Robert Jeffress - The Courage To Stand Alone - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. In today's society, abiding by the Christian moral code is no longer the norm, it's the rare exception. So as Christians, how can we remain faithful to God in a world that challenges our spiritual convictions? Today, I'm going to share with you a story from the book of Daniel that demonstrates the importance of following God's standards, even in the face of worldly opposition. My message is titled, "The Courage to Stand Alone", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Those who choose to serve as a politician can expect to receive the same level of respect as a used car salesman, a drug dealer, or a television preacher. Fact is politicians are not held in high regard in our culture today. Many times we suspect people enter the world of politics because they can't make it in the real world and they have to live on the government dole, or we think they're in it for corrupt reasons, they're trying to get as much as they can for themselves. But the fact is God calls men and women to serve as government officials. It is a calling from God. It's a calling that God issues some men and women so that they can bring glory to God himself. And that's certainly true in the character that we're looking at. God raised up Daniel to be a government official, to point people to himself. And his remarkable story begins in the chapter we're going to look at tonight.
If you have your Bibles turn to Daniel 1, as we talk about the courage to stand alone. Now, the book of Daniel remember is important, not only because it records the history of Israel during this critical time in her life, the 70 year captivity in Babylon, but this book is also important because it is a record of visions, of dreams that were given to Daniel. They outline God's plan, not only for Israel, but for all gentile nations and the world, events that will eventually culminate in the return of Jesus Christ. This is the single most important prophetic book in all of the Old Testament. You can't understand the New Testament Book of Revelation, unless you understand the book of Daniel. Now, remember what we saw last time that Daniel is divided into two parts. The first six chapters are historical about Daniel's time from 605 BC until Cyrus, the Persian king issued the decree for Israel to return back to Babylon. So you've got the historical portion from chapters one through six, the prophetic part of the book in chapter seven through 12.
Now let's look at chapter one, verse one, the setting for Daniel is clearly spelled out in these opening verses. Look at chapter one, verse one. "In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it". At the time the story begins Jehoiakim is the king of Judah. His father was good king Josiah. Remember the young child king who brought about reforms to Judah. There was the rediscovery of the Word of God. And it was probably through Josiah's reign that Daniel as a young child was led to faith.
Now Josiah was succeeded by his son named Jehoahaz who was an evil king. He led Israel in a few three months back into idolatry. And because of that, he only reigned for three months and he was carried away by the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho who replaced him with a more cooperative king. It happened to be Jehoahaz brother named Jehoiakim. Sometimes he's called Eliakim in the Bible. He was a puppet king for Egypt. He would do what Egypt told him to do, but it was during Jehoiakim's reign that Babylon rose to power over Egypt. And remember Babylon defeated Egypt at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. So what we're seeing here is now that Babylon is the world power, it was during the third year of Jehoiakim's reign, that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon first invaded Jerusalem.
Now this presents a little bit of a problem here, chronologically, in that we see here that Daniel says "It was the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim that Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem". And yet when you turn to Jeremiah 25:1, it says that it was in the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign. Is this an error in the Bible? Is it one of the many alleged contradictions in the Bible by the liberals? Not at all. There's a very simple explanation. The Babylonians had one way of reckoning, a king's reign, the Israelites had another. For example, Daniel was in Babylon when he wrote these words, he would have used the Babylon accounting system for a kings reign. A kings year that he became king was treated separately from the rest of his reign. The accession year was a separate year. For example, if you're a Babylonian and you're trying to describe how long the American president rules, you would say he rules for three years. His first year is his inauguration year, but then he reigns for three years.
Now, that's how the Babylonians accounted. So they were saying it is the third year, but the Israelites counted like we do in our country. They count the year that a king becomes king as a part of his reign. The Israelites would say the president of the United States rules for four years. His inauguration year is a part of his rule. And so Daniel was simply using the Babylonian accounting, while Jeremiah was using the Israelite accounting. Now, why did God allow a pagan king like Nebuchadnezzar to enter into his holy city? Look at verse two of Daniel one. "The Lord gave", underline that word. He "Gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar's hand along with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar to the house of his God," that's Babylon, "And he brought the vessels into the treasury of his God". Isn't that interesting? God gave Israel into the hands of the Babylonians.
Why would he choose to do that? Well, 2 kings 20:17-18, tell us why. These words were written nearly a hundred years before this actually happened, but it was predicted that this is exactly what would happen, Babylon would overtake Judah. Look at the words of 2 kings 20:17-18, "'behold, the days are coming when all the does in your house and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day will be carried to Babylon, nothing shall be left,' says the Lord. Some of your sons who shall issue from you, whom you will beget, will be taken away, and they will become officials in the palace of the king of Babylon'". Isn't that an interesting prediction? Nearly a hundred years earlier, God predicted exactly what would happen.
In fact, God had warned the nation for 800 years of the severe consequences of disobedience. And yet Israel continued to break God's law in two specific ways. The reason God brought such a harsh judgment against Judah was first of all, because of her failure to keep the sabbath. Write that down, her failure to keep the sabbath. According to Jeremiah 34:12-22 Israel had ignored the sabbath day and the sabbatic year for 490 years. Now let me say a word about the sabbath day. Some people would try to extrapolate from this, and say well, God's going to judge America, just like God judged Judah, because America doesn't keep the sabbath. That is an ignorant statement to make, for two reasons. First of all, America is not God's chosen nation like Israel was. To say that America is God's chosen nation is blasphemous. God had one chosen nation and it was the nation of Israel. America is not Israel. We are not God's chosen people.
Secondly, Christians, you say, "Well, Christians are God's chosen people". That's true, but Christians have never been commanded to keep the sabbath day. We are not under the restrictions of the Old Testament. To put Christians under the sabbath restrictions is to violate the new covenant. Now we're to have a Lord's day that we worship God, but that is not the sabbath. But Israel was under the sabbath, and they failed to keep it. But even more, they failed to keep the sabbatic year. Remember God had said to Israel, every seven years you are to have the land remained fallow. You're not to till it or harvest from it, as a reminder to you that everything you have comes from God. You're going to give the land a rest for every seven years.
Well, Jeremiah 34 tells us that Israel did not keep the sabbatic year for 490 years, which once every seven years, that means they missed 70 years, that they should have let the land rest, and didn't. Ain't it interesting that the Babylonian captivity was how long? 70 years. It was a way for them to make restitution for the way they had disobeyed God. The first reason God brought judgment against Judah was because of her failure to keep the sabbath. Secondly, it was because of idolatry.
Again in Jeremiah 7:24 through chapter eight verse three, God warned Judah of the consequences of chasing after other Gods. Isn't it interesting that God's judgment against Israel for chasing after other Gods, was to be deported to Babylon, which was the center of idolatry in all of the world. Sometimes God's greatest punishment is giving people what they want. "You think you like idols"? He said to Israel, "I'll give you a feel of idols," for 70 years, you'll spend in the most idolatrous place in all of the world. Ever since the Babylonian captivity, since the time that Israel return from Babylon back to the Promised Land, Israel never again was tempted with idolatry. Did you know that?
There is never any record in Israeli history, once they came back from Babylon, that they ever engaged in idol worship, again. It cured them forever. It was the failure to keep the sabbath, and the worship of false Gods that brought God's harshest judgment against his people. And let me say to you, although we are not tempted to bow down before Wooden and silver images, that's not what the heart of idolatry is about. Idolatry is loving anyone, or anything more than we love God. It's loving anyone or anything more than we love God. And God has no more tolerance for idolatry today than he did in the days of Israel. Now that's the background. Nebuchadnezzar has invaded Babylon, and he has taken a group of people hostages. And as we'll see, actually just because Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah Jerusalem in 605, his siege of Jerusalem occurred actually for almost 20 years until the final fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. And over that nearly 20 year period, he took three different groups from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Look at verse three of chapter one. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles. Now, why did Nebuchadnezzar take hostages back to Babylon? He did it for three reasons. Number one, as a demonstration of the king strength. These hostages will remind all nations of Nebuchadnezzar's unparalleled power. Secondly, as a motivation for Jehoiakim's obedience. Remember Jehoiakim would reign for seven more years in Jerusalem, after the first deportation. It was a way to make sure that Jehoiakim was in compliance with Nebuchadnezzar, because Nebuchadnezzar was holding some Jewish hostages. And thirdly, he took hostages as an augmentation of the kings government. Remember eventually he would bring most of Judah to Babylon in three different deportation, 605 BC, 598 BC, and finally in 586 BC.
Now, Nebuchadnezzar knew that he would need some help in governing over these Jewish people, and so his thought was, he would take a group of choice hostages, he would train them and use them as an extension of his own kingdom. Now there's a man in this verse named Ashpenaz, who's identified as the kings associate in charge of the hostages. You might find it interesting to know that his name has been confirmed, in extra biblical writings. The King James version says, he is the master of eunuchs. Now the word eunuch can mean one of two things. It can mean a male who has been castrated, or secondly, it can simply mean a court official. I think there's every reason to believe that these hostages we're going to look at in a minute were not castrates, they had not been castrated. There's a good reason to believe that, instead they were simply court officials.
Now out of this first group of hostages that had been brought in 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar wanted a choice group out of this larger group, to help him serve as court officials, but he needed to engage them in a training program. Look at chapter four, the requirements for the hostages. Nebuchadnezzar said to Ashpenaz, "Now I want you to get a choice group from these hostages, and here are the requirements". "They have to be youth in whom there's no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who have the ability for serving in the king's court".
Now, here are three key requirements for these people who would be a part of this special group, Nebuchadnezzar would train and use as court officials. First of all, according to verse three, they had to be a part of the royal family of Israel. Secondly, they could not have a physical blemish. It says, "They could have no defect," verse four, "And they had to be good looking". That's the reason I don't believe they were castrates. That would have been a physical defect. And notice, not only did they have to have no defect, they had to be good looking. Now, some people stumble over that, may say, "Well, wait a minute, that's just not fair at all. I mean, we shouldn't put that much emphasis on physical appearance".
Now, remember these were not God's requirements, these were Nebuchadnezzar requirements. Some people said, "Well, 1 Samuel 16:7 says, a man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart". That's true, if we're going to serve God, we don't have to be beautiful in appearance, it's what's in our heart, that counts. God looks on the heart, but it's equally true, that man looks on the outward appearance. That's just as true as God looks at our heart. Those are great words of wisdom here for you teenagers up there, for you young adults, for any of us. If you're interviewing for a job, if you're trying to make a sales call, if you want to be successful in life, you need to look as good as you can possibly look, you need to dress as well as you possibly can.
Don't go into a job interview in your cutoffs or holes in your blue jean and a dirty t-shirt and say, "Well, I don't care how I look, God looks on my heart". Yeah, but that employer is looking on the outward appearance. It does matter how you look. Stay in shape, look good, do the best you can, and you'll be surprised at how God can use you, because man does look on the outward appearance. And that's why Nebuchadnezzar said, they've gotta be good looking and have no physical blemish. And then thirdly, they need to be men of high intelligence. Nebuchadnezzar wasn't interested in having anybody serving the kingdom who had a room temperature IQ. He wanted smart people around him. That was important to him.
Now, with these special groups that he had chosen, he engaged them in a special training program that we see at the end of verse four of chapter one. "And Nebuchadnezzar ordered Ashpenaz, to teach them the literature and the language of the Chaldeans," that is the Babylonians. Now I want you to notice the three aspects of the training program for these Hebrew youth, who would be a part of the king's court. First of all, they were going to have a new education. Nebuchadnezzar selected these youth for a three full year paid scholarship, in the university of Babylon. And they would train there for three years. They would learn astronomy, and astrology, and mathematics and the Akkadian language, and all of the cultural lessons to be learned from the Babylonian culture.
Why did he want them to learn about Babylon? Because they were living in Babylon. And if they were going to be effective in the culture where they were living, they needed to learn about the culture in which they lived. Secondly, he said, "I'm going to give you a new diet". Look at verse five, "The king appointed for them, a daily ration from the king's choice food". That could be delicacies, "From the king's choice food and from the wine which he drank. And he appointed that they should be educated three years, and at the end of which they were entered into the king's personal service". He wanted them to enjoy the best food possible, food that came from his table. And then finally, in addition to the new education and the new diet, he gave them new names. Look at verses six and seven. Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
Now, Nebuchadnezzar changed all four names. He changed Daniel's name, which meant God is my judge, to Belteshazzar, which means Baal, the false God will protect his life. Hananiah's name, Jewish name, meant God is gracious, it was changed to Shadrach, referring to the worship of the moon God. Look at Mishael, his name and Hebrew meant, who is like God? It was changed to Meshach who is AKU the Goddess of wine. And Azariah's name in Hebrew meant God is my helper. It was changed to Abednego, the servant of Nebuchadnezzar. Why did he engage in this name change for these Hebrew youth? He wanted to remove them from their Jewish culture. He wanted them to forget their training in Judah, he wanted them to forget their service to Yahweh, the only true God, and so he changed their names.
Now here's the pivotal verse, in verse eight. Look at Daniel's decision. Look at verse eight, "But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or would the wine which he drank. So he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself". I want you to notice here where Daniel drew the line. He didn't draw the line, when the king said, "I'm going to give you a new education. You're going to have to learn all about the Babylonian culture". He didn't resist that at all. The fact is if we're going to minister in the culture in which we live, we need to know about the culture in which we live. There's no premium on ignorance in God's book. God, many times his choice of servants, were those who have been the Most Highly educated.
I think about Moses, for example, he learned all of the literature and the language in Pharaoh's court. I think about Saul, who later was transformed into the apostle Paul. He was probably a graduate of the university of Cilicia. He was highly educated, which by the way gave him the ability to argue and reason with the Greek Philosophers. Remember his sermon on mars hill. Those of you who go to Greece with us the summer, we'll go to mars hill, where we'll actually see the pedestals that still remain of those Gods that were lined up there, that Paul made mention of. Paul would not have been able to know about the Greek Philosophers and pagan Philosophies, if he had not studied them.
Somebody sent me an email this week, one of our members, and said, "What do you think of people who say, I'm only going to listen to TV channels and commentators and read books by people, I agree with. I'm not going to listen to anybody else. What do you think about people like that"? I think people like that are very, very narrow, people like that aren't able to think, because if you're really going to engage the culture in which you live, you need to know what people who don't agree with you thinking. You need to understand how their reasoning, so that you can meet their objections, and show them truth. There is no reason at all to be ignorant of the world in which you live. Daniel didn't mind being educated.