Be Strong and of Good Courage (Preparing Our Children for the Nations)


Be Strong and of Good Courage (Preparing Our Children for the Nations)

Daniel 1:1-21

Main Idea: Even in times of great trial and opposition, Christians must remain faithful to God and his gospel, imitating Christ’s own steadfastness as he endured persecution and death for our sakes.

  1. God May Sovereignly Send You to a Difficult Place to Spread His Name among the Nations (1:1-3).
    1. God works in spite of the sins of his people (1:1-2).
    2. God works as he scatters his people (1:3).
  2. Be Prepared for the Challenges Non-Christian Cultures Will Throw at You to Lead You Away from God (1:3-7).
    1. Isolation (1:3)
    2. Indoctrination (1:4)
    3. Assimilation (1:5)
    4. Confusion (1:6-7)
  3. Determine Early in Your Life and Heart That You Will Not Compromise Your Convictions and Commitments to God (1:8-13).
    1. Resist the temptation to defile yourself (1:8).
    2. Win the favor of those in authority when possible (1:9-10).
    3. Wisely offer alternative solutions that are win-win (1:11-13).
  4. Trust God to Honor Your Devotion and Faithfulness to Him (1:14-21).
    1. God blessed them physically (1:14-16).
    2. God blessed them mentally (1:17, 20).
    3. God blessed them spiritually (1:17).
    4. God blessed them socially (1:18-21).

When we find our feet forcibly planted in the soil of an anti-God, anti-Christian culture, it is absolutely imperative that our hearts be drawn to heaven and our minds be immersed in the Word of God. As Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1-2, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” As Paul adds in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Thoughts like these were essential for four Hebrew teenagers who had been plucked from their families and their country and taken captive to the evil empire of that day, the empire of Babylon. Their names are Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (1:6).

The theme of the book called Daniel is the sovereignty of God in all things. He is sovereign over the big things like international powers, and he is sovereign over small things like the apparently insignificant lives of teenagers. He is sovereign over history and is sovereign concerning the future. Our God is sovereign.

Though it is something of an oversimplification, the book can be divided into two parts: chapters 1–6 focus on the prophet (the man), and chapters 7–12 reveal the prophecies (the message), with Daniel as the central figure in both sections.

The contents of the book span a time period from about 605 through 539 BC. Using both narrative and apocalyptic vision, Daniel encourages God’s people to trust in God’s providence and remain faithful no matter what happens since their Lord is in complete control. Ronald Pierce highlights three specific themes that naturally flow out of this basic proposition: (1) God is able to rescue and reward faithful servants; (2) God holds accountable people and kings who oppose him; and (3) in the end God will replace all earthly kingdoms with his eternal kingdom (Daniel, 9).

My good friend and New Testament scholar, Bob Stein, once told me that among the persecuted believers around the world the two most favored books in the Bible are Daniel and Revelation. This is because both teach that in the end our God wins. The text before us, Daniel 1, reveals that God once won the day for four faithful Hebrew teens in a foreign and distant land away from family and friends. How did God do it? What was he up to?

God May Sovereignly Send You to a Difficult Place to Spread His Name among the Nations

DANIEL 1:1-3

Dale Davis well says, “Sometimes God may allow hardships to reach us because he wants his mercy to reach beyond us” (Message of Daniel, 36). God’s purpose in such hardships is almost always multifaceted. He allows suffering in the lives of his people to demonstrate his sovereignty, strengthen their faith, show himself wise and strong, and put his glory on display among the nations that they might be drawn to him.

That there is pain for us in all of this is often the case. That there is great gain for the glory of God and the advance of his kingdom is certain. Such a perspective will help us remember who the true hero of Daniel is. It is not the Hebrew teenagers. It is a sovereign, all-powerful God of grace who, as Bryan Chapell notes,

uses his sovereign power to maintain his covenant promises forever. This gospel according to Daniel should give us courage against our foes, hope in our distress, and perseverance in our trials. (Gospel According to Daniel, 9)

God Works in Spite of the Sins of His People (1:1-2)

Throughout history, armies have invaded nations with acts of aggression and war. The results have been tragic: land destroyed, property destroyed and confiscated, and POWs taken captive and sent away to foreign lands never to see family and friends again. This is what happened to Daniel and his friends. They were uprooted and replanted in the harsh and wicked soil of the Babylonian Empire. And surprisingly, it was God’s doing. It was God’s plan.

Verse 1 provides the historical context. Verse 2 provides the theological explanation (note vv. 2, 9, and 17). Judah, the southern kingdom, had been in political and spiritual decline for some time. During the reign of Jehoiakim (609–598 BC), one of Judah’s worst kings who was nothing like his godly father Josiah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (605–562 BC) attacked Jerusalem in 605 BC. This happened because “the Lord handed King Jehoiakim of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God” (v. 2). The vessels of God, as trophies of war, were transported to Babylon and placed in the house of a pagan god in Babylon—probably Marduk, the chief god of the Babylonians. This was a way of saying, “Our god is better and stronger than your god.” Daniel, on the other hand, says, “Not so!” The people of God have sinned, and the real God is judging them. In the process he is extending his presence among the nations. God is at work even through the sins of his people.

God Works as He Scatters His People (1:3)

There would be three deportations of the people of Israel to Babylon (605, 597, 586 BC). In Deuteronomy the Lord had warned his people that if they disobeyed him, curses would come on them (Deut 28:15). These curses would include military defeat (Deut 28:25) and deportation (Deut 28:64). In the book of Daniel, we see that God kept his word.

In addition to the temple vessels that were brought to “the land of Babylon,” Nebuchadnezzar orders a man named Ashpenaz to deport members both “from the royal family and from the nobility.” This was intended to strip the nation of its best and brightest, as verse 4 makes clear, and benefit Babylon by adding those gifted individuals to its own ranks. Unknown to the Babylonians, however, is the fact that God is working through this conquest. This is a divine invasion of enemy territory! The city of man is being invaded by the city of God, to draw from Augustine. Babylon (or Shinar in some translations), the land of ziggurats (cf. Gen 10:10 and the tower of Babylon in Gen 11), idols, and false gods, the city that opposes the true God, is now being infiltrated by the Lord’s army. It is a small incursion to be sure, but one that will accomplish far more than anyone could imagine. The “times of the Gentiles” have started (Luke 21:24). Israel will be oppressed and her people scattered, but the nations will now have a witness among them to the one true and living God.

Be Prepared for the Challenges Non-Christian Cultures Will Throw at You to Lead You away from God

DANIEL 1:3-7

We all have what is called a “worldview,” a particular way of looking at and seeing life and the world in which we live. It shapes both the way we think and the way we live. Here are a few definitions and descriptions of a worldview to guide us:

  • A worldview is a comprehensive view of life through which we think, understand, and judge, and which determines our approach to life and meaning.
  • “A worldview is that basic set of assumptions that gives meaning to one’s thoughts. A worldview is the set of assumptions that someone has about the way things are, about what things are, about why things are” (Bush, Handbook, 70).
  • “A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of our world” (Sire, Universe Next Door, 17).
  • “One’s worldview is perhaps best reflected by one’s answers to the ‘ultimate questions of life’: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What’s it all about? Is there a god? How can I live and die happily? What are good and evil? [What would I be willing to die for?]” (Olthuis, Worldviews, 153–64).

Today we live in a post-Christian context with an increasingly non-Christian and secular worldview. There is pressure from every direction to force us to conform to the mind-set and the spirit of the age. This challenge is not new. Daniel and his three friends faced the same challenges in their day.

Isolation (1:3)

The first step in making Babylonians out of the four Hebrew teenagers (called “young men” in v. 4) was isolation from their homeland, family, and friends. This would have been traumatic and a shock to their systems, throwing their world into a tailspin. They would be extremely vulnerable, isolated, and separated from all that was familiar, making them far more susceptible to the “new ideas” they would encounter. This Babylonian strategy would increase the likelihood of their deconversion from their faith in the Lord God and their conversion to the worldview of Babylon.

I see this same strategy successfully employed by the evil one in our own day. However, in our case, it is often voluntary! Naively and sometimes willingly, parents send their children off to a secular college or university as lambs prepared for slaughter. Isolated from their church and Christian friends, they are quickly seduced by so-called intellectual elites and walk away from Christ. The evil one knows what he is doing! This does not mean parents should never send their children to secular or state universities. It does mean, though, that we fail to appreciate the danger and deception of false ideas if we do not adequately prepare students for that environment and support them while they are there.

Indoctrination (1:4)

verse 4 affirms these four young men were among the best of the Israelites. In addition to coming “from the royal family and from the nobility” (v. 3), they were good-looking (“without any physical defect,” probably indicating that they were not made eunuchs), they were smart (“suitable for instruction in all wisdom, knowledgeable, perceptive”), and they were blessed with leadership and interpersonal skills (“capable of serving in the king’s palace”). They were ideal candidates to be taught “the Chaldean language and literature,” to be enrolled in an educational indoctrination school “for three years” (vv. 4-5).

Brainwashing was to begin immediately in a world unlike anything they had ever known. The University of Babylon would give them a first-class secular education in Babylonian language, philosophy, literature, science, history, and astrology. Religion would have been a part of the curriculum as well as the mythologies of Babylon, the greatness of Marduk, and the importance of the pantheon of polytheistic deities that dominated the ancient Near Eastern world. Dream interpretation and omen reading would also be in their required course load. Looking at their education, we see that the New Age movement is not really that new. It is simply the Old Age wrapped up in a different package.

Assimilation (1:5)

Converting these followers of Yahweh into patriots of Babylon required a total immersion into the world of Babylon. While changing their minds, the Babylonians also sought to change the Hebrews’ lifestyles. Each was to eat like a Babylonian and drink like a Babylonian. The goal was to entice them with the delicacies and privileges of their new life. Such an immersion would wear them down and eventually win them over. And at the end of three years, these boys would be given a final exam before the king.

Confusion (1:6-7)

In verses 6-7, we are introduced to four of the Hebrew aristocracy exiled to Babylon. Certainly there were others, but the book of Daniel records the story of only these four. Each was from the tribe of Judah. And as Ronald Pierce and others point out, the youths’ Hebrew names honor the one true God, Yahweh. The name Daniel translates “Elohim is my judge”; Hananiah, “Yahweh is gracious”; Mishael, “Who is like Elohim?”; and Azariah, “Yahweh helps” (Pierce, Daniel, 13).

Changing names today is not a big deal. In the ancient world, however, it was huge. It went to the identity and core of who a person was. The new names are familiar to most of us:

Old NameNew Name

The exact meanings of these new Babylonian names is not certain, though “certainly they were intended to honor Babylonian gods in similar ways” to their Hebrew names (Pierce, Daniel, 13). And they were intended to confuse these young men and reorient them away from Yahweh and toward the pagan gods of their new home. Never was it more important for these four teens to be in the world but not of the world. But would they remain true to their faith? Could they? The rest of the story provides our answer.

Determine Early in Your Life and Heart That You Will Not Compromise Your Convictions and Commitments to God

DANIEL 1:8-13

When I think of these four Hebrew teenagers, Psalms 1 and 2 immediately come to my mind. Psalm 1 depicts the character of the Messiah-King. Psalm 2 promises his reign. Psalm 1 speaks of the man who is not enticed and seduced by “the advice of the wicked” (v. 1). No, “his delight is in the Lord’s instruction” (v. 2). This accurately and beautifully describes Daniel and his friends. Having been raised and trained by godly parents and grandparents, they loved the Lord their God with their whole hearts, souls, minds, and strength (cf. Deut 6:4; Matt 22:37). They had been prepared, I have no doubt, by their parents and spiritual mentors for this day, and they would be of good courage and stand strong in the Lord!

Resist the Temptation to Defile Yourself (1:8)

“Daniel determined” begins verse 8. The immersion into the worldview of pagan Babylon would not win his heart or his mind. Babylon is where he would live, but Babylon would never be his home. Like his forefather Abraham, “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10).

And exactly what did Daniel resolve to do? He resolved “that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine he drank.” The reason Daniel viewed the food and wine as defiling is not completely clear. It may have been dietary, if the food was unclean for a Hebrew (cf. Lev 11:1-23). It may have been religious or spiritual, if these items had been offered to idols (cf. Deut 6:13-15). It may have been symbolic: he would not pledge absolute loyalty to the king. Dale Davis proffers what he calls the defensive view, and personally I am drawn to it. He writes,

Babylon was simply smothering Daniel and his friends. Daniel may well have thought, “There is real danger here: I could get sucked up into this and neutered by it all!” He recognized that if Babylon [the world and its values] gets into you, the show is over. (Message of Daniel, 32)

Daniel and his friends were forced to be in Babylon, but they would not let Babylon get into them. They made a conscious and determined decision to say no.

With courage and conviction Daniel approached the chief of the eunuchs and requested that he allow him to disregard the king’s order and not defile himself. What amazing boys their parents had raised! The stand they were taking had been years in the making. It did not happen overnight.

Win the Favor of Those in Authority When Possible (1:9-10)

Daniel had more than conviction; he also had wisdom. He was blessed by God to walk in holiness and humility, a rare combination in any age. God honored his servant as a result. As “the Lord handed King Jehoiakim” into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (v. 2), he “granted Daniel kindness [Hb hesed] and compassion from the chief eunuch.” Daniel shared his faith and convictions with Ashpenaz, and it moved this unbelieving official. Daniel stood his ground, but he did so with grace and humility. He was not arrogant or rude. He was not obnoxious or stubborn. He kindly and winsomely won over his superior in this instance (cf. Joseph in Gen 39:4 and Esther in Esth 2:9).

Still, as impressed and sympathetic as Ashpenaz was with Daniel, he understandably feared the wrath of the king and the possibility of losing his head! If Daniel and his friends performed poorly on inspection day, it was probably not them but Ashpenaz who would suffer the most. He would be the one held responsible. Daniel had won the admiration and favor and concern of his pagan captor, but things appeared to be at an impasse.

Wisely Offer Alternative Solutions That Are Win-Win (1:11-13)

Daniel exhibits a wisdom far beyond his years, a wisdom that could have only come from God. It appears there are only two options. Option 1: They defile themselves. Option 2: Their new friend Ashpenaz loses his head. Daniel, however, proposes a third way, one in which everybody wins. He drops down the chain of command to the steward or “guard” (NIV) that Ashpenaz had assigned over them and proposes the following solution:

Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then examine our appearance and the appearance of the young men who are eating the king’s food, and deal with your servants based on what you see. (1:12–13)

The number ten may be either literal or symbolic, but the main point is that Daniel asks for a test—one that essentially puts his God to the test. He believes and trusts God to honor their convictions and commitments to obeying his Word.

Their diet would be simple, and it would not break Mosaic laws, would not have been offered to pagan gods, and would not unduly obligate the four Hebrews to the Babylonian king (Pierce, Daniel, 19). Chapell is right: “Holiness is risky business . . . society may praise idealism, but it rarely tolerates living those ideals” (Gospel According to Daniel, 17). Daniel knew that defilement would only further distance him from his Lord. He would risk it all to keep that from happening. The choice was worth it. I really appreciate Chuck Swindoll’s summary of these verses:

In a world filled with people who rebel against the divine King, it is inevitable that believers of all ages will face situations in which their convictions will be challenged. We who are parents need to prepare our children for those occasions by both teaching them God’s truth and modeling integrity. And all of us who are Christians need to personally commit ourselves to living God’s way regardless of the temptations to live otherwise. (God’s Pattern for the Future, 17)

This is what Daniel and his friends had been taught. This is how they would live or die.

Trust God to Honor Your Devotion and Faithfulness to Him

DANIEL 1:14–21

The great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, said, “Unless there is the element of extreme risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith” (Newell, Expect Great Things, 89, emphasis added). There is little doubt that Daniel and his friends’ exploits, fueled by faith that God would honor their devotion, had the element of extreme risk. Indeed, the risk potentially could involve the deaths of Ashpenaz, his steward, and Daniel and his friends. However, the Hebrews had settled in their hearts long ago that they would remain faithful to their God no matter what. Compromise was a word that was not in their vocabulary when it came to spiritual conviction and commitments. God honored this in an amazing way!

God Blessed Them Physically (1:14-16)

The steward of the chief eunuch listened to four Hebrews and allowed them to pursue this dietary test “for ten days,” a definite and limited time (v. 14). The test was a resounding success, as God blessed them and rewarded their devotion to him. They “looked better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food” (v. 15). The Message says, “They looked better and more robust than all the others.” Daniel and his friends had resisted what the Reformer Heinrich Bullinger (1504–75) called the king’s “sweet poison” (Olasky, “Dare to Be a Daniel,” 64). The steward, as a result of their appearance and strength, “continued to remove their food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables” (v. 16). Daniel and his friends had honored God, and God had honored them by giving them favor with the guard and healthy bodies. Tremper Longman summarizes it well:

[Daniel] proposes this time a brief ten-day test . . . the guard agrees; the test works; and the four eat vegetables to the glory of God for three years. (Daniel, 54)

God Blessed Them Mentally (1:17, 20)

For the third time God gives (vv. 2, 9). Here God gives the four youths “knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom.” Verse 20 informs us, “In every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king consulted them about, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and mediums in his entire kingdom.” These four were “Proverbs men” with the ability to see the things of life and this world from God’s perspective and to act accordingly. Again, there is striking irony in the situation.

God gave the four Judeans “knowledge and understanding.” Of course Nebuchadnezzar and those involved in their education would take the credit for their brilliance, but Daniel and the others would know to whom the credit was due. . . . For now, however, the divine origin of Daniel’s success is only understood in private by the four. (Longman, Daniel, 54)

Today by the gift of God’s divine revelation, we know the real story too.

God Blessed Them Spiritually (1:17)

God specifically blessed Daniel spiritually by giving him understanding in “visions and dreams of every kind.” This gift from God would prove extremely valuable in chapter 2 and beyond (cf. 4:4-27; 5:11-31; 7:1–8:27; 9:20-27; 10:1–12:13).

John MacArthur notes,

God enabled Daniel to interpret dreams and to receive visions. Visions and dreams were both a means of revelation from God, the former occurring while awake and the latter, while asleep. So Daniel was gifted as a seer, or prophet. As such, he was to serve as the very vehicle of God’s divine revelations. This verse, then, becomes the backdrop for the rest of Daniel’s prophecy. (An Uncompromising Life, 49)

God Blessed Them Socially (1:18-21)

After their three years of education, the four Hebrew teens are brought by the chief of the eunuchs to stand before the king, Nebuchadnezzar. They stood head and shoulders above all the rest: “No one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.” Therefore, “they began to attend the king” (v. 19). They were brought right into the palace and into the king’s court; they were that impressive! Because they were socially, educationally, and personally superior—“ten times better than all the magicians and mediums in his entire kingdom”—Nebuchadnezzar gave the four Hebrews key administrative posts. He was confident they would serve and represent him well. Already in this Old Testament narrative we see the living out of that cardinal principle in Colossians 3:22-24:

Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.

We see them embodying Paul’s exhortation, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

Verse 21 is not so much a footnote as it is a summary of the long life and ministry of Daniel. Stephen Miller speculates that he lived eighty-five or ninety years (ca. 620–535 BC), noting that

Daniel lived through the entire Neo-Babylonian period (the exile) and continued into the reign of Cyrus (when the Jews were released from captivity), thus outliving his Babylonian captors. (Daniel, 73–74)

John MacArthur notes just how far the influence of the exiled teen possibly extended before it came to an end:

Daniel served in his influential position for seventy years. His integrity and uncompromising character had far-reaching results, for when I see the wise men coming from the East, I think of the impact Daniel’s theology must have had upon the Chaldeans’ astrology. God gave him the influence that I believe led to the decree of Cyrus to send the people back to their land . . . influence that led to the rebuilding of the wall under Nehemiah and to the reestablishing of the nation of Israel . . . influence that eventually led the wise men to come to crown the King who was born in Bethlehem. Daniel was behind the scenes of the history of the Messiah as well as the Messiah’s people. Daniel had unlimited influence for through his prophecy he brings homage to the one who is the “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16) who reigns forever. (An Uncompromising Life, 50)

Conclusion: How Does This Text Point to Christ?

Daniel and his three companions remained faithful to their true identity, obeyed God, and were a shining testimony and witness both to God’s providence and to his grace. He sent them on a missionary journey, making them leave all that was familiar so that they might bear a faithful and true witness to kings and nations in foreign lands. They beautifully typify another Hebrew who will arrive six hundred years later who was also sent to a foreign land to bear witness to the one true God—a Jew by the name of Jesus. Like Daniel and his friends, the Son of God would leave his home and willingly embrace a sinful world without defiling himself even once (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:21-25). Like these Hebrew boys he “would find favor with God and man (Luke 2:40 and 52). When he was still a child, his teachers ‘were amazed at his understanding and his answers’ (Luke 2:47)” (Helm, Daniel for You, 28). Jesus is the embodiment of the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:30).

Christ is the greater Daniel, the greater Hannaniah, the greater Mishael, and the greater Azariah. Jesus refused to compromise when he faced the emperor behind the emperor—Satan. How did Satan tempt Jesus to defile himself? He did so with food! Yet Christ remained faithful. Christ took the judgment faithless Israel deserved at the hands of another pagan empire, but he walked away from death to outlast the Roman Empire and every empire to come.

There is a certain divine irony in all this that is hard to miss. It is grace filled and gospel rich. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah will give a faithful witness before Ashpenaz and Nebuchadnezzar and be brought to live in the king’s palace. Jesus, in contrast, would give a faithful witness before Herod and Pilate and be nailed to a cross. And yet by his death all who trust him will live forever with the King of kings and Lord of lords in his eternal palace. So be strong and of good courage in whatever God calls you to do. He is with you, and he is accomplishing so much more than meets the eye!

Reflect and Discuss

  1. In what ways do you see the sovereignty of God on the big stage of world history? In what ways do you see his sovereignty in your own life?
  2. Why do you suppose persecuted Christians gravitate toward Daniel and Revelation? How do these books of prophecy inform our present living?
  3. In the story of Daniel, God is working even through the sins of his people. Where else in Scripture can we see God work despite or even through great sin?
  4. Compare and contrast the scattering of God’s people in Daniel 1 with that of Acts 8. How does God use each of these scenarios?
  5. Think about your own worldview. What beliefs or assumptions characterize how you view the world? Now think about your culture as a whole. What characterizes the general culture’s worldview?
  6. How have you experienced the challenges of isolation, indoctrination, assimilation, and confusion? How did you fight to remain faithful to Christ?
  7. What does it mean to be defiled by the world? What defensive measures can you take to protect against being defiled? Is it possible to be too protective? Explain.
  8. Why does the presence of risk require faith in Christ? Because you identified with Christ, have you ever experienced risk that required deep faith? If so, explain.
  9. What physical, mental, and spiritual blessings has the Lord given to you? How can you use them to bring glory and honor to him the way Daniel and his friends did?
  10. How does Daniel’s journey mirror the life and ministry of Jesus? How does Jesus fulfill the work done by Daniel?