Just Lion Around (Daniel 6:18-28)

We are back in Daniel this evening. We pick up in Daniel 6, verse 18. Last time we were in the text, Daniel had been thrown into the lion’s den. We left him in there for the last few weeks. In reality, he was in the den for maybe 12 hours.

But this is the most well-known and memorable story in Daniel’s life. And we note that it is the last story given in the narrative portion of the book. The book of Daniel is split into two parts. The first 6 chapters are a historical narrative, giving some particular stories from his time in Babylon. The next 6 chapters are no longer chronological, but instead focus on the prophetic visions Daniel received.

By the end of our text tonight, Daniel will be safe. God is once again proven true and powerful and yet another pagan king will have become an evangelistic believer.

As we dive back in, we remember that King Darius had been tricked by his princes and governors into condemning Daniel to death. He didn’t want that to happen, but he was powerless under the law. And so, he sealed Daniel in the den, knowing full-well that he had just condemned the best man in his kingdom, to death.

Daniel 6:18 – 18 Now the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; and no musicians were brought before him. Also his sleep went from him.

He didn’t go home and start fasting and praying the way we see God’s people doing so in times of crisis. This isn’t a spiritual thing. Darius is sick with worry and anxiety and the guilt of what he’s done.

I find it interesting that Daniel writes these stories more from the other person’s perspective than his own. Of course, Daniel is the author. But think through these last 6 chapters. More often than not, we see the adventure unfolding from Nebuchadnezzar’s viewpoint, or Belshazzar’s viewpoint. Here, it’s Darius we spend the evening with, not Daniel.

And, it makes sense. The purpose of these chapters is to proclaim the unstoppable power of God and to show how He acts on behalf of His people. How He is in charge of the flow of history. That the weakest prisoner can be made strong and the strongest king can be made weak. These are the testimonies of the world-changing, miraculous work of the Lord. And if that’s the message you want to proclaim, it makes good sense to see it through the eyes of those who were most astonished by what was happening. Daniel is always full of faith and trust. He’s consistently calm and collected and confident. But, through Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes we see, “Were there not three men we threw into the fire?” With Belshazzar we see the knocking of the knees. With Darius, we feel the personal distress.

Daniel 6:19 – 19 Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions.

The king must have been exhausted that morning. He had spent the previous day, we’re told, working until the going down of the sun in a mad rush to save Daniel. Now he had been up all night. No food, no rest.

I imagine he waited quite some time at his window, watching for that first glimmer of the sun on the horizon. At that first light of day, the legal requirement would have been satisfied, and so he (along with an entourage) could run to that chamber of death to see what happened to the best man in the empire. And that’s exactly what they did.

Daniel 6:20 – 20 And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel. The king spoke, saying to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?”

Darius cried out in anguish. Clearly, he had no real hope that Daniel had survived the night. But then he asks a very important question: Is your God able? The answer was, obviously, crucial in Daniel’s particular situation that day. But it is still a very real question for us today, with real significance.

This isn’t just a question for lions, but for all of our lives. Is God able? If you are a Christian here tonight, you can put yourself in Daniel’s position and ask it this way: Is God able to deliver you from trouble and from your enemies? If you’re not a Christian here tonight, then you should put yourself in the place of Darius the King. For him, the question is: Is God able to deliver you from the guilt of your sin? Those wrong things you’ve done, whether you meant to do them or not condemn you. Is God able to save you from them? This story and all the others we’ve been seeing, of course, show that the answer is “yes.” And we see that, in each case, Daniel had this hope. He trusted God to deliver. He expected God to intervene and to take action. Do we have that same hope? Do we live in that belief, that God is able? Daniel did and he lived his life according to that belief.

Daniel 6:21 – 21 Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever!

He did not say, “O King, GET ME OUT OF THIS PIT!” He was in no hurry to escape, because (as far as he was concerned) there was nothing to escape from. It was like we saw with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego in the fiery furnace. They walked around in the flames freely, despite having the ability to leave the furnace as soon as Nebuchadnezzar called them. And so we see Daniel is not afraid. He’s not desperate.

He’s also not angry or resentful. Look at his response to the very man whose foolishness and sacrilegious pride had resulted in this wrongful punishment. And yet, Daniel speaks to the king with respect, even affection. There’s no bitterness or frustration. He responds with grace.

Jesus said in Matthew 5, verse 44:

Matthew 5:44 – 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,

Those are commands. This is how the Lord demands we behave. It is wholly unnatural for us, but luckily, God pours out His supernatural love into our hearts as Christians. And here we see that it is possible to show grace and love even to our persecutors.

Daniel 6:22 – 22 My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.”

Daniel is a great example to us in so many ways. Here he demonstrates how to speak the truth in love. Because, he hadn’t done anything wrong at all, and he says so. Not rudely or in a spiteful way. He’s speaking the truth. But that means that the king had done wrong in this situation. It was wrong to sign off on the blasphemous law. It was wrong to send an innocent man to a grizzly death. Daniel here is speaking the truth, but doing so without malice or animosity.

When we read the account of what happened with the angel and the lions, eventually the question that comes to mind is: Why didn’t the angel simply take Daniel out of the den? After all, wasn’t Peter freed from Herod’s prison? Wasn’t Lot rescued out of Sodom? We know angels know how to roll stones away. Why not do that here?

It’s helpful to remember the setting of these stories in Daniel. In this book we see God’s people living out their faith in a land that is not their home and being used by God to shine like lights in the dark.

In this instance, as in all the others, God was not simply doing something, He was also showing something. He was using Daniel’s life to answer the king’s question: Is your God able?

God’s response to that question was to show that He was not only able to deliver His servant from the presence of the lions, but (more importantly) He was able to deliver Daniel from the power of the lions. What is the greater miracle? For Daniel to quickly escape from the den or to stay there all night, untouched and unafraid?

How does this help us as Christians today? Well, when we look into the Word of God, we’re told that we have some great enemies stalking us. Powerful enemies. But, we are promised that God is able to deliver us from them. What are the 3 great enemies in our lives? Sin, death and the Devil (the Roaring Lion himself). The Bible explains that Jesus Christ has defeated and overcome these enemies and we, His people, no longer need to fear them. God is able to deliver us from them all, and He will. However, He’s not necessarily going to deliver us from the presence of these enemies, but from their power.

Romans 6:22 tells us we are delivered from sin. We are set free from its power. Of course, we still live in the presence of sin in this world. 2 Timothy 1:10 explains that Jesus Christ has broken the power of death. But, of course, unless we’re taken home in the rapture, we’ll all find ourselves in the presence of death one day, yet it will have no power over us. In Acts 26:18, we’re told that, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we’re able to turn from the power of Satan to God. He may be present in this world, or come against us, but if we resist him, he will flee from us. We need not fear him.

Each of these enemies are like the lions in the den that night: Present, but ultimately powerless. And as God’s power is revealed through our lives in the presence of these enemies, His truth goes out as a witness to the world. Paul said as much to Timothy while, perhaps, thinking of this very passage in Daniel 6. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:

2 Timothy 4:17-18a – 17 The Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom.

“That the message might be preached fully through me.” That’s why Daniel stayed the night in the lion’s den.
Daniel 6:23 – 23 Now the king was exceedingly 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 injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God.

The work of God brings joy. In an instant, Darius’ guilt is washed away as Daniel is lifted up out of this pit. God’s Good News, His great work produces joy. And so, we too should be defined by joy.

We’re told that Daniel was saved because he “believed in his God.” Does that mean Daniel knew he wouldn’t die in the den? I don’t know. Maybe that’s what he expected. Surely he thought about his 3 friends who had walked in the fire and not been burned. But, then again, this was the man whose God allowed him to become a lifelong P.O.W. in the wicked nation of Babylon. Daniel’s mindset throughout seems more like Job when he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” These great men of the Bible prove that it is possible to have a faith like that. Or like Abraham: “Though He slay my boy, yet will I trust Him.” “Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food…Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

In verse 24, the joy of the saved is contrasted with the horror of the lost.

Daniel 6:24 – 24 And the king gave the command, and they brought those men who had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions—them, their children, and their wives; and the lions overpowered them, and broke all their bones in pieces before they ever came to the bottom of the den.

The last time we were in the text we pointed out how these satraps and governors were living examples of the sinners in Proverbs 1 who made their plans to trap the innocent but, in the end, would fall into it themselves. What we’re seeing here was the legal custom in those days. It’s barbaric to our way of thinking, but it provides for us a couple of significant warnings.

First, it is a reminder to anyone who is not saved that a ferocious judgment is coming. If you’re not a believer, then you are not like Daniel, who was protected, You are like these men who were, in the end, destroyed. And these guys didn’t see it coming. It’s interesting…the king had spent his night in the palace, but it was a night of anguish and guilt and fear. Daniel spent his night in a stone death chamber, but it was a night of miraculous wonder. These men? Well, I’m sure they had slept well in their homes that night. It seemed as though their ingenious plan had worked. When they went to bed, nothing stood between them and their own success and power. But then judgment came like a thief in the night.

The second warning we find in verse 24 is this: Your sin has consequences. That’s true for all of us, saved or not. When we do not go God’s way, that action will ripple out, one way or another, into the lives around us. The lives of our families, the lives of our kids, into our community. Think of the governmental impact of this! All the rulers of the empire were suddenly wiped out! As readers, we’re happy to see these characters get what they deserved. But remember how this all started: It all came out of simple selfishness and jealousy. They didn’t like that Daniel was in charge. Perhaps on paper a sin like envy doesn’t seem like a big deal, but look at where it ends up. When sinful “desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

In the last 4 verses of the chapter we have a little Gospel tract that Darius felt compelled to write and send throughout his kingdom. Like Nebuchadnezzar before him, Darius shows how the work of God inspires proclamation, like we read in Psalm 105: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples…talk of all His wondrous works!”

Daniel 6:25 – 25 Then King Darius wrote: To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you.

This was a message not just for the Jews or just for the Persians, it was for everyone everywhere.

Daniel 6:26a – 26I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.

On first read that feels a bit authoritarian, but remember what we read in Psalm 2:11 – “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Paul wrote in Philippians 2: “As you have always obeyed…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Darius had been humbled. Earlier he had put himself in the place of God, saying that everyone should pray to him. Now, he invites his whole kingdom to consider the awesomeness of this One, True God. And we note that it’s not just ‘a’ God, but that there is a personal aspect to Him. “The God of Daniel.” This is a God of personal relationship. For you tonight, think of this awesome God. Is He simply the God “of the Bible”? Or is He your God personally? Is He the God you serve and worship and trust? If so, we are to go on serving Him in fear and trembling. According to Paul, that’s the Christian way of life. He told the Corinthians, “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.”

Darius goes on to make wonderful statements about God.

Daniel 6:26b – For He is the living God, And steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, And His dominion shall endure to the end.

These are not just run-of-the-mill ovations. Darius and Daniel have been talking. You see, in Daniel 7 we will learn about a prophetic vision Daniel had during Belshazzar’s reign. In that vision, Daniel is told about the Son of Man whose Kingdom and dominion are everlasting. It’s clear that Daniel has shared this information, which ultimately includes the fall of the Medo-Persian empire, with Darius, who wrote this tract, not only praising God for His power, but believing in the prophecy that had been revealed and then telling people about it. The Lord’s coming Kingdom is absolutely real and is absolutely on its way.

Daniel 6:27 – 27He delivers and rescues, And He works signs and wonders In heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.

God is still the same. He is no less strong, no less faithful, no less active. He continues to work through us to reveal Himself and impact the world. You and I are invited to sign on and be a part of verse 27, and that is an astounding thing.

Daniel 6:28 – 28 So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

The term “prospered” there can mean “to be promoted.” Bible dictionaries also define it this way: “To make progress.” Or, “the advancement in the construction of a building.” Those are great images for us this evening. Probably none of us are going to be promoted to the office of Vice President, the way Daniel was. But his life is still a wonderful example of how the Lord wants to work through His people. And how we can continue to progress and be built up in our faith.

Wherever you find yourself, whether in a hostile work environment or a peaceful one, surrounded by friends or by conspirators, we know these things to be true: First, this is not our forever home. Daniel was a stranger in Babylon, we are strangers on this earth. There is a much greater aspect to our lives than whatever temporal city we find ourselves in. Second, we know that God has power, not just generically, but personally for us. He is able and He is our God. What great thing might the Lord do in us this week? In these narrative chapters of Daniel we’ve seen that even small parts of life can be used for amazing purposes in God’s hands. Daniel’s prayer life. His demeanor. Even his diet were all used to preach the message and produce power. The living God intends to do this kind of work through our lives. How do we connect and cooperate with those intentions? By faith. That was the key. Daniel’s faith and his Spirit-filled life made him the hero that inspires us. He knew God, he knew His Word and Daniel believed with a real, faithful trust. And the rest was the history we’ve read here. The story of God doing what God still wants to do for you and I and all who believe.

Above The Law (Daniel 6:1-17)

We’re all familiar with the old movie trope where the villain comes looking for the good guys and the good guys try to turn out their lights so as not to be seen. It never works in those scenes, but it especially wouldn’t work for the good guys to keep the lights on. Or, knowing that the killer was closing in, to just go about their regular activities. As viewers, we would think of that as irrational.

But in Daniel 6, that’s exactly what we see our hero doing. With full awareness of the very real threats coming for him, Daniel doesn’t draw the shades, doesn’t dim the lights. He goes right on living the way he’s always lived. And the result is one of the most famous stories in the Old Testament. Now, as we’ve been noting, at this point Daniel is in his 80s. He’s toward the end of his life. The book is broken up into two halves: The narrative portion in chapters 1 through 6 and the prophetic portion in chapters 7 through 12. I find it interesting that Daniel’s greatest story is found in the very last chapter of his narrative. His life is proof positive that God can do great things through young people, through old people, through people in middle-age. It’s not about a particular demographic, it’s about the inclination of a heart.

At the end of chapter 5, the kingdom of Babylon had fallen and, in its place, the Medo-Persian empire had immediately risen to power. It was a fairly smooth transition, with almost no loss of life. In fact, here’s a part of the account taken from an artifact discovered by archaeologists:

“Marduk…ordered [Cyrus] to march against his city Babylon…His widespread troops…strolled along, their weapons packed away. Without any battle, he made him enter…Babylon…sparing Babylon any calamity. [Marduk] delivered into [Cyrus’] hands Nabonidus, the king who did not worship him.”

As our chapter opens, King Darius is in charge and he is figuring out how to establish his new administration of the empire.

Daniel 6:1 – It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, to be over the whole kingdom;

We’ll hear the word ‘satrap’ a bunch tonight. These guys were like governors over states. It seems they would’ve been guys who were already part of the leadership of Babylon prior to the Persian takeover. In our text tonight there are 3 different characters we can learn from, each will become living examples of principles we are given in Scripture. We have, of course, Daniel, who is a wonderful example for us as believers who want to honor God and be used by him. Daniel, in this story, demonstrates for us a variety of Biblical truths. For example, John 15:19.

John 15:19 – If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 

Another principle Daniel will live out for us is found in verses like Jeremiah 29:12-13.

Jeremiah 29:12-13 – Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

We also see this group of satraps as a character. They are wicked men who are the enemies of Daniel. By the end of the story they become a real life demonstration of what we read about in Proverbs 1: Sinners who lie in wait to shed innocent blood, who live for greed and set traps, only to fall in them themselves.

And then there’s Darius, the king who becomes a living example of what we read in Galatians 6:8 – that those who sow to their flesh will reap corruption. And he demonstrates for us how unbelievers are held captive by the devil, taken advantage of, and blind to their own powerlessness.

As the text opens we’re told that “it pleased Darius” to install these guys into these positions of power. When our fallen, human mind is at the wheel of our lives, terrible consequences inevitably follow. What “pleased” Darius today was going to great displease him tomorrow. More than that, because he was following a self-serving, self-pleasing heart, he was going to find himself guilty of some truly heinous injustice. It’s not what he planned to do, but that’s what the human heart apart from the Lord does. It deceives, it distracts, it debases and it destroys.

Now, as Christians we read those three opening words “It pleased Darius” and we’re reminded that we are called to a much higher way of living. Pleasing self is the low road that ends in ruin. The high road of heaven is the one we’re supposed to be walking on, and, on that road, we’re not out to please ourselves, but to please the Lord.

Ephesians 5:10 (NLT) – 10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:9 (NLT) – 9 So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him.

That was definitely Daniel’s goal. Yet another Bible truth he lives out for us.

Daniel 6:2 – 2 and over these, three governors, of whom Daniel was one, that the satraps might give account to them, so that the king would suffer no loss.

Over the governor there were 3 presidents. Their main function, stated here, was to keep the other government officials from constantly ripping off the palace.

Remember: These satraps weren’t necessarily loyal to Darius or Persia. And, like every human government, theft and corruption were all too easily used to benefit officials in these positions.

Luckily for Darius, he had Daniel. A guy who had the knowhow and the courage to lead circumspectly. Everyone knew Daniel would run a tight ship and that he wouldn’t tolerate embezzlement or corruption. But, as readers we also know Daniel to be fair and thoughtful, even generous to those around him. And to me that was an encouragement. Godly people in the Bible are well-rounded people. They, of course, have their flaws, but if they were a tree they wouldn’t only have fruit on one side or coming off of one branch. God develops the whole person.

While there is no indication that Daniel asked for this job, it was all too obvious that he was made for the job. He was gifted and equipped and positioned by God to do it. And the same is true for you and me. God doesn’t see Christians as drone ants. Have you ever disturbed a line of drone ants? They’re carrying the food back to the colony. If you smash one of those ants, none of the rest care. The queen doesn’t care. They fill in the line as if nothing at all had happened. That’s not how God organizes the Church. Rather the New Testament describes you as being specifically gifted. Your life is made for specific work in a specific place and time that we are to discover as we walk with God.

Daniel 6:3 – 3 Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm.

As always, Daniel’s relationship with God made a real, tangible difference in his regular life. The spirit within him made him a great man. Notice: It wasn’t the number of followers he had. In fact, Daniel had very few fans or even friends at this point. The secret to Daniel’s greatness has been given to us again and again throughout the Book: It was the spirit that filled him.

It’s easy for us to get cheated by the culture around us, which is trying to convince us that “greatness” is measured in likes or material wealth or worldly success. The great men and women of the Bible are those who were filled with the Holy Spirit. Some where kings, some were slaves, the status didn’t mater. It’s the Spirit that matters. We see it in Daniel. Because of the spirit in him, his life made real impact, even when he wasn’t really trying to make an impact. Daniel didn’t vie for this job. He lived a quiet life, but it was a quiet life full of God’s dynamite power. And because of that, Daniel was not only spiritual, but incredibly capable.

Daniel 6:4-5 – 4 So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.”

We see that these guys had been set over the whole kingdom, but that wasn’t enough for them. There’s a quick lesson there: The sinful heart of man is insatiable. It always wants more. It’s never going to settle. God gives contentment, sin cannot.

I’m also guessing that these guys had a nice little scam going until Daniel got in the way. He was like their Serpico. If you want to be a crooked official, you simply can’t have a guy like Daniel around.

So, these guys get together. They start having meetings, gathering data, orchestrating a conspiracy. What they discovered was that Daniel was unimpeachable when it came to his behavior. But, they also figured out something pretty remarkable: They realized that if they could get Daniel into a corner where he would either have to choose between his life and his God, he would undoubtedly choose God. That’s pretty amazing. Daniel’s faith was so consistent and real and public that these lying, cheating sinners understood that he would forfeit his own life rather than dishonor his God.

We’re told that he was faithful. Daniel proves that you can be faithful in a hostile work environment. You can be faithful in a government job. You can be faithful among unbelieving co-workers. You can be faithful when your life’s plan doesn’t work out the way you thought it was going to. Daniel was and the results were spectacular.

Daniel 6:6 – 6 So these governors and satraps thronged before the king, and said thus to him: “King Darius, live forever!

These guys act like a pack of hyenas. They gather in a frenzy here, rushing to do evil.

Daniel 6:7-9 – 7 All the governors of the kingdom, the administrators and satraps, the counselors and advisors, have consulted together to establish a royal statute and to make a firm decree, that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the decree and sign the writing, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the written decree.

It’s hard to get a good read on what’s going on with Darius. On the one hand, it seems pretty obvious that these guys were trying to pull a fast one on him. Daniel was conspicuously absent from this meeting, though they did imply that he had signed off on this legislation. I had to wonder, though, how Darius thought this could be a good idea? Ancient kings were much more comfortable with being called divine than leaders are today, but as a pagan idolator, what would Marduk or their other gods think about this kind of behavior? Wouldn’t this anger them?

It’s possible that the satraps sold this law more as a move to consolidate power and establish the throne. “Hey, do this so we can be sure everyone pledges themselves to you, O king.” We don’t get their whole conversation. But what I find most interesting about Darius’ part in the story is seeing how quickly a person outside the protection of God gets taken advantage of by sin. He may wear the crown, but he’s bound in the devil’s prison. He’s making decisions to please himself, and in no time flat he’s dishonoring his own gods, oppressing his entire kingdom and being completely bamboozled by his own officials so that they can rob him!

But, he signs the law, and (it seems) Daniel’s fate with it.

Daniel 6:10 – 10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.

Daniel did the same thing he always did. He didn’t do less and he didn’t do more. He didn’t compromise and say, “Well, I can just pray silently and have a private faith.” That would’ve been sin. But Daniel also didn’t say, “Oh, you passed this law? Well then I’m going to throw my windows open and make a big show of my civil disobedience.” Notice how it’s written: The windows were already open. Why take time to point this out? Well, on the one hand, it’s very popular to be a loud, angry resister in our culture right now. And then, even in the Church, there are some who suggest we need to seek out suffering in order to truly be Christians. That’s simply not Biblical. We see Daniel living out his convictions the exact same way he always had. Now, that included a public faith and a regular communion with God. But we don’t see him moving toward compromise or showboating. He’s not worrying but he’s also not scheming. He’s just being the same Daniel he had always been.

In this verse, his prayer is characterized by “thanks.” Thankful in Babylon, while murderers are on their way to your house. That’s the kind of faith I want! The description in verse 10 also brings out Daniel’s trust and belief in God and his familiarity with the Scripture. In the tradition of Solomon he prayed toward Jerusalem. In the tradition of David he prayed 3 times a day. And, we know he had a copy of Jeremiah, and he believed what the Lord promised in chapter 29: That if God’s people pray, He will hear them and respond. So, in this little verse we see again that Daniel was a man who loved the Word of God, and had a great trust that God would move in his life and that he was faithful to the Lord, despite what his circumstances were.

Daniel 6:11 – 11 Then these men assembled and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God.

This must’ve been pretty funny. I mean, imagine right now there were 120 people gathered outside these windows right here, watching and taking notes so that they could get us arrested. And, they report that he did this 3 times that day, which indicates they waited around all day. I’m guessing Daniel gave them a friendly wave, maybe even said “Hey, I’ll see you at the office later!”

Daniel 6:12-13 – 12 And they went before the king, and spoke concerning the king’s decree: “Have you not signed a decree that every man who petitions any god or man within thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.” 13 So they answered and said before the king, “That Daniel, who is one of the captives from Judah, does not show due regard for you, O king, or for the decree that you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”

The satraps weren’t just springing their trap on Daniel, but also on Darius, who was becoming an accomplice in their sin without even knowing it. They knew Darius wouldn’t be on board, but outside the protection of God, he was easy to pick off and use like a pawn for their evil plot.

Daniel 6:14 – 14 And the king, when he heard these words, was greatly displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him.

The king was not upset with Daniel, he was upset with himself. He had done a stupid, selfish thing, and now was guilty of sending an innocent man to a gruesome death. He was responsible, and he knew it. He worked hard to find a legal loophole, but it was no good. Unlike our legal system which can take decades to execute someone on death row, the Persian custom was to visit the sentence on someone the day it was handed out.

Here we get a little picture of the human condition. Man is condemned to death. Whether a person thinks it’s deserved or not, it’s true. There’s nothing any man can do to deliver even one condemned individual. Not even the king of Persia. Only God can deliver man from his coming doom.

At the end of the day, the satraps show up again to confront Darius.

Daniel 6:15 – 15 Then these men approached the king, and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is the law of the Medes and Persians that no decree or statute which the king establishes may be changed.”

So, at this point, they’re dictating to him! It’s right up to the verge of blackmail. I wonder, how do these guys think this going to turn out? But, again, we see how sin blinds and deceives and ruins. They’re deep into Proverbs 1 right now.

Daniel 6:16-17 – 16 So the king gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.” 17 Then a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signets of his lords, that the purpose concerning Daniel might not be changed.

I imagine Darius must’ve heard about Daniel’s God either from Daniel himself or from the stories told to him. Either way, he must’ve heard that this God had power. That He was a deliverer. That He defends the innocent and will, if necessary, depose kings and topple kingdoms.

Now imagine you’re Darius. You know these things about Daniel’s God, and you have to put your seal on the stone, next to these 122 other guys. There’s a line in the sand and you are most definitely on the wrong side. No wonder the next time we see him, he’s unable to eat or sleep.

As we close, notice the king’s description of Daniel: He says, “You serve your God continually.” Interesting. Darius knew Daniel’s allegiance was not to Persia or to Babylon, but to the Lord. And still he was the best man to run the kingdom. Because he wasn’t a hypocrite. He wasn’t useless. He wasn’t selfish. He was capable and spiritual and full of wisdom. Daniel was full of dynamic power and so his life was dynamic. He lives out these promises and principles we read about throughout the Bible. Remember: Daniel isn’t meant to be an exaggeration to us, he’s meant to be an example. An example we follow by living like he did. Being faithful. Trusting God. Loving His word. Being in prayer. Not giving in to selfishness or worry or scheming. Just living as believers, discovering what God wants to do through the ways He has gifted us in whatever time and place we find ourselves in.

Weight Watcher (Daniel 5:13-31)

Cash rewards for information in criminal investigations are pretty common. The federal government has their Reward For Justice program, offering rewards as high as 5, 10 or even 25 million dollars for information leading to arrests of certain terrorists. On the smaller end of the spectrum is Crime Stoppers, which offers a few thousand dollars for anonymous tips. The individual payouts may be smaller, but I was surprised to learn that Crime Stoppers USA reported as of December, 2018, the following statistics related to their work: 712,000 arrests, $1.15 billion in property recovered and $106 million paid out to tipsters. That’s a ton of reward cash, but it’s estimated that, at least in some regions, almost half of the reward money goes unclaimed.

When we last left off in the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar, was ruling in Babylon. Though the Medo-Persian armies had gathered at the city walls, the king threw a wild, drunken party for his court and 1,000 of his nobles. After bringing out the sacred vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem and using them to guzzle their booze and praise pagan idols, a hand appeared, writing a message in the plaster on the wall. In response, Belshazzar offered a huge reward to anyone who could read and interpret the message.

The whole thing was a party killer. The king was particularly freaked out by it. None of the so-called wise men of Babylon were any help. At that point, the Queen Mother came in and told him that there was a man in the city who could be counted on to make sense of the message. And so the call went out to Daniel, who was probably in his 80s at the time, no longer employed in the palace.

When Daniel gets on the scene, he has no interest in the king’s rewards, but he’s ready to preach the truth about God and the coming judgment of the nation and Belshazzar himself.

We begin at verse 13, as Daniel enters the great hall full of drunk, terrified party guests.

Daniel 5:13 – 13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke, and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah?

We don’t get much in the Biblical record about King Belshazzar, just this one story. But the testimony of Scripture is clear and compelling: His was a sad, worthless life from the perspective of heaven. He may have been ruler of the most powerful empire on the planet at the time. He may have had fabulous wealth, luxury, an impressive pedigree, but in the ways that actually mattered, it was all a waste. Here he is, enemies at the gate, making their way under the walls and he’s busy blaspheming. Spending his last few breaths mocking his Creator.

In verse 13, he reveals he wasn’t just wasteful in his personal life, but in the way he ruled as well. He doesn’t even know who Daniel is! Now think about that for a minute: Daniel had been prime minister, maybe for decades. He was, by all accounts, the smartest guy in the government, not by a little but by a long shot. His fame had spread throughout the empire. After all, this was a man who could tell you what you had dreamed and what that dream meant. He was personal friends with Belshazzar’s grandfather. And now? Well, the first time Belshazzar heard of him was a few minutes ago. What a waste of an incredible resource! But that’s the kind of king this guy was.

Now, for Daniel’s part we notice this: Despite all he had done and accomplished, the high rank the Lord set him up in, he was still seen as “one of those captives from Judah.” “Excuse me, but I ran this country while your dad was in diapers.” That’s what I’d want to say. But no, Daniel doesn’t complain. He doesn’t protest. He doesn’t get offended and say, “Don’t you know who I am?!?” I think he’s fine with forever being seen as one of the captives from Judah, because, in reality, he wasn’t a Babylonian. And this is a great reminder to us as we live out our lives here on the earth. We’re not citizens of this world, we’re citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. And, because of that, there should always be something other about us, where we never quite fully belong to this world. We should let go of any desire we have to demand worldly recognition. The Godly look to heaven.

Daniel 5:14 – 14 I have heard of you, that the Spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you.

Twice Belshazzar is going to say, “I have heard of you.” And what he had heard was significant. Most of us have neighbors and even if you haven’t met some of them, their reputation precedes them. The people in the apartment above you or that weird house across the street. If those neighbors came knocking on your door, you’d have some sort of opinion about them. What was Daniel’s reputation? That he was full of the Spirit of God. And, that because of that, he was a man of uncommon wisdom.

This is what we are to be defined as Christians. Not by what we have achieved or acquired, but by the filling of God the Holy Spirit and by heavenly wisdom. That’s exactly what was needed and what the Church looked for when selecting the first deacons.

Acts 6:3a – brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom…

Godly people, like those first deacons or like Daniel, are people full of the Spirit and full of God’s wisdom. Christians who don’t know what to do or don’t know what to say as their go through life aren’t really Biblical. God says He gives us wisdom, and we’re told to ask for it. And, if we do find ourselves in a situation where we really don’t know how to respond, as Spirit-filled believers, we can be confident that the Holy Spirit will tell us what to say and how to say it.

Daniel 5:15-16 – 15 Now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not give the interpretation of the thing. 16 And I have heard of you, that you can give interpretations and explain enigmas. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”

So, again, there in verse 16, we see that Daniel wasn’t just some spiritual mystic. His religion wasn’t just theoretical. There was a real-world activity to his faith. “You are filled with the Spirit of God and so you give interpretations and explain enigmas!” His faith had legs. He could actually operate and help. So many philosophies and worldviews out there are just theoretical. You hear sometimes, “Well, communism works in theory.” Yeah, well, it doesn’t work in real life. Sometimes “theory” is just another name for make believe. Daniel’s faith wasn’t just a philosophy, it was power. And he was able to do jobs others could not do.
This is the kind of life the Apostles had and the kind of experience they preached about. When we’re in Christ, we’re able to experience a life of invincible faith and impossible power.

Daniel 5:17 – 17 Then Daniel answered, and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation.

A servant of God doesn’t hide the truth behind a pay wall. We see here Daniel wasn’t greedy. But he also wasn’t afraid. This is a great attribute we consistently see in stories about his life. Daniel was not frightened because he trusted the Lord. This would not have been an easy situation in which to speak the truth. He’s there, in a hostile environment, with a tough message to deliver. Definitely not a warm and fuzzy. But Daniel doesn’t shrink or take advantage. And his example reminds us that we are commanded to speak the truth and to do so with boldness and love.

Daniel 5:18-21 – 18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. 19 And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down. 20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. 21 Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses.

We saw all of this in detail in previous passages. Tonight we note that, before Daniel shares the message of judgment, he gives context to the ways and works of God. In this short sermon, he revealed that there is a true and living God, that this God is gracious, generous and long-suffering, even toward His enemies, but that God is the One in charge of all things, and that He is paying close attention to the lives of nations and of men and He will not be mocked.

Daniel 5:22-23a – 22 “But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. 23 And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know…

Belshazzar couldn’t plead ignorance about these things. Daniel said, “Hey, you know these things.” I imagine his grandfather had preached to him as a boy, or he had (at least) been exposed to the evangelistic tract that we took a look at back in chapter 5. But, having heard, Belshazzar rejected the message. He hardened his heart with pride.

One of the big subjects of this book is the terrible sinfulness of pride. God hates it and He will not stand for it. We should take His view of pride very seriously. Because, as seen in this book, God will topple an entire nation because of this sin. And, the problem is, it’s intrinsic to all of our hearts. We’re all infected with pride. The cure to this infection is humility. This isn’t only brought out in these passages of Daniel, but throughout the Bible. This is a big deal to God, so it should be a big deal to us. We’re told God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. We’re told by both Peter and Paul that we’re to clothe ourselves with humility. We’re told that it’s required of us by God. But that, when we humble ourselves, the Lord will lift us up – that He’ll guide the humble and that through humility comes wisdom. For example:

Proverbs 11:2 – 2When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom.

So, all these things we’re reading about are connected. Being spiritual, being wise, being used by God, contrasted with wasting your life and having it spoiled by pride. Daniel and Belshazzar example for us these truths and show what a difference there is between the proud and the humble. Which reveals the fact that you can’t be Spirit-filled and be proud at the same time.

Daniel 5:23b – …and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.

This is a great description of the work of God in our lives. It wasn’t just Belshazzar’s breath and ways that belonged to the Lord, it’s ours too. Our part is to glorify God. Meaning we are to honor Him and magnify Him with our lives. With whatever breath we have and in whatever ways He’s led us down, we are to shine His glory, magnify His greatness.

Daniel 5:24-25 – 24 Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written. 25 “And this is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN

God was personally judging Belshazzar. Whether you’re a believer or not, God knows you individually. You will either be personally saved or personally judged. No one skates by.

Daniel 5:26-28 – 26 This is the interpretation of each word. Mene: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; 27 Tekel: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; 28 Peres: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”

In the message, God gives Belshazzar the what that’s going to happen, why it’s happening and by whose hand it will happen. The word Mene, repeated twice, has to do with a certain weight of shekels. Bible scholars convert it over for us and, all told, it’s about two and a half pounds. God looked at all Belshazzar’s life and said, “On the scales of heaven, it weighs less than 1 red brick.” In ancient times, before machines could make things uniform, payments would often have to be rendered by weight. This many pounds of gold or silver. The kind of payments that Belshazzar, no doubt, received as ransom and tribute from many nations across his empire. But when the time came to pay his Creator, he was more than short, he had nothing with which to ransom his life.

At the end of human history, all those who don’t have saving faith in Christ will stand before God’s Great White Throne. Books will be opened, lives will be measured, and each one will be found insufficient.

In the mean time, as believers we’re told the Christian life works in us an “eternal weight of glory.” That when we stand before the Bema of Christ we’ll be shone not as less than one red brick, but as gold, silver and costly stones because of the greatness of Christ working in us.

Without Christ, life is wasted. In this passage, the most powerful man in all the world is shown to be like weightless chaff in the light of eternity.

A secondary lesson here is to notice how fast God can move and change the course of history. In a day He took Nebuchadnezzar off the throne. In one night, not only would Belshazzar be gone, but the whole Babylonian empire! So, we must not put the hope of our hearts in a leader or a nation or a system, but in the Lord, who rules of all kings and all nations and all generations.

Daniel 5:29 – 29 Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

Maybe Belshazzar was trying to put some positive spin. Maybe he just laughed and didn’t believe. Either way, these worldly treasures were as worthless as his life had been. What good is being 3rd ruler in a kingdom that doesn’t exist? Daniel was wise to not be enamored of these things.

Daniel 5:30-31 – 30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. 31 And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

Daniel foretold this. So did Isaiah. It happened just as God said it would. As predicted, the head of gold from Nebuchadnezzar’s vision gave way to the chest and arms of silver. The Medo-Persians were now the ruling world empire. Let God be true and every man a liar.

As we close tonight I’d like us to take one more look at the end of verse 23.

Daniel 5:23b – …the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.

That word glorified, meaning to magnify or honor, can also mean to “adorn.” Your life can be spent adorning the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways. And this text demonstrates that you don’t have to be wealthy and powerful to do it. In fact, the captive was the one who brought God glory, not the king.

The question is: How am I adorning my God in my life? It reminds me of the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas. They’ve got that little tree, barely strong enough to stand up on its own. At first it seems like it can’t really be a beautiful tree. But what happens at the end? The Peanuts gang simply decide it just needs a little love. Then they take the ornaments and decorations that were available to them and put their hands to the work and, suddenly, that little, insignificant tree is impossibly ornate and glorious. It’s a great moment. I can’t help but see some similarities between that and how we, weak as we may be, can allow God to work in us, and as we cooperate with Him, our lives become glorifications of His power and person. The Bible gives us some instruction about how we adorn the Lord: Through humility. By living with a gentle and quiet spirit. By responding to God with trust and obedience. And then we see living examples of how a person can wonderfully glorify and magnify and adorn the Lord in characters like Daniel. He glorified God through faithfulness. Through willingness to speak the truth. By being full of the Spirit. We don’t have to come up with the strategies ourselves, because, remember: It is God who owns our ways and gives us life that we might walk in the good works that He has prepared beforehand. And as we walk in His wisdom, by His Spirit, keeping heaven in the forefront and remembering who we are in Christ, then our lives will magnify the Lord, adorning Him, working in us an eternal weight of glory. But it is a work we must submit to and participate in. Lucy and the kids mocked the Christmas tree at first. But then they humbled themselves and accomplished something great. Let’s decide to adorn the Lord with whatever breath we have.

What’s God’s Big Idea? (Daniel 3:13-30)

Here’s a question for everyone: What’s your idea of a great vacation? Some people want to sit on a beach and do nothing, others want to stay busy with lots of activities. Some want to see famous cities like Rome or Paris, others imagine remote wilderness high on a mountain somewhere.

I know something that probably didn’t make anyone’s list, and that’s the experience of over 160 guests at a 5 star hotel in the Dominican Republic back in 2013. They were there, experiencing a pricey vacation, while the hotel simultaneously ran a cheap, all-inclusive package for locals only. Hundreds of locals showed up, got drunk, ate all the food in the restaurants, destroyed things, defecated in the pool and urinated on sunbathing guests. Five days into his 2 week vacation, Tony Walton, who had paid $15,000 for his trip, was told he could be moved to another hotel…for $2,300! After organizing a two day sit-in protest with 100 other guests at the hotel, they were eventually transported to another spot and given a $40 reimbursement. Not my idea of a vacation.

Bad vacations are no fun while you’re on them, but they usually make for a good story once you’re back.

We have before us this evening one of the great stories of the Old Testament. A story of faith and triumph, of God’s glory and deliverance. But, before we dive in, let me ask you this: What is your idea of deliverance? The idea of God intervening and saving is central to our faith. It’s even part of what we call the Lord’s prayer. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” So, how would you define deliverance?

In our text, God’s faithful servants were in some real trouble. There, at the great dedication service of Nebuchadnezzar’s blasphemous image, they refused to bow in worship. Now they faced immediate, public execution. They’re confident the Lord will intervene and deliver them, and He does, but probably not in the way we would hope for had we been in that situation.

Here’s what God’s idea of deliverance was that day: They would stand, seemingly alone, before the most powerful and (at the time) the most angry man in all the world. They’d be sentenced to a terrifying death, thrown into a blazing fire, and then, when all is said and done, they’d be back where they started: Working for the very same man who tried to burn them alive, alongside a bunch of haters who wanted them dead! That was God’s idea of deliverance in this story.

The Lord’s deliverance wasn’t made to order, but, as we all know, it was much more glorious because of how He worked in and through these men that day. We begin in verse 13, where Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego have just been singled out by their co-workers for refusing to worship the statue there on the plain of Dura.

Daniel 3:13-15 – 13 Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”

Nebuchadnezzar is as mad as a person can be. With the whole of his empire’s leadership gathered together, he had been defied by these 3 Hebrew captives, who refused to obey a relatively simple command. A huge black eye for his pride.

For all his fury in this moment, it seems like he was at least trying to restrain his anger. He gives them a second chance to bow. And, we’ll be told later in the text, when they refuse again, his face changes toward them for the worse. So, it would seem that he liked these guys. I’m guessing he had worked closely with them for some time and, like Daniel, they had found favor in his eyes.

Now, verse 15 closes with a line that brings a smile to our face when we read it, right? “WHO IS THE GOD who will deliver you from my hands?” I’m so glad you asked! It’s like in any movie when one character says, “Oh yeah? You and WHAT army?” When that happens, you know something awesome is about to go down!

We’re getting a look into what Nebuchadnezzar really thought about religion. As far as he was concerned, he was more powerful and in charge than any god on the books, including his own Babylonian gods. In fact, we’ll see that this pride is ultimately what will bring God’s judgment on him.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego knew what Nebuchadnezzar did not: That they weren’t really in his hands. No, they were safely held in the hands of their God. They would’ve remembered that the strong arm of the Lord “carried [the Israelites in the wilderness], as a man carries his son.” More recently, Isaiah had shared this message from God:

Isaiah 46:4b – I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

These tender promises aren’t only for Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, they’re for you and I as well. Jesus said:

John 10:29 – 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.

The Lord holds us and leads us and lifts us by His hand.

Daniel 3:16 – 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.

This is a pretty remarkable response. While they maintain an attitude of humility and respect, they say, “You know, we don’t really need to answer you.” It’s not out of smugness. It’s not because they had a secret understanding of what was about to happen. It’s simply that they had a firm confidence, a living hope in God and so they were not shaken. They continue in verse 17:

Daniel 3:17-18 – 17 If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

“Even if God chooses not to save us, we will not bow.” Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. This is a great mindset for our faith and for our prayer lives. We should expect God to intervene, to act, to deliver according to His purposes. We should ask Him to do all that, to do astounding things. But, if He doesn’t do what we were hoping for, we proceed all the same. For Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego it made no difference whether they lived or died that day. Their faith and their behavior would be the same. At first that seems strange, until we step back and think about what we know to be true. We know God loves us and that we love Him. We know He knows all and is full of goodness and grace toward us. And so, I can abound in hope, despite my circumstances, and I can commit my ways to Him, walking by faith. He may lead me out of a storm or through a storm or into a storm, but either way, He is always good and He is always right and I can trust Him. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego are living out this confident trust in the Lord.

Notice too, before we move on, in what might’ve been their last few moments alive they took the opportunity to preach. They said to Nebuchadnezzar: “Let it be known to you.” They wanted him to know about why they were doing what they were doing. They wanted him to know about their God, how great He was, how He was the only God worth serving.

Daniel 3:19-23 – 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. 20 And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21 Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. 22 Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.

We know the end of the story, of course, but we have to come to terms with the fact that this was God’s idea of deliverance that day. Really? This is the big idea? “Hey Lord, if You want to get fire involved, how about some fire from heaven to consume our enemies? Or how about a fiery chariot to swoop down and get us out of here?” But no, the Lord allowed Nebuchadnezzar to throw all he could as fast as he could at them.

One commentary pointed out that Nebuchadnezzar was so angry he wasn’t thinking straight. That’s clear from his hasty order which cost the lives of his Seal Team 6 there, but as this author also noted, “In this senseless rage, Nebuchadnezzar overdid himself. By heating the furnace seven times hotter than usual, he would actually be decreasing the length of their torment, rather than prolonging it.”

Daniel 3:24 – 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?”
They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”

Everyone on the platform was quick to give a “yes sir, absolutely sir” to the maniac on the throne.
Daniel 3:25 – 25 “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

The text is more accurately translated as “the form of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t have had an understanding of the Anointed Son of God, so the declaration we read there in the New King James is, perhaps, stepping a little too far. But, either way, it was clear that there was a diving presence there alongside the 3 men. We recognize this as a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. It’s possible it was an angel, but more likely and more fittingly it is the Lord Himself.

Notice that this portion of the story is told from Nebuchadnezzar’s perspective. We’ll get no report from inside the furnace. Their firsthand experience, their talk with the Lord, that never gets recounted. Instead, we see what it looks like from the outside. Those watching this unfold saw that the God of the Bible walks with His people in their sufferings. That they are not defined by fear, but by faith and by trust and by expectation.

While our circumstances are significantly different than what we’re reading here, God still wants to operate this way. He wants to reveal His work and His presence through the days of your life to the world around you. Like Moses coming down the mountain and shining from God’s glory, or the disciples there before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, who spoke with such boldness that these unbelieving guys realized, “They had been with Jesus.” That’s what God wants to do in your life and mine.

Daniel 3:26-27 – 26 Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire. 27 And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.

My favorite part of all of this is when we realize that Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego could have left the furnace any time they wanted! Nebuchadnezzar says, “Hey, come out!” And they come out. Yet, they waited. Perhaps the Lord had instructed them to do so. Or maybe they were thinking, “Who cares about this fire, the Son of God is in here with us!” If you could re-live this story, wouldn’t you rather be in the fire with Jesus than just watching from the outside? Of course you would.

When the king calls them, they head out. I wonder if they lingered for a moment or two. But once out we see there were totally, miraculously preserved. The ropes that bound them had burned away, but nothing else was effected on any level, they even still had the smell of their aftershave from that morning. This gives us a great type of God’s protection of the 144,000 sealed Jews during the Great Tribulation. Totally secure from the relentless attacks from the AntiChrist.

Daniel 3:28 – 28 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!

Nebuchadnezzar has progressed a bit since chapter 2. Back in chapter 2, Daniel had interpreted his dream, and Nebuchadnezzar said, “Wow, your God knows some stuff!” Here, his declaration was a bit greater, a bit fuller. God’s working on his heart. But then he has to go and ruin it in verse 29:
Daniel 3:29 – 29 Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.”

Nebuchadnezzar assumes that God is, essentially, like the king of Babylon. Ruling through intimidation. Demanding lip service. What we actually see in this story is that the Lord wants to be honored not the way Nebuchadnezzar thinks, but the way Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego honored Him: That we trust Him. That’s what God is excited about.

Daniel 3:30 – 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon.

Seems like a great ending, until you realize, “Wait a minute, that means they have to go back to work for this guy and with these Chaldeans who wanted to get them killed!” Their co-workers had been mad that they were promoted, now they get promoted again! And, sure, Nebuchadnezzar is a little closer to understanding who God is, but he’s not saved yet. He’s still a madman and a tyrant and a killer. And yet, they woke up the next morning and went back to work. That’s amazing faith!

Nebuchadnezzar had said there in verse 29: “There is no other God who can deliver like this.” God, that’s your idea of deliverance?

What’s your idea of deliverance? Or even go wider. What’s your idea of the Lord and His work? The Scriptures reveal Him to be a God of power, a God of peace, a God of provision. A God who works and moves and leads His people. A God who broadcasts His glory and grace through the lives of His servants. Passages like this one, which inspire us so much, also invite us to take a look at whether this is how God is operating in our own lives. No, we don’t face a daily threat of martyrdom, but look in the Bible. Is there any servant of God who the Lord came to and said, “Ok, you’re My child. You’re My servant, and I’ve decided I’m not going to do anything in your life. You stay here, nothing’s gonna happen, then I’ll bring you to heaven at the end of your time on earth!” Of course not! In fact, we see that God uses every kind of person in every sort of place to reveal Himself and to accomplish His work. He uses shepherds and farmers and kings and academics. He uses government officials and household servants, poets and business owners, fishermen and soldiers. Moms and children. Prisoners and conquerors. Poor people, rich people. Strong people. Weak people. He uses all kinds. To show Himself. To show His power. That’s what He does.

In a sense, Nebuchadnezzar’s blasphemous statement in verse 15 is why you are on the earth right now. “Who is the God who will deliver you?” And the Lord used the lives of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego to answer.

Who is the God who forgives sins? Who is the God who redeems? Who is the God who heals the broken hearted? Who is the God who restores? Who is the God who overcomes and transforms and empowers and loves? Who is the God who could do these things? The answer is delivered through us. That’s God’s big idea. That’s His idea of action and deliverance.

Do Or Die (Daniel 3:1-12)

It’s the time of year when hurricanes are in the news. In some cases, there seems to be a long buildup before the storm hits. Last month with Florence on the way, 1.7 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes in the Carolinas and Virginia. Then this week it seemed like Hurricane Michael came out of nowhere. Today, USA Today posted a story titled, Too late to run: Hurricane Michael set to crash into Florida as historic, Category 4 storm. Florida Governor Rick Scott said at a press conference: “The time to evacuate coastal areas has come and gone…If you are in an inland county you might have one more chance to evacuate, but only if local officials say it is safe.”

The storms of life tend to be just as erratic as hurricanes. Some are a slow build you can see forming on the horizon. Others hit without warning. In those situations, particularly when they involve an attack on our spiritual lives, what can we do to walk victoriously, without compromising our love for the Lord?

Daniel and his 3 friends give us an treasure trove of examples. Chapter 3 has one of the most famous of them: The Fiery Furnace incident.

Our verses this evening are pretty straightforward, even a little bit repetitive. Even still, they are full of a lot of important content. I’d like us to take a look at what we’re seeing from 3 angles: First, the consider what it would’ve been like to be one of the Godly Hebrews in this story. Second, to compare King Nebuchadnezzar with our own King, Jesus. And third, to address a controversy or two that comes out of this text.

Let’s take a few minutes and consider what it would’ve been like to live out these verses, as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego did.

When we last left off, they had been promoted to oversee all the affairs over the province of Babylon. Daniel was in, perhaps, one of the highest offices in the government, but his 3 friends weren’t much further down the ladder. They held key positions of power in the empire.

We’re not sure how long it’s been between chapter 2 and chapter 3. Based on what we’re told in verse 12 of our text, we know that it does have to be after. Some scholars feel it would’ve been a year or two, some feel it could be as many as 20 years. We simply don’t know.

It says there in verse 1:

Daniel 3:1 – Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.

Archaeologists have found a brick foundation upon which this statue may have been set up. The dimensions and proximity to the city line up with the record here. While we’re short on some details, here’s what we know: This thing was quite large. As tall as an 8 story building. Taller than the Colossus of Rhodes. Taller than anything we’ve got in Hanford. Quite a display.

Now, if we were reading Daniel’s book without taking week-long breaks, this would (of course) feel very connected to the previous story, where Nebuchadnezzar had had his dream of a glorious statue. Daniel had told him, “The image symbolizes the flow of human history, each segment representing a different world empire. Babylon was simply the first portion.”

And then what do we see? Nebuchadnezzar sets up an image. But he doesn’t recreate what he saw in his dream. No, in a bold affront to God, he makes the entire image of gold. Signaling that he rejected God’s truth, that his rule and empire would eventually end. His act was a blasphemous challenge to Daniel’s God. “Oh You think You’re in charge? I’ll show You who the everlasting king is!”

Now, put yourself in the place of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. You’re living life. Doing your job. Honoring your God. And evil comes knocking. It crops up right in your own back yard. Profound evil. Blasphemy. Now, I’m guessing this was no surprise to them. After all, this was a pretty significant building project. The dedication service was huge, with a lot of moving parts. It would’ve taken quite some time to plan. And our 3 heroes were over the affairs of that province. It was more than likely that they knew what was coming.

That’s how storms can happen for us sometimes. For example, these attacks on our Christianity will sometimes come in the form of a new law or ballot proposition. In those situations, because we live in the greatest country in the world, we often have the opportunity to vote and to voice our opposition. We have the chance to say, “No, we would like that not to happen.” And we should make it a point to engage Biblically in that process when we can. But that wasn’t the case in Babylon. No vote. No protest. This storm had been brewing and finally made landfall one day.

Daniel 3:2-3 – 2 And King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to gather together the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 3 So the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered together for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

This was a huge event. It was everybody. Military officials, administrative officials, religious officials. Bureaucrats, financial guys, intellectuals, from far and wide were all brought there to be a part. This would’ve taken a decent amount of time to organize. What is most remarkable to me is that these 3 guys did not find a way to escape the dedication, but met it head on. Think about it: They were men of means. Men of power. They could get their hands on a chariot. They could’ve found a way to hide. But they didn’t. Why not? Aren’t there times when God’s people are allowed to run? Of course. The life of Paul shows us that sometimes God has His people run, and sometimes He has them brace for impact. Once when Paul’s life was threatened, he was lowered down the walls of Jerusalem in a basket so he could escape. Once when he heard of a conspiracy to kill him, he reported it to the Romans and received a huge protection unit to get him where he needed to go. And, other times, he willingly, willfully endured brutal attack for the sake of the Gospel, refusing to escape.

What all these Bible examples reveal is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to a situation like this. Which means, we must be Spirit led. Daniel’s 3 friends were. As they saw this dedication service taking shape, they realized God wanted them to attend, knowing full well what that might mean. Now, we know why they needed to go. But they didn’t know what was going to happen.
In this instance, God had a great plan and wanted them in place that day. What was supposed to be the dedication of a blasphemous idol would instead become a demonstration of their dedication to Jehovah and it would become one of the most inspiring and enduring stories of the Old Testament.

Who knows what your day might hold! We have no way of seeing the future the way God can, and so we must be Spirit led in our choices and conduct.

Daniel 3:4-7 – 4 Then a herald cried aloud: “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5 that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; 6 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”
7 So at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the horn, flute, harp, and lyre, in symphony with all kinds of music, all the people, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the gold image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

A very clear choice was set before them: Life or death. There our 3 heroes were, in the moment faced with the choice of who they would serve: The Lord, or the world. From the time of the proclamation and the start of the symphony, they would have only moments to decide.

What do you do in a scene like this? Or, as is more common for us, when we have to make a choice whether to compromise or not in some less severe way? Very few of us have to actually face a life and death choice in our regular lives. But all of us have to make choices regarding Godliness, integrity, serving God or serving the world. Spiritual faithfulness or compromise.

The Scriptures declare that if we’re brought into a situation that’s this severe, the Holy Spirit will fill us with all the power and all the words we need. It’s a great promise from the Lord. But there’s a practical principle we can keep in mind as well.

Notice how it’s worded. The herald said, “To you it is commanded.” That seems final. It seems like there would be no other option. Yet, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, the Christian is operating under a set of directives that supersede any command like this one. Think of all those cars whose license plate says, “CA Exempt.” If your car is on the road, you are commanded to register it. Unless you’re operating under a higher office. Then that vehicle is exempt.

For a Godly person, a person who belonged to the Lord, this situation in Babylon was serious, but not an unsolvable problem. The decision was already made! Of course we can’t obey this decree. Promote it how you want, incentivize or threaten us how you want. The choice is already decided.

Daniel 3:8-12 – 8 Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and accused the Jews. 9 They spoke and said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the gold image; 11 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.”

I suppose these Chaldeans had stopped caring about the fact that these 3 Hebrews were instrumental in saving their lives back in chapter 2. Daniel uses particularly strong language in verse 8 when he says they “accused” the Jews. It’s a term that means something like “devour” or “tore limb from limb.” It was vicious and hate-filled. They symbolize for us our accuser, the Devil, who (we’re told) accuses the brethren day and night, seeking to devour and destroy. We need not fear, though, because just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego had the Lord standing with them in their trial, so we have our Advocate, Jesus Christ, who is so much greater than the accuser.

The Chaldeans here show their hand. They’re jealous of the position the guys were in. And there in verse 12 they make their accusation. Part of what they say is true, and part is not true. It was true that Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego did not worship the image or serve the gods of Babylon. Everyone knew, all the time, that these guys and Daniel were, first and foremost, servants of the Most High God. They were open about it. It was obvious. May it be said of us that we do not worship the gods of this world, but are servants of the Most High God.

But they also said something that was not true. They said, “[they] have not paid due regard to you, [Nebuchadnezzar].” And that simply wasn’t true. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego were 3 of the best employees the empire had. They were men of honor and integrity. They had found favor in the palace. They are an effective example of what it means to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. What was due Nebuchadnezzar they had given. Worship was not due him. As Christians, we need to be careful to make sure that we give to God what belongs to God and to give it to Him only. It’s all too easy for us to betray His rule in our lives through compromise or fear or convenience. Be careful that we give the Lord all His due and to not give any of it away.

We’ll leave the text suspended for now. Now, let’s take a moment to compare two kings. This is a theme that keeps cropping up in the book. We’re all called to choose who we’ll serve. Will we serve the Kingdom of Jesus or the kingdom of the world? Well, take a look at how the world’s king works. You have a man who cares nothing for his closet advisors, his best and brightest servants. He cares only for himself. He’d kill you just as soon as look at you. Notice, he set up the image and the furnace at the same time. As the herald made his proclamation, it’s clear the furnace was good to go. Our Lord extends grace and mercy and love, the absolute opposite of Nebuchadnezzar’s way of doing things. Perhaps you’re thinking: “Ah, but what about hell? Isn’t that the same thing?” The difference is, Nebuchadnezzar made the furnace to intimidate and strike fear and to take pleasure in destroying those who dared cross him. God says that hell was made for the devil and his angels. He’s not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance so that He can save them and adopt them as sons and daughters, giving them an everlasting inheritance in the perfection of heaven.

Here we see Nebuchadnezzar would rather surround himself with despicable, backstabbing, murderous yes-men like the Chaldeans, than give these excellent Hebrews the freedom to worship their God. Christ, we’re told, makes us free. He gives us real freedom that we might reciprocate the love He has shone to us.

This life on earth, it’s like living in Babylon. We have pressures, storms, choices whether we’ll compromise or not. Consider the kings and choose who you really wish to serve.

Finally, we should address two controversies in this text.

Believe it or not, the first has to do with the orchestra. If you read commentaries, even from some really solid guys, you may encounter one or two who use this text to try to suggest that utilizing instruments in a worship service is ungodly. That it is worldly and carnal. That it appeals to the base, pagan heart of man. Babylon did it here to encourage blasphemous worship, therefore using instruments to praise God in heaven is evil.

Well, there’s a lot we could say on that issue, but I’ll just stick with one point from the text: If we’re to extract from these verses that instruments in worship is bad because it’s what Babylon did, we must also come to the conclusion that acting as heralds, who proclaim the message of our king, warning of the judgment to come is also evil. Right? If the use of an orchestra is carnal, so is the herald! What did the herald do? He took his king’s message to every people, nation and language, proclaiming the life and death choice: That all men must bow or face the wrath of the king. In a way, isn’t that the way we evangelize? Isn’t that preaching? You cannot build a doctrine of worship from a text like this. So, just a word to you who read commentaries and may come across the argument.

But then the second question: Where was Daniel? He is nowhere to be found in the entire story.

There are 3 options: Option 1: Daniel bowed to the image. That is simply unbelievable. This was a man who was ready to die for his God not just once in a fit of religiosity, but as a pattern of life.

Option 2: He didn’t bow, but the Chaldeans were too afraid of him to lump him in with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. This too seems too fantastic to believe, since Daniel is not found interceding for his brothers in any way. He put his life on the line to save the pagan wise men, but he stood idly by while his closest friends were thrown in the fire?

Option 3: Daniel, as Secretary of State, was away on some business that kept him from being in attendance at this dedication ceremony. This not only makes the most sense, but actually gives us a wonderful type, a picture, of the end times. Remember: This is a prophetic book. We learn a lot about God’s plan for Israel in the end times. In these passages, Nebuchadnezzar, the wicked world leader, is a type of the AntiChrist. The image he set up is a type of the Abomination of Desolation, which Daniel will talk to us about in chapter 12. The 3 Jewish believers become a type of the nation of Israel, enduring the fiery trials of the Great Tribulation. Daniel, being mysteriously absent, then becomes a type for us of the Church. Gone from the scene. The Church will be raptured before the events of the Great Tribulation, just as Daniel is not found suffering with the others, but is altogether absent from the story. It’s a great, hidden picture in this famous story.

And so, as we await that moment when we are caught up to be with the Lord, we remember that we walk in power. We have no need to fear, whether a storm comes out of nowhere or builds on the horizon. We know who we believe, we serve our King and He loves us, He is with us and He will see us through whatever we face in life.

Dream On (Daniel 2:24-49)

When the sun rises on a certain day in Daniel chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar was living out his Babylonian dream. He was the supreme ruler of much of the world, had vast stores of treasure and power. It seemed like things we’re going to get better and better. But, one night, he started thinking about the trajectory not only of his life, but of his empire and the wider world. What was going to happen? That evening, he had a dream. A dream that shocked and disturbed him to his core. And then, the next night, he had it again. Then again. And again.

He didn’t understand this vision, but he desperately wanted to. There was something profoundly real and significant about what he was seeing and it consumed his thoughts. We’ve been looking at this the last couple of weeks.

When we left off, Daniel, the teenage prisoner of war, had miraculously received the interpretation of the dream after a prayer meeting with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. Tonight, he brings the answer Nebuchadnezzar was so desperate for, but it’s not just for the king, it is, in fact, a broad outline of God’s plan for human history, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar himself and then running all the way through to the end of the age, when Christ returns to establish His Kingdom on the earth.

In this outline we’ll see the succession of 4 world empires before the Messiah returns. Now, perhaps that statement makes you think, “Wait a minute, there have been way more than 4 world empires since Babylon. What about the Mongols or the Ottomans or the British Empire or the Qing Dynasty?” The answer is that when the Bible talks about God’s prophetic plan, it is in relation to those empires which ruled over Judea and the nation of Israel. When we understand that, it’s easy to see just how perfectly accurate Bible prophecy really is.

The text breaks into 3 parts. In verses 24 through 30 we have the set up. In verses 31 through 45 we have the retelling and the interpretation of the dream. And in verses 46 through 49 we have Nebuchadnezzar’s response to what he has heard. We begin in verse 24.

Daniel 2:24 – 24 Therefore Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; take me before the king, and I will tell the king the interpretation.”

Daniel is always fearless in his behavior. He doesn’t send a letter to the mad king, he says, “take ME to him.” In the Bible, we always admire those servants of God who say, “here am I, send me.” We think of Caleb saying “give me my mountain.” Or David saying, “I’ll fight the giant.” We think of Stephen in the book of Acts standing fearlessly as a witness before the Sanhedrin and then the first martyr of the Church.

If we find that we are Christians who shy away from preaching or serving, then we know how to be praying in our own lives, that we would have boldness and confidence and faith like Daniel.

Daniel 2:25 – 25 Then Arioch quickly brought Daniel before the king, and said thus to him, “I have found a man of the captives of Judah, who will make known to the king the interpretation.”

Mixed bag here with Arioch. He seems to have some personal decency. We saw that last week. He’s moving quickly to get Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar. Clearly he didn’t get excited about murdering all the wise men. On the other hand, he lies about his part in all this. He didn’t find Daniel, Daniel found him! So a good reminder for us to be people of real integrity and honesty.

Daniel 2:26-28a – 26 The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen, and its interpretation?” 27 Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, “The secret which the king has demanded, the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot declare to the king. 28 But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days…

Once again, we see Daniel is in no hurry, he’s not stressed out. His very life was hanging in the balance, and yet he takes the time to talk about the Lord. Clearly he gave a lot of thought to what he would say to the king when he got the chance. One thing Daniel highlights is the fact that this all-knowing God was personally reaching out to Nebuchadnezzar. He says, “This God has made known to you these things.”

What a remarkable statement! Nebuchadnezzar had ‘served’ many gods in pagan Babylon, but none of them had ever had anything other than silence for Nebuchadnezzar. Now, for the first time, he hears, “There’s a real God who wants to tell you something.” This is a great way to evangelize!

Daniel uses a very important phrase there in verse 28 which helps us categorize what we are about to read. He says, “what will be in the latter days.” This is a phrase used in the Bible, specifically in prophecy, that is wide in scope, but does not simply refer to the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s life, but can extend all the way through to the end of human history. We find it, for example, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea and Micah.

Daniel 2:28b-30 – Your dream, and the visions of your head upon your bed, were these: 29 As for you, O king, thoughts came to your mind while on your bed, about what would come to pass after this; and He who reveals secrets has made known to you what will be. 30 But as for me, this secret has not been revealed to me because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but for our sakes who make known the interpretation to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your heart.

Something I love about these verses is how God went the extra mile. Remember: Nebuchadnezzar had told his wise men “You have to tell me the dream and then the interpretation.” That was, of course, impossible. But here, God not only gives the interpretation and the dream, Daniel is able to say, “Here’s what you were thinking before you even went to sleep!”

But here, Daniel doubles down and states again that God had come looking for Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel says, “Look, God wants to save my life, but He also wants you to know the thoughts of your heart. He’s a God of revelation and answers and personal care, even for a man like you, Nebuchadnezzar. He’s a God of compassion.

Daniel 2:31-33 – 31 “You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. 32 This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.

In his dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a magnificent statue. It was full of earthly glory, immense and formidable. We see it described from the top down in 5 portions. What we notice is that each section is less precious than the last, but that each is also harder than the last, until the toes which mingles the strongest metal with the weakness of clay.

Daniel 2:34-36a – 34 You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. 36 “This is the dream…

The statue stands until a stone emerges and strikes the feet. Note that only the feet are struck. And, as a result, the entire image is ground to powder and blown away, without a trace being left. And then, this powerful stone starts to grow. If we thought the metal image was impressive, standing tall in some field somewhere, now we’re really seeing something, as this stone grows and fills the entire earth. As the dream closes, we see that this stone is greater than the statue in power and magnitude on a level that cannot be computed. Having retold the dream, Daniel now gives the explanation.

Daniel 2:36b-38 – …Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king. 37 You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; 38 and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold.

This is very important for us to lock in on: The golden head was a symbol for a real man and his real kingdom. It doesn’t stand for something metaphorical or allegorical. Daniel is clear: “You, Nebuchadnezzar, are the head of gold and your kingdom is a portion of this vision.” But he’s immediately told that it’s all from the Lord. And, as readers, we’re reminded that he may be a king of kings, but he is not THE King of kings. No matter who has power, God’s power is greater.

Daniel 2:39 – 39 But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth.

We can fill in what Daniel doesn’t specify here because this passage doesn’t exist in isolation. This vision isn’t an only child. There is more revealed not only in the rest of this book, but in the rest of the Bible. You know, more than a quarter of the Bible is prophetic in nature. So, we can combine the other things we’re told in other passages, and we can also look back through recorded history and gain insight into what some of these elements are. We can’t read prophetic passages in isolation. That’s a quick way to theological trouble. The Bible harmonizes. Daniel will cooperate with Ezekiel and Isaiah and Revelation and they will, together, explain what God wants us to know.

The second world empire, the silver kingdom, is the Medo-Persian empire. We’re told as much in Daniel 5:28.

Daniel 5:28 – Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

After Babylon, the kingdom which ruled over Israel was the Medo-Persian empire. Why was it inferior? Well, many scholars point to the fact that the ruler of the Medes and Persians was not in total control, like Nebuchadnezzar had been. We’ll see Darius the king getting taken advantage of and how he himself is subject to the law. Others argue that the downgrade in metals signifies the deterioration of morality with each empire. Hard to say which is more appropriate.

The 3rd kingdom, made of bronze, was the empire of the Greeks. Alexander the Great conquered the Persians in 331 B.C. that included the region of Judea. In fact, the historian Josephus records that when Alexander came into Jerusalem, the high priest brought him to the temple and showed him the book of Daniel, saying, “We knew you were coming.”

Now, the fourth kingdom.

Daniel 2:40 – 40 And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others.

We identify this as the Roman empire. It was Rome who conquered the Greeks and, in 63 B.C., took control of Judea. Rome was known for strength and ferocity. These characteristics are developed in another vision we’ll see in Daniel 7. One writer said: “Rome’s rise and fall was like a human weather system, as destructive as nature’s most violent hurricanes.”

But, unlike the previous 3 kingdoms of Babylon, Persia and Greece, this empire has a second phase in the vision. The first is the legs of iron, but then we see a 5th segment, the feet and toes, where iron is mixed with clay. So we see 4 empires in 5 parts.

Daniel 2:41-43 – 41 Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. 43 As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.

This second phase of the Roman empire, is characterized by this amalgam of strength with weakness. In verse 44 we’ll be told that it will not be ruled by one single monarch, but by kings, plural. This is developed in greater detail in chapter 7.

Daniel 2:44-45 – 44 And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. 45 Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold—the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure.”

The Stone made without hands is a clear reference to the Messiah. This imagery is developed in the multiple verses dealing with God’s Cornerstone which the builders rejected, found in Psalms and the Gospels, and, after the resurrection Jesus is referred to the Temple made without hands.

So here in our text we see that, at some point, the Messiah of God will arrive, strike the kingdom which is represented by the feet and toes of this statue, and then all human empires will be totally wiped away. Then an everlasting, heavenly kingdom will be established in place of the previous world kingdoms.

The question arises: Is this referring to Christ’s first coming or His second coming. While to us the answer is obvious, there are many Christians and branches of the Church which hold to the idea that this image of the stone is simply an analogy for the first coming of Christ and the spread of the Gospel. Their teaching is that there is no, literal, future Kingdom, but that the Kingdom is now in heaven and in our hearts, expressed through the Church.

There are a lot of insurmountable problems with that interpretation. The worst one, in my mind, is the fact that you have to change the way you interpret the vision in the middle of the vision! The head of gold? That’s a real man and a real kingdom. The chest of silver? The belly of bronze? Oh yes, each one was a real, literal kingdom. The coming, heavenly Kingdom? Oh, that’s just allegorical. Not real. In other words, in the first half of the vision, 2+2=4 but in the second half 2+2=just about anything other than 4!

Another problem is that, in the first coming of Jesus, He did not destroy the Roman empire. In fact, He said plainly, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar!” He ascended into heaven with Tiberius on his throne! And then, from that time, have we seen the Gospel go out and conquer all human empires? Quite the contrary! It has spread, but it has not conquered.

Instead, we recognize this vision to be discussing the second coming of Christ at the end of the future Great Tribulation, when He will establish a real, literal, thousand year reign on the earth, followed by eternity in Heaven. We interpret the feet and toes to be a revived Roman empire that is yet to come on the scene. Why? Because no other empire in history has fit the bill. And no other Gentile kingdom after the first Roman empire has ruled over Judea with God’s people in their land. In 70AD, under the first Roman empire, the Jews were dispersed and were stateless for 2,000 years. Then in 1948 they came back and have been independent until now. A future, revived Roman empire is coming, which will rule over Israel and fulfill Daniel 2.

The text closes, starting in verse 46:

Daniel 2:46-48 – 46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, prostrate before Daniel, and commanded that they should present an offering and incense to him. 47 The king answered Daniel, and said, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret.” 48 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.

Nebuchadnezzar is not a believer yet. He’ll get there, but his proclamations are in response to the remarkable wonder he just witnessed. However we’ll see in the very next text that he defies God in response to this vision.

We note Daniel’s generosity and kindness to his friends, watching out for them. And that is a great exhortation for us.

Here as we see God’s broad plan for the world, we are encouraged that God is most definitely in charge. The victory is His and He extends that victory to us in whatever empire we might find ourselves in. Along the way, we can be like Daniel: People who are bold, full of faith and integrity, confident in the work of God, kind and generous toward others, humble about ourselves and sharing the truth of God’s personal compassion, even with the worst people around us. That’s the life of privilege we’ve been granted by the grace of our Lord.

Ultimatum For A Dream (Daniel 2:1-13)

In the last few years the political world has seen a shift away from relying on so-called policy “experts.” This has been a theme in both the Trump campaign and administration and notably in the Brexit. In 2016, then High Chancellor Michael Gove, a leader in the charge to leave the European Union, said: “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts with organizations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.”

There has been a lot of talk and study done on why people seem to trust so-called experts less and less. Some suggest it has to do with crowdsourcing and the success of social media. We reach for Yelp rather than Zagat’s when we’re restaurant hunting these days. One piece of research was looking into why trust in experts has eroded and here’s what they found:

“The authors argue that for an expert to be [trustworthy] they need three characteristics: expertise, integrity and benevolence. In other words, knowing stuff isn’t enough. For us to rate a person as a trustworthy expert they need to know their information, to be honest and to be good-hearted.”

The problem is, on average we have a growing suspicion that the expert talking to us from the TV lacks integrity and is, perhaps, not as interested in our well-being as their own wealth-building.

Here in Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar is going to find that his own experts could not be trusted. And it couldn’t come at a worse time for him. He’s got a question that must be answered. He’s had a recurring dream and he is so disturbed by it, he can no longer sleep. He can’t get it out of his mind. So, he calls the very best experts Babylon has to offer, hoping they can make some sense of it.

Now, if you were a Babylonian wise man, this was a tricky situation. Because, when you go to talk to Nebuchanezzar, you don’t really want him to be exhausted, on edge and wigged out. But even more than that, these guys would have a real reason to fear because they didn’t actually know what they were talking about. They didn’t have real insight into the things they claimed to know about. But the king brought them in that day and gave them a do-or-die challenge.

As students of this story, we’ll see once again a wonderful comparison between the Babylonian king and our own King Jesus. And we can think about some principles of truth and our part to play as ministers of the truth when desperate men come looking for answers.

Daniel 2 is a very significant portion of Scripture for a number of reasons. First of all, it is often called the ABCs of prophecy. Charles Feinberg writes:

“Whoever wishes to understand the prophetic Scriptures must come to this chapter for the broad outline of God’s future program for the nations, for Israel and for the glorious kingdom of the Messiah.” We’ll see that in the later part of the chapter as Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is explained.

But this chapter is also significant because, if we were reading in the original or ancient manuscripts, we’d see that, beginning in verse 4, Daniel switches from writing in Hebrew to writing in Aramaic. From the quote in verse 4 all the way through the end of chapter 7 the book is written in Aramaic. Dr. Charles Ryrie points out that “Aramaic was the common language of the Assyrian Empire and was used in both the neo-Babylonian and Persian empires as a diplomatic and commercial language.” And so, this revelation for the Gentile world was written in their own language, that they might understand it. If a Gentile read these texts, they would see a message about God intervening and His plan to continue intervening throughout the flow of history, culminating in the establishment of a heavenly Kingdom on the earth.

This revelation from God starts not with a directive being given to a Jewish prophet, but with a dream being given to a pagan king.

Daniel 2:1 – Now in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was so troubled that his sleep left him.

Scholars argue over when exactly this took place. It has to do with how Babylonians marked the years of kings and that sort of thing. But our text begins either toward the end of Daniel’s training or soon after graduation.

Linguists point out the strength of the words used. When it says that his sleep left him it can be translated as, “his sleep was done for!” He would find no rest until this issue was dealt with.

I don’t know if any of you have had recurring nightmares, but (as bad as they are) their effect usually dissipates as soon as you wake up. “Oh, it was just a bad dream!” But, for Nebuchadnezzar, this was different. We’ll see later that there’s nothing particularly scary about what he saw, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that this dream really mattered, it really meant something.

In verse 29 we learn that the king would spend time thinking about what was going to come to pass in the future. What was going to happen to this empire of his? To this world? And he knew this dream he kept having had some connection to those thoughts.

Daniel 2:2 – 2 Then the king gave the command to call the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king.

This is quite a meeting. Daniel lists 4 classes of experts here. These are smart guys. Powerful guys. They each claimed to have secret knowledge or abilities. Whether it was knowing the past or divining the future, conjuring spells or making potions, reading the stars or contacting the dead.

This meeting was what they lived for. They should be all over this. The king needs them and they get to do their hocus-pocus and enlarge their mystique. This is starting off as a good day for these guys. Now, it’s not all the wise men in the realm, just some representatives. Daniel, we’ll find out, isn’t here.

Daniel 2:3-4 – 3 And the king said to them, “I have had a dream, and my spirit is anxious to know the dream.” 4 Then the Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will give the interpretation.”

This is a pretty normal situation for the time and place. We recall in Genesis when Pharaoh had an unusual dream and called his guys in, which is what ended up getting Joseph out of prison. The wise men here figure they’ll get the dream, run it through their regular system and churn out a palatable message to the king. They don’t know what we’ve already been told: That this is not just business as usual for Nebuchadnezzar. In his mind, this is a critical situation.

Daniel 2:5-6 – 5 The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “My decision is firm: if you do not make known the dream to me, and its interpretation, you shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made an ash heap. 6 However, if you tell the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts, rewards, and great honor. Therefore tell me the dream and its interpretation.”

There is some disagreement about the translation in verse 5. The King James says that Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten his dream. If you’re reading the NASB, the section title is “The King’s Forgotten Dream.” But most versions will favor what we read, not that the king had forgotten the dream, but he was firmly decided concerning his plan. From the context it seems clear that he obviously knew what it was that was in his mind, which is how he was able to test whether these wise men knew what they were talking about.

What had started off as a normal day for these guys had suddenly become a life-and-death situation. But, in reality, this is the balance every human being finds themselves in all the time. At some point there will be a moment when we will be called before the throne and, at that throne, there are only 2 options: Life or death. The difference is, King Jesus is a King of grace, not a king of savage rage like Nebuchadnezzar. Jesus Christ doesn’t make us work to save ourselves, rather He offers life and salvation and the forgiveness of sins as a free gift. But the point is, whether a person realizes it or not, they are in a life-and-death situation when it comes to their eternity. The wise men of Babylon were facing destruction for being unable to perform for the king. Those who die and go to hell aren’t sent there because they were unable to do something for Jesus, but because they were unwilling to receive Him as Savior. If you’re unsaved here tonight, you need to know that you will stand before God one day and you will have to give an account.

Daniel 2:7 – 7 They answered again and said, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will give its interpretation.”

The Chaldeans were between a rock and a hard place. They had no answers, but needed to say something. They stalled for time, hoping the king’s mood might improve.

But, when we think about it, what Nebuchadnezzar was asking for really wasn’t that crazy. If these men really did have the power to see the future, manipulate reality, conjure magic and all that they claimed, why shouldn’t they be able to tell him the dream? I mean, when you hire a chef to cook a dinner, they don’t come in and say, “Ok, you do all the prep and the cooking of the food, then I’ll plate it up so you can eat it.” So, in a strange way, we understand Nebuchadnezzar’s logic.

Daniel 2:8-9 – 8 The king answered and said, “I know for certain that you would gain time, because you see that my decision is firm: 9 if you do not make known the dream to me, there is only one decree for you! For you have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the time has changed. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation.”

It’s hard to live under a tyrant. But, it’s also hard to be the guy at the top too. Some of you are familiar with the story of the Sword of Damocles. It could’ve been written about Nebuchadnezzar. He’s got all this power, but he also knows that these wise men of his aren’t really as concerned with his well being as their are their own wealth, their own success, their own position. After all, most of them had served under Nebuchadnezzar’s father, and, theoretically, they’d still be around when the next man was on the throne.

It’s not just Babylon, this still happens today with yes-men and people with their own agendas. A famous Stanford study found that “most published research findings are false.” Sometimes it’s because companies fund the research and either suppress negative findings, or it’s understood that only positive findings will be found. For example, Coca Cola has paid scientists who mysteriously discover that it’s lack of exercise, not eating habits, that cause obesity.

In First Kings chapter 22 King Ahab and King Jehoshaphat are making some plans for battle and they call in all the experts who all say, “oh yes, you guys are right on.” They’re clearly just flattering, so Jehoshaphat finally says, “Is there not still a prophet of the Lord here, that we may inquire of Him?” And the servant of God comes in and says, “Yeah, here’s what’s gonna happen: You’re gonna die.” And the kings realize he’s the one speaking the truth, not the others. But they still go to war.

Now, here we can apply a principle to our own hearts. As Christians, we’ve been given the truth from God through His revelation. We know about heaven and hell, about salvation and judgment. Unlike these wise men, we don’t have to fake it, we can speak on the authority of God’s Word. So, when the lost come to us, looking for answers, we can’t just feed them feel good treats. They need the truth. The truth with love, but the real truth about life and death.

Sometimes Christians or churches make the mistake of withholding certain aspects of the truth, like our responsibility for sin or the coming judgment or the call to repentance, because we want unbelievers to feel good and join in and then, eventually, we’ll let them know the whole truth. But that’s not the job. The job is to speak the truth in love, because this is eternal life and death we’re dealing with.

Unfortunately for these Chaldeans, they had nothing to say in the situation, so they simply protest.

Daniel 2:10-11 – 10 The Chaldeans answered the king, and said, “There is not a man on earth who can tell the king’s matter; therefore no king, lord, or ruler has ever asked such things of any magician, astrologer, or Chaldean. 11 It is a difficult thing that the king requests, and there is no other who can tell it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.”

So here they out themselves as, essentially, being fakes! They say, “Yeah, people don’t know that kind of stuff…we certainly don’t know it!” …Then what about all those other dreams you’ve interpreted?

They say “it is a difficult thing that the king requests.” This reminds us as ministers of the truth, ministers of God’s wisdom, sometimes we will be called into the business of difficult things. The truth is not always easy to preach or explain, but it is exceedingly precious and necessary.

At the end of verse 11 we have that great moment where they say, “the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” What a sad thing to have to say about your god. And what a difference when we compare it with the God of the Bible. Emmanuel, God with us! If time allowed we could look at over a dozen verses which specifically reference God dwelling with flesh, with His people, in the past, in the present and that it is His specific plan for the future to dwell with us forever. It’s so important to Him that Jesus Christ took on flesh and will live for all eternity as the GodMan that He might be with us. God dwelling with flesh is what our Lord is all about. And so, once again, we see how the remarkable stories of Daniel reveal an extraordinary and marvelous God.

Daniel 2:12-13 – 12 For this reason the king was angry and very furious, and gave the command to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. 13 So the decree went out, and they began killing the wise men; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them.

It’s not clear how this worked. He may have killed this representative group where they stood. It seems more likely that he ordered all these guys be rounded up so that they could be publicly executed. But we see this is the kind of king Nebuchadnezzar was. The kind that would have you torn limb from limb when you were unable to do something that was impossible to do!

Compare him to our King. What does He do? He’s the King who washed His servants’ feet. The King who makes the impossible possible for us. The King who intercedes and loves and never asks us to do something that He won’t then empower us to accomplish. He’s the King who died for His enemies, not one who butchers His servants.

Next time we’re together we’ll see Daniel come on the scene. A theme in the book is how he’s just living life, minding his own business, and trials come knocking. But, whenever they do, as a servant of God, Daniel has power and truth and revelation on his side and God is able to use him in mighty ways.

You and I have power and truth and revelation available to us today as well. We are scattered here to represent and serve a King of grace and love and life. A King who has real answers for all the questions that matter. Serve confidently, speak clearly, and walk in the truth He has revealed.

Less Is More (Daniel 1:8-21)

The phrase “less is more” is first attributed to a 1855 poem by Robert Browning about the Italian painter Andrea del Sarto. Contemporary with Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, Del Sarto was known by some as “the unerring” because of the perfect correctness with which he painted.

We see a great portrait of another unerring young man here in chapter 1. Daniel’s faith would be put to the test right from the beginning of his time in Babylon. The question was: Here, so far from home, with so few options and such great pressures, would his devotion still be real or would his spiritual fire burn out?

As we see this remarkable man and his 3 friends triumph over adversity, we’ll also note that, with God, often times less is more. He can do much with little. He can satisfy thousands with five loaves and two fish. Daniel’s example should encourage us. Because even when we’re in the “less” times of life, in Christ we have more strength and backing and supply available to us than we could ever ask or imagine and we learn that God is doing more than we realize to accomplish His purposes.

When we last left off, Daniel and his 3 friends had been carried from Jerusalem to Babylon and put into a training program along with many other Jewish boys, where they would be fashioned into Babylonian academics and officials to serve the empire. We begin at verse 8 with what is probably the key verse when it comes to the biographical, narrative portions of Daniel.

Daniel 1:8 – 8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

In the previous passage we saw that the young men in this program were the cream of the crop physically and intellectually. They were captives, yes, but had been recruited for this project and would be treated not unlike some of these big schools treat quarterbacks today. They were worked hard, but treated very well. In fact, the king was feeding them from his own table the best of the best that Babylon had to offer.

But, there was a problem. The menu would include non-kosher meats like pork (for example) and Babylon was a deeply pagan kingdom. This food would have been dedicated to idols, maybe even at the start of each meal. We run into this same issue in the New Testament as well. Paul has to give instruction to Christians about how to handle food offered to idols. Now, in our case as Church-age Christians who are not constrained by the Levitical law, Paul’s answer was to discuss liberty and how to handle it while not stumbling others around us. But for Daniel this wasn’t an option. This food was doubly prohibited. The problem was it was all the food he got.

It wasn’t like when I’ve gone to Colombia and have been served something I can’t really stomach. I know I can just sorta hold out or pass it off and then I’ll go get a bag of chips later on. This was it for Daniel. There wasn’t another menu for him to choose off of.

We’re told here, though, that he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself.” What a great line! We see here the proper perspective and the practical response. Daniel wasn’t concerned that he’d just look less spiritual to the other guys if he ate non-kosher food. His concern was that this personal choice would actually ruin his fellowship with the God he loved. He took a look at his plate of food on that first day and thought, “If I eat this, I’m breaking the bond of covenant between me and Jehovah.” This was a big deal and a significant choice he would have to make. But Daniel had resolved that, no matter what, he was going to stay faithful and in fellowship with his God. So, not only do we see his perspective but also his response to his dilemma. He “purposed in his heart” what he would do. He installed this principle in the very core of who he was. Once he had done that, knowing what to do in a situation like this became clear. This is a consistent characteristic not only of Daniel, but of his 3 friends as well. At their core they desired to be in proper relationship to God. And so when these moments of testing come along, though they seem like impossible situations to us as readers, Daniel and the other guys can operate almost casually. They don’t worry, they don’t fear. They’re operating according to this most important principle, and because of that, these personal decisions can become vehicles for a great work of God.

We shouldn’t discount the effort this would require on Daniel’s part. I’m not sure how many days it took him to figure out what he wanted to do, as far as petitioning the chief of staff and then bringing his plan to the steward, but needless to say, Daniel would’ve had some hungry nights. He’s suddenly fasting from every meal, but trusting that the Lord would be faithful as he sought to be faithful to God.

Notice how Daniel approaches the chief of the eunuchs: He doesn’t stage a protest. He doesn’t make demands, rather he makes a request with respect and humility. And it seems he explained why he couldn’t have this food: Because it would ruin his relationship with his God.

Daniel 1:9 – 9 Now God had brought Daniel into the favor and goodwill of the chief of the eunuchs.

Every time we see Daniel or his friends doing something remarkable, we see God doing something even more remarkable. Here, the curtain is drawn back and we see that, behind the scenes, the Lord was working on the heart of this official, to give grace and compassion for Daniel.

Remind yourself of this truth which is presented so often in Scripture: God is very busy on levels high and low, in your home and around the world, working and accomplishing His purpose. You know, the stand out verse in this passage is verse 8, and particularly that phrase, “Daniel purposed in his heart.” But it should always remind us of the fact that God purposes in His heart toward you.

Psalm 57:8 (NLT) – 2 I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.

Romans 8:28 – 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

God is at work around you, in you and for you. As we stay in communion with Him He is able to do great things, even through small details of our lives.

Daniel 1:10 – 10 And the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces looking worse than the young men who are your age? Then you would endanger my head before the king.”
The chief knew his king and he was afraid of him. Rightly so! Nebuchadnezzar had no problem killing anyone on a whim. Now think about our King, Jesus Christ. God with us. The One who gave Himself that we might live. The One that loves us and keeps us and lifts up our heads. We are to have the fear of God, but we aren’t to be afraid of Him. Are you ever afraid of God? Of what you think He might do? Remind yourself that our Lord is not Nebuchadnezzar. He is the Kinsman Redeemer. The Good Shepherd. The Comforter. The Unspeakable Gift.

Notice, too, that for this chief of eunuchs failure would mean death. What about when we fail our King? He meets us with forgiveness and help and instruction. Though we fail Him every day, He saw all those deficiencies and missteps from before the foundation of the world and loved us the same. Think of men like Peter, James and John and the profound failures they produced during Jesus’ ministry on the earth, yet the King took men like that and used them fantastically.

Before we move on, we should appreciate the strength of Daniel’s resolve. His faith had endured the discouragement of captivity. Then the temptation of the delicacies. Here, it would endure the pressure of friends. He and this man Ashpenaz had a real friendship together and Ashpenaz tells him outright: “Your religion is going to get me killed!” That’s a lot of pressure. Apparently the conversation was left open-ended, without Daniel being given a direct command, because in verse 11 he pivots his plan to another official.

Daniel 1:11-14 – 11 So Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king’s delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants.” 14 So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days.

It’s not clear whether Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego had been in on this with Daniel from the beginning but at some point they had joined with him in his determination. Here we see them unified and speaking as one. They supported and strengthened each other in the Lord in the midst of difficulty. Let’s be brothers and sisters like that.

Now, they go to the steward not just to say, “We don’t want to eat this food,” but they come with a plan. I like that. Because it’s all too easy for me to generate a complaint, but what’s really needed is not a complaint but a vision and a solution to issues. The plan they bring is reasonable, but it also is full of heavenly expectation. They put the term of 10 days on it, probably because anything more would be too much of a gamble for the frightened Babylonians, but they obviously had a great confidence that God would respond to their faith providentially. Even after being taken to Babylon, these guys never once allow themselves to think that God is defeated or unable. Rather, they assume His power will prevail and that God will move in their lives as they serve Him.

The alternative diet they suggest was probably not just peas and carrots. The term used here would include all plant-based foods, from veggies to beans to roots and grains. So, they were going vegan. And, at the end of the 10 days, they wanted not just to be evaluated, but to be compared to the others. “Stand us up next to our peers who eat the king’s food, and take a look at the difference.”

Like we saw back in verses 1 and 2, Daniel is the story of a cosmic contest. God vs. the wicked world. Your king vs. mine. Of course, Daniel would’ve known Deuteronomy 8:3 quite well, that man does not live on bread alone. And, knowing what God could do with a little manna powder in the wilderness, what might He be capable of doing with all the vegetables and grains and more that the fields had to offer? Their veggie diet would seem like less from one vantage point, but in reality it was more than necessary for the Lord to use.

There are 4 stories here in the first half of Daniel where their lives were going to be put on the line and they all have a consistent element: In each case, Daniel and his friends will make it clear that, no matter what happens, they will not compromise, but that they were going to go the Lord’s way. We see it here at the end of verse 13 when Daniel says, “[at the end of the 10 days] as you see fit, so deal with your servants.” In other words, “Why don’t we try this out, but, just so you know, after 10 days, we’re still not going to eat this food, so you do what you gotta do.” That’s resolve.

I’d have us note, also, the fact that two things were true of Daniel and his friends: They were on record as being servants of the Most High God, but they were also quick to call themselves servants of their steward or the earthly king throughout these chapters. Their higher loyalty was not hidden away, but it also didn’t keep them from doing their job and doing it well. They would, in fact, faithfully and effectively serve in the empire while never betraying their true loyalty to the God of heaven. It’s a balance most of us have to strike in our own lives and it can be done.

Daniel 1:15-16 – 15 And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies. 16 Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

This is a miraculous work of God. It’s clear that’s how Daniel wants us to read it. Some commentators try to suggest that it was due to the fact that a diet of moderation is healthier, but, in reality, this wasn’t some long period of time, it was less than 2 weeks. And, when I consulted some websites about what happens to you when you do switch to a plant-based diet, generally you can expect to lose weight, not gain it, and you might experience increased fatigue. In the long run, there are a whole lot of benefits to being plant-based, but we’re talking about the first 10 days here. And yet, there was a clear difference between Daniel and the others. The others, we remember, would’ve included some of the Hebrew boys they grew up with who knew what was going on and had made the opposite choice, to not honor the Lord in this decision, but to go the world’s way, and were impoverished for it in more ways than 1. They had more in the chow hall, but much less in the heart.

We’re told in verse 16 that they would stay vegan for all 3 years of their training. Afterward, having a measure of freedom and independence as government officials, they would’ve been able to make their own diet, clear of non-kosher foods or those sacrificed to idols. In chapter 10, Daniel will reference that he, once again, was an eater of meat and wine.

But for those 3 years, the guys were happy to have ‘less’, because it meant more in the areas that mattered. It meant fellowship and intimate communion with their God.

In the last few verses we see their transition from classroom to commission.

Daniel 1:17-20 – 17 As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 Now at the end of the days, when the king had said that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. 20 And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm

These 4 boys would each have, undoubtedly, scored a genius-level IQ. They were not only the heads of their class, but when they hit the office Monday morning, they were already outperforming the best of the Magi. It wasn’t diet that did it or their own academic efforts, though they were faithful in those personal areas. It was the Lord working through their minds, giving them knowledge and skill. Additionally, we’re told Daniel had a gifting for understanding visions and dreams. This will, of course, come up a number of times later in the book.

But, in the mean time, these guys were so solid they became fixtures in the king’s presence. And, just like that, God had installed 4 incredibly faithful, spiritual men right next to the throne of the greatest king on earth. During the 3 years of training, the other Jewish boys must’ve thought they were saps. “Look how much they’re missing out on. They have so much less than we do.” And yet, since they had communion with God, they had much more. 10 times more by Nebuchadnezzar’s count.

The chapter ends with an important biographical note:

Daniel 1:21 – 21 Thus Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus.

Daniel lived beyond the first year of Cyrus. It seems that was the year of his retirement. But, more importantly, the text draws our attention to the fact that this was the year when the captivity ended and God’s people could go free. The God Daniel trusted so confidently had not forgotten His people, and He has not forgotten us either. He is still just as able, just as busy as He was in this text. And we learn here that He can do great things through even small, personal choices in your life. God can use your face to accomplish His work. Think of Daniel. Think of how much of this story swings upon how their faces looked. What a great thought! That God can use my life, my words, my sufferings, even my countenance to do His will and bring Himself glory. And what is my part? The heart is my part. To keep my heart intimately communing with my Savior, trusting Him. Expecting Him to work, and choosing to go His way, even when that means I might be getting less from the world’s perspective. Because, in reality, in all the ways that count, I’ll come out on the other side with so much more. More than they realize. More than I realize, because our gracious God loves to make more from less, to magnify Himself in us and to lavishly work in and through our lives as He accomplishes His purpose.

Back To School (Daniel 1:1-7)

It is back-to-school season. All over town campuses are up and running again. Our young adults are packed up and headed to their colleges. I was surprised to learn that “the back-to-school shopping season is the second-largest seasonal shopping period of the year [when it comes to] consumer spending.” The average back-to-school spending per US household is about $700 dollars, amounting to tens of billions of dollars.

A new school year presents opportunities for our students to grow and to learn, to be recognized for things like student of the month, maybe valedictorian, letter in a sport, get that starring role in the drama, win the award for most school spirit or graduate Summa Cum Laude. All of those can, perhaps, be good things. But the life and the testimony of Daniel challenges each of us to take an honest look at what we are aiming for in our own lives and in the lives of our kids and our families.

Think about this question: What was Daniel’s greatest accomplishment? When we meet him, he’s just “transferred schools” from Jerusalem to Babylon, and by the end of his story he will have become the most successful man in the entire empire other than the king himself. He’ll have wealth and position and prestige. At each point in his story he was the top of his class, the leader in his field, the man others go to for answers. He had access. He had accomplishments. He had awards.

But, when we read these chapters, it’s clear that what made him remarkable, what made Daniel matter was not the earthly achievements. The great accomplishment of Daniel was the work of God in his life. The way God used him. The word God showed him. And it’s clear that, in Daniel’s own mind, living out his faith was his greatest goal. Not the best education. Not the best position. His mind was made up to serve God, at the expense of all other things if necessary.

This evening, as we take a look at our text, I’d suggest that Daniel’s example challenges us to move our goal posts out quite a bit further than we would naturally tend to place them.

If you’re a parent, you’ve got goals and hopes for your little ones. You naturally crave their success and recognition. If you’re not a parent, or that phase of life has past, this all still applies to you, because your own life is on a trajectory. Daniel dares us to take a real look at our goals and see what we are launching ourselves toward. And it pulls back the wool on what the world’s system really is.

Our text opens in chapter 1, verse 1, where we read:

Daniel 1:1 – In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.

The year is around 605 BC. Nebuchadnezzar has only recently received the throne of Babylon and would rule for 43 years, during which time the empire would control much of the civilized world.

I find it immensely interesting that the book does not start in the first person, describing Daniel’s capture. Instead, the first character we’re introduced to is Nebuchadnezzar. He’s a remarkable historical figure. During this period, it’s estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world, maybe the first ever to reach a population of over 200,000. Nebuchadnezzar ruled with absolute power. Daniel will later describe him as a man who killed whoever he wanted, established whatever he wanted. The king was a great warrior, but he was also a great builder. By all accounts, Babylon was a magnificent city. We’ll see that Nebuchadnezzar had his share of mental problems. He could be incredibly hasty, to his own hurt. But he could also be patient. He was willing to lay sieges to his enemies, undertake long building projects, establish a training program for his cabinet members that lasted 3 years. He was a man of absolute power, incredible ambition, great ingenuity and cavernous pride. He could be brutal or benevolent, thoughtful or impulsive. You could count on him to fly of the handle at any given moment, but also to truly follow through on what he said he would do, whether it be good or bad. In the Bible we discover he was a man whom God used to discipline his people, a man to whom God revealed a great vision of the future. And a man whom God loved and wanted to save. He was the world’s king. The head of the system in which Daniel found himself.

Daniel 1:2 – 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.

A great doctrinal theme in the book of Daniel is the sovereignty of God. It’s shown right here. Babylon’s victory was something allowed by God for His purposes. Seven times we’ll see some variation of the phrase “into his hand”. Whether it’s here in verse 2 or later in chapter 3 when Nebuchadnezzar pompously boasts that no god could save the 3 Hebrews out of his hand. Later in chapter 7 it will be used in reference to the Anti-Christ. But despite how the circumstances may seem, the message of Daniel is clear: It is the Lord who holds life in His hands. We can trust our God, who holds our future and holds the world in His hands. You are not adrift in your circumstances. You are beloved of God, who knows you and has a plan for your life.

Again, I find it surprising how Daniel opens the book. The first character is this Chaldean king and then we’re told about these gold and silver vessels taken from the cupboards of the temple. Who cares? Well, it’s setting up a cosmic contest. Nebuchadnezzar took these articles into the temple of his god, as a symbol that Jehovah was dead and the Babylonian deity had won.

It also begins to show the great contrast between the Lord’s way and the world’s way. Most of us are pretty familiar with these passages. As we see Nebuchadnezzar doing his thing here, it puts on display the difference. What is valuable? What is the trophy we’re struggling for? What’s the goal? Nebuchadnezzar takes these spoils as proof of the supposed power of his inanimate idols. God is going to use His servants to prove His own living power. The Babylonian points to a cup and says, “Look how great Marduk is!” Here’s what Paul said, concerning God’s work in us:

2 Corinthians 4:7 – 7 But we have this treasure [the Gospel] in earthen vessels, [our lives] that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

A lot is set up in these opening 2 verses. But we note that, from an earthly perspective, the story starts with our heroes in total defeat. Of course, we know that our God loves a good underdog story.

Daniel 1:3 – 3 Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles,

It’s not clear how many of these youth were taken. Some commentators think it was 50 or 60, some think it was thousands. What’s significant is that Daniel and his 3 friends were not the only Hebrews taken, therefore, not the only Hebrews in chapter 1 with the defiled food, chapter 3 with the golden image or chapter 6 with the command not to pray. Yet, it seems that in these scenes, it may have been only these 4 who stood their ground and honored God rather than men.

We learn here that Daniel and his pals were of distinguished background. They were, perhaps, relatives of King Hezekiah. At least they were part of the noble class. They would have been well educated and well taken care of, and would’ve been in their teens at the time. But here they were forcibly taken from their homes to Babylon as hostages. Big difference between them and, say, Esther. As you know from our studies in Esther, a careful reading reveals that, though she and the others Jews were exiled at the time (which was decades after Daniel 1), her participation in Ahasuerus’ sensual beauty contest was voluntary. Daniel and his friends weren’t in this situation because they wanted to be, but because they were forced to be.

In verse 4 we’re given a description of the boys. They were:

Daniel 1:4 – 4 young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans.

Now, here’s where we start to get into it. From the human perspective, Daniel was the cream of the crop. Nebuchadnezzar was looking for young guys who would be his palace court, his brain trust, an all-star team that looked good around town. He was going to give them immense responsibility in administrating the empire. They would be given the finest education and the highest positions in the known world. These were boys that were going to be molded into leaders of men with the highest degrees and the best jobs who could model on the side!

Sure, they had been taken as hostages, but when we look at what was being offered to them, we sort of understand why Hezekiah had been happy when this event was prophesied so many years before. Isaiah came and told him, “Hey man, you messed up. Babylon is going to come and take your sons captive.” And Hezekiah responded: “That’s great!” We wince when we read that. But then, in our own lives, it’s so hard to shake free of the ideas we’re bombarded with by our culture. That the most important thing is getting into the right college. And getting the best job with the most material success. That those targets should be the primary goal of much of our lives.

The book of Daniel turns the values of the world upside down. He received all those things that we’re told are the most important. He had the best background then the best education then the best job in the greatest empire. He rose through the ranks and received recognition. He was 10 times better than the next guy on the list in terms of skill, ability and achievement.

But what we find in the 4 or 5 stories from his life that we’re given is that none of that ended up making the difference that mattered. What mattered was his heart for the Lord. What mattered was that he served the Lord and devoted his life to honoring God. Had Daniel not made that the goal of his life, he would’ve made it out of chapter 1, but he wouldn’t have survived chapter 2. In chapter 1, a bunch of Hebrews are enrolled in this program, and all but 4 give in to the world’s system. They effectively become Babylonian. But they all make it through the program. They lay hold of the “Babylonian dream.” But, in chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar has this vision, calls all these guys, says, “tell me my dream and explain it.” They can’t, so the king says, “Ok, then you all die.” And the guards go out and begin killing these guys until God uses one of His faithful servants to save their lives.

Those things that seemed so significant to the world’s way of thinking, their looks, their ability, their intellect, those aren’t the things that made Daniel Daniel. It was prayer. Revelation. Integrity. Holiness. That’s what put him in the Scriptures.

You see, our goal for ourselves and our kids can’t be the list from verse 4. Why? Because, as shown in what we see here, life changes in a moment. You might be a prince one day and a prisoner the next. And because real power is not intellectual or physical, but spiritual. The testimony of Daniel’s life is that it was the Lord who gave the vigor, the Lord who give the understanding, the Lord who gave the favor, the Lord who gave the increase.

In the mean time, notice that Babylon’s plan was to take these boys, mine their potential and make them Babylonian. Their work would be for Babylon. Their minds would be full of Babylon. Their language would be changed. Their culture would be changed. Partly by duress, partly by delicacies.

Daniel 1:5 – 5 And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king.

Nebuchadnezzar was a smart guy. This was a great deal. On the one hand you had gone from prince to prisoner, but then on the other you went from siege to stuffing your face. Nebuchadnezzar was wining and dining them, then giving them training and job placement. Of course, as we’ll find out, terms and conditions applied. This guy who was treating you so well today might murder you tomorrow. Because he didn’t love these boys like the King of kings does. He didn’t care about their future. He was ready, at any minute, to wipe them out wholesale. He’d find new captives. He’d find new trophies to install in his palace. But think about our King. Watch Him move in and around Daniel’s life. He protected Daniel. He guided Daniel. He encouraged Daniel. He had intentions and opportunities and a future for Daniel. And Daniel knew that. We don’t know about his life before Babylon, but clearly he had been raised to trust the Lord and to have confidence in Him no matter what. He had been taught that the most important thing was to live by faith. And he had been trained to know that he could live out his relationship to God whether he was in Jerusalem or in Babylon, in private or in public, when things were good or when things were bad.

Daniel 1:6-7 – 6 Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7 To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego.

Scholars argue over the specifics of the meanings of all these names, but here’s what we know: All 4 of the Hebrew names were Godly names. They include references to God’s name and praise His greatness. It gives an indication that all 4 of these boys grew up in very devout, very spiritual homes. That’s also clear from their bold, Godly character. All 4 of the new names are ungodly, praising the false deities of Babylon. You see, the world was seeking to redefine these guys. “We’re not just giving you a new degree or a new job, we’re going to redefine who you are. What you think, what you believe, how you behave.” To accomplish this, Babylon would use feasts and favors and force and fear. But Daniel and his friends were able to rise above all those methods and circumstances and become the men we know them to be: great servants of the Most High God.

Imagine for a moment that their parents or mentors had aimed these boys’ lives only at those things we read about in verse 4. Those temporal marks of ‘success’. The best education. The best looks. The best performance. What would’ve happened to them?

One of the main takeaways from this book is that when you launch a life, take care where you aim. We talk about “failure to launch” among the Millennial generation where they seem unable to move into the phase of life where they become independent and responsible for themselves. But just as bad as failure to launch is to launch a life in the wrong direction. Whether that’s your life or your kids’ lives. Is the court of Babylon the best I can do? Is that the thing I am most excited about and most dedicated toward? In whatever way it presents itself. Whether it’s that degree or the promotion or the award or the ranking. Or do I believe what the Bible says about me, that there is a profoundly other point to life, one that the Lord works out in me as I walk with Him wherever He has scattered me?

Should we just not care about studies or any worldly accomplishments? No. That’s not what I’m saying. After all, God made Daniel who he was. God fashioned him purposely to be remarkable in his appearance and his intellect. God gave him that astounding IQ. God scattered Daniel into the noble family which resulted in him going to Babylon and being put in this position. It’s good that Daniel developed his mind and these other things. But it will become altogether clear that these earthly markers were no significant help to the things that truly mattered in Daniel’s story and they were not the goal Daniel was aiming at. His target was much higher. And, as a result, rather than be successful on earth and one day go to God in eternity, Daniel was able to bring God with him in his earthly life and make a lasting eternal difference, whether in pits or in palaces. No matter the temptations or the trials that came his way. To God be the glory, great things He has done.

Introduction (Daniel 1:1-2)

Even if you’re not a fan of superhero movies, you’ve got to marvel at what the folks over at Marvel studios accomplished earlier this year with their film Avengers: Infinity War. What they did had never been done before in the history of cinema. For over a decade, the studio had been working a plan, bringing together dozens of beloved characters that had been featured in 18 different movies, culminating in a blockbuster hit that was praised by over 80% of movie critics and over 90% of the 48,000 fan reviews on RottenTomatoes.com. The movie is described this way: “An unprecedented cinematic journey ten years in the making…Avengers: Infinity War ably juggles a dizzying array of heroes…and the result is a thrilling, emotionally resonant blockbuster that (mostly) realizes its gargantuan ambitions.” As far as film history goes, they packed more into one movie than perhaps has ever been done before.

The Book of Daniel is relatively short in comparison to the other Major Prophets or some of the Books of the Law. You can get through Daniel in about an hour. But when you read through it, you find that there is an incredible amount of material in its 12 chapters. It’s just bursting at the seams! By the time you read the last verse, you’ll have been exposed to not only some of the most memorable stories in the Bible, but also the memoirs of a war refugee, an ancient history lesson on one of the great cities and empires of the world: Babylon. A study of fulfilled prophecy concerning Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Prophecy concerning the first and second comings of the Messiah. A great deal of prophecy concerning the end of human history, covering the Tribulation, the reign of the AntiChrist, and the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom on the earth. You’ll see God’s dealings with the nation of Israel, God’s plan for the Gentile nations. You’ll learn things concerning the doctrines of suffering, calling, angels and sovereignty. You’ll see vivid examples of what it means to be faithful and to pray, to evangelize and how to live with integrity in your daily life. How to trust God. What it means to be in the world but not of the world. You’ll see what Biblical holiness looks like. You learn how to live with self-control and how to show grace to our enemies, how to forgive and how to be a peace with those around you. You’ll see great and astonishing visions from heaven. Oh and there’s Theophany in there too: which is a Pre-Incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.

All of that in an hour of reading! Infinity War has got nothing on the Book of Daniel!

Generally speaking, the book divides pretty well into two halves. Chapters 1 through 6 are largely telling stories of things that happened to Daniel and his 3 friends. We know them as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. Then chapters 7 through 12 focus mostly on the prophetic visions Daniel receives which give insight into the flow of human history from the Babylonian empire all the way through to the Great Tribulation and the Second Coming of Jesus to earth.

When it comes to Bible prophecy, we cannot overstate Daniel’s importance. Dr. John Walvoord writes:

“…the book of Daniel is essential to the structure of prophecy and is the key to the entire Old Testament prophetic revelation…Daniel alone reveals the details of God’s plan for both the nations and Israel.
The book brings together and interrelates great themes of prophecy as does no other portion of Scripture.”

Daniel’s book is so key and so significant and so accurate it has, understandably, been the target of attack from those who refuse to believe the Bible, especially since the 17th century. Daniel is incredibly specific in many of its prophecies, naming empires individually and in order. And so, critics who say, “a writer cannot know the future”, try their best to prove Daniel was not written in the time or by the man it says it was. Rather, it must’ve been faked many centuries later. Unfortunately for them, the weight of evidence, archaeology, logic and truth stands against their claims. In hundreds of years, they have yet to make any conclusive charge against the reliability of this book.

I won’t spend a lot of time on the refutation of these critics. If you want to dive into that, I’d recommend Walvoord’s commentary. Instead, we want to feast on this remarkable text and enjoy each portion, being encouraged on the many levels that it addresses us.

Daniel is mostly categorized in our minds as a book of prophecy, and as students of prophecy it is incredibly valuable. But it’s not just that. It’s a Book of many wonderful treasures, which not only enrich our understanding of the future, but enhance our day-to-day lives right now. Because it’s not just a timeline, it is the story of important characters. We have Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-Nego, Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. Each of these fellows give us immense lessons on how to live life.

As we turn to the text, here’s how the book opens:

Daniel 1:1-2 – 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 articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.

The year was approximately 605 BC. Nebuchadnezzar would lay siege to Jerusalem 3 times. This was the first. It had been prophesied by Isaiah 80 or 100 years earlier that this would happen: Babylon would come take the treasure of Jerusalem and the young men of the noble class.

Daniel and his 3 friends were among those young men taken as prisoners of war. Scholars estimate they would’ve been 15 or 16 years old. By chapter 12, Daniel will be in his 80s, still serving the Lord, still hearing from God, still receiving insight from the Scriptures.

These 4 Hebrews are going to show us an unblemished example of how to live a faithful, believing life, no matter the circumstances we face. They show us what it means to have a faith that can endure. Their trust in God had legs they could stand on. They went from being in the ruling class of Israel to prisoner-eunuchs in a pagan empire. They would see the king’s favor one day and his fury the next. They would find themselves executing the law in the morning and then face execution because of the law by the afternoon. They would face temptation, isolation, pressure, hatred, but also be given wealth, expertise, influence and position. They live on the pages of Scripture as examples to us in all these settings. What does it mean to be a faithful believer in youth or in old age? What does it mean to trust God when you’re the most successful or the most persecuted? How are we to operate as servants of Jesus Christ who also have to work a secular job? What does it really mean to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s? These guys prove and demonstrate that these things can be done. And it can all be done with boldness, with integrity and in such a way that lives are changed by the power of the Gospel.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re prone to think, “Well, sure, Daniel can do that. After all, he’s special. I’m not like him. He’s like Captain America. They guy’s a hero!”

But one of my favorite things about this book is that these guys are not special! Their stories are amazing. What God did through them is awe-inspiring. But I’d submit to you that, among the Old Testament characters, Daniel and his 3 friends are perhaps more like us than all the others. They were guys, living life. Got done with school, found themselves in a government job and were mostly minding their own business when all these things happen to them. They weren’t wonder-workers like Moses or Elijah. They weren’t giant-slayers like David. They were conquerors like Joshua. They were just guys who were being carried along by life, but had 1 defining characteristic. It’s given to us seven times in the book here’s one of those times, when king Belteshazzar brings Daniel into his party in chapter 5, and he says this:

Daniel 5:14a – 14 I have heard of you, that the Spirit of God is in you.

Seven times the spirit in Daniel is referenced. It was God’s Spirit empowering these guys, leading these guys, showing them how to navigate these seemingly impossible circumstances and it was the Spirit that was using their situations to bring the knowledge of God to their city and the empire. In each of these stories we see Daniel and his friends simply making a heart decision to go God’s way, to honor their Lord and obey Him and then it is God who accomplishes the great things in and through them.

This is a most important lesson for us as Christians. Because the same offer is made to us. We find ourselves in some job, in some city, maybe it’s where we want to be, maybe it’s not. No matter the circumstances, the Lord offers us His Spirit to fill us and build us and lead us and empower us so that we can be victorious in our lives and so that He can accomplish His plan through us. Daniel shows us that this isn’t always easy, but it is always possible. The same filling that was available to him is available to us. In fact, we have an even better arrangement on this side of the cross as the Spirit permanently indwells us and because we now have the completed revelation of Scripture which gives us way more information and context and direction that Daniel had back in 605 BC.

And here’s what we notice about Daniel and his friends. Along the way, as they are living out their faith and enjoying the power of the Spirit in their lives, they are thankful, they’re gracious, they’re effective and they’re not fearful. Even when they’re being made into eunuchs and cast into lions’ dens and fiery furnaces, there’s no anxiety. There’s no desperation. Their faith has legs and they stand strong, which means we can too. Because we have a God who loves us and treasures us and is able to do all things according to His good pleasure.

And it pleases Him to do work in us. To make you and I into monuments of His love and power and grace, as He’s done with Daniel, with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. It didn’t require that they get some sort of special certification or that they beat out thousands of competitors. They didn’t have to prove they were worthy of being used. No, they just made the decision in their hearts to go God’s way. They decided from the beginning that they would be servants of the Most High God no matter what. And from there, the Lord did the rest. Taking even mundane things like their personal prayer lives and bringing an incalculable amount of eternal fruit from it. He used their suffering to save the soul of one of the most wicked tyrants in human history.

The point is: We want to be characters like Daniel and the amazing thing is that we can be! That’s what I hope we take away from our studies in this book, alongside a greater knowledge of God’s plan for this world yet future, culminating in the glorious return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who has not abandoned us, but is coming with a Kingdom, with His reward in His hand, and we get to serve Him today as He fills us and uses us.