1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. (Daniel1:1-2)
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by society?
The book of Daniel is about living out our faith in difficult circumstances. We’re going to examine the first six chapters to get some idea of how Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego kept their faith intact during their exile in Babylon.
The Babylonians overwhelmed Jerusalem in 586BC after an 18 month seige. The book of Daniel describes it in a few verses. The book of Lamentations uses five chapters of exquisitely intricate poetry to describe desolation, devastation, disappointment and destruction: Nebuchadnezzar systematically crushed Jerusalem.
Our text succintly makes the following points:
– A foreign king came along and attacked Jerusalem (which was supposed to be untouchable.)
– God handed the Israelites’ king over to this foreign King.
– The temple was desecrated.
– It looked like foreign god was more powerful than Israel’s God.
This is the context of the book of Daniel.
There are many parallels to our society today:
– Modern culture is stomping out traditional values and morals.
– It often feels as though God has abandoned society.
– The church and its workers more often are portrayed negatively than positively.
– Other philosophies and belief systems are on the rise.
It’s a depressing start for a hopeful book.
We will see Daniel and his friends engage an aggressive culture and emerge from the encounter having made a positive contribution and a meaningful stand for their faith.
Hope you will join us for the journey!
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility– 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. 6 Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. (Daniel1:3-7)Nebuchadnezzar adopted a “Brain Drain” policy when he conquered Israel. He carried off all those who had intellectual and leadership ability. That way there would be no one able to lead a rebellion left behind in Israel.
Back in Babylon they adopted a systematic brainwashing process. The purpose to isolate the conquered nation’s leaders and crush their cultural and spiritual heritage, producing good Babylonian “clones.”
Look at the multi-faceted nature of the indoctrination process:
– Language and Literature: dilute their traditions and culture.
– Diet: Fancy food – get used to a high standard of living
– University-like training: Shape their thinking
– Become dependent on the king for your standard of living
– New names – names that honoured Babylonian deities.
There is no mistaking the fact that we live in a society that ranges from dismissive to antagonistic with regard to our faith. We are in a spiritual battle.
When we are leaders we should expect that we will be pressured into another mould:
– Traditional time-honoured values will be questioned and discarded
– We will be tempted to live beyond our means so that we become addicted to the system because we need it to keep up the standard.
– We will be bombarded with pressures that push us to accept norms and values as common place even when they are not consistent with the standards of our faith.
Can you identify some of these pressurising influences in your life?
We’ll see how Daniel handled these pressure-cookers.
8 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. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, (Daniel1:8-9)What do we do when we find ourselves in a society that constantly tries to squeeze us into its mould? We can either
– go with the flow and get sucked in
– try to withdraw from the system entirely (do the hermit thing)
– strategically choose our battles but stick to one’s principles.
Daniel takes the third route:
He goes through Nebuchadnezzar’s training because it is a step toward influence. He also works for the King even though he is a pagan king. He even tolerates the name change thing although it is clear from the rest of the book that this does not stick. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s new names stick but Daniel remains Daniel.
But there is an issue that Daniel will not compromise on. Babylonian food was decadent and luxurious. It came from the King’s table and was dedicated to Babylonian gods. Eating it had a number of implications:
– It was unhealthily rich and decadent
– It encouraged an overly high standard of living, fostering dependence on the king
– It dishonoured Israel’s God.
There are some issues we have to choose to take a stand on. We gain nothing by rejecting everything or digging our heels in on everything. Daniel understood that you win the war one battle at a time.
Daniel decided that the food-fight was a battle he could win.
1. Resolved. Daniel made a principle position. He decided on his boundaries and got his position clear in his head.
2. He must have prayed about it because we are told that God had caused the official to be sympathetic.
3. He followed the route of relationship and one on one chats that would lead to respectful solutions.
4. He was willing to bargain and take risks to achieve his goal (we’ll see this tomorrow.)
We can’t be hermits although this is very tempting – we cannot withdraw from the society in which we are meant to be the salt and light. We also can’t afford to lose our saltiness. The answer is that we have to choose the battles to fight and push forward one victory at a time. This will take resolve, prayer, relationship and the courage to negotiate win-win deals.
Bargaining and Risk
10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.” 11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” (Daniel1:10-13)The picture we have of Christianity is that we should be yes-people, not rocking the boat or driving hard bargains. But, as we saw yesterday, Daniel was resolute. He was determined to honour God in all he did.
Daniel is not afraid to drive a hard bargain with the official. We saw yesterday that the official was favourably inclined to Daniel. This is an important aspect. When we have good relationships of mutual respect and integrity, then we can bargain without appearing arrogant or willful.
Although the official was afraid, Daniel pushes a compromise. A trial period. Something that will be a win-win for both parties. He gave the official an escape clause.
Israel’s culture was not a vegetarian culture. They liked meat and we know that Eli and his sons liked the fatty bits of the meat. A vegetable diet is not a common occurrence in the Old Testament. With our modern insights on diet etc, we know that Daniel’s bet was safe – he and his friends were doing a good “detox.”
But we have no way of knowing whether Daniel knew that his bet was a safe one. If he didn’t know the benefits of detoxing, then he is a man of great faith. If he did know, he is a man of great wisdom.
Daniel wanted to honour God in a culture where many practices were at odds with his faith. He identified an issue that was important to him. In making his stand he used the following techniques/advantages:
– He had a good relationship with the official, having won the man’s respect.
– He was polite and respectful: He wasn’t just being stubborn
– He had earned respect and favour.
– He was prepared for the official’s objection.
– He was willing to take a risk.
– He proposed a win-win compromise.
In our modern culture where we are often pushed into practices that are not acceptable to us, we will need to negotiate, bargain, and compromise. But _before_ we can do that, we need to have solid relationships based on mutual respect and we have to have demonstrated integrity.
14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. (Daniel1:14-16)Daniel’s calculated risk paid off! His relationship with the official was good enough to persuade the official to take the chance. Daniel and his friends came out of the “detox” bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
The interesting thing is that Daniel’s courageous act creates a new culture (everyone was put on the detox) – one that would have positive spinoffs for the rest of the group (although I’m sure some of the students muttered and bickered.)
I remember talking to a businessman who worked at a company where Friday afternoon drinks were part of the culture. He was very concerned about the number of guys who were heading home well-over the legal limit.
He didn’t mind having a beer after work and although he knew when to stop, he realised that there were others who didn’t. He made a decision to drink a softdrink instead. He faced some good-natured ribbing from his buddies the first time, but because he stuck to his position in an unobtrusive and unpretentious way, within three or four weeks he was joined by 4 or 5 colleagues who all saw the sense of what he was doing but had not had the courage to do it.
We can create counter-cultures. The problem is that we often go about it wrong: We make a scene, appear to be holier-than-thou or condemning. If we follow Daniel’s lead our stands are relationship-rooted, respectful and win-win.
Then we can really make a difference!
Oddballs can be succesful
18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. (Daniel1:18-20)People believe that we have to be conformists to succeed. Daniel and his three friends (Daniel and Co) stood head and shoulders above the rest. Nebuchadnezzar found them to be uniquely gifted and qualified.
Why was this the case? Is the passage saying that Israelites are the superior race? Was Jewish education better than Babylonian schooling? Were these just four particularly gifted guys?
No, the answer is in verse 17: “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.”
Daniel and Co are a good demonstration of the principle Jesus articulated in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
They must have been considered as oddballs: “You don’t want some of the king’s caviar?” or “Let me get this right… You serve an unseen God and you’d rather eat veggies than Royal Food?”
The sacrifice and ridicule was worth the courage it cost them. They put God first and God blessed and empowered them.
We don’t have to play by the world’s rules – even oddballs can be succesful if they put God first!
Dreaming King: Impossible Demands
9 If you do not tell me the dream, there is just one penalty for you. You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.” (Daniel2:9)Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream – one that left his mouth dry and his stomach unsettled. He knew that there was a message in it for him and he didn’t want armchair philosophers sucking meanings from their thumbs. So he made an impossible demand: “Tell me my dream and what it means!
The astrologers answered the king, “There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks!” (Just tell us your dream and we’ll come up with something!)
We know the end of this story: Daniel is able to describe the dream and explain its meaning to the king.
Often it feels that our bosses ask the impossible from us. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible and other times it _is_ just plain impossible. Sometimes we need Supernatural Energy and sometimes we need Divine Intervention.
We’d better get used to the fact that there will always be bosses like Nebuchadnezzar, and we _will_ be faced with impossible demands. (Fortunately we aren’t put to death when we don’t comply – which is what King Neb intended to do!)
The bottom line is this: When deadlines seem unreachable and demands seem unreasonable, God is there and He is willing to get involved.
We’ll see how this happens in the next few days…
Dreaming King: Divine Intervention
At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him. 17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. (Daniel2:16-19)Was it Divine Intervention or a case of a good night’s sleep?
I think it was a bit of both! When Daniel heard of the king’s unreasonable demand and the impending across-the-board death penalty for failure, he took a couple of important steps.
1. He cashed in the goodwill and credit he had with the king and negotiated some extra time. We can do this when we have a track record of delivery, performance and integrity. Daniel could make the withdrawal because he had been making the deposits. We need to learn to negotiate when we are faced with unreasonable demands, but we have to have built up the credit first!
2. He asked for prayer. This is a good thing to do. The ladies are better than this than the guys are, but Daniel had the courage to ask his buddies to pray for him about what was essentially a work issue. Have you got a tough meeting tomorrow? Consider phoning a friend and saying: “Listen, I have a tough meeting tomorrow and I’d really appreciate it if you could spare a prayer for me.”
3. He went to bed! There comes a time when we realise that we can’t do everything and that we need to trust God. Daniel went to bed and he slept. You might argue that he went to bed because he had to dream Nebuchanezzar’s dream, but we were told that Daniel could interpret dreams not dream them. I don’t think that he _knew_ that he would get the dream too – I think he just went to bed saying – “I don’t know how God will do it, but I believe that He’ll show me the way.” Sometimes we lie awake for hours trying to solve things and yet if we would let go and “sleep on it,” we might get more answers!
Sleep is a vital part of keeping our strength and sanity. Daniel had enough trust in God to go to bed even when he didn’t have all the answers.
Dreaming King: Honouring God
19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. 22 He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. 23 I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.” (Daniel2:19-23)One of the things that protected Daniel throughout his adventures in the Unreal world of Babylon and the king’s court was the fact that he refused to take himself too seriously. He always honoured God and gave the glory to Him.
After entrusting the problem of King Neb’s dream to God, Daniel went to bed knowing that his friends were praying for him. He woke up with the answers and immediately took the time to praise God.
Daniel’s prayer is influenced by his experience and the revelation he has had: When we see the interpretation of the dream, we will see that this prayer reflects some aspects of God’s nature and character that the Nebuchadnezzar dream illustrate.
In the light of this miraculous revelation, Daniel remembers that:
– Wisdom and power belong to God.
– That God is sovereign: Kings come and go like the seasons.
– God gives wisdom and knowledge to the wise and discerning
– God knows all secrets in dark places because He is light that reveals
– God has given wisdom and power to Daniel and revealed the dream.
Did you notice that wisdom and power(knowledge) are repeated in three of the five characteristics of God’s nature? (1,3,5) Characteristic 2 is about God’s omnipotence and characteristic 4 is about his omniscience.
Daniel’s prayer of praise is a carefully thought out prayer of thanksgiving because he knows that he is nothing without God.
Who gets the glory when we achieve the impossible demands that our bosses make?
Dreaming King: Acknowledging God
25 Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.” 26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” 27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. (Daniel2:25-28)As human beings we like taking the credit when we have done well. There is nothing wrong with a wholesome sense of achievement when we have worked hard and done well.
But there are times when we achieve much more than what our own strength allows. Then it is really is important for us to acknowledge the help that we have received from God and others.
Daniel doesn’t hesitate. He openly acknowledges God’s help in satisfying the King’s “impossible” request. His example gives us some good guidelines.
1.There is nothing in his statement that makes God appear like a domesticated God who gives out blessings like a vending machine. The cheesy “thanks to the ‘Man upstairs'” that one sometimes hears at the Oscars often sounds like He is there to serve our needs.
2.In the Hebrew “God in Heaven” is a big title. It implies that He is sovereign and has dominion over all kingdoms.
3.Daniel is clear about what God has done. There are clear boundaries in Daniel’s mind: He knows what he can do and he knows what only God can do. There is no fuzziness about it. God isn’t vaguely involved in his life – he knows where and when God has helped him.
4.He gives a practical statement about what God has done. God has revealed the dream to Daniel and in the explanation of the dream King Nebuchadnezzar will experience it too.
So, if we’re going to acknowledge God in our lives, let us:
1.acknowledge Him as GOD.
2.make Him sound big and awesome – because He is!
3.be sure that we understand the extent of His help.
4.give practical examples
Imagine an Oscar winner standing at the podium:
(Of course we are also assuming that the movie wasn’t “Texas Chainsaw Murder” or something like that!)
“I want to thank and honour my Lord Jesus Christ who gives me daily strength and inspiration and who carried me and my family through a very challenging time during the making of this movie.”
That’s more like it!
Dreaming King: The Nature of Power
“You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue–an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. (Daniel2:31-34)King Neb’s dream about the statue here in ch.2 is the perfect balance to the picture of power and authority we see in ch.1.
In ch.1 Babylonian power is seen as absolute: Daniel and co are whisked out of Israel and are coerced and brainwashed and dominated by the Babylonian system. Daniel and his friends seem to be powerless against this pervasive regime and seem to be limited to small acts of independence like their choice of diet.
In the face of this totalitarian system, two important things happen in ch.2:
1. The King has a dream that really unsettles him and he does not have answers. He needs a “powerless” “God follower” to help him.
2. The dream has particular significance and import: power is temporary.
The dream of the statue with deteriorating qualities of building materials is symbolic of the transitory nature of kings, governments and empires. Each successive regime is weaker than the next.
The rock cut out by non-human hands is the Kingdom of God – a new kind of Kingdom – Jesus describe it to Pontius Pilate: “My Kingdom is not of this world.”
Earthly Kingdoms will rise and fall – some gold, some silver, some clay and iron. They will not last. The Kingdom built on the Rock – The confession that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” – will endure forever.
2000 years time Microsoft, Anglo, SAB and many others will be long gone and the church will still be here. Power will not endure forever.
Culture and the Kingdom
44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. (Daniel2:44)The first six chapters of Daniel can be divided up like this:
-The Pressure of Culture (Ch.1-2)
-The Pressure to Bow down in public (Ch.3-4)
-The Pressure to give up personal faith (Ch.5-6)
In each division there is a chapter describing the pressure and a chapter that describes a God-given vision that gives us more perspective.
Chapters 1 and 2 have been about the power of culture.
We have watched Daniel interact with the powerfully pervasive Babylonian Culture. He couldn’t reject all of it. He carefully chose his battles and was gracious, wise, respectful and courageous in his negotiations to achieve win-win solutions.
Watching Daniel’s negotiations with the official in ch.1 was very instructive.
Whether we have to deal with a corporate culture that promotes excessive time away from family or outings to strip-clubs for office parties, we have to negotiate with that culture by:
– Earning people’s respect through integrity and good performance.
– Coming up with win-win solutions or trial periods when we negotiate changes.
– Being firm of purpose but maintaining respect and gracious politeness.
In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar’s dream reminded us that culture is not forever. Kingdoms come and go and at some point things happen to cultural giants that make them look to the “God-people” for help. There is a Kingdom that will endure and our citizenship is of that Kingdom.
1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon… 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (Daniel3:1-6)If ch 1 & 2 were about cultural pressure then ch 3 & 4 are about the pressure to worship the gods of society.
King Neb couldn’t stay on track for long… A while after the statue dream, Nebuchadnezzar has not only forgotten the lesson, but he has built his own statue and commanded everyone to worship it.
This is a social idol. And there are a couple of things we need to notice about it:
– It is impressive! (It’s a huge (20 stories high) statue of gold!)
– Everyone is worshipping (The masses can’t be wrong, can they?)
– There’s a big band (Complete “media” manipulation)
– There’s pressure (The furnace is a pretty scary consequence.)
Today the Nebuchadnezzars are still building statues:
1.Teens worship pop-stars who are “larger than life.” They pierce weird places because “everyone is doing it” and they are overwhelmed by the special effects and the volume of the band and the pressure of being labelled “uncool” is even more scary than the furnace!
2.Corporate Climbers worship the idol of success. Their heroes are the mega-succesfuls: Shiny in their designer suits and flashy cars, impressive by their addresses and holiday venues (not to mention their overdrafts!) The magazines and adverts promote it “I don’t earn a salary – I pay them!” We are told to power-dress because “If we don’t look succesful we won’t be!”
The things that try to be idols in our lives will be impressive, communal, loud and pressurising. Resistance is not easy.
What the stakes really are.
14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (Daniel3:14-15)The three “musketeers” (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) choose not to bow down. It is interesting. They didn’t hide away or go undercover. They didn’t try to be out of town or on an overseas trip. They carried on their normal duties and fulfilled their daily responsibilities and when the moment came, they just kept standing when everyone else bowed down.
Of course their enemies were ready to pounce. They have to go and face another kind of “music” – the king’s wrath. King Neb is furious, but the three are resolute. He delivers an ultimatum – you can have another chance – bow down or go to the oven!
But its his final question that clarifies the stakes for once and for all: “What god will be able to rescue you from _my_ hand?”
That’s the bottom line when we are tempted to worship the gods of society. Will our rock stars save us? Will our corporate climbing earn us peace? Will our obsession with fashion clothe us with meaning? Did our technology die for us? Will the “in-crowd” go with us through the valley of the shadow of death? Will that BMW or 4×4 really help you sleep better at night? Will a strong bank balance insure you against your kids making bad choices?
The gods of society seem very compelling. Today we don’t have furnaces that we get thrown into. The consequences are being “out” when others are “in.” Being uncool and unhip. We run the risk of not having the right people-connections.
The key issue, however, is not about coolness or popularity, but about being rescued. God has a good track-record.
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel3:16-18)The three students (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) are “facing the music” (of the most ominous kind) in King Neb’s presence. He’s really mad and he’s condescended to give them one last chance (they were, after all, valuable civil servants)
The three are awesomely resolute. They offer three important points of view:
1.They are innocent. “We have done no wrong. Being faithful to Almighty God is right, bowing down to statues of ego is wrong! (Maybe even stupid)”
2. They firmly believe that God is able to save them. God is greater than King Neb’s oven. They are convinced of God’s power and they are confident about His ability to provide for them.
3. Even if God does not rescue them, they are resolute. God’s glory outweighs their comfort. They will stand up for Him even if the consequences turn out real.
Unfortunately we are often opposite to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego:
1. Our sense of right and wrong is often comfort driven. Even Christians surf very close to the “If it feels good, do it” morality of the day.
2. We are not always good at trusting God because we are very good at manipulating our circumstances. We don’t wait for God – we make our own plans.
3. Many of us have conditional commitments to God: As long as He supplies the “goodies” we will be committed. If He doesn’t deliver what we want, then our commitment flags, our enthusiasm wanes and our focus fuzzifies!
Are we the top 3 or bottom 3?
22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, O king.” 25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel3:22-25)King Neb was so cross he had the furnace made seven times hotter than usual. It was so hot that it killed the soldiers who were supposed to toss Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the furnace.
The point of the story however, is not so much that the three survived the furnace although that in itself is remarkable.
The really amazing aspect of this story is the fact that the three were not in the furnace alone. There was a fourth person in the fire and while king Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes did not deceive him, his understanding did. The fourth person in the fire wasn’t a “son of the gods” – I believe He was the Son of God.
Jesus walks around in the fires with us. In the New Testament Peter talks about fire being something that refines our faith. We will walk through the fires of testing and trial. We are not always guaranteed that we will survive the fires. Many of the first Christians died as martyrs, many of them covered with tar and set aflame as human candles in Nero’s Garden.
The significant issues are these:
1. They were unbound. When we stand up for Jesus in spite of fear and reprisal and when we have the courage to say “Even if He doesn’t save us and give us the easy way out, we will not bow down!” then we are truly free – unbound.
2. Jesus walked through the fire with them. We can experience God’s presence and guidance in the midst of our most difficult times, whether we have to go through them or are lucky enough to go around them.
Which would you rather have? No fires, but no Presence? Or fires but the awesome Presence of Christ – even if He does not rescue us from all the unpleasantness? Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were clear about their wishes!
They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” (Daniel3:27-29)King Nebuchadnezzar is so close to faith. Our text shows three instances of the pagan king’s perceptiveness and spiritual sensitivity.
1. When King Nebuchadnezzar recovered from his shock, he called the three friends out of the furnace calling them “Servants of the MOST HIGH GOD” (Hebrew: El-Elyon) This is very significant because he is using a unique Israelite name for God rather than a generic religious term. Nebudchadnezzar realises that it is _their_ God that has saved them. This miracle is so amazing that it cannot be chalked up to some general miracle or some generic deity.
2. Furthermore, Nebuchadnezzar recognises and honours the faithfulness of the the three friends. It is the king’s words that provide the best summary of the day’s events: “They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”
3. Finally king Nebuchadnezzar honours God by threatening destruction for those who mock the God of Israel.
And yet, in spite of this sensitivity, the king has not yet come to personal faith. He has not turned to God himself. He had seen so much and yet believed so little.
Who are we more like?
* Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, surrounded by a foreign culture in a hostile environment boldly clinging to faith?
* or Nebuchadnezzar, too comfortable, too secure, too blase’ about the miracles that God has done?
I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. 11 The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all… I looked, and there before me was a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven. 14 He called in a loud voice: `Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. (Daniel4:10-13)The pattern we detected in Daniel continues:
ch.1-STANDING UP against culture – Daniel and diet
ch.2-VISION – Weakening statue and rock – Culture is not forever
ch.3-STANDING UP when all bow down – 3 friends and a furnace
ch.4-VISION – A big tree – If you try to be a god you’ll get the chop!
This is what Daniel 4 is all about. King Neb has a dream about a great tree that will be chopped down. Daniel interprets it for him: The tree is Nebuchadnezzar and the sober warning is that he needs to humble himself or he will go insane and land up living like a wild animal for seven years.
Nebuchadnezzar does not heed the warning and the rest of the chapter shows how he becomes so arrogant that he considers himself a god (I think it is safe to assume that the statue in ch.3 was of himself!)
With that he goes insane, eating grass and living like an animal until he finally acknowledges God.
Those who want to be worshiped are on a slippery slope. Their time comes and sanity is always at risk. History has repeatedly shown that despots, pride and a belief in one’s own infallibility are a perfect recipe for a downfall.
Those who want to be worshipped have – by history’s standards – a short lifespan. Leaders, organisations, and “pop” stars all lose the plot at some point unless they discover humility and acknowledge the God who gives them what they have.
Is arrogance hereditary?
1 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. (Daniel5:1-2)There is a slight twist in our structure now:
ch.1-STANDING UP against culture – Daniel and diet
ch.2-VISION – Weakening statue and rock – Culture is not forever
ch.3-STANDING UP when all bow down – 3 friends and a furnace
ch.4-VISION – A big tree – If you try to be a god you’ll get the chop!
ch.5-VISION: You have been weighed
ch.6-STANDING UP when integrity is on the line.
Nebuchadnezzar has died and his son Belshazzar has become king. He throws a huge party and at the height of the festivities he decides to flex his muscles and demonstrate his kingdom’s power and superiority.
By using the goblets from the temple, the Babylonians are symbolically thumbing their noses at God – taking the sacred temple vessels and using them for everyday use. This was a calculated act that would say:
– Babylonian power is greater than Israel’s
– Babylonian gods where seen as greater than Israel’s God
– Israelite culture and religion was in service of Babylon.
His idea of religion was:
– Let’s poke fun at it
– Let’s abuse it to our advantage
– Let’s pretend that we can get away with this kind of flippance.
There’s a lot of this going on today. Movies portray the church and clergy negatively. Christians are often portrayed as wimps, nerds, or hypocrites. God is referred to as the “Man upstairs” and people’s attitudes seem to indicate that His sole job is to provide us with what _we_ want for happiness. I think Dan Browne used the “scandalous” claims of the “DaVinci Code” to sell his book.
Was Belshazzar’s arrogance hereditary? I don’t know, but I see lots of it around today. I think I’d say that human beings are perfectly capable of being arrogant (and stupid) without any help from their genes!
5 Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace.
(Daniel5:5)We have a number of sayings that have their origin in these events:
– So-and-so “couldn’t read the writing on the wall.”
– “The words of the prophets are written on the subway halls”
The key thought out of our text here is that in the midst of arrogance and evil, God speaks. He doesn’t always speak in the ways we expect Him too.
The interesting thing about the writing on the wall is that the words written on the wall were not unknown words (We’ll look at this on Monday) But the king and wise men could not read it! Was it a secret script? Maybe Hebrew writing? Or was it that “there are none so blind as those who will not see?”
There are many issues like this in society today: (You may disagree with some of these, but bear with me…)
-Society promotes and has legalised abortion and we wonder why life is so cheap.
-We allow pornography because we are so “open-minded” and wonder why our rape statistics are off the charts.
-We have enshrined human rights and allow prisoners to vote (when by their behaviour they have undermined society) and then we wonder why corruption and injustice rule the day.
-We have given children so many “rights” in education (education is a privilege in my opinion) that now our schools are torn apart by violence.
-We pay teachers, nurses, and policemen peanuts, preferring to pay lawyers and accountants and techies top dollar and wonder why the fundamentals of our society don’t function.
These are just some examples of “writing on the wall.” You may think of more. I just hope that as a society we may start to read some of them.
Interpreting familiar words…
25 “This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN 26 “This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. 27 Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. 28 Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” (Daniel5:25-28)The footnotes of the NIV Bible provide the following definitions:
* Mene can mean numbered or mina (a unit of money).
* Tekel can mean weighed or shekel.
* Peres (the singular of Parsin) can mean divided or Persia or
a half mina or a half shekel.
Economic terms are used to evaluate Belshazzar’s reign.
Before Daniel provides this interpretation, he confronts Belshazzar about his behaviour especially in the light of the lessons he should have learnt from his father Nebuchadnezzar (I mean having your dad go barmy and eat grass like the cattle for seven years should _some_ kind of impression!)
But Daniel says “But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.”
Therefore Belshazzar is weighed, found wanting, and judged. He has worked for this, he has earned it!
And so the chapter ends: “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom”
There comes a time when evil will no longer be tolerated and sin will be dealt with.
Not very warm or fuzzy thoughts on a Monday morning, but it is a reminder that God is just and that evil will not continue endlessly.
What are our lives worth? Sticking with economic terms… Someone said “Christ invested His life in you – have you shown any interest?”
The Value of Integrity
3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. (Daniel6:3-4)As we reach chapter 6, here’s one last reminder of our structure:
Remember that everything is in pairs: Something to stand up for and a vision that puts it in perspective.
ch.1-STANDING UP against culture – Daniel and diet
ch.2-VISION – Weakening statue and rock – Culture is not forever
ch.3-STANDING UP when all bow down – 3 friends and a furnace
ch.4-VISION – A big tree – If you try to be a god you’ll get the chop!
ch.5-VISION: You have been weighed
ch.6-STANDING UP when integrity is on the line.
This brings us to the third of the temptations faced by the young Israelites in Babylon:
1.A temptation to give in to the patterns of a Godless culture.
2.A temptation to worship idols.
3.A temptation to compromise integrity and personal devotion.
The chapter starts by showing us how high the stakes are…
Daniel is described as being a distinguished leader. As result, he gained respect and position. He behaved with such integrity that he could not be faulted. He had enemies and as his enemies looked for a weakness they were frustrated — Daniel was a man of integrity.
This integrity is displayed in four ways, but today we will examine the first three:
1.He was trustworthy: A man who kept his word – his mouth was firmly under his control.
2.There was no corruption in him. Even if it was for a good cause, Daniel would not stoop to underhanded tactics.
3.He was not negligent – he worked hard at all he did – he fulfilled his duties with proper attention to detail.
How does your integrity look?
Principles mistaken for weakness
5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” (Daniel6:5)Daniel’s enemies found that he was a man of real integrity:
– In his speech
– In his lack of corruption
– In his hard work ethic
There was a fourth aspect to Daniel’s integrity: It was obvious to them that Daniel was completely loyal to obeying God.
It’s ironic: They saw this loyalty to God as a potential leverage point. If Daniel’s loyalty was to something dead and lifeless, they may have succeeded but these men would experience a different reality in the lion’s den!
People think that holding onto integrity and devotion to God is a sign of weakness. They think that Christians are weak and that faith is a crutch. They think that strength lies in living as though I am law unto myself.
Daniel had anchors and foundations in his life. His enemies could see that and they thought they could exploit it. They learned differently.
Integrity is coming back into fashion in the business world. The first three aspects – speech, lack of corruption and a hard-work-ethic – are a good start, but it’s all still self-referencing.
The perceived weakness of Daniel’s integrity was that he was not self-referencing, but that his moral compass was set on the True North of his faith in God. This turned out to be his greatest strength.
Can people see that you live according to the Law of _Your_ God? I pray that your devotion to God would be clear and winsomely attractive!
6 So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: “O King Darius, live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. (Daniel6:6-7)When people compliment us or stroke our egos with false or manipulative motives we call this flattery. Even King Darius, who (on the whole) was a fairly wise and respectable king, was misled by the smooth tongues of his officials.
Obviously the first lesson that we should learn is to be careful of those who would flatter us. We need to watch our egos, pride, and judgment when people are always complimenting us and puffing us up.
The second lesson is more subtle: I have read a number of excellent books on leadership, teamwork and even marriage where one of the “tools” is affirming words. In these books affirmation is seen as something that is necessary and valuable.
So what is the difference between flattery and affirmation? First, an illustration: When I bought my handheld rotary saw from the hardware, it came with a thick manual full of exclamation signs, red printing and yellow flags: This is a power-tool that needs to be handled exceptionally carefully… It has the potential to be very useful, but also to do terrible terrible damage.
The same is true about affirmation: It can be very useful, but it can do terrible damage.
So what’s the difference?
1. MOTIVE: Affirmation builds the recipient up and I will give it even if I get no benefit at all. Flattery is about buttering the person up so that they will be more receptive to my next suggestions. Flattery is motivated by the desire to manipulate.
2. TRUTH: Affirmation is entirely truthful and does not exaggerate. Flattery is insincere and inaccurate: The satraps did not want Darius to live forever and they did not ALL agree about the edict. (Daniel was not consulted.) It may seem like a small point, but if our affirmation is not truth-filled it is moving toward manipulative flattery.
Are you comfortable with your safety standards with your power-tool of affirmation? Or are you so scared of using it that it sits in your cupboard and never gets used at all?
10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel6:10)To avoid Lions at Supper, Daniel had a number of options:
1.As the one the King’s three favourites, he could have gone to him and explained that this was all a plot to get him.
2.He could have prayed with his windows and “curtains” closed – they’d have had no proof.
3.He could have prayed in his heart instead of on his knees – They would never catch him!
Daniel chose to follow his well-established habit of prayer.
* If he went to the king, a long to-and-fro would be the only unproductive result.
* If he closed the windows he would appear to have something to hide – as if prayer was wrong.
* If he did not pray visibly, the others would know that they had got him to compromise.
But God was more important to Daniel.
When the decree came out, Daniel could have spent hours wringing his hands: analysing what it was about, what the motives were and why poor him was being victimised.
For him the answer was a no-brainer. He had a holy habit in place and he simply kept it going.
– This gave God space to move in an awesome way.
Are there holy habits in your life that could help keep you out of trouble?
11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. (Daniel6:11)Daniel’s enemies wove complicated plots to entrap Daniel. As we saw last time, Daniel simplified – he didn’t come with elaborate schemes to defeat his enemies – he simply defaulted to his holy habits. He spent time in prayer as he always did.
His enemies found him where they predicted – at prayer. His prayer was very simple too: “Help me Lord!”
They had plotted and schemed. Daniel could have been tempted to fight fire with fire, he could have tried to out-manoever them. He could have come of with some schemes of his own, but Daniel simplified to simple trust.
His prayer-time became a place of childlike trust in his Heavenly Father. He knew the stakes: he knew about the Lions. His attitude was: “I’m not going to wheel and deal – I’m not going to be too clever – I’ll put my trust in the Lord.”
That’s how they found him – the wisest man in the kingdom – the one who could and should have been a formiddable enemy – in a simple and childlike posture of prayer.
“It’s hard to fall when you are on your knees.”
14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him. (Daniel6:14)The trap laid by Daniel’s enemies was cleverly crafted.
– By flattery they had the king make rule that Daniel would break
– They reminded the king of the rule he had made.
– They got him to affirm that it was an unbreakable rule
– They revealed that they had Daniel in their net.
At this point the king would know exactly what was going on. He would know that he had been suckered and that the agenda was not his glory, but nailing Daniel. The King would also be humiliated because he would be rendered helpless.
Look at him! He was Distressed. He was Determined. He was Dedicated (made every effort). Then the men went as a group to the king and said to him, “Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.”
What is significant is the favour that Daniel had earned from the king. If he wanted to save face, the king should not even have batted an eyelid when Daniel was condemned: He should have let him be executed without a second thought. This would reveal him as a strong and ruthless king. His hesitation and attempts to get Daniel “off the hook” made him appear weak and vacillating – especially when he could not get Daniel out by any means fair or political.
So when the king is Distressed, Determined and Dedicated, it says a lot about Daniel’s character and contribution. It tells us that Daniel had real worth and value in the King’s eyes.
Would our bosses be Distressed, Determined and Dedicated at the possible loss of us?
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 serve continually, rescue you!” (Daniel6:16)When Daniel’s enemies had the king make a law to trap Daniel, it was worded as follows: “anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.”
The amazing irony of this verse is that King Darius is no longer relying on his own resources or gods, now he breaks his own law and prays to Daniel’s God!!
This speaks of the amazing example that Daniel set for those around him. His life was a clear picture of dedication and faithfulness. His capability and competence lent dignity, believability and credibility to his witness.
Darius had observed Daniel. Daniel was the top person in Darius’ kingdom, and his devotion to his God impressed Darius. Now when the chips are down, Darius is praying serious prayers to the God who Daniel has honoured in his life.
Throughout my life I have found it interesting that some of the people who have given me a tough time and have mocked me about my faith have quietly come to talk to me when trouble comes knocking and have asked me to pray for them.
When we live faithfully and consistently, the amazing irony is that people we least expect will pray to our God.
When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” 21 Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.” (Daniel6:20-22)The king has spent an agonised night:
– His advisors had tricked him
– He had let his pride blind him
– He had lost someone he admired and trusted
But in the midst of this all, hope had been kindled. Darius had dared to believe that Daniel might be saved. Somehow something of Daniel’s faith had rubbed off on the King. He would not have called himself a believer, but during the dark night of the soul and in the early hours of the morning, he had become a hope-r.
When we serve God _continually_ – when we walk our talk and live the life, then we are a gift of hope to those around us. When this begins to happen, God will often intervene in miraculous ways.
Daniel was innocent and Daniel was faithful – Darius was on the edge of faith, and God intervened!
When I was in high school I had many faith adventures on the rugby field. We were playing an important game and some provincial selectors were attending, but our star player was injured. He was the typical star player: brash, arrogant and mocking. But the team asked me: Would I pray for him? To cut a long story short: I prayed a simple prayer and we ran onto the field. Five minutes later and incredulous star player stood next to me in the lineout with an awestruck face and said “My ankle’s fine – there’s no pain at all!”
God can use our faithful witness in the lives of others. He can shine the light of our examples into their doubts and fears. We can be the first “Bibles” they read. When we do it well, God often crowns our efforts with Divine Intervention!
23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. 24 At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. (Daniel6:23-24)Daniel was vindicated, his enemies were crushed.
While we recoil at the thought of the lions tearing into Daniel’s enemies families, it is important for us to remember the principles expressed in ch.5 in the writing on the wall: Ultimately God will judge. God’s justice is a sure and definite reality. It doesn’t pan out on our timescales, but it will prevail.
Daniel’s enemies’ crimes were serious:
* They abused the trust the king had in them to mislead him through flattery and misinformation.
* They created law just to nail one person – that is an absolute abuse of power.
* They attempted to control the private religious life of an individual.
* They were more focussed on trying to collect “dirt” on Daniel than on doing their jobs.
When people in leadership abuse their power and are manipulative, vindictive, controlling and self-serving, they will have to face judgment.
When someone in our family rises to a leadership position, we are co-responsible for the integrity of their leadership. If we see the above-mentioned traits in their lives we need to speak up, otherwise we share in their guilt.
“For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:26-27)Darius sent out an edict to all his kingdom commanding people to “fear and reverence the God of Daniel.” Our reading is his motivation for his command and is one of the nicest creeds of the Old Testament!
His creed is a series of parallel statements concluding in the testimony of Daniel’s rescue. Here it is in a little more detail:
1. He is the living God and He endures forever
Darius experienced God as an active powerful presence in his life and especially through Daniel. Daniel served his God _continually_ and Darius could testify to that.
2. His kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.
Just in the previous chapter, the Babylonian kingdom was weighed and found wanting. Now as Darius witnessed God’s power defying the “Laws of the Medes and the Persians” he knew that kingdoms and nations would come and go and that Daniel’s God would endure.
3. He rescues and he saves:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were rescued from the furnace, Daniel was rescued from the lions. Darius’s experience of God-at-work-in-Daniel was that He is a rescuing God!
4. He performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth.
Apart from the miraculous rescues, in previous chapters Nebuchadnezzar dreamt of a statue. Later on he went mad for seven years. Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall. God is not silent.
So, to sum up our series.
1. When culture squeezes us, He will guide us and aid us.
2. When idolatry presses us and we stand firm, He will walk in the fire with us.
3. When our integrity is at stake and we stay true to God, He will silence our enemies.
God is alive and active and He will never change. He rescues us and speaks to us. After all: “He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”