The Second in a Series on the Book of Daniel
Perhaps you heard the same sermons on Daniel I did growing up. As Daniel resisted the temptation to embrace worldly ways, keeping his faith under pressure to conform, so we too should resist “worldliness” and stand strong in our beliefs in the face of those reject them. The application we were to draw from this was not to smoke, drink, date non-Christians, lie, steal, and so on, when non–Christians tell us these things are OK. While there is truth in this, when we read of Daniel being forced to resist the pressure to compromise his faith we are tempted to read Daniel’s struggle in light of our own struggles to live godly lives and progress in our sanctification. But, as I will suggest throughout this series, we should understand Daniel’s situation as much more like that which a Christian in modern Syria and Iraq must endure when their community has been overrun by ISIS. Daniel faced a constant, coercive, and humiliating pressure to reject his religion and his national citizenship, to embrace foreign gods, foreign rulers, and a way of life completely alien to the faith of Israel’s patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Daniel faced intense pressure to conform at a level difficult for us to imagine, especially when we consider that he was still a youth serving in the royal court (and therefore in the presence) of the very king (Nebuchadnezzar) who was attempting to subjugate Daniel’s people and nation through the most diabolical of means. Throughout his struggle to not compromise his fundamental beliefs, YHWH is with him every step of the way, all the while directing the affairs of kings and nations to their divinely-appointed ends.
As we resume our series on the Book of Daniel, we consider two related themes as we continue to work our way through the opening chapter of Daniel. Last time we covered introductory and background matters, and established the fact that in the prophecy of Daniel two elements unfold simultaneously throughout the book. One element is Daniel’s stress upon God’s sovereign control over all of history, as YHWH brings Israel through a time of judgment (exile) and restoration (a new Exodus) leading up to the coming of the Messiah, and then on to the end of the age. The second element is God’s providential care for Daniel and his three friends while they struggle to remain faithful to YHWH while in Babylon. It is this second element of Daniel’s prophecy we will consider in this sermon as two related sub-themes appear–Nebuchadnezzaer’s coercive attempts to turn young Hebrew royals into pagan Babylonians, and Daniel’s resistance to this intense pressure to conform to the king’s scheme to weaken, if not destroy, the people of Israel through Babylonian domination.
The opening verses of Daniel reveal the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s efforts to cripple the nation of Israel, as well as explaining the circumstances which led to Daniel’s captivity and exile in Babylon in 605 BC. We read in verses 1-2, “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, 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, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.” We can date this to precisely 605 BC when Nebuchadnezzear (who is still crown prince and not yet king) led the Babylonians to victory over an Egyptian army led by Pharaoh Neco at Carchemish (modern Syria). Pursing the routed Egyptians, Nebuchadnezzer went south to Jerusalem, laying siege to the city, when word came to him that his father had died. Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon for his coronation.
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