************ Sermon on Daniel 1:1-7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 20, 2005
"Assimilated by the World"
With apologies to Jean, I want to say this morning that children and young people are important. They are so important that at this very moment there is a war going on over them: God wants to keep them in His arms, Satan wants to take them away. There is a war going on for their souls. We see that so clearly already in the opening verses of Daniel.
I The Great Antithesis
A We are told that Jehoiakim king of Judah, the articles of the temple, and the young men of Judah were carried off to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. I don't know if you noticed the footnote on the bottom of your pew Bible. It tells us that the Hebrew word for Babylon is "Shinar." It was on the plains of Shinar that mankind arose in opposition to God and declared,
(Gen 11:4) "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." And, in the vision of Zechariah, Shinar is the place to which wickedness is banished (Zech 5:11).
Do you see the antithesis, the struggle, between God and Satan here? What belongs to God – the king, the temple articles, the covenant youth – are put in a setting opposed to God.
What we see in the first three verses, then, is not just a battle between Jerusalem and Babylon, but a battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, the church and the world, the Christ and the Antichrist. Jerusalem, especially the New Jerusalem, is the city of God; it is the capital of the kingdom of heaven. Babylon, on the other hand, is the headquarters of the kingdom of darkness. Jerusalem versus Babel or Babylon is the great opposition that has dominated world history throughout the ages.
B Scripture makes clear to us that the people of God are involved, they are participants, in this struggle between Jerusalem and Babel. None of us are mere bystanders. What may be surprising to you is that covenant youth – children and young people – are also involved. We look at Daniel and his three friends. They are only boys, 11-14 years old, yet they bear the brunt of Satan's attack against God – an attack made not by force but by cunning. The plan was to gently win them for Babylon, to transform them step-by-step until they were completely captivated by the Babylonish culture, religion, language, thought forms, and way of life.
These boys would have to be on their guard, then.
And, children and youth in our time must watch out as well. You young people who professed your faith, there is a whole world out there which loves nothing better than to take you away from Christ and the church and getting you to conform to the ways and patterns of this wicked age we live in. So you have to be on your guard. And, Danny & Erin, Eric & Dena, you as parents cannot be asleep either. In our time, as in Daniel's days, the Nebuchadnezzars of this world are more interested in stealing people than temple treasures. And, they take a special interest in young people and children. For, whoever succeeds in winning over the youth wins over the nation and eventually the world.
C In telling us about this struggle, this antithesis, between God and Satan – and our involvement and our participation in it – the book of Daniel, right from the start, gives us a message of hope and comfort. It makes clear to us that God is in control, that He is supreme.
Look at verse 2. Scripture tells us that it was the Lord Who delivered Jehoiakim, the temple vessels, and the young men of Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. It was God Who permitted this action by Nebuchadnezzar – for the good of His people. Nebuchadnezzar was not conscious of the fact, yet he was but an instrument in the hands of God.
Over and over again the Book of Daniel sounds forth this theme: that God is sovereign, that He is supreme, that He is in control, that He can be trusted. More than once, for instance, Nebuchadnezzar is moved to declare about God,
(Dan 4:3,34) "His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation."And King Darius, he wrote to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language throughout the land:
(Dan 6:26) "I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. "For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end."
II The Attempt at Transforming the Boys
A King Nebuchadnezzar's chief official is Ashpenaz. The king ordered Ashpenaz to pick out Israelites
(Dan 1:3-4) ... from the royal family and the nobility-- (4) 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.Ashpenaz, in other words, was to pick out the cream of the crop; he was to pick out those young men who someday would hold positions of leadership among the Jewish people. These young men are the future judges, governors, mayors, rabbis, generals, and kings of Judah and Israel.
Daniel and his three friends are included in this elite group of boys.
B It is completely natural that king Nebuchadnezzar is interested in these future leaders of the people, for what can a nation accomplish when its leading citizens are taken away? But Nebuchadnezzar does not stop there: deporting the future leaders is not enough; not at all.
Ashpenaz's job was to inject the heathen Babylonian spirit into the hearts and minds of the Israelite youth who had been imported from Jerusalem. These children of the covenant were supposed to become totally Babylonian in their outlook and conduct. They were to be completely captivated by the Babylonish culture, religion, language, thought forms, and way of life. Their wills were to be bent, their minds were to be reshaped – which is a definite possibility with youth of that age. I am sure that those of you who have lived through World War II remember how the Nazis often succeeded in shaping the minds and bending the wills of children. And, through their youth organizations, the communists tried the same thing.
C What would have happened if the king had succeeded in turning these leading sons of Judah into Babylonians in body and mind and spirit? What would have happened if they had become Chaldeans and had been alienated from the culture, religion, language, thought forms, and way of life of their own people?
I'll tell you what would have happened.
These boys would have gone back to their people as adults and, in their positions of leadership, have exercised a pagan influence on the other Israelites. And, it would be but a short time before the Jewish nation, the people of the Lord, were completely swallowed up by the powerful Babylonian empire. The Jews would be digested and assimilated and no longer separate or different.
That was the goal: to make Israel Babylonian!
D Notice how Nebuchadnezzar attempts to win the boys over. Does he lock them up in a prison camp? Of course not! That would only have hardened their resolve and produced a harvest of resentment. Rather, the Jewish youths were brought to Nebuchadnezzar's court where they were accepted and treated as princes. There they were pampered, fed and clothed not as prisoners but as important people in the kingdom.
Ashpenaz doesn't leave it there either. He laid out a course of study for the next three years in order to completely reeducate the boys. They were trained in the sacred Sumerian language – which is the language of the Babylonian religion – and thus also in the sacred myths and rituals that went along with it.
Even the boys' physical nourishment was prescribed: "The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table" (vs 5). The object was not that these boys should enjoy every possible comfort and live a life of luxury in the palace. Rather, the object was that everything in the lives of these boys was to be transformed, including their diet. They would have to make a radical break with their past. Those old-fashioned Jewish regulations about food would be cast aside – together with all the other customs and habits of their fathers. The last threads tying them to their own people would have to be cut – even the kinds of food and drink they consumed.
E It was Ashpenaz's task, then, to transform everything in the lives of Daniel and his three companions. It is in this light that we are to look at the name changes listed in our text of verse 7.
Daniel and his friends were given heathen names in exchange for their covenantal names associated with the one only true God. The names given to them were formed partly from the names of Babylonian idols, in order that their transformation might become complete. Daniel, meaning "God has judged," received the name Belteshazzar, formed from Bel, the name of the chief god of the Babylonians. Hananiah, meaning "Yahweh has been gracious," received the name Shadrach. Mishael, meaning "Who is what God is?," received the name Meshach. And, Azariah, meaning "Yahweh has helped," had his name changed to Abednego, meaning "servant of Nego or Nebo," the name of the second main god of the Babylonians. In each case the name change has the effect of obliterating the name of the one true God. You see, all references to God must be removed. Here too the design of the king was to lead these youths away from the culture, religion, language, thought forms, and way of life of the chosen people.
This reminds me of the name changes in the Soviet Union after the Revolution. The old Russian city of St. Petersburg was renamed Leningrad. Another Russian city became Stalingrad and has since been renamed again. Are these changes insignificant? Not in the least! Every single thing that reminded people of the old regime had to disappear. Therefore the names of streets, squares, and cities were changed. And, for this same reason the names of the 4 boys also had to be changed.
Ashpenaz, then, left nothing to chance. He laid out just what the boys were to study, what they were to believe, what they were to eat, and how they were to eat. He even changed their names. It was all part of the plan to turn them into heathen, godless Babylonians.
After three years of this the boys were supposed to enter the service of the king as officials in his realm.
III The Contemporary Situation
A We all know, I am sure, that our sons and daughters are also members of a "royal family." As we saw this morning at baptism, they are separate and special, devoted to God and His service, important members of His household and family.
Now, what Satan tried to do to Daniel and his companions he also tries to do to our Christian youth. Through the many Nebuchadnezzars of this world Satan makes many attempts to secularize the royal youth of the church; he makes many attempts to make them breathe the spirit of the world. He wants them to become like the world in terms of culture, religion, language, thought forms, and way of life.
What is his goal? It is obvious, isn't it? He wants them to eventually exercise a pagan influence on the church and kingdom. Don't forget, upon our children and youth lies the future of the church. Many of them will be future leaders within the church. Satan wants to use them as future Sunday School and Catechism teachers, as future Christian school teachers, as future elders and deacons and ministers, as future leaders among God's people, to exercise a pagan influence upon the church so that she will disappear.
B I think you all know and realize that the Babylonian system of public education with its goal of an all pervading secularism has been established and is even flourishing in our country. Our public school system in many places has removed all mention of God's name. And, all day long in school attempts are made to secularize the youth, to make them breathe the spirit of the world.
Consider, for instance, that in most public schools history is taught without any mention being made of the God who providentially controls all things or without any mention being made of the crucial role played by the church or the Christian religion at different times. Evolution is taught as fact and creationism and "intelligent design" are not even presented as an alternative position. Sex education, health, and social studies are presented neutrally, value-free, without any moral content – meaning, of course, that they teach a basic immorality.
The implications of this are obvious, aren't they? Our royal children and youth need a Christian, Christ-centered, God-glorifying education. Together with the Christian home and Christian church, the Christian school is one way that parents hope to equip and protect God's children from Satan's attempts to make them breathe and live the spirit of this world. Other ways to protect our children and youth are through prayer, Bible reading, youth group, Christian friends, and a desire to follow God's will.
C Of course, no one is ever safe from Satan's attacks. No one is ever completely away from the process of secularization. Christian young people are bombarded from every side – including those in Christian schools.
Our children and youth are under attack. Consider, for a moment, what we find in the typical family room of all of our homes. In one corner stands a sacred idol of wood, plastic, glass, and metal – the TV set. In many of our homes it feeds our children and youth a mindless menu of sex, money, violence, and worldliness for up to five hours per day. In another corner we can find the latest glossy issue of National Geographic – an informative and colorful magazine but thoroughly evolutionistic in perspective. Of course, Time, Newsweek, and other magazines also come into our homes with their thorough going secularism. I have not yet mentioned the DVD, the daily newspaper, the radio, the MP3 player, the interent – all of which are also used by the devil in his attack against the children of God.
Our children and youth are under attack. Everyone wants to get a piece of them. For instance, the New-Age Movement has an army just waiting to get hold of our children and youth. The gay-rights movement in this country wants nothing more than to make a generation of children think homosexuality is an acceptable alternative life-style. Advertisers on Saturday-morning cartoons want to influence our kids. Heavy-metal rock bands are trying to influence them. Those in favor of abortion rights want to get our kids thinking from their point-of-view. Drug dealers, beer companies, cigarette manufacturers, pornography publishers – the list goes on and on – they too are battling for the souls of our children and youth.
Almost everywhere we turn we see modern-day Nebuchadnezzars trying to turn the minds of our children from serving our God. Everywhere and from every direction, our children and youth come under attack, even as Daniel and his friends came under attack.
So I say to our children and youth: be on your guard, keep watch. And to their parents I say: wake up, open your eyes to what is going on in your own home and family.
Satan's goal is to get our children and youth to conform to the ways and patterns of this wicked age we live in. But Paul presents another alternative. He says,
(Rom 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
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