February 23-24, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Living as Exiles in Babylon: A Study in the Book of Daniel
#1—Resisting Babylon’s Fare—Daniel 1 (p. 758)
The Big Idea: Just as Daniel lived faithfully as an exile in Babylon, we are called to live faithfully as exiles wherever we are. We are called to be different!
ILL: My first two years in high school, the most openly Christian teacher in our school was Miss Helen Stanbrough. She was an elderly spinster who was the faculty advisor for the Bible Club. And she was…different. Different not in a winsome way, but in a weird way. She dressed differently and talked differently and was… different, separate from everyone else. No one could accuse her of being assimilated into the culture—she was different. Nor could they accuse her of impacting the culture—she was completely out of touch, separate. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to be like that.
Contrast Miss Stanbrough with millions of Christians who are virtually indistinct from the culture—no difference at all, other than they claim to be Christian and show up at church occasionally. They have been assimilated, conformed to the culture, squeezed into the culture’s mold. Same, same. I didn’t want to be like that either.
So is there a third way? Yes. Rather than isolation from culture, or assimilation by culture, we can redemptively impact culture.
For the next few weeks, we want to think about this tension: living in the world, but not being of the world; being different in a winsome way, not a weird way; living as exiles here in our homeland. We’re going to look at five stories in the Old Testament book of Daniel. Daniel was a young Jewish man captured by the invading Babylonian army and taken prisoner to Babylon, where he lived the rest of his life as an exile. But while Daniel was in Babylon, Babylon was never in Daniel. He was in Babylon, but not of it. He was different in a winsome way. He was faithful to God while living in exile. Here’s:
The Big Idea: Just as Daniel lived faithfully as an exile in Babylon, we are called to live faithfully as exiles wherever we are. We are called to be different!
Let’s lay some groundwork for the series before we dive into Daniel.
1 Peter 1:1 (p. 1047) Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.
Peter writes to Christians, “God’s elect,” whom he describes as “exiles” scattered across Asia Minor. The word “exile” refers to someone who is temporarily living away from home, a sojourner, a temporary resident in a foreign land. It didn’t matter where Christians lived—what province or state or nation—they were exiles, sojourners. Peter repeats this in
1 Peter 2:11–12 (p. 1048) Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Here, Peter adds the word “foreigners”—a resident foreigner, someone not living in his home country, an alien. I am an American citizen, and I am also a foreigner and exile here in my own country, for my true citizenship is in God’s Kingdom. The early Christians understood this much better than we do.
ILL: My friend, Dr. Jerry Sittser from Whitworth reminded me of “the So-called Letter to Diognetus,” a text from the early Christian period, written between 130-170 AD. Jerry said, “It is the first text I am aware of that mentions the idea of a ‘New Race’ or ‘Third Race.’” The writer explains how and why Christians were different from the two prevailing worldviews, paganism and Judaism, and were considered a Third Race.
“For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or custom. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. They are not isolated from their culture; they live in the world. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in the world, but are not of it. They are different. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They are exiles and foreigners wherever they live. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are ‘in the flesh,’ but they do not live ‘according to the flesh.’ Different values and behaviors: They don’t abandon their children; they practice sexual fidelity. They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted.”
They were exiles and foreigners, members of the Third Race—a new and different way.
Look back at our text: Peter said that as exiles we’re to live differently, abstaining from sinful desires, and living such good lives that people will give glory to God! We’re called to be different.
1 Peter 1:14–16 (p. 1047) As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Don’t conform to the evil desires you had in your old life. But be holy as God is holy. The word “holy” means, “set apart; unique, different” as opposed to common. To be holy is to be different. We are called to be holy, to be different in a winsome, beautiful way. The word “conform” shows up one other place in the New Testament:
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.” Don’t conform to the world, but be transformed by God. We’re called to be different.
Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Both metaphors emphasize that we are different. Salt is different from what you put it on—you don’t salt your salt! Light is different from darkness. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Light stands out in the darkness. We are called to be different.
And in John 17, Jesus prayed that we would be in the world, but not of the world. He left us in the world to make a difference. But to make a difference, you have to be different. If you are of the world, the same as everyone else, conformed to the world, you won’t change anything. We are called to be different.
What does it look like to live faithfully in exile? To be in the world, but not of the world? Daniel will be our example the next 5 weeks. We’ll start in chapter 1.
- The exile: God is in charge. 1-2
Daniel 1 (p. 758) 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.
I want you to notice two things.
First, in verse 1, the king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzaar of Babylon invaded and conquered Judah 3 times: in 605, 597 and 587 BC. This was the first invasion in 605 BC. He carried back to Babylon two things. First, he took people, the rulers and nobility, the cream of the crop. This would leave Judah leader-less while he would reap the benefits of having these talented people at his disposal in Babylon. Second, he took the treasures from the temple of God to the temple of his god in Babylon. This was a way of humiliating the Jewish people and their faith: “My god can beat your god up!” It looked bad for God. Which leads to the second thing:
Second, in verse 2, the Lord delivered Judah to the king of Babylon. In other words, Nebuchadnezzar did his thing, but God was in charge. The reason Neb conquered Jerusalem was because God let him. It was God’s promised judgment on Jerusalem. God was at work. God is in charge.
Tuck this away. When it seems like evil is winning, when it seems like God is defeated and done, He’s not. He’s still in charge.
What are you going through where it looks hopeless, futile, a losing effort? How might God be in charge even in that?
God is in charge. Off to Babylon…
- Assimilation by Babylon. 3-7
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—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. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
The king selects the finest of the exiles to work for him—no sense letting all that brain-power and talent go to waste! But first, they have to be indoctrinated. They need to be assimilated into the Babylonian culture and become thoroughly Babylonian. So they are enrolled in the Royal Academy, a demanding 3-year course of learning language, literature, and culture.
Everything is controlled and conformed to Babylon: food, language, customs, even their names. Their names are changed from their Jewish names to Babylonian names. Their Jewish names reminded them of who they were, of their origin, identity, destiny and faith. Each of their names included a reference to the Hebrew God. For example, Daniel means, “God is my judge.” But each of their new names contained references to Babylonian deities. So Daniel’s new name was Belteshazzar, a nod to the Babylonian god, Bel (or Baal).
Babylon wanted to obliterate their Jewish identity, and make them fully Babylonians. Conform them. Brainwash them. Indoctrinate them. Rename them.
The world is always trying to conform us, to squeeze us into its mold. It doesn’t matter where you live—this is not an American problem, it’s universal. Every human culture has this in common: it’s human and therefore sinful. Are there beautiful things about human cultures? Yes, because we’re made in God’s image; therefore, we find beauty, truth, and goodness in every culture. But we also find sin, rebellion and brokenness in every culture. And that’s where we as followers of Jesus can’t let ourselves be squeezed into the mold. We have to resist “culture creep.” We’re like the frog in the kettle. Legend says that if you put a frog in warm water and slowly turn the heat up and he’ll cook to death. Culture creeps. We live in it and become oblivious to its influence.
Our model is Jesus, not our culture. Our aim is to become like Him, not the world around us. We’re living in exile! So our call is not to be isolated from our culture or be assimilated into our culture, but to be different and impact our culture.
Not isolated But impactful Not assimilated
Let’s see how Daniel did it.
- Resistance to Babylon’s fare. 8-16
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. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has 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.”
11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
What’s going on? Why did Daniel and his friends resist the diet? What would you choose between royal food (including many fine meat dishes) and wine, or vegetables and water? Why did they resist the king’s fare?
The Jewish faith included strict food laws, what was clean or unclean. For example, cattle and sheep were kosher; camels and pigs were not. No bacon! You’re killing me! For seafood, anything with fins and scales was kosher; anything without fins and scales was not. No crab or lobster! You’re killing me again! For birds, chickens were kosher, bats were not. I’m happy to say that I’ve never had a problem with bats. When I see bats in a buffet line, I just move right on by—no temptation at all. Faithful Jews, like Daniel, took these food laws seriously.
Daniel knew that the royal food was not kosher. He also knew that the food and wine had been offered to idols, the gods of Babylon, which made eating it an act of idolatry. So rather than give in to idolatry and violate their own food laws, Daniel politely suggested a test. “Feed us veggies and water for 10 days and see how we do.” The veggies were more likely to be kosher, and because their diet would be prepared separately, it was less likely to have been offered to idols. The chief official agreed, and Daniel and the boys passed the test with flying colors.
It was a small, but meaningful act of resistance. While Daniel couldn’t refuse to learn their language and read their books, Daniel could resist Babylon’s fare—and this sets the stage for his acts of faithfulness in the rest of the book. Daniel chose his battles. And notice how Daniel did it: with grace and courtesy. He didn’t disrespect, demean or belittle the Babylonians; he simply asked for an opportunity to do it differently. Often when Christians resist culture creep, we come across as disrespectful and judgmental and negative. That’s not what Daniel did—nor should we.
So here’s what I want us to think about. Where are you consuming Babylon’s fare? I’m not thinking of food. I’m thinking of other things that we consume from our culture, particularly things that may not make us more like Jesus. Let’s get in small groups of 3-5 and make a list of what we consume, Babylon’s fare, and then we’ll talk about how to resist.
What did you come up with? Let me just comment on a few.
Media and entertainment. Very few things have the power to shape our thinking, values, beliefs and behaviors more than the media we consume. Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and on and on), TV, movies, music, our phones and tablets, the internet, talk radio, video games, books and periodicals—all very powerful tools. Am I saying they are bad? No—just like the cultures they come from, they can be both good and bad. But they are powerful! Which is why we must be discriminating consumers of media! We must resist the cultural creep that uses the power of media to make us more like our culture, and less like Jesus.
ILL: When our kids were younger, we monitored and controlled both the content they viewed and the time they spent viewing. As they got older, we trusted them to self-monitor and evaluate. They would sometimes want to watch something that I didn’t think was appropriate. I would discourage them, but if they really wanted to, I would watch with them and then ask them to evaluate. What was admirable and worth emulating? What was contrary to the values of Jesus? We did the same with books. When many Christians were in an uproar over Harry Potter, we responded differently. Our kids wanted to read them, so they did. And so did I. And we talked about them. What reflects the gospel and what doesn’t?
But it’s not just kids—it’s adults too. The old saying is, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Modern media is astonishingly powerful. When I was young, we had 4 things: books, magazines, music, and TV—3 stations! Now it’s a flood, much more sophisticated, powerful and ubiquitous. It has turned porn into a multi-billion dollar industry of addiction, with disastrous consequences for the addicts and everyone around them. Resist! It has turned politics into a polarized shouting match where truth is spun by both sides to fit their own agendas, and squeezed into 280 characters. Resist! Media is very powerful, and if you don’t want the world to squeeze you into its mold, you must resist! You must be discriminating about what media you consume.
Values, beliefs and behaviors. Of course, what is being shaped by all this media is us: our values, beliefs and behaviors. Can media be used for good—to improve our values, beliefs and behaviors? Yes, of course. During the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s, televised scenes of racial brutality horrified millions of Americans and generated political support for the Civil Rights Act. I was talking with some friends last week about “the good old days” in the 50’s and 60’s—the “Leave it to Beaver” era. But those “good old days” weren’t so good if you were black, and subject to the evils of segregation and discrimination. The media helped to change our values, beliefs and behaviors for the better.
But it can also be used to change us for the worse. Sexual mores and values have changed dramatically for the worse. When I was in high school, it was shameful to shack up. People did it, but it was looked down upon. Now, it’s not just acceptable, but advocated. Try before you buy! And that culture has creeped into the church. 20 years ago, I’d guess about 25% of couples who came to us for a wedding were living together. Now it’s closer to 75%. One couple, when we asked them to stop having sex before marriage, said indignantly, “This is the 21st Century.” Yes, we said, and we are still Christians, living by a different standard.
And there’s the issue: what’s your standard? How do evaluate what is good or bad? Is your standard simply whatever is popular or accepted in our culture? Or is it God’s word?
Back to Romans 12:2 (p. 975). Don’t be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. God’s word, both His written word in the Bible, and the living Word, Jesus, is our standard. What is shaping your values, beliefs and behaviors? I hope it’s Jesus! God’s Word! I hope you’re resisting cultural creep.
One last thing that we consume…a lot!
Alcohol and drugs. I’ve watched our culture slide. Alcohol and drug use have become increasingly acceptable in our culture, and celebrated in the media, with disastrous consequences. So many lives are ruined. Most crime is fueled by alcohol and drug use.
ILL: A few months ago, my friend Jose Ceniceros took some students from Youth For Christ to Coeur d’Alene to a church event. Afterwards, they stopped at McDonalds for ice cream. An angry man sucker punched Jose, and shouted racial slurs and obscenities at the kids. They were doing nothing wrong. When we heard at his sentencing that he’d been drinking, I leaned over to a friend and said, “That never makes you smarter.”
That is so true. Alcohol and drugs never make you smarter; in fact, they almost always make you stupider. Paul wrote:
Ephesians 5:18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. (NLT)
Would you rather be ruined by alcohol, or filled with the Holy Spirit? It’s an easy call for me. But culture creeps, and it’s crept into the church and I see more and more Christians being influenced by our permissive culture rather than the Holy Spirit. How about you?
- The result: God exalted them. 17-21
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.
18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, 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.
21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
There’s the end of the story. They resisted—and God exalted them. Resist! Stop caving in to cultural pressure. Be filled with the Spirit!
Prayer in small groups or up front. Repent!