October 17, 2011 David Balzer

Daniel 1: Is God Dead?

Last month was the 10th anniversary of the Sept 11 bombings in 2001. Probably the most significant event since the end of WW2 in shaping world history.

It was an attack that shook America to its foundations. Foundations of a free market economy (symbolised by the World Trade Centre), of military strength (symbolised by the Pentagon), and of freely elected government (symbolised by the Capitol Building) – probably the THIRD target.

America had assumed it couldn’t be touched. Its strength – the result of its economy, its military and its government. And then, in a matter of minutes, all of that confidence evaporated.

It rattled every American. Most Westerners as well. They thought, “If terrorists can attack NEW YORK AND WASHINGTON, then NO ONE is safe!”

And so the questions began. Where was God on September 11? Is God dead? Does he care? Countless newspaper editorials, sermons, books, blogs, TV commentaries. All debating the question of why a Christian nation like America had been attacked so violently. And how God could possibly allow such a tragedy.

But all of the shock, all of the hand-wringing, all of the questioning America went through in 2001. Was NOTHING compared to what ISRAEL went through in 586 BC. When Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army crashed into Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple.

God had brought them out of Egypt, and into the Promised Land. He’d PROMISED it to them. And then he’d DELIVERED it. He was their God, and they were his people. Under God’s rule, in God’s land.

But then the warnings of prophets came true. Despite their sin, God had given them chance after chance after chance. But they refused to listen. They refused to follow him. To live his way.

And finally God’s patience ran out. He kept his word. And Israel was defeated, and the city destroyed. And then, to add insult to injury, many of them were carried off into exile.

And as they were led off in chains to a foreign city. They would have been asking these sorts of questions: “Where was God when the temple was destroyed? What’s he doing? Has he abandoned us? Does he care? Or perhaps he’s not strong enough to win. IS GOD DEAD?”

The American author Kurt Vonnegut spent time as a POW in WWII. And he was in Dresden when in was bombed by the Allies. He was there in the midst of the fireball, the destruction, the mass annihilation. And somehow he managed to survive. He was forced to clean up the dead bodies of German civilians killed by American bombers. And abused by the German people as he did it.

And, not surprisingly, he was deeply affected by what he witnessed. And can you blame him? In his book, the Slaughterhouse Five, he reflected on that event. He said ‘If there IS a god, he sure HATES PEOPLE’.

See – when you’re a witness to such destruction, it can make you doubt God.

And with destruction of Jerusalem, the pillaging of the temple, people dragged off to Babylon – the Israelites would be asked just those questions.

And as we turn to the book of Daniel, they’re the questions it answers again and again. You see, the book’s title is “Daniel”. But he’s not the main character. This is a story about GOD. About the God who’s NOT dead. Who controls kings and countries. Who achieves victories. Who raises up and brings low. Who protects and destroys.

God gives victory (on the battlefield) (2)

You can see that’s how the story of Daniel BEGINS. Right there from the first couple of verses.

1:1 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 DELIVERED Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.

ON THE SURFACE, it looks like God’s weak and the gods of Babylon are strong. But the reality is GOD’S the one who’s handed Judah over to Nebuchadnezzar.

 

It might seem inconceivable for God to bring about the defeat of his own people. But that’s the REALITY. GOD gives victory. Humans are swinging the swords, and plotting the strategy. But it’s God who’s behind it all. Moving the pieces around like the master chess player.

And that’s something that’s true not just in military battles. It’s true for us today. It’s the perspective to have when things don’t go according to OUR plans. That things ALWAYS go according to GOD’S plans.

It’s hard to imagine how it COULD be God’s plan to bring defeat to his own people. But the reality is that’s just what he PROMISED he’d do. Over in Ch 9 Daniel prays, and he recognises JUST THAT about all that’s happened.

Just flip over there for a moment. Ch 9 v7. Daniel’s praying.

7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame-the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you.

Jump down to v10.

10 we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 YOU HAVE FULFILLED THE WORDS SPOKEN AGAINST US and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us,

God PROMISED it, and then he DID it. It wasn’t the military skill or power of Nebuchadnezzar. It was God’s FAITHFULNESS TO HIS PROMISE.

His own temple destroyed, its vessels carried off to Babylon’s temple. His own PEOPLE led off in chains. Including the best and brightest. From v3. The king orders his chief official to select the noblemen, (v4)

4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.

It was to be a three year training program, and then they’d enter the king’s service.

But this was no kind-hearted sponsorship. No scholarship program. It’s a calculated political campaign. Designed to indoctrinate the movers and shakers in Jewish society. To turn their allegiance. To make them Nebuchadnezzar’s.

He gives them food and wine from his own table. They’re kept men. Indebted to Nebuchadnezzar. And he gives them new names. Not Jewish names that honour the TRUE God, but BABYLONIAN names that honour THEIR gods.

We meet four young Jewish men. Daniel (which means “God is my judge”) whose name is changed to Belteshazzar (which means “BEL protect his life”). Then there’s Hananiah (YHWH shows grace) who becomes Shadrach (which means “command of AKU.”

Mishael (Who is like GOD?). His name’s changed to Meshach (Who is like AKU?). And finally Azariah (YAHWEH helps) who becomes Abednego (servant of NEBO).

It’s like giving them a new uniform. A new identity. Every time they answer to their name, they’re reminded of the pressure to conform. The pressure to admit that God is dead, and that Babylon’s gods rule.

But the young men don’t give in too easily. V8.

8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

Most likely, it’s not about food laws. About DIET. It’s more to do with not declaring his allegiance to the king. The bit that’s emphasised here isn’t the SORT of food. But that it’s from he KING’S OWN TABLE.

You see, taking his FOOD is taking his SIDE. Like accepting BRIBES from a gangster. If you lie down with dogs, you’ll wake up with fleas. There’s always a price to pay. And Daniel and his friends refused to play the game. “Give us another option,” they say.

God gives favour (in the government) (9)

Which COULD have resulted in immediate execution. After all – they were prisoners of war! But remember, God’s in control of it all. And so we see that not only does God give VICTORY. But God gives FAVOUR. V9.

9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,

He influences the official to LIKE Daniel and his mates. To be willing to cut them some slack. To see HIS side of things. But the problem is that if the young men don’t eat properly, they’ll get sick, or look scrawny. And it will be THE OFFICIAL who cops it.

the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who’s assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

But Daniel’s got an answer. His plan shows his TRUST that God’s in control. Just like his refusal to eat the king’s food.

They’ll do a scientific experiment. They’ll eat vegetables and water for ten days. And then the official can compare how they look with the REST. (The ones who’d been on the king’s diet.) See who looks HEALTHIEST.

The official agrees. And in v15, we see the result. Miraculously, they’re HEALTHIER and BETTER NOURISHED than the rest. And so, they get to stick to their diet.

Daniel RECOGNISED God’s control. But then he DID SOMETHING ABOUT IT. He put that trust into ACTION.

I wonder if that’s where WE fall down. We know with our HEADS God’s in control of the world. But so often our decisions, and actions and attitudes say THE OPPOSITE.

God’s in control – but we WORRY. We lose sleep over the unpaid bills, or the broken appliances, or the kids who don’t phone to let us know they’re safe. When the reality is God’s got it all in hand.

God’s in control – but we’re slow to Pray. Prayer is a LAST RESORT, rather than a FIRST. We try to fix our problems ourselves. To manipulate and manage, rather than hand it all over to HIM. We run around chaotically and endlessly, rather than present our requests consistently and calmly.

God’s in control – but we’re NOT CONTENT. We wish we had just a little bit more money, or a bit less weight, or a few more new clothes, or a bigger house, or a smaller mortgage. Then life would be GREAT. When the reality is God’s put us EXACTLY WHERE HE WANTS US. And given us EXACTLY WHAT WE NEED.

God’s in control – but we COMPLAIN and GRUMBLE. Instead of being THANKFUL, we think that if only WE were in control, things would be SO much better. We blame God, rather than being grateful for what we are, and what we have.

God’ s in control – but we live to please PEOPLE, rather than to please GOD. God’s ways are BEST, he’s the One we live to please. But we try to manipulate situations and people, so they think well of us, or they do things OUR way. We take over control and talk people around to doing things OUR WAY. When we should just sit back and trust him.

Daniel’s situation was precarious, but he TRUSTED God. And he sought to please HIM, rather than try to manipulate the situation by lowering his standards.

Daniel RECOGNISED God was in control, and he did something about it. Let’s make sure we don’t just BELIEVE that this week, but we LIVE IT OUT.

God gives knowledge (in the classroom) (17)

The THIRD area we see God working is in DANIEL AND HIS FRIENDS. He’s working in HISTORY giving VICTORY. He’s working in their Babylonian CAPTORS giving FAVOUR. And he’s working in THEM giving KNOWLEDGE. Look at v17.

17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

Not only were they good looking, and fit. They were the top of the class as well. And all from God.

And when it comes to the FINAL ability on the list – understanding visions and dreams – that’s going to become important as the story develops. That’s an ability that you CAN’T develop on your own. It can ONLY come from God.

Everything we HAVE ultimately comes from God. Sure, we have to work hard to MAXIMISE what he’s given us. We work IN PARTNERSHIP with God to achieve things. But it’s God who gives those qualities, and abilities and gifts.

Which means we shouldn’t be PROUD. We shouldn’t LOOK DOWN on others. We SHOW that God’s in control – that he’s the One who gives us everything – by walking HUMBLY before him. In GRATITUDE.

And so, with God so ACTIVE in the affairs of Daniel and his friends. When the three year training course finishes, the final results are hardly surprising. V18.

8 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

Ten times better. That’s a pretty impressive big number. Just shows that God doesn’t make rubbish. He’s active and in control. And he’s working in your life and mine.

But look at v21. ANOTHER impressive big number.

Daniel remained in the king’s service until the first year of King Cyrus

That’s at least FOUR MORE KINGS on than Nebuchadnezzar! And more than 60 years! The insignificant young man, probably not much more than 17 or 18. Powerless and helpless. At the mercy of powerful men. He SEEMED weak and fleeting. But in the end he outlasted them all! Because the God he SERVED was the truly living and powerful and active One. Who worked out HIS PURPOSES.

The message of Daniel is that life like a tiled mosaic. One tile on its own might be black. It might seem like nonsense, and purposeless. But take a step back. See it is just a part of a big picture. And the context for that one small piece begins to become clearer.

The one small tile might seem tiny and insignificant. But without that tile, the rest of the big picture doesn’t make sense either

It’s a truth that particularly good to remember THIS MORNING. As we celebrate the baptism of T**. That God’s got him in hand. That as we look forward to how his life might turn out, we might be nervous, or excited, or scared, or determined.

But the reality is the control we have over how things will turn out for him is minimal. So much is outside our control. God wants us to be handing it all over to him. And then LIVING THAT CONFIDENCE OUT in our attitudes and actions.

Will you do that with respect to T**? Will you do that in YOUR OWN LIFE?

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