Lesson 121—July 10, 2016
The Book of Daniel—by Associate Pastor Ben Emerson
Scripture: Daniel 1:1-21
Lesson Objective: How to stand in the midst of religious persecution.
Introduction: This last week, we celebrated our independence as a nation. July 4th is one of my top favorite holidays—fireworks, baseball, cook-outs, homemade ice cream and reflecting on the sacrifice that was made for this great country. So many men and women have paid the ultimate price in order for us to enjoy a life of freedom. So many more are still involved in preserving our freedom, and we need to continually lift them and their families up in prayer.
As much as we live in freedom in this country, many of us can see that when it comes to religious freedom, Christianity is coming under attack more and more. Where we once held a voice of influence, we are now seen as ignorant.
Background: Daniel was born in the kingdom of Judah during the reign of Josiah and was probably in his teens when taken captive in 605 B.C. In the opening chapter of his book, he reflects the religious convictions of Josiah and Jeremiah, which certainly must have influenced him and other Jewish youth of his day.
In 612 B.C., the Babylonians, with the help of the Medes, were able to overthrow the powerful Assyrian army. Judah was under the rule of Assyria and, therefore, forfeited to the Babylonians. The sons of Josiah, occupying the throne of Judah, were unable to accept a vassal role due to constantly being wrapped up in conspiracy theories against the Babylonians. This led to the deportation and eventually to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C. During all this time, Daniel was serving in the Babylonian court, for he had been among the first group taken to Babylon in 605 B.C.
The most familiar stories of Daniel involve him having to decide to keep his religious convictions or to give in to the pressures of the government. We see Daniel and his friends being told what to eat, what to worship, and that they cannot continue the practice of their religion by praying to their God.
Has there been a time in your life when you faced persecution for your faith?
Have you ever been put in a situation where you compromised your faith?
The Book of Daniel well illustrates that there has always been pressure on God’s people to compromise their holiness. It also shows that when we prepare to grow in the Lord and trust in the power of God, we can resist the pressure to give in when we face persecution.
Pressure to Give In—When was the last time you were pressured into doing something you knew was wrong?
The pressure that we all face was also experienced by Daniel and his three friends. Daniel sets the stage to describe this pressure applied by the king (see vv 3, 4). These were top-notch young men from the royal family and nobility of Israel. According to Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, Rabbinic tradition holds that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were descendants of King Hezekiah, based on Isaiah 39:7. In that verse, Isaiah speaks these words to King Hezekiah: “And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylon.”
Daniel was probably in his early teens when he was taken captive, because he was still alive seventy years later when the captivity ended. Perhaps Daniel was thirteen- to sixteen-years-old when he was taken captive around 606 B.C. Ashpenaz, a member of the pagan royal court, began to apply pressure on these teenagers. We and our children experience some of the same pressures.
There is pressure to change our thinking (Daniel 1:4b).
Imagine the influence these pagan Babylonian teachers had on these teenagers. The Babylonians’ literature promoted their worldview of man, of God, of sin, and their view of redemption, which were all directly opposed to everything these young teens had been taught and believed while in Israel. Though Daniel and his friends went through the classes, they apparently resisted the pressure to change their thinking. This can be seen through the historical accounts of these young men in the chapters to follow.
Today, we as Christians are being told how we are to think. If we think differently than how the world thinks, we are called narrow-minded, judgmental bigots. To be accepted by the world, we have to think the way the world thinks.
There is pressure to change our way of living (1:5, 8).
Up to this point, Daniel and his three friends had shown no outward resistance to their assimilation into Babylonian culture. They didn’t skip their Babylonian literature classes, and they answered to their Babylonian names. That’s what makes this encounter so striking. Why did Daniel draw the line here? Why did he suddenly say, “No compromise”? What is wrong with eating the royal food and drinking wine? It was not that Daniel was a vegetarian or one who abstained from wine, because later, in chapter 10, he refrained from meat and wine for a period of three weeks of mourning (vv 2, 3). Th`at implies that he normally ate meat and drank wine.
There were two problems with the royal food the king offered. First, some of the meat was unclean according to the Mosaic Law. The verb “defile” (gaʾal), used in verse 8, denotes religious defilement. Daniel and his three friends were not willing to compromise by disobeying God’s commands in eating “unclean food.” Second, all the meat served at the king’s table was offered to idols before it was eaten. Daniel would not compromise by eating meat offered to idols.
Whenever we pretend that walking in holiness is easy, we fail to prepare those who must take a stand in this world. The time will come for every believer when such a stand must be made.
Preparation to Grow
Three young teenagers living far away from home—how could they be so strong? How could they stand so firm against the pressures of the Babylonian culture? There had to be some serious preparation. Just as
a soldier who goes into battle is prepared before he goes to the front lines, so we as Christians must take seriously our preparation to pursue holiness. Daniel experienced three influences.
1. Church (1:1)
If Daniel was sixteen-years-old in the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim (606 B.C.), that means he was born in 622 B.C. Do you know what incredible event took place that year?
Eighteen-year-old King Josiah, who had become king of Israel when he was eight-years-old, opened the doors of the Temple of the Lord which had been sealed shut by his grandfather Manasseh. Inside the temple, the priests rediscovered the lost Word of God. The priests began to teach the people God’s Word, and a great revival began in Israel.
Daniel grew up in a living, vibrant church devoted to the Word of God—a church that did not compromise the teaching of Scripture.
We at Mars Hill are blessed with the faithful teaching of God’s Word in our church congregation. There seem to be very few churches today that teach the Word without compromise.
2. Parents (1:6)
We don’t really know anything about Daniel’s parents, except that they named him “God is my judge.” That gives us a small glimpse of the high view they had of God, which they passed on to their son Daniel. It was as if his parents said, “You will not always have to give an account to us. But one day you will give an account to our great God who made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them. He is watching over you always. He knows what you think, and He sees all you do. He alone is your judge; so watch your life and doctrine closely.”
Through the teaching of God’s Word in our homes, and as a result of consistently living God’s Word in our homes, our children will come to know Him personally and will be ready to walk in holiness. Parents, you have an important calling on your life to be an example to your children and raise them up in the Lord. This doesn’t mean that you will never make a mistake as a parent, but a consistent walk with the Lord will speak more to a child than anything else.
But there was one more very important influence in Daniel’s life. In fact, this was the most important influence of all…
3. The Lord (1:9, 10)
When Daniel asked Ashpenaz for permission to avoid eating the food sacrificed to idols, Ashpenaz was afraid. But God was at work in the heart of that man. Daniel 1:9 says, “God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel.” If God was moving the heart of a pagan official, how much more does He work in the heart of one who believes in Him? According to verse 17, it was God who gave knowledge and understanding to Daniel and his friends: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.”
In order to overcome the pressure to compromise our holiness, we need to have adequate preparation to pursue holiness. We need to be bathed in the teaching of God’s Word through our parents and the church. We also need a life of abiding in the vine, Jesus Christ. For apart from Him, we can do nothing and we will compromise.
Power of God to Influence
Daniel then spoke to a guard appointed by Ashpenaz, because that official was too afraid of the king. Please read verses 12-13. What was Daniel’s request?
Daniel did not want the credit for their appearance to go to the king and his training process. He wanted God to receive the glory. And for their faithfulness, Daniel and his friends received physical strength as well as knowledge and wisdom. And to Daniel He gave understanding of visions and dreams (vv15-17).
With God working in his life, Daniel was able to influence three kings during his lifetime (vv18-21).
According to verse 21, Daniel remained in the palace until the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia. He and his friends had an influence on Nebuchadnezzar II (606–560 B.C.) (chapters 1-3). He had an influence on Nebuchadnezzar III (555–539 B.C.), also called Nabonidus, whose pride was broken and who surrendered to the Lord (Daniel 4). Then he influenced Belshazzar (553–539 B.C.), who saw the handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5). Daniel was there to interpret the writing and give the message to the king. Daniel had a powerful influence on these three Babylonian kings, even though the kings were in authority over him.
When was the last time God gave you special influence in someone’s life?
How did you use that influence?
Daniel was able to influence his friends. It was Daniel who first resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. And Daniel’s three friends followed his lead. Two chapters later we see these three young men facing death all by themselves in front of a fiery furnace. Daniel is nowhere to be seen. Remembering the resolve that Daniel had alone, and how he brought them into the test, they then stood firm without compromise before a powerful king in a test bigger than the first.
All of God’s people face pressure to compromise their holiness. We all need to have adequate preparation to pursue holiness with the realization that personal holiness is a powerful influence on ourselves and on those around us, preparing us for future challenges. Daniel and his friends were faithful to God to the end. And God was faithful to them to the end. Regardless of what situation we find ourselves in, personally or as a nation, as believers we are called to honor God with our lives. When we are faithful to Him, He will remain faithful to us.
One of my prayers as a believer has been to have the faith of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. One of the most powerful verses in all of Scripture that relates to the Christian life is verse 18 of chapter 3 (please read Daniel 3:17-18). Our God is able to deliver us from any persecution this world may bring upon us. But even if He doesn’t deliver us, we can never waver in our faith. Because we believe in who He is, not in what He does.