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Recap of Chapter 18-

Judah’s best and brightest were deported to Babylon when Jerusalem was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies. Daniel and his trio of friends were among their ranks. King Nebuchadnezzar introduced them to their new homeland by enrolling the four young men in his exclusive three-year “How to Live Like a Babylonian” Training Academy.  Students were lavished with food and wine from the king’s table and invited to enjoy the cosmopolitan pleasures of the world’s most sophisticated city. Daniel and his companions graciously resisted. They asked for vegetarian meals so they could stay faithful to Jewish dietary laws. The king’s official worried that their meager diet might leave them pallid and weakened, but God blessed their choice with academic success and physical stamina. They flourished and the ruler of the world’s greatest empire took notice.

The king awoke one morning having been greatly troubled by a dream.  He demanded an explanation of its meaning from his wise men and also expected them to tell the dream itself as a guarantee of accuracy.  Failure was no big deal except for the accompanying death sentence.  The request was impossible, of course, except that God revealed both the events of the dream and their meaning to his servant, Daniel.  Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of a four-layered statue.  Its head of gold represented Babylon’s might.  The remaining layers of silver, bronze and iron symbolized world empires that had not yet risen to power.  Daniel’s interpretation satisfied the king and saved his life and the lives of all the magicians and wise men in the kingdom.  King Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to ruler over Babylon, made high-level officials of his three friends, and worshipped Daniel’s God.

This devotion, however, was only temporary, as the king’s advisors played to his pride.  He built a gold statue in his own honor, and all were commanded to bow down and worship at its feet. Daniel’s three friends, Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego, were faced with a grim choice: idolatry or death. They refused to bow. The king was enraged and ordered them to be thrown into a fiery furnace. They defied the king’s last chance order and chose to remain faithful even in the face of death. The fire was stoked, the young men were bound and thrown into the inferno. An astonished king watched a fourth man join them as they walked unbound and unharmed through the fire. And once again the king praised their God.

Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by Belshazzar.  King Belshazzar threw a grand party using the holy goblets they had stolen in the raid of Jerusalem’s temple.  The LORD sent him a mysteriously written message that appeared on the wall of the banquet hall.  The king was terrified…for good reason.  Daniel explained that the message said the king would soon meet his Maker.  That same night the Persian army invaded Babylon.  Belshazzar was killed, and Persia became the silver layer in the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of years before.

The new king, Darius of Persia, gave Daniel a promotion. Daniel’s rivals were jealous and plotted his death. They deceived Darius into signing an irrevocable decree forbidding prayer to anyone except the king. The penalty was a single night stay in a cave of hungry lions. Daniel responded by doing as he had always done; he knelt and prayed.  Of course, the king’s officials felt “duty bound” to bring such dangerous activity to the king’s attention, and Darius was forced to throw his trusted servant to the lions. So the king spent a restless night and rose in the morning to find that Daniel was safe and sound in the lions’ den.  And the great King of Persia worshipped Daniel’s God.

While Daniel, his friends and the other exiles were kept in Babylon during the seventy years of captivity, the prophet Jeremiah carried out his duties in the ravaged city of Jerusalem. Jeremiah sent a letter of hope to the captives reminding them that God would one day bring them back to Jerusalem and encouraging them to prosper even as exiles in a foreign land. Daniel had done just that. He watched the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms and remained faithful. In the great Upper Story of God, Babylon had been a detour rather than a destination.

Exiles in Babylonia

Jewish Exiles living in a new land

Who is Daniel?

Little is known about Daniel’s family background except that he was likely from a royal family and of noble birth (Dan. 1:3, 6).  He lived at least until the third year of Cyrus, 536 BC (10:1).  Therefore he was likely to have been around 15 or 16 when he was taken captive to Babylon.  That would make him about 85 years old in Cyrus’ third year.

Daniel was not a prophet in the traditional sense.  He did not preach publicly to the Israelites before or during captivity.  Nevertheless, Jesus refers to him as a prophet (Matt. 24:15).  He was a prophet in the sense that he received God’s inspired message and revealed the truths that God showed him.  His stellar character stands out in both his words and deeds.  While one could argue that he authored the words about himself and therefore they could be biased, his contemporaries confirm his exemplary character.  Ezekiel, who was a contemporary exile to Daniel, wrote of his righteousness (Ezek. 14:14, 20).  He was grouped with Job and Noah who stand as heroes of the faith.

Faithful Living in a Foreign Land

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew the cost of discipleship from his study of the Scriptures.  He authored a book by the same name wherein he wrote, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate…Costly grace is the kingly rule of Christ…it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him…Above all, grace is costly because it cost God the life of his Son.” (The Cost of Discipleship, trans. R. H. Fuller, (London:  SCM Press, 1959) 36-37). This Lutheran pastor and seminary professor studied the Scriptures diligently, meditated and prayed daily, discipled young men in seminary, and spoke around the world.  But more than that, Bonhoeffer’s life choices expose the depth of his commitment to Christ.  As a young man in his twenties and thirties, he sought reformations in the German national church.  He repudiated its blatant neglect of the gospel and he resisted the influence of the Nazis.  In the early 1930’s, he studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew the cost of discipleship from the life choices he made.  Discipleship was more than an academic pursuit for Bonhoeffer.  In June of 1939, he knew that war was imminent so he accepted an offer from them to return there to teach.  He knew, however, that his place was in Germany.  So a month later, he returned to Germany to actively resist the cruel power of the Nazi regime, to boldly lead the underground Confessing Church movement and to fight against evil.  He was arrested in April of 1943.  A year later, on April 9, 1944, the 39-year-old Bonhoeffer was hanged in a concentration camp in Flossenburg, Germany.  Three days later the camp was liberated by Allied forces.

In a 1942 letter to his closes friends he wrote, “Who stands firm?…Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action:  the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call.”  Yes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a 20th century martyr faced the hangman’s noose for living out his faith.  And his question remains for all time—Who stands firm?

He was not the first man to face death for standing firm in his faith.  Daniel and his three friends faced death for their faith in God and for resisting the worship of foreign gods.  Together they teach us a valuable “how-to” lesson in faithful living in a foreign land.

I.     Daniel in Exile

A. Daniel did not choose to become a captive to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar.  There were many things that Daniel did not choose, but rather were chosen for him.  He was taken captive as a young man of probably fifteen or sixteen years of age, based on him still living through the whole seventy year captivity.  His circumstances as a young man of nobility in Jerusalem dictated that he be taken in the first siege but also that he be groomed in the foreign palace to serve the king.  We have to marvel that this young man who, so firmly grounded in his faith, prospered against great odds without the slightest hint of ethical or religious compromise. Daniel serves as an excellent case study for faithful living in a foreign land.  He was an A.L.I.E.N.

Associations:  Daniel developed a close community of like-minded faithful friends.  Together they committed to resist the king’s food and strong drink.  Although the four were exiles, they were treated to a life of luxury and privilege.  They were not enslaved in the traditional sense.  Together they resisted the lure of unlawful luxuries. Their relationship with one another was especially important during their time of transition from Judah to Babylon. Together they refused to bow down to the golden idol.  Together they faced the fiery furnace.  When Daniel was promoted, he asked that his friends also be promoted to positions of influence.  Their friendship served to strengthen their faith and their resolve in the face of temptation and persecution.

Live Peaceably:  Daniel and his friends chose to live peaceably in Babylon.  They used a great deal of tact and discernment with government officials.  When given food from the king’s table, they respectfully asked for an alternative diet and test.  Daniel used wisdom and tact when dealing with the king’s commander and Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  Even when the decree was issued that forbade Daniel to pray to His God, he peaceably went to his room to pray as usual.  He lived peaceably under various kings and even kingdoms.

Identity:  Immediately after Daniel and his friends were chosen for the king’s academy of Chaldean Culture, the commander assigned them new names.  Their Hebrew names all reflected devotion to God in some way.  Daniel’s name means, “My judge is God;” Hananiah’s name means, “Yahweh has been gracious.”  Their new names were associated with Babylonian gods.  By changing their names from the Hebrew God to the Babylonian gods, they would be seen as under the control of the new gods.  This ancient practice would have encouraged these young men to assimilate themselves into their new culture and separate themselves from their former Israelite culture.  The Babylonians could impose outward changes, but they could not change the inward identity of these young men.  They held fast to YHWH and grounded their identity in Him.

Engage:   While Daniel and the others could have refused to participate in the social and political life in Babylon, they did not.  Instead, they fully engaged in life where they were exiled.  Though aliens, they did not keep to themselves in small Israelite enclaves.  They became more than fully functioning members of society—they became leaders in a foreign land!  They were leaders under various regimes and prospered through the knowledge, wisdom, skills and favor of the LORD.

Non-negotiables:  Daniel chose his friends wisely.  He lived peaceably in a foreign land.  He maintained his identity as a man of God all the while recognizing and respecting the governmental authorities placed over him.  But he also knew what was non-negotiable.  He and his friends refused to bow down and pay homage as ordered by the king.  They faced death in the fiery furnace and the lion’s den for their faith.  These men had been compliant, cooperative servants of foreign kings but were now persecuted for their religious practices.  They would not break the Law by bowing down.  They knew the LORD could rescue them from the flames and the feline, but they did not have a guarantee that He would.  They stood firm anyway.

II.  Exiles on Earth

A. Is there an application for us, the Church?  What do we have in common with Daniel and the three friends?  The New Testament writers remind us that we are also “foreigners.”  The author of Hebrews recounted the faith of Abraham and Sarah who lived as aliens in the land of promise but were looking for the city whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11:9-10). They confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth who desire a heavenly country and because of this, God is not ashamed to be called their God (Heb. 11:13-16). Peter wrote to those “who reside as aliens” to abstain from their worldly lusts (1 Pet. 1:2, 2:11-12).  Paul wrote to the church in Philippi that “our citizenship is in heaven,” (Phil. 3:20) and our blessings are heavenly (Eph. 1). We have been raised up and seated with Him in the heavenly paces (Eph. 2:6).  Yes, Church, we too are aliens.  Therefore, we can model our own lives after the ALIEN Daniel.

Associations:  We were never meant to go at it alone.  God created us to live in community with one another and the Church is the Body of Christ.  We are to be members of one Body and therefore responsible for and in harmony with one another (1 Cor. 12).  Believers are called to love one another to demonstrate to the world that we are disciples of Jesus (Jn. 13:34-35).  We are to be devoted to, honor, accept and admonish one another (Rom. 12:10, 15:7, 14).  We are to serve one another, be kind to one another and be subject to one another (Gal. 5:13, Eph. 4:32, 5:21).  As Christians, we want to encourage one another and build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11).  We are to bear one another’s burdens and correct and restore our fallen brethren (Gal. 6:1-2). Our Christian community is necessary for a vital relationship with Christ!  Choose your associations carefully so that they will help you stand firm in your faith.

Live Peaceably:  Christians are called to be subject to our governmental authorities and to be peaceable and considerate of all mankind (Titus 3:1-2).  Though we are aliens in this world, we are in this world and should represent Christ to the unbelieving world.  Paul wrote to the believers in Rome and encouraged them to live peaceably there.  “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men,” (Rom. 12:18).  How much more, then, should we strive to live peaceably with other believers!  Paul corrected the Corinthian believers who were splintering into various groups (1 Cor. 1). Moreover, our homes should be marked by peace.  We should strive to have peace in our marriage, with our children and with our extended family.

Identity:  Like Daniel, our identity is in Christ Jesus.  We reside in a “foreign land,” but our identity should remain tethered to Christ.  Believers are all sons of God by faith in Christ (Gal. 3:26) and therefore clothed in Him (Gal. 3:27).  We have be sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13).  In Christ, you are complete (Col. 2:10).  We resist becoming conformed to the world by the ongoing renewal of our minds as we live as life sacrificed to the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2).

Engage:   Engage wherever you are!  Engage in the social, political and daily life of the community in which God places you.  While Israel was and is a nation, the Church is not a nation in the traditional sense.  We are scattered throughout a neighborhood, a city and the world.  Some Christians are in prisons while others are in positions of great power and privilege.  Prosper there.  Practice good citizenship.  Participate in the political process that shapes our city, state and nation.  Some Christians withdrawal from the world to protect themselves from its defilement.  Jesus did not live that way.  He engaged His community.  Adaptation is not synonymous with conformity.  We can become leaders in our communities and workplaces. What better way to change a business, a school, a neighborhood or a nation than to be an engaged “foreigner” whose character is trustworthy, neither corrupt nor negligent like Daniel’s (p. 212). Jesus did not ask the Father to take us from the world, but to protect us from the evil one while we are here as aliens (Jn. 17:15).

Non-negotiables:  We have to know what our non-negotiables are and stand firm in our faith for them.  As we become fully devoted, mature followers of Christ, we identify those things for which we are willing to be persecuted.  These may interrupt living peaceably, as it did for Daniel.  They may interrupt your work or your relationships.  But that takes us back to our A-associations.  Through the support of our Christian community, we gain the extra support to stand firm in our non-negotiables.  As ALIENs in this world, we have to know what is and is not negotiable, what is and is not worth sacrificing for, perhaps even dying for.

Daniel and the three faced dreadful consequences for their faith.  Christians all over the world continue to face persecution today.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s question must still be asked—Who stands firm?

What about the Western Church?

How would we stand up for Christ under the threat of death?  In August of 2006, FOX news reporter Steven Centanni and his cameraman were kidnapped in Gaza by Palestinian gunmen.  They were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint before they could be released.  Persecution still exists around the world.  In fact, the 20th century had more martyred Christians than the previous nineteen centuries put together.  Western Christians continue to be appalled as we experience more brazen insults and audacious acts. Atheist groups have recently been allowed to post a sign next to nativity scenes throughout the country that reads, “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.  Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens our hearts and enslaves our minds.”  How should Christians respond?  How do we live in an increasingly anti-Christian, hostile world?

The Church around the world is truly persecuted.  Here in the West, the Faith is trampled on more and more blatantly and brazenly with each passing day.  I want to challenge you to stand firm in your faith while fostering Christian empathy and action by exposing you to the dangers our brethren face around the world.  The Voice of the Martyrs is an excellent resource for downloading case studies of persecuted believers.

Read an article of a persecuted person somewhere in the world.  You can go to www.persecution.com to find some stories. This is the site for The Voice of the Martyrs. After reading the stories think about this:

  • What do suppose this person must have experienced?
  • How did this person develop such a strong faith?
  • What might you have done in a similar situation?
  • Do you know anyone who has experienced persecution for their faith?
  • What can we do to make a difference?  To support our Christian brothers and sisters?

Anguish: Jeremiah 1:4-8; 4:31; 29:1-14; 30:6

This is the portion of the study that you will need to open up your Bible and look up the passages and reflect on the questions. If you have any questions please let me know.

Having children is a blessing according to God. But childbirth, from conception to delivery, is used as a metaphor in Scripture, and childbearing is a major theme throughout the Bible. The prophet Jeremiah, who warned of the coming exile that is discussed in chapter 18 of THE STORY, compared the anguish that Israel would suffer to labor pains.  In the book of Matthew, Jesus expressed his concern for women who would be pregnant or nursing during the destruction of the temple which occurred in 70AD. Nevertheless, the anguish associated with childbirth is powerful whether we are speaking in real terms or metaphorically.

 

I.  The anguish of labor. Jeremiah 4:22-31

The scriptural references and comparisons to childbearing are interesting, but they are also important for our understanding God’s will and God’s ways.

1.  From the following passages note what the comparison or the teaching is:

Genesis 3:16

Isaiah 13:6-9

Jeremiah 4:31

Jeremiah 6:22-24

Matthew 24:3-7

1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

2.  God’s word also uses the natural to explain the course of sin in our lives through graphic detail.  We have seen this bitter truth clearly through the history of God’s people, Israel.  We should learn from their experiences.  Note the process and result of sin from the following passages.

Psalm 7:14-15

James 1:13-15

II. Labor and delivery

Jesus also demonstrated that he cared for women and children during his earthly ministry. He saw children as good. Childbirth as a good thing despite the difficulties of labor and delivery.  A natural, healthy pregnancy brings the birth of a new baby.  This is a joy and a blessing.  This natural process of life is also used to help us understand the results of faithful living.

1.  From the following passages what is the joy and blessing.

John 16:20-22

Acts 2:24-28

Romans 8:18-25

2.  What do the following passages show about Jesus’s understanding of women?

Matthew 19:13-15

Matthew 24:19-21

III. God coaches his people through their anguish. Jeremiah 1:4-8; 29:1-14; Daniel 1:3-20

Through Jeremiah, God gave warnings to Judah about their coming destruction as a nation.  He promised that, as a nation, they would experience agony that could only be compared to the pain of childbirth.   But he also gave interesting instructions about how they should carry on their lives during this time of suffering and exile in Babylon.  Although they would be punished, they would not be abandoned.

 1.  When did God choose Jeremiah to be a prophet? Jeremiah 1:4-8

2.  How were God’s people instructed to live while in exile?  Jeremiah 29:5

3.  What was God’s instruction about marriage and children?  Jeremiah 29:6

4.  How did God say they would be able to prosper even though they were in exile?  Jeremiah 29:7

5.  What does God promise about his plans for them? Jeremiah 29:11

6.  How will they be able to find God? Jeremiah 29:12-14

IV. Living above the anguish.

We still go through suffering because of the consequences of sin that controls our lives.  The passages above offer valuable insight to us as well as to the ancient Israelites.  We don’t have to be overcome by the pain and suffering of sin, even though we may experience it.  The advice God gave to His people through Jeremiah is still good advice.  Each of these concepts is also a strong teaching in the New Testament.

1.  How do we know that God has plans for us? Acts 17:26

2.  How should we live our lives? Acts 17:28; Titus 3:1-2

3.  What is God’s instruction about marriage and children?  Titus 2:3-5

4.  How does God say we will be able to prosper?  Titus 3:4-8

5.  What does God promise about his plans for us? Titus 2:11-14

6.  Why will we be able to find God?  Acts 17:27

7.  How do we know that there will someday be an end to all distress and anguish? Isaiah 9:1, 6-7

Key question:  What steps do you need to take to have victory over the sins that bring anguish into your life and that bring anguish to God’s heart?

For additional reflection:  Read Romans 1:18—2:16.

Consider the parallels in this passage to the things you have learned from the history of the Israelites—from their crossing the Red Sea until their destruction.  What sins still bring anguish to God’s heart?

What will be the result for those who choose to rebel against God as the Israelites did?

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