THE LURE OF BABYLON Trinity
Daniel Chapter 1 23.9.18
There are two ways President Xi of China can make China the world super power. He can do it by muscle, through military bases in the South Pacific and other places. Or he can do it by spreading Chinese culture into the world through technology, trade, language and so on.
If he follows the U.S. he’ll do it both ways. It has used what it says is the best equipped army ever, the largest navy and the most advanced air force right across the globe. Through aid programs, from Silicon Valley, Hollywood studios and the boardrooms of Coke and McDonalds, it has relentlessly pushed American culture.
Sometimes the kiss works where the kick does not. The military option sometimes makes more enemies than allies. The cultural option changes minds, and lives, and dependencies. The world has been largely ‘Americanised’. Will we now be ‘Chinese-ised’?
King Nebuchadnezzar was there more than 2500 years ago. He used his powerful army to smash other powers, and to make Babylon the world super power. How to ‘Babylonianise’ the nations so that they take on Babylonian culture is the important question here.
Jerusalem has just about been wiped off the map by military force. How then can the survivors be transformed into Babylonians?
Consider young people with the best minds and talents, re-educate them over to your way. Then put them in your debt by giving them power, position and prestige. If they swing over, they’ll swing the next generation that looks up to them, and the ones that follow it.
After Nebuchadnezzar has starved Jerusalem into submission, he “commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (the Babylonians) (1:3, 4)
Daniel and his friends, not 20 years old yet – maybe just 15 or 16 – are part of this elite group of upright, good looking, promising, clever young guys. They are perfect candidates for being indoctrinating with the Babylonian way of thinking, and for being attracted and lured by all the pleasures and perks of being in the King’s inner circle.
Being exposed to the literature of Babylon didn’t mean they just had a set of value-free novels to read. The king means for these young men to absorb the values of Babylon.
There is a clip running on ABC TV at present, which maintains that the ABC presents the news “without bias or agenda”. If it wasn’t so naïve, it would be a good joke. Everyone has a bias, nothing is value-free.
The books of Babylon had an angle to push. So does every journalist, every school or college, every social media platform, every TV program, every preacher, politician or public speaker. Whether they are up front about it or not, or know it or not, they all have a view of the world which shapes everything they do and say.
The question is: will Daniel and his mates be babylonianised? From whichever way you look at it, it’s pretty close to being irresistible: an all-expenses paid scholarship to the world’s best university. Endless Big Macs and Chinese takeaway whenever you are hungry. Automatic promotion to the top company positions when you graduate, with all the bonuses and perks that go with that.
What smart up and coming 16 year old could knock that back? Which 36 year old or 56 year old?
To fit the new role planned for them, they need a new start – new identities with new names.
In some countries, when people become Christians, they take on new names. You’ll find thousands of people named Moses, Elijah and Hannah in Kenya or Thailand. New people – new names.
For the past 15 or 16 years Daniel and his mates have had good Jewish names. But it’s a new world. So we read in verse 7 that Daniel has his name changed to Belteshazzar, and the names of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah are changed to something that sounds like “Your shack, my shack and a bungalow” ( A joke: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego).
Every time they heard their new name, it was a way of telling them that Jerusalem has gone. Everything is now Babylonian.
What about God’s plan to preserve Israel and bring in the Messiah? If these boys lose the plot, the game’s up. Or might they do better than their new names say they will?
Here, in the palace of the world’s most powerful man, “Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs (the master of the university college where they all lived?) to allow him not to defile himself.” (v8)
It wasn’t a matter of refusing to lie, or sleep around, or murder. That is where a line would have to have been drawn.
Daniel makes an issue of swapping the cheeseburgers for vegetables and the wine for water. Why did he do that?
· Because God said not to eat meat or drink wine? He hadn’t.
· Because the cheeseburgers would have first been offered to a pagan god? Although so also the potatoes would have been.
· Perhaps it’s godlier to be a vegetarian? It isn’t.
Maybe it was arbitrary – a simple way of saying “Babylon doesn’t own us”. Maybe it doesn’t always matter where you draw the line in the sand. As long as you are willing to do it.
Eric Liddell drew the line in the sand when he would not compete in an Olympic event on a Sunday, an event he was sure to win. Maybe we would not do the same, for the same reason. Nevertheless, it was a clear way to say that sport and success did not own him, but that he had a master who did. By running up the flag in that way, he was challenging the claims of Babylon over him.
Daniel was risking being thrown out of university. Of alienating the other Jewish boys who preferred cheeseburgers to potatoes. Of losing promotion.
God says here that Daniel resolved to draw a line in the sand at the start, when he was young, and on Day 1 at university. Did he know if you don’t do it then, it’s harder to do it later?
Too many of us want to fit. We’ll make a stand in the family, at work, with our mates, next time. We’re too young to draw any lines in the sand. Then we never do it; Babylon owns us.
How could a 16 year-old make a determination like this, when everything around him told him he was a boy in a big man’s world? How did he get to stand as a minority in a majority world?
He knew that there is something bigger than Babylon, and someone more impressive than Nebuchadnezzar.
1. THE LIVING GOD IS IN BABYLON NOW
Who or what starved Jerusalem into submission, and then brought Daniel and his mates to Babylon? On the surface, it was King Nebuchadnezzar, but he was the instrument, not the cause.
In verse 2 we read “the Lord gave (big word) Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God.” Jerusalem fell because God gave it to this pagan King.
How did the master of the university residential college come to go along with Daniel’s plan about the food, when the king himself had given other orders? Here’s that word again in verse 9 “God GAVE Daniel favour and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.”
How is it that Daniel and his mates were better off after a diet of vegetables and water, rather than the king’s menu? Here’s that word for the third time in verse 17 “As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom …”
God GAVE Jerusalem to this pagan King. God GAVE favour to Daniel by overruling the fear of a top Babylonian official. God GAVE grace to Daniel to be able to draw the line in the sand.
The big player here is not King Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man in the world. It’s not the man who gives orders on behalf of the King. It’s not Daniel. It is the living God who gave this, and this and this.
In Australia, we are learning what most Christians have known forever: Christians are usually a minority. In just a few years, we have gone from being respected to being tolerated to being hated. What is that going to mean for our faithfulness from here in, and how we relate to the majority?
Not a thing! Because things are as much now in the hands of a God who gives as they always were.
The media coverage of the story of the treasures of God’s temple being hung in the pagan temple of Babylon, would have described it as a victory for paganism. That the Jews were the losers and the Babylonians the winners.
Things are not the way they always look. The Living God was doing what he wanted to fulfil his purposes. What looks like defeat was in fact a deliberate and glorious victory.
It was all God’s sovereign plan from start to finish. And it still is, whether it looks like we’re winning or losing.
Can you stay loyal to Jesus? Can you draw a line in the sand though no one else is brave enough to do it? Even though you’ll be written off as a trouble maker?
Sure you can. Because Jesus, the Living God is in Babylon, and over Babylon. Like he’s always been.
2. THE LIVING GOD WILL OUTLAST BABYLON
Daniel and friends were prisoners in Babylon for 70 years through most of the 500’s BC. Fast forward to the end of that time, in verse 21: “And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.”
Nebuchadnezzar was the first king of Babylon Daniel knew. During his 70 years there, he saw 4 more kings of Babylon after him. He was still there in the 530’s when Babylon fell and King Cyrus of Persia became the world’s super power.
In the British Museum you can see the small clay cylinder which recorded the edict of King Cyrus that all the remaining Jews in Babylon be sent back home. In fact, not only them, but all the treasures Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple there.
What looked like a sad story at the start was turned upside down by the end, in a brilliant reversal.
Daniel has seen off 5 big and powerful kings as their coffins are carried through the streets of Babylon. The man from nowheresville ‘nowhere in particular) lives while the bodies of five great kings turn to dust in the sands of the desert just south of modern Baghdad.
In his commentary Dale Ralph Davis writes “Babylon, the hairy chested macho brute of the world has dropped with a thud into the mausoleum of history, while fragile Daniel, servant of the Most High God, is still on his feet.”
He “was there”. The great men of this world were not. They have lost, but he has won. They are dead and gone, but he is still there.
In the Babylon of our world, where hairy chested men and women shake their fist at God, the kingdom of God seems so small, even lost, and we can’t make sense of why he gives victories to his enemies.
Why is it, we ask, that the ungodly lobby groups win, and then they gloat? Where is God?
The word at the end will not be so much “Daniel was there”, but “Jesus was there”. The remains of the great men of Babylon will lie in the desert, and Jesus and his kingdom alone will be victorious. Everything will get reversed on that day.
Can you hang on in Babylon? As a minority? Drawing a line in the sand where you need to?
You can, you know. Because the Living Lord Jesus is running things in Babylon, giving, taking, withholding, and running the whole show, and because his kingdom will outlast Babylon.
It seems such a sad, miserable and confusing start to the story, but it’s better than that. It’s a great story along the way. And it has a brilliant ending.
It can’t be any other way, can it? Not when Jesus is Lord?