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Our World Looks More Like Babylon Everyday: Three Lessons From the Life of Daniel

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Our World Looks More Like Babylon Everyday

Three Lessons From the Life of Daniel

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We live in extraordinary times, don’t we? It feels like we are living at an inflection point in history.

Refugees are flooding into Europe to escape the bloodiest civil war in recent memory. ISIS is gaining traction across the Middle East. Russia has begun flexing its muscle on the world scene, more overtly opposing Western priorities. The United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage this past summer. World economies continue to be uncertain and in need of intervention.

We look around, and as people who have chosen to follow God, our world feels more and more alien to us. Maybe once, a generation or two ago, we could feel a bit more at ease among our neighbors, peers and coworkers, because most of them shared values similar to ours. But the world is becoming more and more like that great system that opposes God. It’s a system we know will exist in the time of the end: Babylon.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the prophet Daniel. Like us, he lived at a time of a major inflection point in history—and he came through it with great faith. In fact, he lived through two major takeovers by world empires in his lifetime. He grew up in Jerusalem in the service of the royal family before he was deported to Babylon, where he eventually became a high official. Many years later, he was present when Persia conquered Babylon.

I have been thinking about Daniel because, in some ways, among all the men and women of the Bible, it was his whose life circumstances most resemble our own today. He didn’t live in Israel like most in the Old Testament. He didn’t live in a Jewish community of believers like most in the New Testament. Instead, he was nearly alone (with only three friends of like mind who are named in Scripture) in a culture both foreign to him and resistant to God.

More and more, our world looks like his world of Babylon. Reading Daniel’s story can be incredibly inspiring in times like these because not only did he live in the very seat of the Beast power, he even worked directly for its king at times in his life. Yet he maintained his righteousness (Daniel 6:10). 

Let’s consider three lessons from the life of Daniel that we can apply today in our own lives.

For us today, we have to realize that God’s way of life is counter-cultural. And we have to have the courage to stand up for what we know is right as the situation around us gets more and more foreign to our values. 

1. Daniel Followed the Beat of His Own Drum in a Culture Alien to Him

Daniel was among the young men of the nobility of Jerusalem who were selected to be trained for the service of King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:1-4). As part of that deal, they got a portion of the king’s food (verse 5), which we can ascertain was largely unclean because it tells us that “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” (emphasis added throughout).

The time frame of this situation is what amazes me because it doesn’t seem like Daniel was in Babylon for very long when this happened. I don’t know about you, but whenever I find myself in a new situation, I tend to go with the flow. I try to observe and follow what everyone else is doing until I get a feel for my surroundings. Then once I get the lay of the land, I can decide what to do.

But in the case of Daniel, even before he had much time to figure things out, he did the right thing. Most people might compromise once, feel bad about it and make a plan in order not to compromise a second time. But Daniel acted first so he would not find himself in that situation at all. You have to wonder how many other Jewish youths besides Daniel and his three friends were there. They aren’t mentioned and I’m guessing most of them didn’t have the courage to stand up for what was right when they were thrust into a situation alien to them.

For us today, we have to realize that God’s way of life is counter-cultural. And we have to have the courage to stand up for what we know is right as the situation around us gets more and more foreign to our values. We will be thrown into new situations every day. Our light can either shine, or we can hide it under a box by going with the flow.

2. Daniel Worked as if it Were All Up to Him, but He Prayed as if it Were All Up to God

In the next chapter of Daniel, it tells the story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Either because he forgot it by the next morning or because he felt like going on a crazy power trip, he asked all the magicians and wise men not only to interpret the dream but to tell him what it was about in the first place. Obviously nobody could do that, so he ordered that they all be put to death. Picking up the story: “So the decree went out, and they began killing the wise men; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them. Then with counsel and wisdom Daniel answered Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon; he answered and said to Arioch the king’s captain, ‘Why is the decree from the king so urgent?’ Then Arioch made the decision known to Daniel. So Daniel went in and asked the king to give him time, that he might tell the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went to his house, and made the decision known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, that they might seek mercies from the God of heaven concerning this secret, so that Daniel and his companions might not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon” (Daniel 2:13-18).

What is amazing to me here is that when Daniel heard there was a dream to be interpreted and he was going to die, he went to the king to ask for time before he knew God would answer his prayer. It turned out well because it happened that the dream was from God, and making the interpretation known was part of His plan. But Daniel didn’t know that at the time. Yet he took that bold step in faith.

Now back in chapter one, where it said the group of young men from Jerusalem that Daniel was part of were “young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand” (Daniel 1:4). It also says God gave Daniel and his three friends “knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” So Daniel had been educated and had wisdom—talents given by God that he had developed through education and training. In particular, he had been given the ability to understand dreams and visions. So when it came to this moment with the king’s dream, it wasn’t his first dream-interpreting rodeo. But it doesn’t matter how well you can interpret a dream if you don’t know what the dream was in the first place. He had to rely on God to show him. So he and his friends prayed and fasted.

The lesson for us today is that we should be developing the talents God has given us, and be using them every day. Not only that, we should be well-versed in God’s Word, which contains the words of life and true wisdom. We must be living its teachings day in and day out, being an example even when nobody’s looking. When a problem or issue arises, we can put those skills, that wisdom, that knowledge and that training to use to solve it.

But even if our skills are more than matched to a task at hand, we should ask God for His help. He can reveal things we might not think of. And when we aren’t sure whether we are suited to a task or are qualified to tackle a problem, He can use us in ways we wouldn’t dream of—and we must be open to that with faith and courage.

Think about it: We have the Holy Spirit! We understand spiritual mysteries that Daniel had a glimpse of in vision! God’s very essence and power has been given to us. We can boldly stand before men in the strength of that power.

3. When Daniel Experienced Fear, He Chose to Act in Faith Instead of Succumbing to That Fear

Think about all the stories of Daniel. Put yourself in those situations. He approached the master of the eunuchs to ask for an exception in their meals when he first was deported to Babylon. He approached the captain of the guard, and then the king himself, in only his second year living there to ask for time to know and then interpret a dream. Much later, as an old man, he prayed to God with his windows open when it was illegal to do so in Persia (Daniel 6:11).

These are scary situations. Situations that would require courage to do what was right. I have no doubt his heart was racing when he was thrown into the den of lions. I’m certain he was scared when, as a teenager, he had to ask his Babylonian task master for an exception in his diet.

We will always experience fear—the fear of dying or being hurt, the fear of the unknown, the fear of what someone else will think, the fear of what failing would look like, the fear of what succeeding would look like, the fear of being humiliated in front of everybody else, the fear of being left out.

Fear is natural and can even be good sometimes. But we can learn from Daniel that when it comes to doing what’s right. We should choose to look that fear in the eyes and overcome it with faith. We should choose not to succumb to that fear but instead to boldly act with faith knowing that God will back us up.

As Azariah, Mishael and Hananiah said before they were thrown into the fiery furnace, "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up." (Daniel 3:17-18). Even if we aren’t asked to worship a gigantic, pagan gold idol in a literal sense like they were, doing what’s right at pain of punishment or humiliation still takes character and courage.

In our day-in, day-out lives, the people surrounding us may or may not share values similar to ours. After an incredible Feast of Tabernacles where we fellowshiped with and strengthened our relationships with God’s people, we might feel a little bit alien back in the grind—a little bit out of step with everybody else. But remember when situations arise that challenges us to do what’s right: Our light can either shine, or we can hide it under a box by going with the flow. 

Will you be like Daniel?