Let’s remember that we seek to follow the Divine Promiser and His promise which transforms ordinary people into “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). It is God’s promise which encourages our hearts and lifts our souls. His promise keeps us going when the going gets tough.
So far in our series on Courageous faith we have discussed Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua. Now we come to the story of Daniel.
Most teenagers would have given in! Daniel was only fifteen when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, and it would have been a frightening experience for any teenager. Tensions between Babylon and Jerusalem had been mounting for several years. Finally, the Babylonians sent Nebuchadnezzar himself to take the city.
David’s kingdom had lasted for over four hundred years. The line of Davidic kings remained on the throne in Jerusalem throughout those years. And with them the line of the Messiah had been preserved as well. The promise had been kept alive and well, not by the faithfulness of the kings but by the faithfulness of God.
There had been both good kings and evil kings. The kingdom had reached its zenith under David and Solomon between 1, 000-931 B.C. After Solomon’s death, the northern tribes pulled away and eventually established their own capital in Samaria. In 722 B.C. the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians. Judah, the southern kingdom, fared much better under great kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah. But other kings of Judah were not as faithful. They did not obey God’s commands or keep His laws. Time had now run out. God’s judgment was about to fall. Once again, the promise seemed bleak.
I the summer of 605 B.C. the powerful general and crown prince of Babylon, young Nebuchadnezzar, marched against the City of David and defeated it. Nebuchadnezzar’s initial victory over Jerusalem was relatively merciful. He allowed the city and the temple to stand, but he decided to take a few select captives back to Babylon.
He chose some of the choice young men from the royal family and the nobility. They would be held as intellectual hostages. These educated and sophisticated young men would be reprogrammed to serve in the royal palace at Babylon. They were assigned to instructors who would teach them the language and literature of their new culture.
In other words, they were going to look, talk, and act like Babylonians. They were even given Babylonian names. Everything possible was done to assimilate them into Babylonian culture and to break down their Hebrew heritage.
Among the captives were four young Hebrews about fifteen years of age. Their names were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Each name identified them after the names of their gods, Bel, Mardach, and Nego. We know them as Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Talk About Peer Pressure
There were other Hebrew boys taken captive and put through this same process of cultural reorientation. But these four are the only ones whose names we know because they appear to have been the only ones who stood up for their faith in God.
The others compromised. Besides, it’s not our fault we were taken captive. What did people expect them to do – get in more trouble? A guy could lose his head if he made the wrong move in a place like this! After all, they had been kidnapped but a Middle Eastern dictator – a real madman.
Talk about peer pressure! These young Jews were facing a life-or-death situation. They either had to compromise their beliefs or give up their lives. The choice was simple for most of them: Compromise, man, compromise!
Ancient Babylon is part of modern-day Iraq. We’ve all seen the video replay of Saddam Hussein patting the little British boy on the head while flashing a fake smile at the cameras. “Nice boy. You’ll be safe here.”
Yeah, sure! Soldiers fell and innocents were captured. People were assassinated. Executions were a daily occurrence. What a great place to go to school! I can’t wait to see what final exams are like. If you don’t pass, you end up shoveling sand in the desert.
That’s exactly what being in Babylon in 605 B.C. was all about. These teenagers were prisoners of war, and they knew it. In fact, they were royal hostages. They were being kept in Babylon as insurance against any further rebellion back home.
A Little Compromise Can’t Hurt
There was one significant difference back then: Babylon was the greatest city on earth! It was the crown jewel of the Middle East. Its opulence exceeded any place on earth during this era. Its azure blue and sparkling gold walls glistened in the desert sun. It was the greatest metropolis in the whole world – a giant oasis in the middle of the desert.
Babylon sparkled with every kind of material attraction and personal temptation you could imagine. Being taken there was like being hauled off to Las Vegas. Every kind of enticement existed to appeal to their teenage senses. Besides, their parents were back in Jerusalem. Who would ever know if they gave in to a little temptation?
From what we can tell from the book of Daniel, most of them probably gave in. But notice that their names and their memories have since been forgotten.
That’s how life is, you know. We remember only the heroes. The men and women of character are never forgotten. Somehow their lives make such an impression on us that we remember them long after they are gone.
The morally weak and spiritually deficient, on the other hand, are soon forgotten. Oh, we notice them while they are alive, but soon after they are gone, we erase them. Their self-centered lives are not worth remembering. People of character are a different breed. They stand up for what they believe. They stand out from the crowd.
The boys were assigned to a three-year training program similar to a modern university education. They would learn the intricacies of Babylonian art, science, mathematics, and religion. They were also assigned a portion of food and wine from the king’s table. It was good stuff. The only problem was that it was considered unclean by Jewish standards.
If they ate the food, they would be violating their religious convictions. But to refuse it meant refusing the king’s provisions, which could cost you your head!
Dare To Be A Daniel
Daniel and his friends had a serious decision to make: They either had to accept the king’s request or find a way to resist it. Rather than becoming defiant, the Bible says in Daniel 1:8, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” The steward responded, in Daniel 1:10, “"I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces looking worse than the young men who are your age? Then you would endanger my head before the king."” With that Daniel made another request as we read in Daniel 1:12-13, “Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 "Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king's delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants.” This was a good idea. It gave the boys and option, and it gave the steward an option as well. What harm could a little “test” do? The steward probably thought. Ten days? All right! But only ten days!
Putting Your Faith To The Test
The request meant that Daniel and his friends were putting their faith to the ultimate test. Meat and wine were normally dedicated to the idols and gods of pagan religions. Besides, Jewish dietary laws about such foods were very strict: no pork, only certain kinds of beef or chicken. Everything had to b kosher by Jewish standards.
The boys’ request was intended to allow them to participate in their schooling without compromising their beliefs. It wasn’t just a request to become vegetarians. The vegetables were certainly good for them, but they didn’t require the same kind of kosher restrictions that meats did according to Jewish law.
At the end of ten days the Bible says in Daniel 1:15, “And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king's delicacies.” So the steward allowed them to stay on their diet throughout the three-year training program.
At the end of three years, Nebuchadnezzar himself gave the final examination. In Daniel 1:17 we read, “As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” The king examined them and as Daniel 1:19-20 says, “Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. 20 And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm.” Did you notice what the king found? There was none equal to Daniel and his friends. They were ten times better than all the rest!
God helped them to pass the examination because they stood up for their beliefs and convictions. One cannot read the book of Daniel without being impressed by the character and courage of these young men. While they were still in the training program, Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s prophetic dreams and rose to a position of prominence. He and his friends were eventually appointed administrators over the province of Babylon. In the meantime, Daniel actually served in the royal court as we read in Daniel 2:48-49, “Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.”
Daniel’s testimony was so well known that he must have been deliberately sent out of town on business during the event. In Daniel 3, we read the story of his friends and the furnace of fire. Daniel is nowhere to be found. This time his friends would have to take their own stand for God.
Bend, Bow, or Burn!
Nebuchadnezzar was your typical autocratic egomaniac. Power corrupted him so thoroughly that he eventually lost his mind. He loved things that called attention to him. So, he eventually constructed a ninety-foot gold statue of himself. Then he invited all the provincial officials (except Daniel) to a public dedication of the statue.
Daniel 3:5 says, “that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up;”
Nebuchadnezzar already forced his people to worship all those Babylonian gods, but now he demanded that they worship him too. And, if you didn’t do it Daniel 3:6 says, “and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”
Ancient Babylon was covered with brick kilns. These “blazing furnaces” were used to fire bricks for massive construction projects. There was very little wood in Babylon, since it was in the desert, so bricks were used to build everything – houses, palaces, and city walls. Such furnaces were typically conical in shape with a door at the bottom and an opening at the top.
During the ceremony, the band played and the people bowed. Nebuchadnezzar stood there smiling from ear to ear, until the astrologers interrupted him and denounced the three Jews for not bowing down. They were still angry that he had promoted the Jews to positions of leadership. This was a chance to get those Jews in trouble.
In Daniel 3:12 we read, “There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.”
Nebuchadnezzar blew up in a fit of rage! These stubborn Jews and jealous astrologers had spoiled his big day. He summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and demanded an explanation. Then he threatened them with execution. In Daniel 3:15 we read the kings words to them, “Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” Now listen closely to their response in Daniel 3:16-18, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 "But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."
Standing At All Cost
Notice their response was twofold: 1) God is able to deliver us; 2) but He may not choose to deliver us. Either-way, they were determined to stand up for their convictions. Now that is true courage! Humanly speaking, they had everything to gain by compromising. Spiritually speaking, they had everything to lose: their character, their integrity, and their commitment.
Nebuchadnezzar was furious! Their decision against his authority was pure defiance. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. That’s the illogic of anger. The intense heat would only kill them more quickly! Such decisions never make sense anyway, nor did throwing them down through the opening in the top. Nevertheless, the king ordered it. The Babylonian soldiers climbed the ladder on the outer surface of the furnace and threw the three Jews into the blazing fire down below. The soldiers who did so died instantly from the heat.
Nebuchadnezzar peered into the furnace from the lower door window and was shocked when he saw four people walking around in the fire unharmed.
In Daniel 3:25 we read his reaction, “Look!" he answered, "I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."
Babylonian law codes always specified the concept of “trial by ordeal.” In other words, if someone were thrown into a river – or fire- as punishment and survived, they were presumed innocent.
Nebuchadnezzar ordered the Hebrews to come out fo the furnace and he exonerated them. They had survived the ordeal unharmed. Even the royal advisers had to acknowledge their miracle.
In Daniel 3:28 we read this, “Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!”
Two things are apparent from this account. First, it was an incredible testimony to Nebuchadnezzar. The pagan king was impressed by their courage and by God’s power. Until you are willing to take such a stand, the power of God will never be evident in your life.
Second, the Hebrews put their fate in God’s hands. They were willing to give up their lives for their beliefs. Some call this the “theology of martyrdom.” Martyrs are those who are willing to die for their faith. When people are willing to die for what they believe, they will also be willing to live for what they believe.
The Fellowship of the Unashamed
Very few Americans ever face this option. Rarely are any of us called upon to die for our faith in Jesus Christ. But until we are willing to die for him, we will never fully live for Him. The true martyr is one who believes his living for Christ is more important than his safety, and his being faithful until death is more important than his life. The apostle John tells us about the opportunity to have true fellowship when he writes in 1 John 1:1-4, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us-- 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” He goes on to talk about the importance of walking in the light in 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Enduring to the End
Daniel did walk as God instructed him to and endured to the end. Daniel lived all the way through the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity. His courage as a young person paid off time and time again. He stood up against Nebuchadnezzar and eventually won him over to faith in his God. He stood against the king’s wicked grandson, Belshazzar, and saw his kingdom fall to the Medes and Persians. Finally, he stood against Darius the Mede, the new ruler of Babylon who served under Cyrus the Great.
His last stand got him thrown into the lion’s den when he was an old man of about eighty-five. When ordered not to pray to anyone but the local king, Daniel continued praying to God three times a day with the windows wide open. He was a true servant of God, not some “secret agent” believer sleuthing around unidentified. He stuck out in a crowd because he was down on his knees talking to God.
Daniel’s jealous critics rushed to Darius and accused Daniel of breaking the law because he prayed, but he did not pray to the king. Some things never change! Satan is still trying to keep people from prayer. It is the one thing he fears the most. When we are talking to God, we are in communication with the one and only Person who can overcome all opposition.
Daniel survived the “trial by ordeal.” He lived through the night in the lion’s den. In Daniel 6:22 we read Daniel say to King Darius, “My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.”
Daniel was released, and his accusers were given his punishment instead. The lions tore them to pieces. And Daniel was vindicated for his stand. In fact, Darius was so impressed, he issued the following decree found in Daniel 6:26-27, “I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, And steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, And His dominion shall endure to the end. 27 He delivers and rescues, And He works signs and wonders In heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”
Signs and wonders! That got the king’s attention. Daniel’s testimony made a lasting impact on everyone who knew him. Friends and enemies alike were overwhelmed by his courage and his faith. God moved powerfully on his behalf because Daniel stood up for his faith in Him.
Daniel was so beloved of God that the Lord unveiled the future to him through his many visions of the end times. He saw the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven and receiving a kingdom from God the Father, as we read in Daniel 7:14, “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.”
Although it seemed bleak, the promise was not forgotten, nor was it in any serious jeopardy. The eternal God was still on the throne. The Promisor would maintain and fulfill the promise, just as He always had.
Questions to consider:
As we near the end of our lesson we want to leave you with some questions to think about:
1. What pressures to compromise do you face in your life?
2. What are you doing to resist the pressure to give in?
3. Are you willing to stand up for your beliefs like Daniel and his friends, or do you depend too much on your friends?
4. What stand should you be taking right now that you are hesitant about?
5. What are you really living for in this life?
6. What are you willing to die for?
These are questions everyone needs to ask of themselves. Especially if you are a Christian. Are you truly living for Jesus?