Living for God in a Messed Up World

Daniel 1[i] 

Genesis 10 tells of the descendants of Cush.  If you remember, Noah had three sons with him on the Ark: Shem, Ham and Japheth.  Cush was the son of Ham.  One of Cush’s descendants was a mighty warrior named Nimrod.  According to Genesis 10:10, Nimrod built his kingdom in the land of Babylonia.

Immediately after the flood, everyone on earth spoke the same language.  God told Noah, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth.”  (Genesis 9:1)  However, we learn in Genesis 11 that the descendants of Noah decided not to fill the earth.  In the land of Babylonia, they built a tower saying, “Come let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky.  This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.” (Genesis 11:4)  Humanity wanted to make a name for itself.  Humanity wanted to make itself, great.

God intervened and spoiled their plans by confusing their language.  This incident is known as the “Tower of Babel,” and Babel is where the name “Babylon” comes from.  A man named “Nimrod” led the people who built the Tower of Babel and the city of Babylon.  His name sounds like the Hebrew word for “rebel.”[ii]  (Nimrod = name of Babylonian king or prince: Nu-marad = 'Man of Marad' compare Genesis 10:8[iii]  “marad = rebel[iv])  Babylon plays the rebel role in history and in prophecy.  Babylon represents the efforts of humanity to reach up to heaven for itself.  Babylon represents the efforts of humanity to make itself, great.

The height of the power and glory of the Babylonian Empire was during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar.  King Nebuchadnezzar marched his army against Jerusalem three times.  Babylon defeated Jerusalem in 605 BC, in 597 BC and in 586 BC, burning Jerusalem to the ground the third time.

It seemed the rebellious city had triumphed over the “City of Peace.”  However, Daniel 1:2 says, “The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God.”

Now, I am getting way ahead of myself, but I am going to take some time here to point out that when Jesus hung on the cross, it seemed as if the world and the devil had won.  However, He was handed over according to God’s prearranged plan and foreknowledge.  (Acts 2:23)

At the time the Lord gave Nebuchadnezzar victory over Jerusalem, Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were taken captive, and were moved by King Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon.  They were moved from the “City of Peace” to the city of “confusion.”  (Genesis 11:9, Babel sounds like the Hebrew word for confusion.  However, the Babylonian word means “gate of God.”  This idea of a human-built “gate of God” shows the rebellious nature of the city.  There is only one “Gate of God,” the man Christ Jesus.)

The “City of Confusion” immediately began trying to squeeze Daniel and his friends into its mold.

The first line of attack was their identity. 

These were Hebrew young men.  Their names honored the God of the Hebrews.  Daniel means, “God is judge.”  Hananiah means, “Yahweh is gracious.”  Mishael means, “Who is what God is?”  Azariah means, “Whom Yahweh helps.”

The “City of Confusion” gave them names in order to change their identity.  Daniel (God is judge) became “Belteshazzar,” meaning “May Bel protect his life.” Hananiah (Yahweh is gracious) became “Shadrach,” meaning “command of Aku.” Mishael (Who is what God is) became “Meshach,” meaning, “who is what Aku is.”  Aku was the “Moon god.”  Azariah (whom Yahweh helps) became “Abed-nego,” meaning “servant of Nebo.”[v]

In each case, the Hebrew name contains a reference to the true God, and the Babylonian name changes this for a reference to a false god.

The parallel for the Christian living in the world is astounding.  When a person believes in Jesus and receives Him as his or her Savior, that person becomes a new person.  (2 Corinthians 5:17)  He or she is born again.  (John 3:3ff)  He or she is given the right to become a child of God.  (John 1:12, 1 John 3:1)

The “City of Confusion,” in which we live, attacks this identity in subtle ways.

First, it tells us we are not good enough.  “If you are a child of God, why do you still sin?”  It tells us, “You call yourself a Christian, and yet you lost your temper with xyz.”  Of course, some truth is contained in these accusations.  A child of God should not continue to sin.  However, God has made a provision for our weakness.  He says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  (1 John 1:9)  The fact that we acknowledge our sin shows that we have the Spirit of God within us.  (1 John 1:10, John 16:8) 

Even more insidious than this attack in our confidence is the subtle trick of getting us to put our confidence in something other than the one true God.  We see this in Daniel’s case in the changing of the names.  However, in our “City of Confusion,” another tool is used.  We have catch phrases or truisms that are accepted by the masses without real question or thought.  One such catch phrase or truism is, “You must believe in yourself.”[vi]

The person in the mental ward of the hospital, who thinks he is an egg, has the utmost confidence in himself, and will put together a rather sound logical argument in defense of his position.  Believing in one’s self is nonsense.  Which one of us, by believing in his or her self, can change one hair from white to black?  Which one of us, by thinking, can make his (or her) own heart beat?  Did David defeat Goliath by believing in himself?  Of course not!  David defeated Goliath because his confidence was in God.

When the disciples faced the biggest test of their lives, Jesus told them, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, and trust also in me.”  (John 14:1) 

I am not speaking against confidence.  We Christians ought to be the most confident people in the world: not confidence in ourselves, but confidence in our Savior.  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:13, ESV[vii])  The Bible asks us a question.  It says, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?”  (Romans 8:31) 

Putting our trust in anything other than God, is a wicked evil trap, and we fall prey to it without thinking.  If God is on our side, who can ever stand against us?  This is our true identity as children of God.

Daniel and his friends were also attacked in their understanding.  In Daniel 1:4, Nebuchadnezzar gives these instructions, “Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.” Verse 5 tells us that they were to be trained for 3 years.  For 3 years, these men were immersed in the superstitions, the confusing lies, and the language and culture of the Babylonians.  It was in the air they breathed.  Every newscast, every magazine, every book and every movie was filled with Babylon.  However, they came out unscathed, and, when tested, came out faithful to God.

We need to learn how they did this.

Every newscast, every magazine, every book and every movie in our lives is filled with Babylon.  How can we stay faithful to God in this environment?

Daniel and his friends did it with food.  They remained faithful by controlling their diet.  Now, do not jump to conclusions.  The answer for you and me is not in our diet.  The significance of the diet for Daniel and his friends was in their identity.

The first and strongest attack Babylon made on Daniel and his friends was on their identity.  Therefore, their first and strongest counterattack had to do with their identity.  They had to remember who they were.  They were Hebrews.  They were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, not those silly Babylonian names.  Their tool, method or strategy for remembering their true identity was to keep a kosher diet.  It worked to their advantage by maintaining health and vigor along with setting them apart and keeping them from conforming without expressing rebellion or obstinacy.

The New Testament teaches us believers in Christ a different method.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV)

We are not to conform to the world.  God has made us participants in our growth.  Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  (ESV)  This expresses that we are to work and at the same time says that it is God who is working.  Our confidence is in the work of God in our lives.  It is God who will perform a good work in us.  (Philippians 1:6)  It is this confidence that gives us courage and strength to work.  2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.”  We are not passive.  “Do not be conformed,” and “be transformed,” are commands to be obeyed.

Start with your identity.  Do you know who you are in Christ?  1 Peter 2:11 puts it this way, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” 

Daniel and his friends never forgot that they were sojourners and exiles in a foreign land.  As Christians, we also must never forget that our citizenship is in heaven.  As citizens of heaven, we must eat the food our heavenly Father has given us.  This food is the Word of God, found in the Bible.  Do not give up this heavenly food for the fluffy stuff Babylon calls food. 

How often do you eat?

Daniel and his friends ate every day and every day they were reminded who they were. 

[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation.  Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.  Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved.
[ii] Dyer, Charles.  The Road to Armagedddon.  Word Publishing, Nashville, TN.  1999. pg 109.
[v] Ryrie, Charles.  The Ryrie Study Bible.  Moody Press, Chicago. 1978. pg 1307.
[vi] For a better treatment of this subject see:  Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton, Chapter 2.
[vii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.


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