The concept of being in Babylon is not foreign to the Christian tradition. One can think of the Reformers (especially Luther) of describing the situation in the Church as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Why Babylon? Well Babylon was where the exile took place in the Old Testament, around 586 BC and lasting until around 536 BC. It represents being in a foreign land, far from home.
As Christians, then, such an understanding permeates our thoughts. We are, as the phrase goes, in the world but not of the world. We are in our present time, seeking to be faithful to God with the lives He has given in the time He has placed us, but we are also eagerly awaiting the second coming of Christ when death itself will be finally defeated once and for all (see I Corinthians 15).
This, then, leaves us in a situation similar to those in exile seeking to be faithful to God while in a foreign land. It is for this reason, Daniel, comes to my mind especially. Most people like to focus on the prophetic visions of Daniel and endlessly speculate about their meaning. While I am certainly interested in such discussions, I am equally interested in Daniel himself and his own actions while in Babylon. In order to know this it requires us not to look at the prophetic visions, but to look early on in Daniel 1. The truth of it is, the first chapter of Daniel gives us the best representation of what it means to be Daniel in Babylon.
Part 1: The beginning of Daniel in Babylon
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 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.
3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful 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. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
-Daniel 1:1-7, ESV
What do we first learn about Daniel? Well we learn why he is in Babylon to begin with, which is that God gave the Judeans into the hands of the Babylonians. As the prophets declare this is because of the people’s faithlessness. They continued to choose anything other than God for their foundation, whether it be other gods, religious practices, worldviews, and so forth. This led to their exile at the hands of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.
Now, what the Babylonians did when they conquered a territory was to bring the important people of the society, think of prophets, priests, royalty, back to Babylon. As we see here, the goal for Nebuchadnezzar was to bring these important people into the fold, so to speak. This included learning the language as well as living their lifestyle.
As such, the scene is set. We find Daniel to be one of those who fit the description of the king and that he would be one of those trained in the understanding and ways of the Babylonians.
Part 2: The Challenge
8 But 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 to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
Most everyone who has read Daniel remembers the challenge provided by Daniel to the chief eunuch. Daniel would not defile his body by eating what was unclean according to the Mosaic Law. There are many who have taken this passage then to form dietary standards by which to live. I can think of one prominent pastor who even wrote a book about this (I’m looking at you Warren).
That is interesting, but my thought goes beyond this. What is Daniel really challenging here? Is it just defilement, is it just diet, is it just food? No. It is far more. It is a challenge to their understanding of reality itself. The Babylonians had been eating a particular diet which led to them being less healthy. Daniel offers both a rebuttal and a challenge to their understanding.
This is incredibly important for us to understand as we seek to be Daniel in Babylon. Daniel does not shirk, he does not stand away, he does not forfeit and follow the status quo. Instead, he knows God, and knows that God’s ways are better than our ways. He trusts in God and challenges the Babylonians in their own time and their own understanding and their views about reality with what God provides which is the truth. Daniel, in this first step, challenges their false view of reality with a true view of reality.
Imagine it this way. Imagine we were to do this in our own time. How sure are we that God’s ways are better than our own? I think we are far from being as confident as Daniel was. Many in the Church do not care what people do with their sexual lives, for example, and instead of challenging people to try living in accordance with the Scriptures, we play the apathetic card. Where is the challenge on our part? Where is the statement that says, “If you trust in God, and follow Him, it will lead to better consequences?” This isn’t being like Daniel when we do nothing or say nothing or do not challenge or provide a rebuttal. Instead, it shows our weakness.
Thus, to be like Daniel I think that we need to stand on two things. The first is the knowledge we have of God and His ways. The second is, to act on that knowledge and respond to those who would provide different truth claims. It isn’t enough to shrug our shoulders while in Babylon, we must stand firm on what we know.
How does this challenge end for Daniel? It ends well. God is on his side after all, and reality shows that Daniel is in the truth, not the Babylonians. Should we follow God then it will lead to it being congruent with reality, not separate from it. God is the author of reality, and when we seek to live according to the truth He provides it will lead to good outcomes for ourselves and society as we are all part of this reality.
Part 3: The Conclusion
17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. 21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Most people would stop at the previous point. Yes, we challenge by proclaiming the truth of God to individuals and societies around us, showing by example that in following God it leads to better outcomes because it is His reality, and the more we follow His ways the more in step with reality we become. Logical. Reasonable. Wise. All the things we would expect from our great God.
But, Daniel doesn’t end there. Instead, we notice that Daniel continues to learn, to grow, in all literature and wisdom. It is true that God gives them the learning and skill, but it is also true that Daniel is not lazy. He is not complacent. He learns about the culture he is in exile to and learns more about the differences between their culture and his own, what they proclaim to be true, and what is actually true found in God.
Now what is interesting is that this still isn’t the end. We see at the end of all this that Daniel is brought to the king and is found to be far wiser and has more understanding than any of the others from Babylon and elsewhere. This then leads to Daniel being part of the king’s court for the duration of the Babylonian exile (approximately 50 years). He was one that the very pagan Babylonian kings called upon for understanding and wisdom.
In other words, Daniel was part of the politics. He was part of the kingdom authority. He sought to proclaim the truth not just to his own people, but also to the kings. He sought to bring Babylon the truth by being involved. He did not just proclaim one truth and then that was it. God is the God of all truth and His wisdom can be brought to the poorest pauper or the wealthiest king.
I say all of this because there are those who would believe that in order to be faithful we shouldn’t be involved, or it is of less importance than, let’s say, simply proclaiming the Gospel. I agree, the Gospel is the foundation for all the Christian worldview without which we have no meaning or purpose. But if the Gospel is true then that means it effects all things in reality, all understandings, all wisdom, must bow to it and be influenced by it.
In other words, to be like Daniel means to be engaged with Babylon rather than being influenced by it. It means to challenge Babylon rather than letting Babylon have its way and its own understanding. It means to stand firm in the truth of God against the supposed truth that Babylon proclaims. It means being faithful to the calling God gives us to grow in knowledge of Him, in wisdom of Him, and understanding of His ways and His will, living according to it as an example to the world, and challenging the world with the good results that come from faithful obedience to Him.
There are many who look to Daniel in order to understand our times and our future. I say, the better thing to do, or at least the thing to do before we do that, is to recognize that Daniel is an example to us and to mimic him in our own time in Babylon. This is where we really need to start, not at the end and the visions, but the beginning where truth is upheld and proclaimed and untruth is challenged and defeated.
I hope that as we continue in this life, that many more Daniel’s would arise. Those who seek wisdom and understanding, and who are willing to be faithful to challenge the status quo, to challenge the methods and the understanding of the world, to say to all in Babylon, whether kings, enchanters, magicians, or people, “There is a better way.”
Soli Deo Gloria,