Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Life as an Exile

Part 1 of Our God Reigns

Text: Daniel 1




But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank (Dan. 1:8). 


God Is in Control

The book of Daniel was written by Daniel the prophet during the sixth century B.C. The first half of the book (chapters 1-6) contains stories about Daniel. The second half of the book (chapters 7-12) contains visions of Daniel. But the book of Daniel is not about Daniel. It’s about God. The theme of the book is the sovereignty of God. “In spite of present appearances, God is in control.” [1]

The book of Daniel begins during a terrible time for Daniel’s people: “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it” (1:1). But God was still in control: “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand” (1:2). People are concerned about the U.S. Presidential Election. It’s Trump versus Clinton--two extremely unpopular candidates. People are worried about the outcome. But God is in control! “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (2:21).


Exiles

The book of Daniel begins with Daniel and his three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—removed from their homeland of Judah and taken to live in Babylon. They are exiles. They are part of a training program set up by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. The best of the best of the youth of Judah have been chosen for this program (vv. 3-4). They will be trained for three years by the Babylonians, and then at the end of their training, they will serve the king.

This training was to be a reprogramming of the beliefs of the Judean youths. Even their names were changed (v. 7). Nebuchadnezzar expects Daniel and his three friends to conform to the Babylonian culture—a culture that is hostile to the beliefs and convictions of Daniel and his three friends.

In many ways, our culture is hostile to Christian beliefs and convictions. The apostle Peter described his readers as “exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Jesus said that his followers are in the world but not of the world (“They are not of the world,” John 17:16). And the apostle Paul wrote that we are not to be “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). The book of Daniel “teaches us that the struggle is not to make the culture Christian, but how a Christian can live in a hostile culture.” [2]


Resolving to Glorify God

Verse 8 says, “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.” Why did Daniel resolve to not eat the king’s food and drink the king’s wine? Was it because he would break the OT dietary laws if he ate the king’s food? Maybe, but the dietary laws didn’t forbid the drinking of wine. Was it because the food and wine would have been offered to idols? Maybe, but we’re not told that the vegetables Daniel ate weren’t offered to idols. Perhaps there was another reason. Maybe Daniel resolved not to eat the king’s food and wine to show that he owed his success to God, not the king.

Whatever the reason, Daniel’s decision was rooted in his desire to glorify God. Sometimes resolving to glorify makes our lives more difficult (e.g., Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace; Daniel in the lions’ den—those are uncomfortable places!). We must resolve to put God’s glory ahead of our own comfort. 


God Put Our Good Ahead of His Own Comfort

Let’s stop for a moment to think about this God whom we are called to glorify. He is a God who put our good ahead of his own comfort. Jesus—God in human flesh, the second person of the Trinity—declared, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). God—the sovereign God!—chose to endure the humiliation and suffering of the cross for us. Don’t be ashamed to be known and act as a Christian!

In the TV series The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell states, “You can tell what’s informed the society by…the tallest building in the place.” In a medieval city, the tallest building was the cathedral. In a 17th century city, the tallest building was the political palace. In a modern city, the tallest buildings are the office buildings and the condos.

The focus has shifted from God to self. When our focus is on self, we won’t put God’s glory ahead of our own comfort. But if our focus is on God—and how he put our good ahead of his own comfort—we will resolve to glorify him.

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[1] Tremper Longman III, Daniel, 19. 
[2] Ibid., 61. 
[3] Verse 9 states that “God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.” Again, we see that God is in control.