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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Daniel




Daniel

 

 
Daniel was a teen-ager living in Jerusalem when his whole world fell apart. The year was 605 B.C. and it was a very bad year!  This was the year that thousands of fierce Babylonian warriors wielding swords and spears surrounded the city of Jerusalem, battered down its’ walls, and rushed in to loot and destroy. Any resistance from Jewish soldiers was brutally crushed as the invading army conquered the city.  The people of Jerusalem had no choice but to stand by helplessly and watch as their animals and valuables were stolen, their homes set on fire and their lives changed forever. 

 

Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon in 605 B.C. and he had ordered his soldiers to capture the citizens of Jerusalem and forcefully march them out of their homeland and across the desert to Babylon.  They would become slave laborers for the Babylonians. As the soldiers raged through the streets of the city killing and capturing people, the sounds of screaming and wailing could be heard everywhere as parents were being separated from children and husbands from wives.  Daniel was one of the thousands on that terrible day to lose his freedom and his homeland. 

 

Scripture says that long before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, the Jewish people had turned from God and had been worshipping idols.  Only a small number of Jewish people were still worshipping God by 605 B.C.  Most had become arrogant and didn’t care for their poor.  They cheated one another and ignored Gods’ commandments.  Scripture says that God was grieved and disappointed with His children.

 

 For several hundred years now God had been sending prophets to the Jewish people begging them to return to Him.  But very few listened to Gods’ pleas or took His prophets seriously. Finally God began warning them that if they continued worshipping idols and living evil lives that He would stop protecting them from their enemies.  The prophets warned that a future Babylonian king would destroy Jerusalem and take the Jewish people away to Babylon if they didn’t turn from their sins. (Jeremiah 25:8-11)  But the people still didn’t listen!

 

So now the day of reckoning had arrived!  Time had run out! The warnings that the prophets had given to the people over several hundred years were finally coming true!  If only the Jewish people had listened and changed their ways. But now it was too late.  

 

One of the many prophecies that had been given to the Jewish people concerning the punishment they would get if they continued worshipping idols was from Isaiah 39:7.  It had been written over a hundred years earlier and it reads: “And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”  This prophecy would come true in the lives of Daniel and his friends. 

 

Scripture tells us that Daniel came from a wealthy Jewish family and was young, good looking and intelligent.  He knew the Scriptures and he was one of the few people left in Jerusalem who still loved God and refused to worship idols.  Even his name –Daniel- means “God’s prince.”  (We shall see later that he lived up to his name)

 

  We can only imagine what it must have been like for Daniel on that terrible day when the Babylonian soldiers destroyed his home and carried him away in shackle, separating him from his family.  He was just a teenager at the time.  Was Daniel torn away from a sweetheart, a girlfriend?  He would never see his beloved homeland again!

 

Scripture tells us that King Nebuchadnezzar instructed Ashpenaz, the chief of the eunuchs, to go out and find young men who were good looking and intelligent and bring them into the palace to serve the king. It was the custom in ancient times for a king to emasculate the males that served in his palace since these men would be living and working near the women in the kings’ harem.  And the jealous king wanted to protect his women from any possible sexual advances.

 

So after the Jewish people had been deposited in Babylon by the soldiers, Ashpenaz went around checking out the new arrivals.  Among the new Jewish captives, he picked out a group of fine young men for the king and Daniel was one of them.  He also chose three of Daniel’s friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  All of these teen agers were taken to the king’s palace and castrated, making them eunuchs for the kings court. We can only imagine how upsetting this must have been for Daniel and the other young men.  Their sexuality was taken away from them. Now they could never fall in love, marry or have a family! 

 

King Nebuchadnezzar looked over the young men and decided that they should be given three years of training so that they could better serve him.  He also ordered Ashpenaz to feed them special food from the king’s table.  This might sound good since Daniel and his friends could eat the finest delicacies.  But Scripture says: “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.”  (Daniel 1:8) 

 

The Jews were forbidden to eat flesh sacrificed to a pagan god (Ex.34:15) for it was similar to serving other gods in the public eye.  This food was not kosher.  Daniel had the discernment to recognize that the king’s purpose in these things was to wean him from his holy faith.  And Daniel resolved not to yield if he could help it.

 

Daniel asked Ashpenaz if he and his friends could be excused from eating the king’s food.  And Ashpenaz answered that the king believed that his good food would give the young men strength and vigor.  The king would have Ashpenaz put to death if the young men did not look healthy.  So Daniel asked Ashpenaz to allow himself and his friends to eat vegetables for ten days as a trial period.  If after ten days they appeared as robust as the young men who had eaten the king’s delicacies then they should be allowed to continue eating their vegetables. Scripture says that God caused Ashpenaz to like Daniel and to go along with his request. (Dan.1:9)  God raises up defenders for his people in strange ways!

 

King Nebuchadnezzar planned to wean these teen-agers from their old religion and culture and transform them and their identity into Babylonians. The Babylonians worshiped and sacrificed before the altars of many gods.  And their magicians and astrologers performed many supposed miracles.  And the king wanted the young men in the palace to fit in.  

 

In antiquity a person’s name was more a part of his identity and character than it is among us moderns. Nebuchadnezzar changed Daniel’s name to Belteshazzar.  The name Daniel means “God’s prince” and the name Belteshazzar means “Bel’s prince”.  Bel was one of the chief gods of Babylon. (Isa.46:1, Jer.50:2; 51:44)  Hananiah was given the name of “Shadrach”, Mishael was given the name “Meshach” and Azariah was named “Abednego”.  These young men had been through so much and now even their names had been changed.  But they vowed to remain loyal to God.  

 

But Daniel and his three friends refused to go along with the crowd even if it cost them their lives. Later we will see that these four would choose death before they would bow before a Babylonian god. They clung to God no matter what; and God blessed them because of their unshakable consecration.  Scripture says:  “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.”  (Daniel 1:17)

 

We will learn more about Daniel in future blogs. God gave Daniel the powerful gift of prophecy.  Daniel’s importance as a prophet was confirmed by Jesus in Matthew 24:15. The book of Daniel is one of the major books of prophecy in the Bible and an influence down through the ages. Daniel served for sixty years in the kings’ palace from his youth on into a ripe old age.  Daniel greatly influenced four kings:  Nebuchadnezzar (2-11-4:37) Belshazzar (5:1-31): Darius (6:1-28); and Cyrus (10:1-11:1) These heathen kings respected Daniel for his wisdom and they all believed that Gods’ Spirit was speaking through him.

 

In a world where everyone was worshipping idols, Daniel stayed true to God even when he was threatened with death.  As a teen ager in Jerusalem he refused to join his neighbors who were worshipping idols.  He was carried away to Babylon with the others for sins he had not committed.  He was emasculated as a young man and lived out his whole life in exile.   

 

You might say he had a tough life. Daniel could have become bitter through all of his troubles.  He could have languished and grumbled over his fate.  But there is no hint of melancholia in his writings.  God was his total provision.

 

 Daniel faithfully served in the palace and prophesied Gods’ Word year after year.  He never wavered in his devotion to God throughout all the years of his life. When everything seemed out of control for the Jews in Babylon, God used Daniels’ life and prophecies to show that the God of Israel, the only God, is in control of the destiny of all nations.  And down through all of those long dark years of captivity in Babylon, Daniel was there for his people and also for the Gentile nations, as a light and a testimony to the faithfulness to God.          

 

      

 

        

 

  

 

 

 

 


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