Daniel: A Life of Faithful Obedience
Daniel was not your usual pensioner. In his late-sixties, he held one of the most powerful jobs in the country. He was making decisions that would affect thousands and working on complex deals and negotiations. Whilst perhaps some of his friends were enjoying the start of retirement, playing 18-hole rounds of golf or taking SUV trips into the desert, he was still very much in the thick of it. Yet his story had started a way back – around five decades back.
When he was approaching his twenties, Daniel – spurred on by the Spirit of God, indwelling the people of God – made some important decisions. In Daniel chapter 1 we read of the story of exile (in 605 BC) of some of the Israelites to Babylon (the land of the Chaldeans). Daniel is in amongst this group, and goes into exile with his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
When did the decision-making start then?
In the opening verses of Daniel chapter 1 we understand that the decision-making started with God. It is the LORD who “gave” the people of Jerusalem into the hands of the besiegers from Babylon.
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the LORD gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar” (Daniel 1, vv. 1-2 ESV).
Yet Daniel and his friends play an active role in the unfolding of the narrative, as well. In the opening paragraph, Daniel says “yes” to this call to exile, and this move to Babylon, at least two or three times. Firstly, he agrees to leave his homeland of Judah and go to the land of Shinar (verse 3). Remember, Shinar is the place where the Tower of Babel was built (Genesis 11) and is a geographical land representing wickedness or even oppression, where faithfulness to the God of Israel may be under threat. Secondly, Daniel and his friends agree to studying in Shinar for three years and being educated in the “literature and language of the Chaldeans” (verse 4). To do so would be a mark of having deep cultural association and intimate cultural understanding, which brought with it the danger of forgetting their culture and losing their Hebrew identity. Thirdly, Daniel and his friends agree to being renamed with local, Babylonian names: “And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego” (verse 7).
The story of Daniel takes a turn here.
The Hebrew word in verse 7, when the eunuch “gave” new names, is yasem (meaning to place over, to appoint, or to assign). In verse 8 the same word crops up again. Daniel and his friends “resolved” (Hebrew: yasem) not to defile themselves with the king’s food or drink. From the king’s side, new names are appointed. And from Daniel’s side, resolve and resolution are assigned and ensured. Drinking the king’s wine and eating meat from the king’s table is a sign of allegiance to the king. Yet Daniel wanted to be clear that his allegiance – despite living in exile, despite speaking a new language, and despite having a new name – remained firmly with the God of Israel, YHWH Elohim.
Pausing at this stage in the narrative, it is interesting to note the progression of decision-making. Daniel and his friends say “yes” three times – they agree to exile, they agree to learning a new language and culture, and they even agree to having new names put upon them. Yet when the mention of allegiance arises, they draw a line in the sand.
Daniel first says “no” (in a polite, respectful manner – see verses 8 and 9) at this critical moment in the story. And what a critical fork in the road it turns out to be. Later, we read that “God gave Daniel favour and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” (verse 9) and they were permitted to only eat vegetables and drink water during a 10-day test. At the end of this period, “they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food” (verse 15). Note that being fat in flesh is a compliment, a sign of health and vitality. As their education at the University of Babylon continues, they are found to be skilful and quick in understanding, as “God gave them learning and skill” (verse 17). Indeed, to king Nebuchadnezzar, they are later found to be “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom” (verse 20).
In a story with twists and turns, Daniel is humble and obedient, rising to political prominence in the land of Babylon, as an exile from Judah. He eventually serves in the royal courts to five different kings (Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus) over a period of fifty years or so.
A short conversation, and a small (yet significant) decision in the early years of his career set him up for clarity and consistency in his walk with God. Daniel lived faithfulness in practice.
Where do you need to say a courageous, faith-filled “yes” at work, despite militating circumstances?
And where, perhaps, do you need to draw a line in the sand, clarifying your allegiance to the King of Kings?
Follow up: Listen to Martin Haizmann talk on Daniel,
from our Cross-Current November Professional Groups conference, in 2019:
Cover Photo: Corbin Mathias on Unsplash.com
The Gates of Babylon - a close up of part of the Ishtar Gate to the city of Babylon. The gate was built around 575 BC during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II. Its remains are housed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, where this photo was taken.