March 23-24, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Living as Exiles in Babylon: A Study in the Book of Daniel
#5—Stay true—Daniel 6 (p. 764)
ILL: A rabbi went to live in a corrupt city. Every day he ran through the streets of the city and shouted over and over, “Repent! Turn from your sins.” Days led into weeks, then months, and years. Every day the rabbi could be heard shouting his plea. Finally one day a friend asked him, “No one listens to you; everyone just laughs; why do you continue to do this?” The rabbi replied, “When I first came here I dreamed of a city turned toward God. I envisioned the city changing. That has not happened, so today I run through the streets shouting my plea to keep the city from changing me.” (From We are the Beloved, p. 9-10, by Ken Blanchard)
Are we changing the world we live in, or is it changing us? Are we being thermostats that set the temperature, or are we merely thermometers that reflect it?
That’s what we’ve been thinking about in this series, RESIST! We’ve been looking at stories from the Old Testament book of Daniel. Daniel was a young Jewish man who was taken captive to Babylon where he lived his entire life in exile. He remained faithful to God while living in a culture that was hostile to his faith. He didn’t live isolated from Babylonian culture—as we’ll see in a moment, he was in the middle of it, working for its good. But neither was he assimilated by Babylonian culture. He was in it, but not of it. He stayed true to God while engaging the culture for good.
That’s exactly what we’re to do. Don’t isolate from culture, don’t be assimilated by culture, but engage culture for good. To do that, we must stay true—stay true in the face of opposition and pressure to conform. We’re going to finish this series by reading one of the most famous stories of the Bible: Daniel in the lion’s den. It’s found in Daniel 6 (p. 764).
Offering: Acts 20:35
Let’s see how Daniel stayed true.
Daniel 6:1–3 It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.
- Stay true: Be engaged. 1-3
At the end of Daniel 5, we learned that Babylon had been conquered by the Mede/Persian empire, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom. This happened in 539 BC. When did Daniel and his friends come to Babylon? It was 605 BC, during Nebuchadnezzar’s first conquest of Jerusalem. You can do the math: 605 BC to 539 BC = 66 years. Daniel served the kings in Babylon for 66 years. By the time this story happens, Daniel is in his 80’s—at least. And now there is a new empire and a new king in place.
Kings and kingdoms come and go, but Daniel remains. He served three different regimes with integrity and distinction. Daniel’s life is “a long obedience in the same direction.”
Daniel is still engaged at the highest levels of government. There is the king, Darius; there are three administrators, of which Daniel is one; and there are 120 satraps—regional governors. And Daniel, in his 80’s, so distinguished himself that the new king wanted to set him over the whole kingdom! Second in command! The other administrators would report to him.
All through this story, Daniel has stayed true to God. He refuses to compromise and assimilate, but he also refuses to withdraw and isolate. He is fully engaged and working for the good of the empire that captured and enslaved him. Why?
The prophet Jeremiah predicted that Israel would remain in captivity for 70 years before God would bring them back to the Promised Land. Look at:
Jeremiah 29:10–11 (p. 676)
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
How many of you love verse 11? Great verse—now you know the context. God was speaking to the exiles in Babylon, telling them that their captivity would last 70 years, then the Lord would bring them home. God had good plans for them!
So what were they to do in the meantime? Isolate themselves and wait? No—they were to engage their community for good. Look at verse 4:
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.
God is saying, “Make a life for yourselves. Build houses, plant gardens, get married, have kids and grandkids. Make a life for yourselves.” And, he goes on…
7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon, the city/country where you’re in exile. Don’t isolate, engage not only for your good, but for the good of the community. God cared about Babylon! God cared about the Jewish exiles, but He also cared about their Babylonian captors. So God told them to engage for good.
That’s what Daniel did. He got to Babylon and engaged at the highest levels and as we’ll see later in our story, had a huge spiritual impact.
ILL: I’ve been reading all of Martin Luther King, Jr’s books—I just finished his final book this week, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community. In this book, he criticizes Christians whose faith is good for the next world, but not this one; who isolate themselves inside their churches and fail to engage their community for good. He certainly engaged and made a difference, and I wonder how much more he would have done if not cut down by an assassin’s bullet at age 39.
Just like God cared about Babylon, God cares about Spokane. Let’s work for the good of our community. God cares about our state, and our nation. So God calls us to engage for good. Stay true: be engaged. Don’t isolate.
- Stay true: Keep clean. 4-5
4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”
When the other administrators and satraps discovered that Daniel was about to be elevated over them, they tried to find grounds for charges to have him removed. Their hatred of Daniel was probably racially motivated. They were all Medes, Persians, perhaps Chaldeans—Daniel alone was Jewish, and the Jews were considered an inferior race by their conquerors. As we’ll see in a moment, they mentioned Daniel’s race to the king when they were calling for his head.
But they had a problem. They couldn’t find any dirt on Daniel. He was squeaky clean. “They could find no corruption in him.” And this was a job that lent itself to bribes, fixes, and corruption. No doubt many of them were on the take. But not Daniel. “He was trustworthy, and neither corrupt nor negligent.” No doubt this made them look worse.
ILL: A few years ago, my friend Greg lost his job. His fellow workers turned in a complaint about him. The problem: Greg worked too hard. He showed up early and stayed late. He worked through breaks. He never cheated on his time card. He hustled. And it made all the rest of them look bad. So they banded together and got him fired. Shades of Daniel!
Daniel was squeaky clean. He was a person of integrity. Are you? If you want God to use you, keep clean. If you want to make a difference in a dirty world, keep clean.
James 1:27 (p. 1043)
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James says, “Here is what God is looking for.” And he lists two things: be engaged and keep clean. Be engaged for good—look after orphans and widows. And keep clean—keep from being polluted by the world. If you want to make a difference in a dirty world, keep clean. If you lose your integrity, you lose your voice. Stay true—keep clean.
- Stay true: Expect opposition. 6-9
6 So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: “May King Darius live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing.
So these slimeballs go to the king and lie: “We’ve all agreed.” Obviously, Daniel didn’t agree. This whole plan is a set up to trap him.
The plan is personally flattering to the king. They appealed to his ego in a big way: “Make a law that for the next 30 days, no one can pray to any god but you.”
“Sounds good to me!”
It’s not only personally flattering, it’s also politically astute—this law will help to unite the kingdom around the new Persian king.
So the king goes along with the plan and signs the decree into law, not knowing he’s being duped.
Expect opposition. Daniel did. He knew he was living in Babylon, not Judah. He knew that his faith in God made him different, an alien, an outsider, and that being different often means being opposed by the majority. He wasn’t surprised by the opposition. He expected it. He was living in Babylon.
So are you. You should expect opposition and not be surprised.
1 Peter 4:12-13 (p. 1049)
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
Don’t be surprised, Peter says, when you face opposition, a “fiery ordeal,” as though something strange were happening to you. It’s nothing strange. It’s to be expected. You’re living in Babylon. Peter says that you are participating in the sufferings of Christ. Where did he get this idea? From Jesus.
John 15:18-20 (p. 928)
18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
The world hated Jesus and put Him on a cross. Don’t be surprised if it hates you too. We’re not greater than our master. They opposed Him, so don’t be surprised if they oppose you too.
ILL: In 2011, Tish Harrison Warren (author of Liturgy of the Ordinary) was leading an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter at Vanderbilt University. University officials decided that all registered campus groups must drop any belief standards for joining or leading their groups. Anyone could always be a member of the InterVarsity group, but they required their leaders to affirm a doctrinal statement of belief in Jesus. Now they were being told they couldn’t require that.
Tish thought it was a misunderstanding. She thought that once they realized that they were thoughtful, kind, engaged and loved the university, they would relent. No. They told Tish that they were guilty of “creedal discrimination,” and kicked the group off campus. Christians not welcome.
All this shocked and surprised Tish. She thought that she was the right kind of Christian: socially engaged and loving. It turned out that she was the wrong kind of Christian simply because she believed the gospel. She wrote, “For me, it was revolutionary, a reorientation of my place in the university and in culture.” A light went on!
She came to realize that the gospel is both a comfort and an offense, and that she shouldn’t be surprised when facing opposition.
Friends, we’re living in Babylon. Stay true: expect opposition.
- Stay true: Resist conformity. 10
What did Daniel do when he faced expected opposition? He stayed true and resisted conformity.
10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
You gotta love Daniel! This guy is in his 80’s, way past the age where heroics are expected. Just go along to get along, right? Not Daniel. His habit was to pray 3 times a day facing Jerusalem. When he heard that he can’t pray to God, only Darius, what does he do? He opens his window, gets on his knees where everyone can see him, and stays true. He does what he’s always done: he prays.
It was just 30 days. Couldn’t Daniel have compromised for just 30 days? Go along to get along—just 30 days?
Or couldn’t he have prayed in private? No one would have to know, and he’d be fine—for just 30 days.
And Daniel knew that they were near the end of the 70 years. In fact, in less than a year, Cyrus would sign a decree allowing the Jews to go home. He was so close he can taste it. Why not play it safe so he can home and pray in Jerusalem. Why not just go along to get along?
Daniel knows what’s at stake, and he stays true: he resists conformity.
How about you? Do you go along to get along? Or are you willing to take a stand, to resist conformity?
Romans 12:2 (p. 975) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Don’t conform to the pattern of this world. JB Phillips translates it, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” Are you resisting conformity, or being squeezed into the mold?
ILL:The Pope was concerned about the degeneration of American cities, and the fact that our sinful culture seemed to be overwhelming the church. So who better to ask to make a difference than Mother Teresa. She agreed and went to New York City. After 2 weeks, the Pope called. “Hello, this is Mother Teresa.” “How is the work going?” “Oh your Holiness, I don’t know what to say. I’ve never worked in such darkness before. Nothing we are doing seems to help. I fear that we’re wasting our time.” “Well, maybe we should try Chicago.”
So Mother Teresa moved to Chicago and began working there. After 2 weeks, the Pope called. “Hello, this is Mother Teresa.” “How is the work going?” “Oh your Holiness, I don’t know what to say. I’ve never worked in such darkness before. Nothing we are doing seems to help. I fear that we’re wasting our time.” “Well, maybe we should try Los Angeles.”
So Mother Teresa moved to LA and began working there. After 2 weeks, the Pope called. An answering machine came on, and a voice said, “Hi, this is Terry! I’m roller-blading at the pier, but leave a message and I’ll get back to you. Ciao!”
Stay true: resist conformity.
- Stay true: Trust God. 11-23
Here’s the famous part of the story.
11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 12 So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions’ den?”
The king answered, “The decree stands—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.”
13 Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” 14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.
15 Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, “Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.”
16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.
19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”
21 Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”
23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
24 At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.
Stay true: trust God. Daniel trusted God and faced a den full of hungry lions rather than conforming. And God delivered him. The king couldn’t rescue Daniel, but God could—another example of who is in control. Not Nebuchadnezzar, not Belshazzar, not Darius—God!
This story is often taught in Sunday School, and the moral is, “Trust God and nothing bad will happen to you.” Is that true? No, we’ve already seen that we’ll face opposition—fiery ordeals. And no one trusted God more than Jesus, and they crucified Him.
God delivered Daniel from the lions, but that’s no guarantee that He will deliver every one of us from whatever trouble we’re facing. In fact, I can guarantee He won’t. He will deliver some of us some times. But not everyone always.
The trick is trusting God even when He doesn’t deliver us, even when the trouble slams us like a truck. Turn back just a couple pages to:
Daniel 3:16-18 (p. 761)
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Here’s the right attitude: God is able to deliver us and He will. But even if He doesn’t, we’re not conforming. That’s real faith. And I think that’s what Daniel had too. He knew that God was able to deliver Him, but whether God did or not, Daniel still wouldn’t conform. He didn’t have any guarantees; he trusted God either way.
Stay true: trust God.
- Stay true: Honor God. 25-28
25 Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth: “May you prosper greatly! 26 “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. “For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. 27 He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”
28 So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
The story ends with King Darius giving praise and honor to God. Imagine this pagan king of Babylon issuing a decree that everyone worship the God of Daniel. It sounds like Darius became a believer, and wanted everyone else to believe in God. All because Daniel was willing to stay true.
I said that Daniel resisted conformity because he knew what was at stake. What was at stake? God’s honor. God’s reputation. And the lives of Darius, and millions of others in his kingdom who might never know God unless someone like Daniel is there, engaged, and staying true.
We’re living in Babylon, friends. We are called to engage, to work for the peace and prosperity of the city where God has placed us. We are called to stay true to Jesus, and when we do, God will be praised and people will believe.
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.