************ Sermon on Daniel 1:17-21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 21, 2006
"God's Preservation of His People"
At the beginning of our Bible reading for today we see Nebuchadnezzar's plan. After he besieged and conquered Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar commanded his chief official, Ashpenaz, to pick out and send to Babylon some of the sons of Israel. But Ashpenaz was not to pick out just any boys, oh no; rather, he was to pick out young boys from the royal family and the nobility of Israel who someday would undoubtedly hold positions of leadership among the Jewish people. Ashpenaz was commanded to pick out Israel's future judges, governors, mayors, rabbis, generals, and kings (cf Dan 1:3,4).
Ashpenaz's job was to inject the heathen Babylonian spirit into the hearts and minds of Israelite youth who had been imported from Jerusalem. These children of the covenant were to become totally Babylonian in their outlook and conduct. They were to be completely captivated by the Babylonian culture, religion, language, thought forms, and way of life.
At stake was the very name of God. Nebuchadnezzar's intent was to remove all mention and even memory of God. God was to be forgotten by those Jewish youths. He was to be relegated to nothingness; He was to be dismissed as being irrelevant; He was to be shoved away as being of no consequence or importance.
Also at stake here was the very existence of God's people themselves. If King Nebuchadnezzar succeeded in winning over the hearts, minds, and souls of the future Jewish leaders, 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.
For Nebuchadnezzar to achieve these goals Daniel and his friends had to assume heathen names, eat Babylonian food, and be trained in the language and literature of the Chaldeans.
Today's passage shows us that despite Satan's best efforts through Nebuchadnezzar – and don't forget, congregation, that the Nebuchadnezzars of this world are but tools or instruments of Satan – despite Satan's best efforts, God preserved for Himself both His name and His people in the midst of heathen Babylon.
I God's Gifts Preserved Daniel and His Friends
A Our text tells us that to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah "God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning" (Dan 1:17).
Don't forget, Daniel and the other youths were to be trained in the culture, religion, language, thought forms, and way of life of the Chaldeans.
Obviously, the four youths worked diligently at their studies, doing their homework, learning their lessons, listening to their teachers. Scripture, in verse 17, indicates to us that they learned to read and write the Babylonian language. They learned the science, astrology, magic, engineering, and mathematics of the Babylonians. They were instructed in the sacred books, rites, and practices of the Babylonian religion. After three years of studying and learning all this they were ready to enter the service of the king.
The king himself was very pleased with how these four learned their studies.
(Dan 1:19-20) The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's service. (20) 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.
Perhaps you are wondering if the four young men did the right thing. By learning all this, weren't Daniel and his friends selling out their faith? In response, we can point to the example of Moses who "was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22). On account of his education Moses was later able to converse with and challenge Pharaoh, his advisors, and his magicians. Now, just as it was necessary for Moses to be versed in all the wisdom and knowledge of Egypt, so it was necessary for Daniel and his friends to be deeply versed in all the wisdom and knowledge of Babylon. This was necessary, or else they would never have served Nebuchadnezzar; nor, or course, would they have had the opportunity to testify to and serve the Lord in Nebuchadnezzar's court. God, in His wisdom, wanted and placed servants of His in the midst of the world's most powerful heathen court.
B "To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning." Scripture has more in mind here than education, knowledge, facts, and book-knowledge. The four young men were also given discernment. These boys were given the ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood; they were able to accept what was true and to reject what was false in their instruction. This discernment enabled the boys to remain true to their faith.
That the boys did not accept the superstitious and false elements of their instruction is shown by their refusal to bow before the image of gold set up by King Nebuchadnezzar and their refusal to pray to King Darius (Daniel 3 & 6). It's because of their discernment that the boys refused to eat the food and drink the wine of the king's table. "Go ahead," they were told, "eat and drink. It won't hurt you." But these boys knew they would be defiling themselves – that they would be eating food forbidden by the Law, that they would be participating in the worship of pagan gods. The episodes about the king's food, the blazing furnace, and the lions' den, testify to their continuing faith in the God of their fathers.
C In addition to learning and discernment Daniel could also "understand visions and dreams of all kinds" (Dan 1:17).
Dreams and visions played an important role in the ancient world. It was believed that through them the gods passed on messages about the future. Consider, for a moment, Joseph's dream about his brothers' sheaves of grain bowing before his sheaf of grain or his dream about the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down before him (Gen 37); or the dream of Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker (Gen 40); or Pharaoh's dream about the seven fat and the seven skinny cows (Gen 41); or Nebuchadnezzar's dream about the statue (Dan 2) and the tree (Dan 4). In each instance, the dream revealed something of the future.
All these dreams, we know, came from the Lord God. The one true God made use of dreams and visions to reveal the future and to make known His will to true prophets (Num 12:1-8).
It is certainly true that Daniel himself possessed the ability to see visions and dreams, as chapter 7ff shows us, but here we are told that Daniel also has the ability to understand dreams and visions. To Daniel was given the ability to tell whether a vision was from God and thus true, or whether it was mere invention of the mind of man. More than that, God gave him the ability to interpret the dreams and visions of others.
Like Joseph, Daniel had to live in an atmosphere where stress was laid upon dreams. So, like Joseph, he was given the power to understand and interpret the meaning of dreams. And, as with Joseph, this ability elevated Daniel to the highest corridors of power within the kingdom (Dan 2:48, 49; 6:28; cf Gen 41:41).
D The main point of our passage is that it is God Who gave the four young men the learning and discernment they needed so they did not depart from the truth and remained faithful to the faith of their fathers and were able to serve the king. Furthermore, it is God Who gave Daniel the ability to discern and interpret dreams – an ability which in turn elevated him to the highest corridors of power.
The great theme of our passage is that God upholds and governs all things – including the lives of these four boys – so that nothing happens by chance but comes only from His Fatherly hand.
Congregation, do you see what God was doing here? He was taking the steps necessary to preserve for Himself both His name and His people in the midst of heathen Babylon. Through Ashpenaz and Nebuchadnezzar, Satan tried his best to destroy the name and people of God. He was crafty and sly, a wolf dressed in sheep's clothing, trying to make the boys desert God and conform to the patterns of this age. With many of Israel's youth Satan undoubtedly succeeded; with these four he failed – not because their faith was stronger, not because their upbringing was better, not because their intelligence was higher – but because God has reserved and preserved these four for Himself to testify to and serve Him in heathen Babylon.
God preserved for Himself four witnesses to His name in the midst of the kingdom of darkness.
II God Preserved Daniel for Eighty Years
A Our text says, "And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus" (Dan 1:21). Satan's plan was to see to it that Daniel did not remain – at least, not as a witness to the Lord.
God preserved Daniel there in Babylon so that not even the gates of hell could prevail against him. King Nebuchadnezzar had such a clever plan to get rid of the name and people of the Lord. But this plan came to nothing. Daniel remained in Babylon for 80 years as witness to and servant of the Lord.
Daniel arrived in Babylon as a 14-year-old boy and remained there until he was an old man of 90. King Nebuchadnezzar was long gone by then. Also gone was his mighty empire, the great Babylon he had built. But Daniel remained. Nebuchadnezzar's successors came and went, Belshazzar and Darius to name only two – but Daniel remained. World empires rose and fell – but Daniel remained. He was still there in the first year of King Cyrus.
B "And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus" (Dan 1:21). Do you know what is significant about this? Do you remember what happened in the first year of King Cyrus? It was in that year that an edict was issued by Cyrus allowing the exiles to return to their own land and to even rebuild the temple of the Lord.
This means that Daniel lived in Babylon through the whole period of the Exile. During that entire time he was a witness to and servant of the Lord. During that time Satan tried to destroy God's people through the re-education of the youth, through the fiery furnace, through the savage lions in their den. But all these efforts failed. Daniel lived, witnessed, and testified through it all. All those storms broke over his head. The gates of hell tried their utmost. But Daniel remains. He is preserved. He lives to see the name and people of God being restored to the Promised Land.
C How is this of any concern to us, the New Testament church? This matters to us, congregation, because the enemy of God's people continues to be Satan. And, through modern-day Nebuchadnezzars, Satan continues to try to remove the name and people of God from the world. Look, for instance, at how successful Satan is today in making the practice of religion a private matter with no effect on public life. Or, look at how much of public life today is conducted without reference to God. Or, look at how Satan has succeeded in removing all mention of values from the public school system. Or, look at Satan's success in making Sunday just like any other day. Or, look at Satan's success and cleverness in the abortion issue. Satan has pretty well succeeded in replacing all mention of God with the religion of secular humanism. From the TV set and magazines in most of our homes he tries to get us and our children to conform to the patterns of this world – and often succeeds. As in the days of Daniel, Satan especially loves to prey on our children and youth – for if he can succeed with them, 25 years from now our line of the covenant will disappear.
Daniel remained. He is preserved. This is an historical fact. For the church this is a fact of the utmost significance. The church of all ages is promised that whatever storms Satan may send, the gates of hell will not prevail. The tricks and plots of the rulers and peoples of this earth will never destroy the church. Even if places of worship are plundered and believers are thrown into prisons or concentration camps, even then Satan will not win.
Why is this the case? Not because the church is so holy and righteous. Not because the church's faith is so pure and strong. Not because the consistory keeps such a diligent watch over the flock. Not because we parents do such a good job in bringing up our children. Not because we are filled with such love, harmony, and unity.
The church is preserved only because of God's power and grace.
For almost 150 years Satan has thrown his attacks at the Christian Reformed Church. For some 15 years the gates of hell have attacked the Trinity United Reformed Church. Yes, there have been and there still continue to be problems. The church on this earth is never perfect. Often times we may wonder, "how can the church survive?" Yet, God sees her through all trials and gives her many triumphs.
Indeed, just as Daniel was preserved until the time of Cyrus, so too the church will be preserved. Like Daniel, the church will live to see the day of deliverance – the day when the King of kings and the Lord of lords proclaims the edict of everlasting deliverance. That's the promise our merciful Father gives us.
This is the message of Daniel in today's passage: the Lord preserves His name and people. This applies to the church as a whole. Whether it applies to the Trinity United Reformed Church or to each one of us as individuals depends on whether we, like Daniel, have a true and living faith in the Lord.
D Satan's plan was to stamp out the name and people of the Lord. They were to be swallowed up in the heathen Babylonian culture. Yet, many years later it became obvious that the opposite happened.
I am quoting now from the familiar story narrated by Matthew:
(Mat 2:1-2) After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem (2) and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."How in the world could those astrologers from the East have concluded that the star they saw was Christ's star, the star signaling the birth of the "king of the Jews"? And why would that even be of interest to them?
It all makes sense when we recall that Daniel, through the Lord's directing and guiding hand, was put in charge of Babylon's wise men – including her astrologers (cf Dan 2:48). From Daniel, Babylon's wise men heard of a coming King and Kingdom. Daniel prophesied to them of a star that would come out of Jacob, a scepter that will rise out of Israel (Num 24:17). And, what is more, this testimony of Daniel must even have been written down in the ancient Sumerian writings that were used for study, learning, and consultation so that some 600 years later wise men from the east would know of the coming Christ.
Who could ever imagine that?! God defeated Satan with his own weapons. King Nebuchadnezzar commanded that the four Jewish boys be brought up in the wisdom of the Chaldeans so that they would learn to bow before the gods of Babylon. Instead, God so arranged things that because of Daniel's place among the astrologers, wise men from the East would later come and bow down to the Christ. What divine irony: the Chaldeans were supposed to draw Daniel away from God; instead, Daniel drew the Chaldeans to God.
Because of God's preserving power, those four youths succeeded in beating back Satan's attack. More than that, they went on the offensive and testified to God. They themselves did not live to see the beautiful sight of the wise men who knelt in adoration before the Savior. But of this there can be no doubt: the seed they scattered germinated and took root.
Because of God's preserving power we too can succeed in beating back Satan's attacks. More than that, we too can serve the Lord in all of life and testify of Him before those who do not know Him.
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