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Dare to be a Daniel (chapter 1:8-21)
Thriving in Babylon
Dare to be a Daniel
Daniel 1:8-21
 
We return tonight to our study of the book of Daniel and learning to thrive and honor God even though we may be living in very adverse circumstances.  Daniel and his friends were taken hostage and carried away to the most pagan of societies, the exact opposite of what they were accustomed to as Jews. 
 
There are many similarities between that culture and ours, even though we are centuries apart and the strategy of Babylon hasn't changed much.  As we saw last week, Satan has always attempted to conform God's people into the thinking and actions of the world. 
 
And as we was, the Babylonian leadership puts together a concerted attempt to destroy their heritage, deconstruct their faith, reconstruct their values and undermine their identity.  The same thing is happening today on a broad scale in our own country. 
 
But it occurs to me that the Babylonian mindset is not limited to nations and kings and rulers.  It may be that you live in a personal Babylon and it is an unbelieving spouse that hates your faith and what you stand for. 
 
Or it might be at your job where your faith is tested and your values are questioned and your integrity is tempted. 
Whatever the circumstances, the key to Thriving in Babylon and resisting these attempts to conform you to the world's image is found in first phrase of our text. 
 
verse 8a
 
“But Daniel purposed in his heart. . ." Newer translations say, "But Daniel resolved. . ." or “made up his mind.”
 
It all begins there and everything else we read about Daniel flows from this declaration of his commitment.
 
verses 8b-16 
 
Life is a series of choices. We make our decisions and our decisions turn around and make us. You are who you are today because of decisions and choices you made years ago. Most of the time we don’t realize how important small choices can be. That’s especially true when we are young.
 
It seems so ironic that many of life’s most important decisions are made during our teenage years: Where will I go to college? What will I major in? Should I get married? And if so, who will I marry, and how will I meet my future mate, and when will it happen? What career will I choose? Who will be my best friends? What music will I listen to? What movies will I watch? Will I drink? Will I take drugs? How far will I go? Will I keep myself pure?
 
 
 
 
 
To compound the issue, bless their hearts, teenagers are operating with a brain that isn't fully developed, they are being raised by (in their opinion) ignorant adults who know nothing, they are beginning to experience the freedom of self-expression and independence and the world offers all kinds of ungodly options!
 
And sooner or later we face the most important decision of all: Will I decide to follow Jesus? This question is crucial because surveys repeatedly show that 90% of all those who come to Christ do so by the age of 18.
 
So not unlike Daniel and his friends, we are faced with all these decisions and opportunities and choices have to be made that ultimately stay with us for the rest of our life.  And in Daniel we find the decision that needs to made before any other decision is made and that is he decided to honor God.   
 
As the scene opens Daniel and his friends are in Babylon, in captivity, and have been entered into this program designed to assimilate them into Babylonian life. They are to be trained to serve a pagan king.
 
The king makes sure they get the best education Babylon can offer. For three years they will be immersed in Babylonian knowledge, culture, history, language, and religion.  Their Jewish names are changed in favor of new Babylonian names. At the end of that time they will enter the king’s service and be assured of high-level government positions.
It was a sophisticated form of brainwashing aimed at making them forget their past and form a new allegiance to the king and his pagan way of life.
 
And everything appears to be going smoothly until one of the teenagers decides he’s not going to go along with the program.  That is not such a foreign concept, is it?
 
And because of that, we see 
 
1. Daniel Tested
 
Now, at first glance, the decision he makes doesn’t really seem like such a big deal. But it turns out to be very big indeed.  This is the crucial event of his life.
 
What Daniel did in the opening verses of chapter one shaped and impacted the next 60 years of his life. 
 
Now I will admit to you, because I am not a Jew living in captivity in Babylon, I find it a little difficult to understand why eating the king’s food at the king’s table was that big of a deal. 
 
After all, as far as we can tell, Daniel accepted the bondage, he accepted the pagan education, and he evidently even accepted a new pagan name. If you’re going to go along with all of that, why worry about the food? What’s the big deal here?
 
Think about it like this:  Daniel had to make three important decisions every day.
 
 
First, he had to take part in pagan education. But the thing about a faulty education is you can disregard those things are wrong or untrue.  You've got a professor or teacher who doesn't believe in God or denies creation?  It's not really that big of a deal. 
 
You may have to take a test on the material, but you don't have to accept what they teach as true.  So when it came to the pagan education, Daniel learned it, but remember, he had purposed in his heart to honor God.
 
Second, he had to put up with being called a pagan name. But he knew that a name alone couldn’t define who he really was. He knew who he really was as a child of God and that was the most important name he carried.
 
Third, he had to eat pagan food. And at that point, he couldn’t escape what it represented.  I find it fascinating that what seems to us to be the least important issue was the most important to Daniel. But this young man had a proper sense of priorities.
 
He knew that eventually you’ve got to draw a line in the sand and say, “No farther will I go.”
 
So why did Daniel refuse the food?  There were at least three problems with the food served at the king’s table.
 
First, it certainly would not have been prepared according to the kosher laws of the Old Testament. Much of it would be ritually unclean.
 
 
 
Second, all the wine and most of the meat would have been previously offered to pagan gods. To eat that food in that situation would be to give tacit endorsement to paganism.
 
Third, Daniel knew that sharing a meal at the king’s table represented sharing the king’s values. Even today sharing a meal with someone has huge symbolic meaning. To eat together implies friendship, support, endorsement, and shared values.
 
In fact, Jesus instructed us as the church to eat the bread of His body and drink the fruit of the vine as reminders of His broken body and shed blood as we look forward to His return and all fo that is set in the context of a meal that is shared together. 
 
So when Daniel refused to eat at the king's table, in so many words he was saying, "I may have to obey you and learn your customs and be called by your name, but I don't have to be your friend.  We have nothing in common."
 
To eat that food in that situation represented a moral compromise of everything Daniel believed.  Therefore, he made up his mind he would not do it.
 
This is hugely important because it teaches us that you can’t corrupt a man from the outside. You can change a culture but not a character. You can change his name but not his nature. Daniel may have looked like a pagan when Babylon got through with the outside, but on the inside he was a servant of the living God. And even the mighty Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t do a thing about that.
I think we should pause at this point and think about what Daniel was risking. Certainly he risked angering the king, who wouldn’t appreciate hearing that some teenage kid from Israel didn’t want to eat at his table. No way could that be made to sound good. In fact, it would probably sound rebellious and we know how ancient kings dealt with rebellion.  in effect, Daniel was putting his life on the line.
 
He was also spoiling his own chances for advancement. We all know the saying about going along to get along. If this blows up in Daniel’s face, he can kiss his future goodbye.
 
And there were all kinds of excuses and reasons Daniel could have offered for eating the food, even though he didn’t like it.
 
After all, he was far from home and no one back in Jerusalem would know about it. Almost everyone else was eating the food with no complaint. “We’re already in captivity,” he might have said. “What difference does it make?” “God understands it’s only food. We can eat it with our fingers crossed. I need to do this to get ahead. People will think I’m a narrow-minded legalist if I make a fuss about this.”
 
You can always find an excuse when you don’t want to do right. But Daniel didn’t need an excuse. He had already decided to do right no matter what happened.  Remember, he had purposed in his heart to honor God. 
 
He couldn’t decide for anyone else, but he decided for himself what he would and would not do. And that changed everything. I don’t know if he tried to convince anyone else or not. It doesn’t matter. Daniel made up his mind, and his three closest friends decided to join him.
 
And that leads me to repeat a point made earlier. The Babylonians could change everything—his diet, his location, his education, his language, even his name—but they couldn’t change his heart because it belonged to God.  And when your heart truly belongs to God, you can go anywhere and face any situation and you’ll be okay. You can even live in Babylon and do just fine because your body is in Babylon but your heart is in heaven.
 
So the question for all of us is, Where is your heart? Does it truly belong to God? Or is your heart fixed on the things of this earth?
 
Now, just as important as the first verse of verse 8 is the first phrase of verse 9.  Notice what is says: 
 
"But God. . ."
 
Not only has Daniel purposed in his heart, but God is active and present also.  And when Daniel purposed in his heart, suddenly God enters the picture. At work behind the scenes, God had caused Ashpenaz  to look with favor upon Daniel and his three friends.
 
And please don't miss the progression of events.  God brought Daniel into the favor of Ashepnaz after Daniel purposed in his heart. 
 
I am of the opinion Daniel had braced himself for the worst that could happen. He understood the potential consequences. But it didn't matter. He had purposed in his heart to honor God and God always blesses those that honor Him.   
And although it's not always like this, in this case, the blessing for obedience was came immediately as Daniel did the right thing and God honored that decision.
 
Daniel proposes a simple alternative.
 
verse 8b
 
There are several attractive features in the way Daniel made his proposal.
 
First, he was tactful in the way he spoke. He didn’t demand anything, he simply made a request.
 
Second, he was obedient in following the chain of command.
 
Third, his request was reasonable. The test would be over in ten days and didn’t require the preparation of unusual food.
 
Fourth, it was easy to evaluate. The guard simply eyeballed the four versus the others and drew his own conclusions.
 
By the way, the food he and his friends ate is referred to as vegetables in verse 12.  In the KJV it is called "pulse".  It’s a word that can refer to vegetables in general but is often used of cereal.
So perhaps we should think of ten days of water and Shredded Wheat. You wouldn’t think that such a diet would work. In fact, it sounds like one of the miracle diets you read about in the supermarket tabloids that promises you will lose 30 pounds in 30 days. But even if you lose all that weight, you end up looking bad and feeling worse.
But verses 15-16 tell us that at the end of the ten days the four teens looked better on their cereal and water diet than the fellows who had been eating T-bone steak at the king’s table. They looked so good that the guard let them continue with their strange diet indefinitely.
 
Thus does God bless those who make up their minds to honor him and the story comes to an end on a very positive note as we see
 
2. Daniel Rewarded
 
verses 17-21
 
Now, as I said a moment ago, with Daniel, the reward and blessing for honoring God came immediately.  And I want you to know, God always honors those who honor him. Sometimes it happens immediately; oftentimes it takes much longer than that. Sometimes it comes only after suffering or death.  
 
I mention the timing because it’s possible to read this story and get the idea that every time we stand up for our convictions, we will be immediately rewarded. This passage proves that sometimes it does happen that way, but the testimony of martyrs from around the world and down through the centuries rise to say that it's not always like that. 
 
And we need to remember that God’s timing and ours are often quite different. In many parts of the world, our brothers and sisters are paying with blood for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
 
Therefore, I think it appropriate that we marvel at Daniel’s reward and also remember that God deals with us as individuals. Our call is to be faithful, knowing that in the end, whether on earth or in heaven, no one will ever regret standing up for Jesus.
 
Notice what the reward included.
 
Verse 17
 
One might think that God would reward these young men by delivering them out of captivity, but instead, God gave these four young men wisdom and understanding. Be careful of your expectations regarding God's reward.  He gets to decide and not us how we will be rewarded. Apparently, God wanted them in Babylon for His purposes.
 
So instead of delivering them and allowing them to return to Israel, He gives them the ability to thrive and flourish where they are. By giving them wisdom and understanding, they were allowed to stand out above their Jewish contemporaries and far above the Babylonians. Since cream rises, these four young men will soon find themselves in positions of enormous influence in a pagan government.
 
By the way, it’s important that we notice the order.
 
First, the decision is made to stand up for what they believed, Then, God honored that decision by giving them wisdom and understanding.
 
 
 
 
A lot of people want to reverse the order.  They want to live and act like an idiot, compromise their beliefs and convictions, and then expect God will come to their rescue. 
 
But it doesn't work that way!  What kind of sense does it make to ask God to bless you with wisdom while you are living in a state of spiritual compromise?  Again, God honors those who honor him.
 
Then, the last part of verse 17 tells us that God gave Daniel the unique ability to interpret dreams. I don't know that Daniel fully understood or appreciated the benefit of that, but in the very next chapter we’ll see that it actually saved his life. 
 
There is an interlude of time between verses 17 and 18 that moves us to the end of the three years of education.
 
It is now examination time. King Nebuchadnezzar himself will examine all the young men. They would be questioned on history, science, economics, the Babylonian language, and presumably also on details of Babylonian religion, including (I would assume) questions about astrology and witchcraft.
 
These young men had to know everything the other young leaders had to know. The result is astounding. The king found them ten times smarter than the magicians and enchanters in his kingdom. Talk about going to the head of the class! They immediately entered the king’s service.
 
 
Verse 21 adds that Daniel remained in the court of Babylon until the first year of Cyrus, which was 539 BC.  That means he served as an advisor to a whole series of Babylonian kings for at least 60 more years.
All this because Daniel purposed in his heart that he would honor God!
 
So what do we learn from Daniel and his commitment?  It is a reminder that the world continually tries to reprogram us into a different way of thinking.  It happened to Daniel and his three friends through a course of systematic brainwashing aimed at separating these young men from their past. It involved a new location, a new education, a new diet, a new culture, a new language, and ultimately, new names.
 
Twenty-five centuries have come and gone and nothing has changed. The world still attempts to separate us from our spiritual heritage. Obviously, our young people are most at risk, but the attack comes to all of us in subtle ways every day.
 
We are promised promotions that will take us away from our families and from our church fellowship. We are offered educational opportunities that fill our minds with godless falsehood. We are told to keep quiet about our faith until we get to the top and then we can speak out. And all of us are bombarded with anti-God input from the media every day.
 
Make no mistake. There is a battle for your mind, a battle being fought every day. Some of us are losing the battle because we don’t even know there is a battle going on. We just go with the flow and then wonder why we end up looking and sounding just like the Babylonians.
But Daniel also reminds us we've got to decide before we get into the battle that we will honor God. 
And the key word in that sentence is "before".  Some decisions can’t be made on the spur of the moment. You have to decide that you will not compromise in the things that matter.
 
For Daniel, that meant not eating the king’s food at the king’s table. It doesn’t matter that we today don’t fully understand his decision. What’s important is that Daniel drew a line in the sand and said, “This far, and no farther.” Your line may be different from mine and mine from yours. But if you don’t draw a line somewhere, sometime, you end up being just like the Babylonians all around you.
 
At that point your Christian testimony is worse than useless.  So you’ve got to be smart. Think ahead. Decide what you won’t do. Then don’t do it! Folks, I’m not talking brain surgery here. I’m talking about common sense thinking about your Christian values. Not every hill is worth dying on, but some are, and it’s better to die on those hills than to slink off in shameful compromise because you didn’t have any courage.
 
Finally, we must know our own limits and must not do what we know is wrong. Daniel knew his limits. When they enrolled him at Babylon State University, he didn’t object. When they taught him the Babylonian language, he learned it just like everyone else. When they taught him a new culture, he did not rebel. And even when they changed his name, he apparently did not speak out.
 
 
But when they said, “You have to eat the king’s food at the king’s table,” he said, “I’m sorry. I can’t do that.” And he didn’t. He was courteous in the way he said it and he was creative in the solution he proposed. But make no mistake. By standing his ground, he was risking everything over an issue that made sense to no one but him and his three friends.
 
To the Babylonians and maybe even most of the Jews it was just nutty. But Daniel saw through the food to the bigger issues underneath and he knew that for him to eat that food at that table would be an act of disloyalty to God, and that was a line he would not cross.
 
“It’s such a small area,” you say. True and not true. Yes, it seemed small, but as we have seen, the outcome of Daniel’s act of courage was huge. It changed his whole life. In the end it wasn’t small at all. My Christian friend, I tell you in Jesus’ name, there are no small areas. If our God is the Lord of all, then every square inch of your life must be yielded to him. He has left nothing for you play with on your own.
 
Teenagers today face so many pressures. Sex is being pushed on our kids in elementary school. So is drinking. So are drugs. So is joining a gang. So are filthy language, pornography, and homosexuality. More than ever before, we need a generation of children and teenagers with the courage to say No and to say it in a loud voice.
 
To say No to sex and Yes to abstinence.
To say No to alcohol and Yes to sobriety.
To say No to drugs and Yes to clean living.
To say No to gangs and Yes to healthy friendships.
To say No to moral filth and Yes to the Word of God.
To say No to sin and Yes to Jesus Christ.
To say No to going along with the crowd and Yes to standing alone.
To say No to temptation and Yes to God.
To say No to cowardice and Yes to bold witness for Christ.
To say No to sexual compromise and Yes to waiting until marriage.
To say No to rebellion and Yes to obedience.
To say No to the chains of sin and Yes to freedom in Christ.
 
And it wouldn't hurt if some adults lived by their convictions also! 
 
So how do we find the courage to say No when we need to and Yes when we need to? Like Daniel, you will find yourself from time to time in a moral crisis. How will you know it’s a crisis? You’ll know it when you get there, and often you won’t see it coming in advance.
 
 So make up your mind right now that by God’s grace, when those moments come, having purposed in your heart that you will not defile yourself, you will then live by that commitment. 
 
Make up your mind now! It doesn't matter what everyone else is doing.  It doesn't matter what they do.  You don’t have to decide for anyone else and you don't have to answer for anyone else, but you do have to decide for you and you have to answer to God for you.
 
 
This week I read about the giant sequoia out in California that fell.  Back in the 1880's they carved a hole through the thing to make a road.  And when the storms hit last week, it crashed to the ground.    
 
As I was reading about that tree, I came across the story of another tree that fell a few years ago, this one a 400-year-old redwood that suddenly and without warning toppled to the forest floor.
 
The fall of this tree wasn't caused by a fire or a strong storm or lightening, but by tiny beetles that had crawled under the bark and literally eaten the fibers away from the inside. Although it looked healthy on the outside, on the inside it was virtually hollow and one day finally collapsed.
 
The same thing happens when we refuse to stand our ground for Christ. Every time we compromise something bad happens inside us.  Eventually the little decisions add up and we become hollow on the inside even though we may look great on the outside.  Don’t let that happen to you.
 
Remember, Godly convictions yield God-given rewards. What starts with Daniel ends with God. What starts with courage ends with a lifetime of blessing.
 
Consider what God did for this courageous teenager:
 
God protected Daniel when he proposed the test
God prospered Daniel during the test and afterward
God promoted Daniel in the eyes of the King
 
 
I cannot read this story without thinking of the words of God to Eli in 1 Samuel 2:30b, “Those who honor me I will honor.” I told you in the beginning that this was the crucial event of Daniel’s life.
 
It may not have seemed important at the time, but his decision not to eat the King’s food shaped the next 60 years. We talk about Daniel 2500 years later precisely because of his decision. If he doesn’t make the right choice, the rest of the book never gets written, and he becomes a forgotten Jew in Babylon who looked and acted just like everyone else.
 
I know that in terms of scientific progress, the world has changed since Daniel’s day, but God has not changed. God’s Word has not changed. The world still tries to seduce us and the good news from Daniel 1 is that it is still possible to live for God in high school, in college, at work, and in your career. Daniel has shown us the way.
 
In 1873, P.P. Bliss wrote a gospel song about this story that became very popular but has in our day become virtually unknown. It is called “Dare to be a Daniel.”
 
Standing by a purpose true,
Heeding God’s command,
Honor them, the faithful few!
All hail to Daniel’s band!
 
Many mighty men are lost
Daring not to stand,
Who for God had been a host
By joining Daniel’s band.
 
 
Many giants, great and tall
Stalking through the land,
Headlong to the earth would fall,
If met by Daniel’s band.
 
Hold the gospel banner high!
On to victory grand!
Satan and his hosts defy,
And shout for Daniel’s band.
 
Refrain:
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known.
 
The application of my sermon is very simple. I dare you. Be a Daniel this week.
 
Let's pray.
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