1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.Daniel 1:1-2
We are certainly living in strange times! It seems that every time we wrap our minds around the way the world is changing, it just changes some more. Fear seems to be the norm and peace seems to be either stuck in 2019 or just beyond our reach in 2021. We have had to survive viruses and murder hornets. And, to top it off, this is an election year!
With the present in such disarray, anxiety regarding the nature of the future is escalating. I talk to at least one person a day who mentions their feelings of uncertainty about the future. Most of them reference how unsure they are about the state of our country and how Christians will navigate this uncharted future.
It is in our nature to fear the unknown. And change is always less than welcome. However, I do not believe that we need to fear. But the fact that we do not have to be afraid does not mean that there will be no trouble. Look at Jesus’ words in John 16:
“In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”John 16:33b
No matter the tribulation that we face, we can “take heart” because Jesus has already won the victory. We can withstand whatever may come so long as we keep our faith and trust in Him alone.
How can we be sure of this? It is because it can be seen in the Word of God. We have examples of people whose faith was put to the test. We can see how they reacted when the times got hard. We can see the substance of their faith, and, hopefully, learn from it and see that sort of faith grow in our own lives.
I can think of no better example of faith under fire than Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They lived under a corrupt government in Judah where even their king – a descendent of David – allowed his heart to lead him on to evil. These young men, along with many others, were kidnapped and sent into captivity in Babylon. They were living in times that were prophesied by Isaiah years before:
“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your father’s have stored up till this day, shall be carried off to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”Isaiah 39:6-7
They had their whole lives torn apart, yet one thing set them apart from the rest – their faith in God! And they followed Him before their time of trial began. Even though they lived long before Paul penned these words to Timothy, they exhibited that God gives us “power and love and self-control” instead of a “spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7). It was because of their standing relationship with the Lord that they survived, and that God received glory and recognition through their lives and actions.
These young men lived through things that I hope we never have to live through. After they were taken from their homes, they had their pasts and their futures stolen from them. All four of these young men had names that proclaimed something about God. Daniel (Hebrew – “God is my judge”) was renamed “Bel protect the king”; Hananiah (Heb. “the Lord is gracious”) was renamed “command of Aku”; Mishael (Heb. “who is like God?”) was renamed “who is what Aku is”; and Azariah (Heb. “the Lord is my helper”) was renamed “servant of Nego/Nebo”. Nebuchadnezzar knew that they were more likely to stray away from God if he isolated them from Him. He could not allow names that reminded them of their faith to get in the way of his own agenda. And he stole their future by having them made eunuchs. The fact that they could trace their lineage all the way back to Adam had become irrelevant since they were most certainly the end of their family trees.
Not only did he remove them from their heritage, but he sought to interrupt the practices of their faith by having them indoctrinated by “the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4) and assigning them a “daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank” (Daniel 1:5). They were being given permission to break the rules. I cannot imagine how appealing this must have seemed to these teenagers; it would be appealing to me as an adult! Their mouths must have been watering as they smelled delicious foods that were forbidden before. And God must have seemed so far away with all the terrible things they were going through. Yet they held on to their faith and the hope that one day Emmanuel (Hebrew – “God with us”) would come and bring the rescue they so desperately hoped for.
Look at the power that their faith held in their lives. “Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank” (Daniel 1:8). He went to his captor – the “chief of the eunuchs” and asked that they be allowed to keep the dietary restrictions from the Law. Literally everyone else was partaking and breaking the Law. They were keeping up with the status quo. They were seeking the opportunities that thriving in Babylon could afford. But “God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” (Daniel 1:9).
It is interesting to me that Daniel did this instead of pursuing that God rescue him from his captivity. We have already seen that it was foretold that all these things would occur and can reasonably assume that Daniel and his friends were familiar with Isaiah’s prophecy. So, rather than seek out comfort for themselves, they sought to glorify God with their lives by being obedient to His Word where they were. God gave them “favor” but it is vastly different than what we hear today. God’s “favor” helped them to be faithful to Him amid the trial. When everyone around them was compromising, they were holding fast to the promise. And that promise was more powerful than their fear of Nebuchadnezzar. They were living out Psalm 119:38: “Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared”.
These young men give us such a good example of faith. The circumstances that we are confronted with pale in comparison to what these teenagers faced. Yet there is coming a day when we may have to deal with similar things. In fact, there are places in the world where this is already the case. I think that Sinclair Ferguson says it better than I can:
“The same pattern employed by Nebuchadnezzar to draw Daniel away from the Lord is employed all around us today: isolation from God’s influence to produce holiness in our lives; indoctrination with the worldly ways of thinking (of course, we do not share all of the world’s conclusions, but too often we think about everything in the same way and operate with the same value system – how many of us would rather die for the glory of God than live halfheartedly for Him in a measure of comfort?); compromise with the riches of this world instead of…’solid joys and lasting treasures’…; confusion about our own identity and purpose.”
I realize that this probably seems like a lot of bad news. And I know that the tone of today’s devotion is heavier than usual. But there is coming a time when we will wish that we had been faithful in the easier times. Let me assure you of this: the good news vastly outweighs the bad.
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were right where God wanted them to be. When you look at the end of Daniel 1, you see clearly that God blessed their faithfulness to Him, and, even though He did not send them home, they were in a position so that many people – their kinsmen and Babylonians alike – could hear the truths about God. Their continued faithfulness during their trials showed the eternal value of following after the Lord. And no matter how faithful we are or are not to Him, He is always faithful to His people. It has been foretold:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”Isaiah 43:1b-3a
That’s good news!
“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”Deuteronomy 31:8
 Sinclair Ferguson, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 21: Daniel