written edict.”

So these other advisors are looking for any charge they can find against Daniel. But they can’t find anything. So they trick the King into signing a decree that says no one can worship any god but King Darius himself for 30 days. They know that Daniel can’t agree to that. He has to worship God everyday.

It would be the same for me today. If congress or the president or the supreme court came out with an order and said you can’t worship any God for 30 days, or you can’t go to church for this long, or you can’t pray or read your Bible for this long, I would have to disobey that order. I would take my Bible and my prayer spot, and continue on seeking the Lord. No government has the right to stop me from worshiping God.

So Daniel continues to worship God. It says in Daniel 6:10-11 “10 When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel petitioning and imploring his God.”

You’ve got some spiritual warfare going on here I’m sure. This is evil at work, trying to stop Daniel from having such a big influence in Babylon. So these men see Daniel praying, he doesn’t try to hide it, he just keeps doing what he always does. So they run back, and tell King Darius.

And King Darius is in a corner now. He signed this law, it can’t be repealed, that’s how Babylonian law works. Darius spends the rest of the day trying to find some loophole to save Daniel. But he can’t find anything finally. So he sends his guards to arrest Daniel, and throw him into a den of lions.

It says in Daniel 6:16-18 “So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you continually serve, rescue you!” 17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing in regard to Daniel could be changed. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting. No diversions were brought to him, and he could not sleep.”

And it continues like this, in Daniel 6:19-24 “19 At the first light of dawn the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 When he reached the den, he cried out in anguish to Daniel. “Daniel, servant of the living God,” the king said,[e] “has your God, whom you continually serve, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

21 Then Daniel spoke with the king: “May the king live forever. 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths; and they haven’t harmed me, for I was found innocent before him. And also before you, Your Majesty, I have not done harm.”

23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to take Daniel out of the den. When Daniel was brought up from the den, he was found to be unharmed, for he trusted in his God. 24 The king then gave the command, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel[f] were brought and thrown into the lions’ den—they, their children, and their wives. They had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.”

The Lions don’t harm a hair on Daniel’s head. He’s safe. And the King is worried and upset he can’t sleep, and comes and brings Daniel out of the Lion’s den. Then casts those who spoke evil against Daniel into the lion’s den instead, and they are devoured.

Then Darius issues a decree throughout the kingdom that all peoples everywhere should honor and fear the God who Daniel loves. The one true living God. Once again, the word goes out, to the entire kingdom of Babylon, to worship the real God. Imagine how many came to God because of these decrees and letters going out from Nebuchadnezzar and now Daniel.

It’s an important lesson for us today, to continue to honor God. Don’t assimilate into the culture of this world, live a distinct, different life. Don’t pander to the ideologies of this fallen broken world. Instead stand out in stark contrast. Just like Daniel did by not submitting to the ways of Babylon.

When the world demands that we embrace their ideas, their ideologies, their causes, we should refuse those evil ways. Just like Shadrach, Mishach and Abendigo did, by refusing to bow down before the giant statue. And they may throw us into the fiery furnace, with cancel culture, and mockery, and attempting to get us fired, but so be it.

And thirdly, we must keep God’s laws above the laws of this society we live in. We are called to worship God, pray to God, and see the Lord, and if any law of our society goes against that, we should refuse to obey those laws, like some did in states like California, and New York, when they were told by power hungry governors that they couldn’t meet to worship God, despite the fact that sports games and other events were going on everyday. Some churches refused, and met anyway, and God honored that sacrifice.

After these events recorded in the book of Daniel, we see that Daniel experiences many dreams and visions throughout his life. And these dreams and visions are recorded in the book of Daniel. That’s why many when talking about the end times, the last days, they will point to books like Revelation and the book of Daniel. We see all sorts of prophecies, like this one, in Daniel 7

9 “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was white like snow,
and the hair of his head like whitest wool.
His throne was flaming fire;
its wheels were blazing fire.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from his presence.
Thousands upon thousands served him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was convened,
and the books were opened.”

This speaks of the end judgment, when God the Father will judge the peoples of the world. And again at the end of the book of Daniel, in Daniel 12:5-7 “ 5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and two others were standing there, one on this bank of the river and one on the other. 6 One of them said to the man dressed in linen, who was above the water of the river, “How long until the end of these wondrous things?” 7 Then I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the water of the river. He raised both his hands[b] toward heaven and swore by him who lives eternally that it would be for a time, times, and half a time. When the power of the holy people is shattered, all these things will be completed.”

And again it says, “At that time
Michael, the great prince
who stands watch over your people, will rise up.
There will be a time of distress
such as never has occurred
since nations came into being until that time.
But at that time all your people
who are found written in the book will escape.
2 Many who sleep in the dust
of the earth will awake,
some to eternal life,
and some to disgrace and eternal contempt.
3 Those who have insight will shine
like the bright expanse of the heavens,
and those who lead many to righteousness,
like the stars forever and ever.” -Daniel 12:1-3

Some believe that Daniel saw Jesus, as the one floating above the waters, who declared these things to him, about the end times, when Israel would face great struggles, and the Lord would divide the wicked and the righteous to receive either punishment or reward.

Amazing, how God continued to use the Israelites even while they were in exile in Babylon. God is with you in the dark times of exile and evil, he continues to guide us, help us, and bless us. Our response is to honor Him by living pure lives, speaking truth in a dark world, and serving the people of the world to draw them to Jesus.