Daniel, a young man of faith, gives us an amazing account of wise, faithful, God honoring noncompliance in this book by his name.
Last week we talked about two other young men of faith: Josiah, who gave his life to reforming Judah and bringing them back to the Lord, and Jeremiah, who was called in his youth to speak God’s harsh words of judgment and plead for the people’s repentance. These were young men of faith who gave their hearts to God. When God comes to you, He wants to hear the heart of His Son, Jesus.
Today, we will take a brief look at Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, better known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
To begin, as most of us know, names mean something. Daniel means – God is my judge, Hananiah – Whom the Lord has favored, Mishael – Who is like God? and Azariah- Whom the Lord helps. Notice, each of these names honor the Lord, the God of Israel. But Daniel and his three friends are in captivity in Babylon, a foreign land with foreign gods. These Hebrew youths are chosen to be trained and naturalized into Babylonian citizens who serve the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. The Book of Daniel demonstrates for us how the Lord, God, works through these captives to bring this world’s most powerful king to his knees before the Lord. It also reveals how the Lord, God of Israel will ultimately set up a kingdom that will destroy all others and rule the entire earth.
But is this true? Is God still working among us today to bring about His ultimate judgment and glory over all? Will every knee one day bow and every tongue one day confess that Jesus Christ is Lord? Or is this all just a religious myth, a dream of hope fabricated out of the fertile imagination of these Jewish prophets? We must decide what we believe and where we stand on this. What we believe about these things shapes everything in our lives. It must! If we treat God’s word with the respect and honor it demands, we must give ourselves whole heartedly to the Lord and His mission. If we only half heartedly believe, or try to put one foot in the faith and one in the world, what do you think that will do to you? We will find ourselves like the salt without flavor Jesus talked about. He said it is, “Good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot by men.” In other words, half-hearted faith cannot bring honor to our Almighty God as He demands and as He is worthy. Half hearted devotion to God will fail you, even as it fools you into thinking it is enough to save you. No. God commands and rightly expects our whole hearted devotion to Him. That’s why we need this part of Daniel’s message today.
Let’s lay out the situation. Imagine Daniel and his three friends in Babylon, far from home, captives, powerless to return. Being from Israelite royalty and nobility they are made eunuchs to cut off their hope of a future. So stripped of their homeland, future, and even their names, what do these young men have to look forward to? Surely they must have wondered why their God had allowed them to be in this condition. Could it be that the gods of Babylon were greater than the God of Israel?
They are all young, healthy and brilliant, so they are selected from among the many captives to be trained in “Babylonia University” for three years. This was preparation for possible positions of high honor and prestige. If they do well, they could be chosen for jobs that would be the envy of even the normal Babylonians! They are given new names, Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These names represented the highest gods of Babylon! Wow! They are given opportunity to eat and drink from the king’s own table! This is the most powerful king in the world, mind you. What an amazing opportunity! What a superb educational experience! What a high-class career! Who could have ever imagined this! Taken from the ruins of Jerusalem to the splendor of Babylonian royalty! Which was a lot more glorious and glitzy than anything back in Jerusalem! Hey! When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians, right? Besides, God has given us over to these guys, right? Without a future, why not make the most of this and enjoy the ride, right? If we don’t we’ll just be killed anyway, so what’s to stop us, right?
Don’t you know Daniel and his three friends were tested here?
I tell you, Nebuchadnezzar knew how to gain the loyalty of those that served in his court and under his rule. He also knew how to kill any that resisted his wishes and were not fully devoted to him. Daniel and his three friends faced the pressure of this naturalization process. They had to choose whether to put their trust in the Lord, the God of Israel, who had allowed their own homeland to be invaded and destroyed, or to submit to the powerful, alluring, culture and religious diversity of the world of Babylon. The book of Daniel shows us how these four youths kept their faith in the Lord, the God of Israel, even in the face of captivity, opportunity, and death. The Lord worked through their whole hearted devotion to Himself to turn the very heart of this pagan Babylonian king to believe and bow before the Lord, the God of Israel, the one and only true and living God. But it was risky business.
God not only brought this king to his knees, He also let Daniel and his three friends face great temptations and threats on their lives in the process. These things tested and proved the faith of Daniel and his friends as well. Does God use our trials and temptations to prove our faith and also bring others to Himself today? Is that not what we see in the New Testament when it comes to sharing the saving good news of Jesus Christ? Is that not still true today? What happens when God’s people are unwilling to take a stand for the gospel? What does it say to others about the gospel if it’s not worth our taking risks for it? On the other hand, what does it say to others about the gospel if we would give our lives for it?
The message of Daniel shows us that it’s those that will not compromise but graciously, firmly stand in their faith that bear a convincing witness to God’s power in His people. It’s true that God gave them miraculous answers to their prayers that convinced Nebuchadnezzar, but God still does amazing things today that convince people of the gospel. We may not be seeing them because we are not out there taking the risks that require them. Why should God give us a mighty wonder? What purpose would it serve?
Most of the mighty works of God in scripture took place for those that were under great trial doing things God had commanded. Jeremiah heard the very words of God, but he was put in stocks, thrown into a well to die, and abused terribly, but he kept his faith and continued proclaiming the Word of God.
We will be reading about Ezekiel soon. This prophet does amazing theatrical things to declare God’s word to the exiles. But the great wonder of God to Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, was the revealing of His word to him. Has God not done that for you and me today? We have it right before us even on our phones and ipads! The problem is that the wonderful word of God is only wonderful to those that hear it in obedient faith and devote ourselves to the God of the word.
It’s true that Daniel and his three friends saw mighty works of God. God revealed to Daniel Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation, God protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace, God displayed writing on the wall that only Daniel could interpret, God stopped the mouths of lions, and God revealed the future kingdom of God and ultimate judgment of God on all.
God did these things for Daniel and his friends right in the presence of Nebuchadnezzar and other mighty kings. God used Daniel to bring them to faith and God rescued Daniel to demonstrate God’s power and authority. This was not the case with most of the prophets of God. We recall that for some the Lord rescued, but there were many others who gave their lives. In the New Testament, Stephen stood up to the Sanhedrin and paid with his life. Peter was thrown into jail to be executed but God sent an angel to rescue him. Was Peter more faithful or important than Stephen? Of course not! Peter eventually paid for his faith with his life, just as many thousands of Christians did in his day and have done throughout the years. What about us? I should not expect to experience what those who faced and stood up to Nebuchadnezzar experienced when I won’t even go out and face my neighbors and friends with the gospel, should I?
Our challenge today is to take God at his word and do what God has always required of His people: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Also, Isaiah 66:2 This is who I esteem, “he who is humble, contrite in spirit and who trembles at My Word.”
Through the message of Daniel, God calls you and me to devote ourselves to God no matter what. I close with the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel chapter 3.