David Jeremiah - The Hostage
Historians record that Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 605 B.C., and it also tells us that the king deported Jewish hostages from Jerusalem to Babylon, leaving Jerusalem in ruins, with only a few of the poor, aged, and infirm still in the land. For 70 years, they were in captivity because they refused to do what God called them to do. And God got His Sabbaths. For all those years, the land of Israel lay fallow, collecting all the Sabbaths that had been neglected. And of course, Judah was not only guilty of neglecting the Sabbath of the Lord. Judah was also guilty of idolatry and gross sin, and God had finally had enough of it, so God got the Babylonians, the most wicked nation in the world, to carry out His judgment.
The Bible says this was ordained of God. It's interesting. This is really ironic. God turned evil against evil to accomplish good. He took the Babylonians to punish the Israelites to get good out of it, and now the great defection has happened. After the great defection, there was a great deportation. Verses 2-7. Here we read that the Lord gave into Nebuchadnezzar's hand "some of the articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar," which is another name for Babylon, "to the house of his god".
He took the chalices and the vessels and all of the beautiful utensils that Solomon had put into the temple to enhance the worship of almighty God, and he took those vessels, and he carried them to Babylon and put them in the temple of an idol. Because you see, in that day, when you defeated a nation, it was thought that you also defeated that nation's god. And to take those implements and put them in your temple was a reminder to anyone who knew it that the god Marduk had defeated the god of Israel. It was a short-lived victory, as you know.
So now Nebuchadnezzar has the articles of the temple in his idol's house, and he has some of the choice young men of Israel in Babylon, and he's about to put them through some training so that they can become his representatives in the kingdom where there will be many other Jewish people. In order to be a part of Nebuchadnezzar's program, you had to meet the conditions for selection, and we read about this in verses 3 and 4 of Daniel 1, "...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, 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".
The elite of Judah's young men were brought to Babylon, and they were inspected with the view to becoming servants of Nebuchadnezzar in his palace. And here were the tests they had to follow. First of all, the physical test in verse 4. They had to be young men in whom there was no blemish, and they had to be good-looking. This is about the only place in the Bible where I've ever read that good-looking matters, but here it mattered. These young men had to be the finest, the choicest of the men in Judah. In fact, the word for "young" is the original language, refers to someone who's between 14 and 17 years of age. "They were young enough to make the adjustment to a new place, and they were old enough to learn what was going on there".
So they brought these young men into Babylon. And then they had to pass an intellectual test. Verse 4 says they had to be "gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge, and quick to understand". In addition to their physical prowess, they had to have a high IQ. Those who were to serve the king must be highly intelligent. They must be knowledgeable, and the Bible says they must be quick to learn, a quick study. Not only physical, intellectual, but a social test was added to the list in verse 4, "Young men... who had ability to serve in the king's palace". In other words, the king expected these men that he chose and would ultimately train to be young men of poise and social grace and winsome personalities because they would have to function in a royal setting without causing the king embarrassment.
So the physical test and the intellectual test and the social test. Now along with the conditions for their selection, there was a curriculum for their schooling. Verse 4 says, "...whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans". Nebuchadnezzar had a three-year training program that he designed for these young men who came into his kingdom. And then we're told that along with the schooling that Nebuchadnezzar was providing, he also had a sinister desire to seduce these young men into becoming not just outwardly Babylonian but inwardly Babylonian as well, and the campaign for their seduction is given to us in verses 5-7.
Three things Nebuchadnezzar decided to do. First of all, he emasculated them. The book of Daniel doesn't state explicitly that that happened, but we know it happened from the writing of Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah predicted that the Babylonians would come and carry off the riches of Judah as well as it sounds, "...and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon". So Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego became eunuchs. The king did not want them to have any other desire except for him. Then he obligated them. The Bible says, that "He apointed for them a daily provision of the king's delicacies and of the wine which he drank". Making them dependent upon the king's kitchen, the king's bounty, giving them food that was so rich and elegant that they would never think about going back to their old diet.
And then, most important of all, he assimilated them. Now, watch what he did. He changed Daniel's name, which means in Hebrew "God is my judge," to Belteshazzar, which means "Bel, protect his life". Bel was a pagan Babylonian god. He changed Hananiah, which means "Yahweh is gracious" in Hebrew, to Shadrach, which means "the command of Aku," after the Babylonian moon god. And he changed Mishael, which means in Hebrew "who is what God is," to Meshach, which means "who is what Aku is". And he changed Azariah, which means "Yahweh is my helper," to Abednego, "servant of Nebo," in honor of the second greatest Babylonian god, Nebo.
You see, Nebuchadnezzar wanted his three young friends and Daniel to forget Jerusalem, to forget their God, to forget the temple and everything related to their Jewish heritage and their culture, but Daniel and his friends did not forget, because how many of you know you can change a man's name, but that doesn't change his nature? And 70 years later, you see Daniel still in Babylon, bowing down toward Jerusalem and remembering the God of his youth. The great defection and the great deportation and now the core of the passage, the great decision.
In Daniel 1:8 and following, we find out why Daniel was a stand-up guy, for we read in verse 8 these words, his resolution, "...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". Now, notice Daniel didn't wait until it was offered to him. He didn't wait until the moment of temptation. The Bible says long before that, Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not violate his faith by eating and drinking food that had been offered to an idol.
Could I just pause for a moment and say that every major conviction we have is a conviction we need to make long before it's tested? You don't make your decisions about what you're going to do in a situation where you might be tempted to compromise... I used to tell young people when I was a youth pastor (I was thinking about it this week) that the place to make up your mind about your morality is not the backseat of your boyfriend's car. That's not a good place to make that decision. You will make the wrong decision if you do that. So you got to make the decision. You've got to resolve to do what's right.
The reason Daniel was so strong was, he resolved to do what's right. In his heart, he decided, "I will not violate my faith," but he did it in an interesting way. He didn't get in the face of Nebuchadnezzar or Ashpenaz or the steward. He didn't rail against Babylon. He didn't write a paper on why you shouldn't eat food that's offered to an idol. Notice how he handled himself, verses 8 and 10: "He requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself... 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'".
So Daniel requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Daniel's refusal to follow the king's instruction didn't get him in the king's face but made him ask a question. He said, "Look, if you're gonna try to make me eat this food, I'm not gonna eat this food, but before you go off on this, let me give you another idea. Just why don't you test us? Why don't you let us eat our food? "Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be examinated before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king's delicacies; and as you see fot, so deal with your servants".
Daniel said: Look, your way is not my way. Let me tell you what my way is, and let us prove to you that my way is God's way and the best way. Give us ten days to eat food that doesn't come from the king's table, and at the end of the ten days, you examine us and see whether or not we're better than those who ate the food that was offered to the idols. What happens in verses 15 and following in the first chapter is the great demonstration. This is my favorite part of the story. The result of Daniel's dietary experiment was conclusive. At the end of ten days, he and his three friends came out totally superior to all of the other hostages in every category that you could measure.
First of all, they had greater impact. Verse 15 says, "And at the end of ten days theie features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king's delicacies". When Daniel and his friends stood up at the end of their ten-day dietary trial, the Bible says they had better skin, better skin color, better general alertness, stronger physique. Their appearance was superior in every way to those who had indulged in the king's menu.
How could the appearance of these men have shown such exceptional superiority in such a short time? In fact, if this works in ten days, we're all starting it tomorrow, right? I mean, get us some vegetables and a lot of water, and we're on this diet for real. So how do you explain that in ten days, they totally were so much better than all the rest? Well, the diet wasn't just vegetable and water. It was vegetable and water and God. God was in this. God was allowing them to be more pronounced in their physical prowess than the others. God was making this demonstration what it was.
Not only did they have greater impact, but they had greater intelligence. Verses 17 and 20 tells us, "God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 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". So they had greater impact and greater intelligence, and they had greater influence. "At the end of the days", verses 18 and 19, "none was founf like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king".
They graduated, and they were promoted, and now here we are with these four Hebrew boys in the palace with a Babylonian king, in the place where God is gonna use them to influence things that we're going to see in the future. He brought these young men out of Jerusalem. They went through the training program, maintained their faith in God, and here they are in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar. The great testimony for Daniel is in the 21st verse of the first chapter. If you don't have your Bibles, look up on the screen. This is what it says. Daniel 1:21, "Thus Daniel continued".
Daniel continued, in the public eye, for almost 70 years. He outlasted some of the most powerful kings and kingdoms in world history, and he lived in a culture that was utterly pagan, yet there isn't a negative word said about Daniel in all of the Bible, not one. He wasn't sinless, but they just never recorded anything evil about Daniel. When the leaders of Babylon tried to find something about him that they could use to convict him, it says in chapter 6 that the only thing they could find about him that they might try to convict him about was his faith in God. What a testimony for us to follow.
But what about us? What do we take away from this? Let me suggest three things. First of all, Daniel had a life that was steadfast, and we can have such a life as well. The preparation for it is more simple than you may think, and it's in process right now in all of our lives. What I'm saying is that all of us are in the category of Daniel. He doesn't have anything on any of us. We're all born with the opportunity to become like Daniel, to become champions for what we believe, to stand up for our faith. It starts with the little things. It doesn't start with the big things.
You know, I happen to believe that most of us in this room are gonna face some major issues that we have to stand up for before we go to heaven, but let me ask you this question. What's gonna prepare us to do that? You're just not gonna stand up for the big thing if you haven't had some small victories along the way. So the preparation for a steadfast life gives us some of the possibilities. The way you get strong enough to stand up for the big things is by standing up for the little things, and I promise you everyone in this room, including your pastor, will have an opportunity this week to stand up for something that we really believe is true.
Finally, I want to give you the promise of a steadfast life, and I want you to notice that for all of the miraculous works that God did for Daniel and through Daniel, listen carefully, it is important to note that God never took Daniel out of Babylon. He left him in that culture for all of his 90-some years. You see, the message of Daniel is not that God is going to remove all forms of oppression in our lives. Sometimes we pray, "Lord, make it go away". But instead, this helps us to know that God has promised us that we can find success and remain faithful to Him even in the most trying of circumstances and under the greatest pressure of culture. We don't have to yield to the pressure.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm all for trying to change the culture and make it better: whatever we can do to do that. But we need to understand something today, and that is that some of the cultural issues that we worry about have already crossed the Rubicon. They're already done. They're finished. But the same God who could, if He chose to do so, take us away from this environment or take this environment away from us is the God who can help us live like Daniel lived in a culture that defies the very existence of the most high God, and in order to do that, men and women, we have to be willing to stand up. It's not about standing down. That's cowardice. It's not about standing aside. That's compromise. It's really not even about standing against. That's contention, and that's sometimes competition. It's about standing up. That's conviction, and that's courage, and that's what Daniel did, and by the grace of God, that's what I want to do, and by the grace of God, I pray that's what will do as well.