Daniel lived his entire life as a faithful servant of the LORD, even though he was also trapped in very ungodly environments throughout all those years.
Daniel served the most powerful pagan kings in the world for seventy years, yet never lost his love and loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even in the midst of captivity, Daniel and his fellow Hebrew captives maintained an amazingly excellent spirit. God saw to it that their spirit powerfully impacted those they served, those in authority.
"Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes,
because an excellent spirit was in him;
and the king thought to set him over the whole realm," Daniel 6:3.
Here is an excerpt from the book of Daniel that will quickly refresh your memory to the story of Daniel.
"It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom; And over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first: that the princes might give accounts unto them, and the king should have no damage.
Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.
Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him.
Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.
Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him,
King Darius, live for ever. All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counselors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions.
Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. Wherefore king Darius signed the writing and the decree," Daniel 6:1-9.
Every great Old Testament character had remarkable distinguishing traits.
Noah stood for righteousness in an otherwise decadent generation. Abraham’s obedient faith marked him for all time. Job was more steadfast than his contemporaries, and Jacob prevailed with men and God. Joseph endured, Moses led, Samuel served, and Ruth remained loyal. David repented, Isaiah obeyed the call, Esther risked her life, and Elijah took a stand.
In this lesson, we take a close look at Daniel and his fellows, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The focus is on Daniel and his excellent spirit. In our world where so many people are godless, we can find inspiration in this man who held to God and godliness in a most ungodly environment.
I. THE CAPTIVITY OF THE HEBREWS
Who was Daniel? In his youth, before the Babylonian captivity, the prophet Daniel might have been a young courtier in the palace of King Jehoiakim of Judah.
Jehoiakim had only been in power for three years when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and carried away its wealth and its best men. Nebuchadnezzar gave his armies instructions to capture the wisest and most knowledgeable men who were most apt to serve in the king’s palace, and teach them the ways of the Chaldeans. We do not know how many of Israel’s best men were captured. Among those who were abducted were Daniel and his compatriots Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – also prize young men.
The king’s intention was to groom these fine interns for high-ranking government positions. They were to receive the very best of treatment. Their food and wine was to come from the king’s kitchen, prepared by the king’s chef. Their internship was for three years.
They were to be assimilated into the Babylonian culture, starting with their new Babylonian names – Daniel would become Belteshazzar; the others, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. (The name Belteshazzar means “Prince of Bel,” Bel being a pagan god. Another meaning of the name was “let Bel protect the king.” Either meaning would have been equally offensive and repulsive to young Daniel.)
Nevertheless, God’s spirit enabled Daniel to hold steadfastly to all he knew was right and pleasing to God.
Daniel had an excellent spirit.
The chief of eunuchs was in for a real surprise. Daniel and the others were clearly determined not to lose their Jewish identity or their godly lifestyles. Daniel refused to eat the king’s meat or drink the king’s wine. He diplomatically requested that his diet remain simple, to the chagrin of his overseer, who feared the wrath of the king.
Daniel volunteered to allow himself and his three companions to be examined after ten days, and compared to the others who ate the king’s diet. Providentially, after the trial period, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego appeared finer, healthier, and wiser than their Babylonian counterparts. Consequently, they were allowed to continue their ways. When all of them were finally presented to the king, no one impressed the king like these four, who were then selected to serve the king in high-placed positions.
There is a huge lesson to be learned almost before the book of Daniel begins. Much of this story is hidden between the lines. It has to do with the stark reality of a promising young man of God being forcefully taken away from his natural habitat and cast into a completely hostile environment – hostile insomuch that all his spiritual and cultural roots were trampled on, and attempts were made to completely replace his former identity.
Daniel “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself.”
Those strong words suggest the stark conflict between his godly beliefs and those being forced on him by others. If he allowed Babylon’s ways to be forced on him, he would then be defiled. He refused to allow that to happen.
The testimony Daniel leaves us should prompt us to consider our own relationship with today’s modern culture. We should be brutally honest about whether or not we have been defiled by doing things the world’s way rather than by God’s. If we have, we should change our ways, remembering Daniel as a role model.
Daniel was probably in his teens when he was taken captive. No mention is made of his family, but it seems obvious that he was separated from his parents and siblings and lost contact with them. He lived to serve three of the most notable and powerful kings of history for almost eighty years, and was close to 100 years old when he died.
So Daniel’s entire adult life was spent as a faithful servant of the Lord in the households and governments of three mighty pagan kings. Impressively, Daniel’s consecration, his godliness and his spiritual integrity was never compromised and never diminished.
Daniel’s intimate relationship with God and his ability to know and understand divine matters caused him to stand head-and-shoulders above most of the greatest men of history.
a. Made a Eunuch (Violated)
It would be easy to overlook one of the really traumatic experiences Daniel had at the very beginning of his captivity. He was selected to be a eunuch in the king’s court.
A eunuch was a male servant of a royal household during these Biblical times. Such servants were often emasculated by castration as a precautionary measure, especially if they served among the wives in a ruler’s harem (according to Nelson’s Bible Dictionary).
Moses’ law did not prescribe or require any men to fulfill the role of a eunuch in Jewish society. Very little is said in scriptures about eunuchs, and within Israel, the role of a eunuch was strictly voluntary. However, in many pagan societies, men were often required to be eunuchs in order to serve their kings. In light of this fact, we should take note of the trauma Daniel and the three Hebrew children must have gone through when they were forced into the service of King Nebuchadnezzar as eunuchs. Nevertheless, Daniel never recorded any complaint, nor did he resist his captors in any way.
Significantly, Isaiah had prophesied that Babylon would make eunuchs of Israel’s royal seed. Many years earlier, King Hezekiah unwisely received visitors from King Berodachbaladan of Babylon, giving them guided tours of all the priceless treasures of Israel in their sacred houses.
Isaiah scolded Hezekiah for his carelessness and prophesied,
“Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house,
and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day,
shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.
And of thy sons that shall issue from thee,
which thou shalt beget, shall they take away;
and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon,”
(II Kings 20:17-18 KJV).
The fulfillment of that prophecy is documented in Daniel 1:3,
“And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs,
that he should bring certain of the children of Israel,
and of the king's seed, and of the princes.”
We cannot say for certain that Daniel was a descendant of King Jehoiakim, but certainly some of the king’s descendants were among Daniel’s peers while in Babylon. About fifty years before the facts, God knew these young men of God would stand in the Babylonian palace. Certainly, the evidence shows that God rules in the kingdoms of men (see Daniel 4:17,25,32).
b. Stripped of Name and Culture
How would you like to be abducted, taken into a far-away and strange country and forced into a completely foreign way of life? What if the powers there forced a new, pagan name on you and forbad you to live according to your life-long ways?
Daniel’s cultural heritage was that of a “blue-blooded” Jew. The transition from the environment of Israel’s elite into the environment of Babylon’s elite must have been an enormous mental and psychological challenge. Overnight, Daniel’s beliefs, convictions and allegiances were subjected to the larger, more demanding and restrictive Babylonian culture.
Could Daniel continue as a saint of God in this pagan world? Absolutely! The record shows it. The Apostle Peter recorded the fact that in the days of the early church, there were still saints in Babylon. “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you,” (1 Peter 5:13).
Struggling saint, take heart! A true child of God can live for God in any environment, even the worst, most godless lands.
c. Stripped of Hebrew Identity
In every generation, Satan attempts to disenfranchise people from their rights and privileges with God. To Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Lucifer said, “Hath God said…?” casting doubts into their minds about things they had seen and heard directly from God. He attempted to drive a wedge between Adam, Eve and God.
Today’s Christian should expect no less out of the devil now.
If it had been possible, Daniel would have been denied and deprived of his Jewish beliefs. He might have been forced to adopt all of Babylon’s ways. But Daniel’s excellent spirit would not allow him to compromise certain things.
Even though the pressure to conform or change was as great on Daniel as it is on any of us today, Daniel proved that compromise does not have to be inevitable.
Those who teach the art of negotiation say that negotiation is the method of achieving your goals fairly without sacrificing your principles or your relationships. Daniel managed to negotiate his position so that the Babylonians were satisfied with him - without his giving up any of his non-negotiable principles.
If we find ourselves under great pressures to compromise, we should prayerfully negotiate with our adversaries until we have successfully secured the right or privilege to stand unflinchingly on the grounds of righteousness. Remember that we can still be a “saint in Babylon.”
If, like the three Hebrews, negotiations are not an option, then we must be prepared to stand firmly even unto death.
II. CHALLENGE TO THE HEBREWS
a. King’s Meat
The first real challenge Daniel faced, as far as we know, was the order for him to eat the king’s meat and drink the king’s wine. According to Moses’ law, the Jews practiced a strict diet. Moses defined numerous dietary prohibitions, and Daniel would not break these rules.
Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 both list many foods that Jews were forbidden to eat. Certain beasts were called unclean and an abomination, and were not to be eaten (i.e., camel, coney, hare, and swine). Certain creeping things were called unclean and an abomination, and were not to be eaten (i.e., weasel, mouse, tortoise, ferret, chameleon, lizard, snail, and mole). Certain things in the waters were called unclean and an abomination, and were not to be eaten (things without fins or scales, i.e., crabs, oysters, shrimp, lobster, and mussels). Certain fowl were called an abomination and were forbidden to be eaten (i.e., eagle, ossifrage, osprey, vulture, kite, owl, hawk, etc.). Additionally, they were not to eat the blood of any beast.
Babylon surely did not have these prohibitions, so Daniel would have found himself in constant transgression if he had not had an excellent spirit to resist these expectations.
The chief of the eunuchs panicked at Daniel’s insistence, for fear of the king’s wrath. Nevertheless, Daniel held his ground, even daring to be compared with the other eunuchs who lived by the king’s criteria. When the king finally reviewed all the eunuchs, Daniel and his three companions were judged finer and fairer than their fellows.
In these New Testament times, Paul showed plainly that these food prohibitions were not carried past Calvary. He warned of seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, and of those who are
“...commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
So while we may freely eat of any good food today, there are plenty of other godly standards that every Christian should abide by to distinguish himself from the rest of the world. For this reason, Daniel’s example is pertinent even now.
For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused,
if it be received with thanksgiving:
For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer,” 1 Timothy 4:3-5.
When the world sets its temptations in front of us, just as Daniel refused the king’s meat, we must be steadfast to refuse anything and everything we know is sinful in God’s eyes.
b. Lions’ Den
Daniel was not only steadfast in maintaining his dietary lifestyle, but he also had a lifestyle of prayer that he would not compromise.
Because of Daniel’s intimacy with God, God gave him knowledge and skill and wisdom ten times more than his Babylonian fellows.
He also had a divine gift for understanding all visions and dreams. During Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Daniel interpreted an elaborate dream in which a great statue showed the kingdoms of man from the time of Nebuchadnezzar until the kingdom of the Messiah.
Daniel became renowned for his wisdom and spiritual gifts, even into the reign of subsequent kings. The next king, Darius, was so fond of Daniel that he first promoted him to be one of three regional presidents, then decided to make him ruler over the entire empire. That is when his troubles really began.
Darius’ unabashed preference for Daniel stirred the jealousy and ill will of his peers. They tried to find fault with Daniel and to undermine his influence, but Daniel’s reputation could not be faulted.
In desperation, these schemers created a plot to overthrow Daniel. They knew how Daniel prayed three times each day, so they shrewdly drafted a royal statute that forced everyone in the kingdom to petition no man or God but King Darius for thirty days, or be thrown into a den full of hungry lions. Darius signed the decree into law without noticing that Daniel’s prayers would be an offense against the new statute.
“Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed,
he went into his house;
and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem,
he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed,
and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime,” Daniel 6:10.
Daniel broke the law when he prayed to God. Of course, Daniel knew that God’s laws are higher than man’s laws, and that obeying God is more important than obeying man.
So Daniel prayed on, and predictably, his adversaries had him in a trap. They immediately reported Daniel’s law-breaking to the King. Darius was devastated and angry with himself for what had happened. His favorite comrade had been framed. He tried all evening long to find a legal way to deliver Daniel from the lions’ den, but to no avail.
Daniel was thrown to the lions, and the den was sealed. All night long, Darius stayed awake, fasting and mourning. At first light, he ran to the lions’ den to check on Daniel. He cried lamentably into the pit,
“O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God,
whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?
Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever.
My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths,
that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as
before him innocency was found in me;
and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.
Then was the king exceeding glad for him,
and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den.
So Daniel was taken up out of the den,
and no manner of hurt was found upon him,
because he believed in his God. And the king commanded,
and they brought those men which had accused Daniel,
and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children,
and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and
brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den,"
Many lessons can be learned from this story, such as:
1) Godly living brings about the blessings of God and promotions on earth;
2) Godly living can provoke the jealousy and wrath of ungodly people;
3) Ungodly enemies can make life very difficult for the saint of God;
4) Saints of God do what is right even under the threat of punishment;
5) Good people will recognize when a saint has been mistreated;
6) God keeps His hand of protection on a saint, even in his time of tribulation;
7) God will avenge Himself of the enemies of His saints.
c. Fiery Furnace
The companion story to Daniel’s is that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
The first chapter of Daniel speaks of Daniel’s favor in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. The second chapter tells about Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. In the third chapter, Nebuchadnezzar decided to build a vast golden statue in the midst of his kingdom. We can only wonder if Daniel’s mention of him being the golden head of the statue in the dream might have prompted Nebuchadnezzar to build this statue.
Unfortunately, the king decided to make everyone in the kingdom, from the highest officials down, bow down and worship his new image.
Again, as in Daniel’s experience, there were many Chaldeans who were jealous of the Jews. They were quick to report to Nebuchadnezzar that there were three Hebrews who would not bow down to the image – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Nebuchadnezzar, in his decree, had ordered that anyone who would not bow to his image should be thrown into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar was enraged! He called the three into his presence.
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king,
O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
But if not, be it known unto thee, O king,
that we will not serve thy gods,
nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up,” Daniel 3:16-18.
Nebuchadnezzar was livid! He raged against them, then commanded to have the fire heated seven times hotter and have them thrown into it. They were bound fully clothed, and thrown in. The fire was so intense that it killed the soldiers who threw them into it. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego fell down in the midst of the furnace.
Then a miraculous thing happened. The king jumped out of his seat and said, “Didn’t we cast three men into the fire?” And they said, “True, O King!”
“He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose,
walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt;
and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace,
and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither.
Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire.
And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counselors,
being gathered together, saw these men,
upon whose bodies the fire had no power,
nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed,
nor the smell of fire had passed on them. And the princes,
governors, and captains, and the king's counselors,
being gathered together, saw these men,
upon whose bodies the fire had no power,
nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed,
nor the smell of fire had passed on them.
Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said,
Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him,
and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies,
that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.
Therefore I make a decree,
That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss
against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill:
because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort,”
The fiery furnace was no more threatening than Daniel's lions’ den.
All the same great truths were in effect; i.e.,
- Godly people often incur the wrath of evil people;
- Godly people take a stand, even in life-threatening situations;
- God is faithful to stand with those who stand for Him;
- The faithful are rewarded; and
- The evil ones will be avenged by God.
Daniel’s ability to know the meaning of dreams was a recurring theme throughout the book of Daniel. Like Joseph in Pharaoh’s courts, Daniel exercised the gift of God to show the glory of God to pagan kings. Both resulted in the pagan kings acknowledging that theirs was the God of gods.
Whether it was the dream of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, or the handwriting on Belshazzar’s walls, or one of the many prophetic dreams and visions that Daniel had, God demonstrated His willingness to share His supernatural powers and revelation spirit with godly men who would stand steadfastly for Him.
In our time, as in Daniel’s, a judicious use of the gifts of the Spirit can go far in speaking to men and women who would otherwise pay little attention to matters of God and eternity.
Paul taught the church at Corinth that
“...the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom;
to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
To another faith by the same Spirit;
to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy;
to another discerning of spirits;
to another divers kinds of tongues;
to another the interpretation of tongues:
But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit,
dividing to every man severally as he will,” 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.
We should covet earnestly the best gifts for the benefit of all. Paul urged the gifts of the Spirit to be exercised around sinners, for
“thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest;
and so falling down on his face he will worship God,
and report that God is in you of a truth,” 1 Corinthians 14:25.
Such was the case with Daniel.
III. CONQUEST OF THE HEBREWS
a. Every Time They Were Challenged, They Came Out Victorious
The outcome in each story we have discussed shows that God is always in control.
No matter how unconventional our problem may be, it is not likely to be any more bizarre or difficult than a lions’ den or a fiery furnace.
Jesus said, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth,”(Mark 9:23). God is no respecter of persons, and will respond to anyone who will walk in obedient faith.
One of the common denominators between Daniel and his friends is that they were all faithful to God in Babylon. We must be sure that we are not overwhelmed by the forces of this world, even when they seem to be on every side. “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him,” (Isaiah 59:19).
c. Daniel Promoted
Promotion comes from the Lord. God sets kings on their thrones and takes them down at His will. Whether or not our promotion comes in this world, we have a sure word of prophecy that says “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted,” (Luke 14:11).
Many have died in the faith not yet having received the promise, but they surely had the hope of a better resurrection. Our rewards in this world are certainly not the most important, but when we stand before Jesus Christ and hear Him say,
“Well done, good and faithful servant;
thou hast been faithful over a few things,
I will make thee ruler over many things:
enter thou into the joy of thy lord,” Matthew 25:23,
...our hearts will leap for joy in that eternal kingdom.
The stories of Daniel and the three Hebrew children demonstrate for all times that great men of God will always triumph over their enemies and be rewarded by God. There are no conditions on this earth that will excuse us from hoping and believing.
Food for Thought:
Contrast the options Daniel might have exercised when told he must eat the king’s meat, and compare it to some present day temptation you may face and your potential response.
Consider the possibility that Daniel might have faced a different fate when he refused the king’s meat. Think of how we should be prepared for any eventuality when we choose to do the will of God in the face of temptation.
Think about what it must have been like as a God-fearing Jew in a pagan household. Imagine some of the day-to-day challenges and choices to be confronted.
Name a few occasions in your own life when you faced the choice of obeying the demands of an evil person or doing the will of God.
Explain several reasons why working in a worldly workplace is similar to Daniel’s experience.
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