Let’s take a little time to reflect on the importance of some familiar biblical heroes. For instance, what do these names have in common: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Daniel and Paul? What about Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, Esther and Mary Magdalene? When we hear these names, do we think of spiritual faithfulness? Of course—we should hold them in the highest regard!
Some of these names stand out, because God used them to serve at various levels of influence in worldly institutions. Separated by several hundred years, Joseph and, later, Moses, served in the administration of the Kingdom of Egypt. Also, Queen Esther and Mary Magdalene each served two different kings: Esther helped save her people by marrying Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) of Persia, and Mary served Jesus, the One—the only—coming King of Kings.
However, one other biblical hero from the list above deserves our careful study. Centuries before Jesus Christ ever prayed that His disciples would function in, but not be of, the world (John 17:15), the prophet Daniel was a teenage Jewish captive, taken by King Nebuchadnezzar’s army to Babylon around 605 B.C. His world abruptly pivoted due to forces beyond his control, and he became a servant who now had a different name. How would he react? With the cultural forces at work around you in 2022, how will you choose to respond?
Daniel Knew How To React
The first chapter of Daniel’s story makes it abundantly clear that he and his three friends saw themselves as significantly different from their Babylonian captors. But submission was the Babylonian way: “to the victor belong the spoils.” We learn in Daniel 1:7 that Nebuchadnezzar’s palace manager gave Daniel the new name “Belteshazzar,” which means “Bel protects the king’s life” (Bel, from Baal meaning “lord,” was the Babylonian god who managed order in the universe). Despite their new names, Daniel and his three friends—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—simply would not eat or drink the unclean “delicacies” from Nebuchadnezzar’s kitchens. After a few trial weeks of a more wholesome diet of vegetables and water, this band of brothers watched the king’s chamberlain (his palace manager) approve their dietary change (Daniel 1:17). Daniel’s obedience to God in negotiating this privilege helped set the stage for his unparalleled record of public service over roughly the next 70 years.
And what an amazing 70 years it was! Serving multiple kings (Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar of Babylon, Cyrus the Persian, and Darius the Mede), Daniel had a head for business and developed various aptitudes in administration. Nebuchadnezzar rapidly promoted him to chief coordinator of all the provincial governors in Babylon, a leadership which continued throughout the Medo-Persian empire (Daniel 2:48; 6:2). Perhaps even more remarkable was that, when required, Daniel requested of God in humble prayer that He be able to interpret significant dreams and signs for the kings he served (witness the golden statue from chapter 2, the tall tree of chapter 4 and the writing finger in chapter 5).
Babylon, God’s Symbol for Worldly Captivity
Like Daniel, you and I live as captives in a corrupted reincarnation of Babylon. The name Babylon derives from babel, meaning “a confused medley of sounds.” One important biblical reference to Babylon is: “Come out of her my people” (Revelation 18:4). This encourages us to manage the confusing cultural noise that surrounds us. God commands us, His people, to come out; but how do we do that? For instance, there are many forms of captivity that Christians currently navigate in Western society: political captivity (governments with unrighteous leadership), religious captivity (a common calendar with pagan holidays) and financial captivity (capricious taxation systems). How can Daniel’s example help us cope with our Babylon?
Anticipating the advice of our Savior—“render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” from Mark 12:13-17—Daniel rendered unto the kings he served the things which pertained to those kings, but he always saved his best for God. His captors required that he serve with his mind and body, which he did only up to the point of violating his loyalty to God (let’s remember his harrowing night in the lions’ den from Daniel 6). Despite how long ago Daniel lived, he consistently serves as a surprisingly current example of self-control, in the way he responded to cultural change when he was a teenager.
As Our World Pivots, We Also Have Help
And what cultural change we are enduring! Every day, the news is filled with more startling ways in which Satan controls human behavior. Like robots, so many people around us relentlessly pursue their obsession with immorality: abortion, gender fluidity, mass shootings, same-sex marriage . . . the list seems endless. A host of voices dominate our news feeds and social media: activist journalists and self-indulgent influencers who insist on keeping their audiences agitated, because they know only the hive-mind of Satan the devil. Is anyone’s sanity safe in our times? Is God available to us? Like Daniel, the answer lies between our ears: we must choose to accept the sound mind of Jesus Christ. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
Throughout the Bible, God’s continued references to the incentive for striving after His righteousness (the desire for the Kingdom of God) should keep all of us disciples motivated (Matthew 6:33). According to the apostle Paul in Romans 10:9, 15 (quoting from Isaiah 52:7), those who share and live according to the gospel are beautiful to God. In Revelation 22:14, our Savior promises a reward to those who resist assimilation into Babylon. God has given those who seek Him the spirit of a sound mind, to accomplish this long-term assignment of living among all the confusing voices (2 Timothy 1:7). It’s also worth noting that because God takes no delight in followers who won’t confront the world, He has great praise for those who encourage and strengthen others to persevere (Hebrews 10:35-38; James 5:19-20).
Decades ago, I made the choice to pursue Daniel’s careful example of being in, but not of, the world. Will you join me in aspiring to be like Daniel?