How would you go about destroying a culture? The first way is genocide. Hitler tried to do it on the Jews. Wiping out every person in the culture means that you wipe out the culture. The second way is to conquer and assimilate. One hundred and fifty years before Daniel, the Assyrians conquered the ten tribes of Israel and caused their intermarrying with other peoples, producing feral Samaritans. That is the same reason why so many believers who marry non-Christians lose their faith. The third way is formal indoctrination. When the Russians and Chinese brought in communism, they had a deliberate re-education program. Even now, China blocks Facebook, Google, and Whatsapp. It is a way of controlling people by controlling the information to which they have access. The Jews knew the pressure to conform and compromise now that they were in exile.
The book of Daniel begins at a time when the Jews find themselves as foreigners in a foreign land. Daniel 1:1-2:
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 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. (NIV)
It had been a long time since the Jews were living outside the land. But God had kept his promise that if they continued to reject God’s word by worshiping other gods and neglecting the orphans and widows, then God himself would send an enemy to remove the Jews from the Promised Land. Daniel 1:2:
And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand. (NIV)
The result was that Jerusalem was besieged and the king of Judah had his kids killed in front of him. Then he had his eyes plucked out, and the articles from the temple of God in Jerusalem were carried off to be used to worship the gods of Babylon. God’s people the Jews had no temple, no king, and no land. If ever you felt like you were on a losing side, it would have been now. The victory seemed to belong to Babylon and their king and their god.
But it wasn’t just things and places that fell to the Babylonians. God’s people, too, became the possession of the Babylonians. The cream of the young male Israelites from the royal family were taken to Babylon and reprogrammed for his service, Daniel 1:3-6:
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 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. 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.
Just as the CIA headhunt the cream of the crop of students from the top American universities, these young Jewish men were headhunted to learn the ways of Babylon. When it came to brains, beauty, and brawn, these guys had it all.
(1) Pressure to compromise
But if Daniel and his friends were to survive living under the influence of a foreign land, they each needed to answer the question, “Who rules the world?” Who really is in charge?
Even the Babylonians kings eventually conceded that the kingdom of Daniel’s God is an eternal kingdom, and that his dominion endures from generation to generation (Dan 4:3). The question “Who rules the world?” is important because it determines who you trust. And who you trust determines who is wise.
The Babylonian invasion and conquest was the easy bit. For watch how the Babylonians try to reprogram Daniel and his friends.
The first strategy is isolation. These young men were probably fifteen years old. They are forced to leave their people and land. They were taken 800 kilometers from home, further away than Melbourne is from Sydney.
Then the second strategy is that they are made to feel dependent on Babylon. These young men were made to be reliant on the king, who feeds them from his own table. With that comes obligations, and the temptation to compromise.
The third strategy is a re-education program. They are enrolled in the University of Babylon for a Bachelor of Babylon. Their indoctrination took three full years. They were not just to learn the Babylonian language but they were to think Babylonian.
The fourth strategy was that Daniel and his friends had their names changed. They were losing their identity. Their new names were used to blot out who they were. They were not just using a new language—it wasn’t as if they were going to be called ‘John’ instead of ‘Giovanni’—but their new names carried the names of the gods of the people who ruled them. Every time they were called by their new Babylonian name, they were reminded that the gods of the Babylonians had been victorious—or so it seemed—over their God, the God of Israel.
But the fifth and most powerful stage in the reprogramming was the pressure of being wooed. They were hand picked for their looks and brains. They were taken under the wing of the most power empire and brought into the world’s top university. It’s hard for someone to keep up their defenses when that happens. Who wants to stands apart? I don’t! Who doesn’t want to feel respected? I do!
I’ve seen so many versions of this. One moment a year 12 student is on fire for Jesus, teaching at kids’ church. Then they move to a new university, take on a new job, and live away from home. They are slow to find a church, and they don’t attend a Christian ministry at university. They are isolated from old Christian friends and lonely, and then they fail to make new Christian friends. They feel like they are the only Christians on campus, and become desperate to fit in. If it’s not the drinking culture and casual sex, it’s the English or Philosophy or Science department teaching that there is no God—which means that there is no right or wrong. And then another soul has fallen for Satan’s oldest trick, for they have been seduced by the lies of the world, having forgotten who really rules this world
(2) Kept from defilement
Immersed in this world, Daniel faced a quota of temptation. First was the temptation to give up, that they realize that their side had lost, and they were in the minority, and so give in and compromise. Second was the temptation for them to think of themselves more highly than they ought—for the moment we realize we are good at something, we become proud. Third was the temptation to be overly impressed by the smart and cool Babylonians. Undoubtedly, the new way of thinking that they were educated in seemed so modern and successful and impressive. Fourth was the temptation to please the king who they could see and not the God who they couldn’t see. It’s the temptation of being in a foreign land without any accountability. They were small in number. Most Jews were still in the Promised Land. Given the amount of pressure Daniel faced to compromise and sell out, we see his determination in Daniel 1:8, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself”.
Here is a young man of God who is well and truly in the world and not of it. Daniel refused to make himself unclean. He would not compromise his love for God. Most of all, he had the wisdom to see through all the smokes and mirrors. When it would have been so easy to say “yes” he chooses to say “no”.
We must pray to see through the lies of world and the half-truths of Satan. For each of us experiences the subtle erosion of our Christian world view by the surrounding pop culture, and we barely notice that it’s happening. We are like the proverbial frog in boiling water—the frog never noticed that he was being boiled alive. We are immersed in a pop culture that is boiling up our loyalty to Jesus. From social media to movies, from songs to sitcoms, from Youtube to Instagram and Facebook, we are slowly being shaped into the patterns of the world. Like a whale opening its mouth to devour tons of plankton, we thoughtlessly devour the values of the world as we amuse ourselves to death. And then one day we wake up and think to ourselves, “I look nothing like the Lord Jesus”.
Now notice how Daniel takes his stand. He is both courageous and wise. He wisely learns where to draw the line. There are lots of questions about why Daniel chose to take his stand over the issue of the food from the king’s table.
Some people make everything an issue as Christians. Daniel could have said “no” to working for the king of Babylon, but he didn’t. Daniel could have said “no” to studying pagan language and wisdom, but he didn’t. Daniel could have said “no” to having a foreign name with a foreign god, but didn’t. What he does say “no” to is seen in Daniel 1:8:
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. (NIV)
Whether the objection was that the meat was unclean and not kosher, or that it had been offered to the idols, or it put them under obligation to the king, is not very clear to me. Daniel doesn’t teach us about why the food would have defiled, but that they refused to compromise before God. What God thinks matters most. Daniel is not just wise but he is courageous.
Some people play it so safe at work and at school with friends they never take any risks for Jesus, and so no one ever knows that they are a Christian. Daniel is both bold but respectful. He asks permission of the royal official to eat only veggies and wine. But the royal official was scared of getting in trouble. Now at this point Daniel could have said, “Well I tried and God closed the door”. But Daniel goes down the food chain and asks the local guard, and so Daniel comes up with a ten day trial. If Daniel and his friends look weakened by his vegetarian diet, then they can call it off. Daniel makes it easy for the guard to take the risk.
After the ten days, the four men not only pass the test, but they look healthier and stronger than the rest. And they have more wisdom. So after three years of study on a diet of brussel sprouts and broccoli, the time comes for the final oral exam by the King, in Daniel 1:19-21:
The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 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. And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus. (NIV)
What makes Daniel wise? He put his trust in the God who rules this world. God is not just the God of the Jews, but the God of heaven and earth. The God who brought the Jews to Babylon is the God who will bring them back home. The God who was with Daniel in exile is the God who turned the heart of the royal official to Daniel. The God who honored Daniel’s faith by allowing him to thrive and grow in wisdom and understanding is the God who would make Daniel outlive four kings and two kingdoms.
What is interesting to me is that Daniel is the only figure in the Old Testament who has no chinks in his armour. You would think Daniel was without sin were it not for his confession in chapter 9, but only the one greater than Daniel, the Lord Jesus, was indeed without sin. Jesus chose to be exiled in our world for our sake. And when Satan the prince of this world tempted Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world, our Lord Jesus refused to defile himself—for God’s kingdom would only come through the cross, and so making us who are unclean now clean. That is what we are in Christ—clean before God.
Now we also resolve to not defile ourselves in all areas of life. We too draw our lines in the sand. We seek to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and to swim against the current of our culture. Friends, even a dead dog can flow with the current. We refuse to believe the lie that we are wiser than God. We side with Jesus against our post-Christian culture.
Listen to how different Jesus is to our world. He says that no one is good except God alone, hell is real and forever, he is the only way to Father, women and men are equal but different, sex is only for a man and a woman who are married, and many are called but few are chosen. We refuse to defile ourselves by believing the lie that we are wiser than God.
It’s hard to hold the minority position. It’s why we need each other. But notice Daniel stands faithful but not alone. He stands with his three friends. Together, all four refuse to compromise. All four were committed to draw a line in the sand. We are better together. We are stronger together. It’s why we meet each week on Sundays and in small groups. For we are living in a world that is not our home. Be assured that you will compromise without fellowship.
How could you not be inspired by that person in your growth group, who went to the pub on a Friday after work with his co-workers, and had only one beer, and when asked why he so limited himself, he shared how Jesus had changed his life.
How could you not be excited when you hear about the university student who opened up about being a Christian in a philosophy tutorial?
Were you not challenged by the mother who resisted playing the gossip game at the playtime group?
Were you not encouraged by the tradie who said to his boss that he would not lie to the customer? Or the businessman who was convicted by the Spirit to finally pay tax? Or the single mum who refused to keep on dating the love of her life because he was not a Christian?
Will you resolve with me that in view of God’s mercy and Christ’s precious death that you will not defile yourself with the world. And when you do compromise, will you commit to not pretending, but instead confess it to our Father and ask our group to pray for us. We will wisely draw that line in the sand so that the world may know that Jesus Christ is Lord and that he is our Lord, to the glory of God the Father.