Daniel: Purposeful Living

daniel-in-the-lions-den

DANIEL:  PURPOSEFUL LIVING

Someone has observed that the book of Daniel has been cast into the critic’s den.  Liberal critics of the Bible love to tear this book apart, attempting to undermine the miracle of the prophetic word.  Daniel the man survived the jaws of the lion, and his book will ultimately survive being ravaged by those critics.

These critics would do well to consider Jesus’ estimation of this book; He approved of it, quoted it, and it’s prophecies formed His eschatology.

So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  (Matthew 24:15, 16  NIV)

If Jesus took the words of Daniel seriously—and literally—shouldn’t we, also?

Sir Isaac Newton, no intellectual slouch, even offered an opinion of the book of Daniel:

Christianity itself may be said to be founded on the prophecies of Daniel.

The book of Daniel, often neglected by Bible readers, is an important book.  It has given comfort and encouragement to God’s people ever since it was written.  The Maccabean patriots, in fact, looked to the man Daniel and other characters in his book as examples of spiritual living in turbulent times.

Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, for their fidelity, were saved from the flame.  Daniel for his singleness of heart was rescued from the lion’s jaws.  Know then that, generation after generation, no one who hopes in him will be overcome.  (1 Maccabees 2:59—61)

The book of Daniel is, admittedly, difficult to follow and understand sometimes.  Even though Daniel himself understood the essential meaning of his far-reaching prophecies, it’s impossible to conceive that he understood the full meaning and scope of his words.  The apostle Peter teaches us an important truth in regards to the Word of God, especially as it applies to the book of Daniel:

This salvation was something the prophets did not fully understand. Though they wrote about it, they had many questions as to what it all could mean. They wondered what the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about, for he told them to write down the events which, since then, have happened to Christ: his suffering, and his great glory afterwards. And they wondered when and to whom all this would happen.

They were finally told that these things would not occur during their lifetime, but long years later, during yours. And now at last this Good News has been plainly announced to all of us. It was preached to us in the power of the same heaven-sent Holy Spirit who spoke to them; and it is all so strange and wonderful that even the angels in heaven would give a great deal to know more about it.  (1 Peter 1:10—12  TLB)

So, the book of Daniel, and all the Biblical prophetic books, need to be constantly studied, in light of the New Testament and in light of the understanding that the Holy Spirit is the Bible’s best interpreter.  Daniel’s prophecies should never be studied in light of denominational biases, or what’s going on in the newspaper.  The truths contained in the book of Daniel have been progressively revealed from the day they were written, throughout the New Testament era, finally culminating in the book of Revelation.  So, basically, we need the other 65 books of the Bible to understand any one book of the Bible.

After the siege of Jerusalem, Daniel had been taken captive to Babylon.  He had been carried some 800 miles away from his home and family at 14 years of age.

1.  Daniel’s character revealed

Daniel’s life in Jerusalem is a mystery.  We have no information about his parents or his upbringing.  This is all we know about Daniel before his life in Babylon:

Three years after King Jehoiakim began to rule in Judah, Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem with his armies, and the Lord gave him victory over Jehoiakim. When he returned to Babylon, he took along some of the sacred cups from the Temple of God and placed them in the treasury of his god in the land of Shinar.

Then he ordered Ashpenaz, who was in charge of his palace personnel, a to select some of the Jewish youths brought back as captives—young men of the royal family and nobility of Judah—and to teach them the Chaldean language and literature. “Pick strong, healthy, good-looking lads,” he said; “those who have read widely in many fields, are well informed, alert and sensible, and have enough poise to look good around the palace.”

The king assigned them the best of food and wine from his own kitchen during their three-year training period, planning to make them his counselors when they graduated.

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah.  (Daniel 1:1—6  TLB)

So we know that Daniel came from a noble Jewish family.  Judging from the way he lived in Babylon, in and around the palace, working and associating with heathens and pagans, we can assume he was raised in a godly family by God-fearing parents.  The lessons he learned and saw there formed the basis of his principled life.   It has been famously noted:

There is nothing rarer than a godly personality, for there are so many causes that hinder both interior and exterior, so many hostile forces to crush, so many illusions to lead astray.

In other words, the odds are against any child developing a good and godly personality unless he is raised purposefully in a home where God and His Word are taken seriously.  There are many important things a child should learn, but nothing is as important as that child having a personal knowledge of God. It is the surest safeguard while living in a hostile world.

Imagine being 14 years old and all of a sudden you’re living in a golden palace, being fed the best food and drink, and being trained to fill the best jobs in the land.  Well, that was Daniel!  We can be sure this three-year training/education time was really a time of testing—the testing of Daniel’s faith and dedication to God.  Now, this was a great opportunity afforded Daniel and his friends.  The Babylonians were known to be astute politicians, apt philosophers and theologians.  Indeed, he would gain a free liberal education in the purest sense of the word.  But, at what cost?   All that fine food and wine went against his religious beliefs.  How could he eat all that food in the presence of pagans and remain true to his conscience?  The worldly man has no problem “going along to get along.”  But the man of God can’t do that, can he?

2.  Daniel’s purpose

But Daniel made up his mind not to eat the food and wine given to them by the king.  He asked the superintendent for permission to eat other things instead.  (Daniel 1:8  TLB)

In deference to Nebuchadnezzar and his pagan gods, Daniel and his friends were given new, Babylonian names.  Their original Hebrew names all related to their relationship to the God of Israel; their new names related to various Babylonian gods.  But, as is proven throughout the book, Daniel and his friends may have been given new names, but they remained true to their original names and to their God.

With unshakable faith, Daniel took a stand for his faith very early on in Babylon.  He essentially refused to eat the food that was offered to him.  The question, though, is why?  He was not a Levite, so drinking the wine would have been allowed.  The food wouldn’t have been poisonous or anything like that.  There is something else going on beyond the food.  In the eastern world, to share a meal was to to become friends with the one you are eating with.  It was, in effect, condoning their beliefs and covenanting with them to support them.  So Daniel’s refusal to eat the food had less to do with Jewish dietary laws and more to do with appearances.  It’s not that Daniel was insulting Nebuchadnezzar, it was that he was trying to maintain his integrity in the face of others.

It would have been easy for Daniel to eat all that good food, but he could not.  These people were not his friends. He wouldn’t “go along to get along.”  The Talmud teaches:

A myrtle tree remains a myrtle even in the desert.

In other words, a person of God should BE a person of God regardless of where he is or in what circumstances he may find himself.  God is not influenced by the whims of man and we shouldn’t be either!

3.  Daniel’s reward

Now as it happened, God had given the superintendent a special appreciation for Daniel and sympathy for his predicament.  (Daniel 1:9  TLB)

Daniel wasn’t a trouble maker.  He wasn’t using his faith to cause dissension in the palace.  And God honored him.  God gave Daniel an unlikely ally in the palace that was willing to work with him, and he gave Daniel wisdom to remain faithful.

Daniel talked it over with the steward who was appointed by the superintendent to look after Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, and suggested a ten-day diet of only vegetables and water; then, at the end of this trial period the steward could see how they looked in comparison with the other fellows who ate the king’s rich food and decide whether or not to let them continue their diet. The steward finally agreed to the test. (Daniel 1:11—14  TLB)

God took this crisis and turned it around.  Daniel and his friends looked healthier than all the others.  God honored Daniel, kept him safe, and he became a leader in the court of Nebuchadnezzar.

While it is true that Jesus once said this:

The world would love you if you belonged to it; but you don’t—for I chose you to come out of the world, and so it hates you.  Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave isn’t greater than his master!’ So since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you!  The people of the world will persecute you because you belong to me, for they don’t know God who sent me.  (John 15:19—21  TLB)

He didn’t mean that life would always be bad for the believer or that we should run around looking to be persecuted!  Daniel and his friends stand forever as examples of how true believers may be treated.  Godliness is always profitable.  The worldly mind may never appreciate your faith; they may never support your beliefs, but if you maintain your integrity and your faith while doing a good job and being proficient in your calling, God will honor you.

We have no idea how much the king knew about Daniel and the conditions of the “test.”  But it wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar who honored Daniel, it was God!  God is ultimately in control of the events of your life, too.  Trying to please God is what pays off, not “going along to get along” with whomever you think calls the shots in your life.

But a blessed life doesn’t just happen.  Consider:

God gave these four youths great ability to learn, and they soon mastered all the literature and science of the time; and God gave to Daniel special ability in understanding the meanings of dreams and visions.  (Daniel 1:17  TLB)

God did enable these young men to learn, but to learn they had to be taught.  They had to be schooled in literature, science, and so on.  God didn’t simply pour the knowledge into their brains.

When the three-year training period was completed, the superintendent brought all the young men to the king for oral exams, as he had been ordered to do. King Nebuchadnezzar had long talks with each of them, and none of them impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they were put on his regular staff of advisors.  (Daniel 1:18, 19  TLB)

We see it took three years of schooling for Daniel and his friends to be ready to begin their work.  Not only that, but they had to be examined by a pagan king!  But God was in control and He made sure these Hebrew youths knew their stuff.

We can learn a lot about godly character by looking at Daniel.  In spite of the fact that he was wrenched from his home and resettled in a foreign land, he formed relationships with influential people, and God used those relationships to protect and promote Daniel.  Like Joseph, who also learned how to succeed and prosper in adverse circumstances, Daniel didn’t isolate himself from everybody.  He maintained his integrity, maintained his faith, had a good and honorable reputation, worked hard, and God came through for him.

Daniel held this appointment as the king’s counselor until the first year of the reign of King Cyrus.  (Daniel 1:21  TLB)

Through a succession of kings in three empires, Daniel prevailed.  And you will prevail, too, if you trust in the Lord, step out in faith, and live your faith as Daniel did.  Live purposefully for God and you will always come out ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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