Daniel Chapter 1
Many of us will never have experienced what it is like to be under the regime of those who regard themselves as superior to others. Neither have many of us been under a regime whose purpose is to dominate, humiliate and destroy all that it regards as inferior and unworthy of life. Yet across history and in our world today, there are men and women who have experienced, or are experiencing such evil. One such person was Alfred Huberman, a Polish Jewish survivor of German concentration camps who wrote…
“People don’t know what discomfort really is, what hunger and insecurity and degradation does to you. You weren’t worth anything, you were disposable; they could do anything they like to you.”
Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust, Ed L. Smith, p 328.
Another prisoner under the same regime (George Hartman) who was a teenager at the time wrote…
“One form of resistance in the camps was to remain decent. The object of our imprisonment was, I think, to strip us of our humanity – to vindicate the Nazi stereotype of Untermensch (subhuman). There were many people who remained decent. There were equally many people who were reduced to a level of callousness, even cruelty. I can think of examples of both kinds and experienced both kinds."
Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust, Ed L. Smith, p 224.
As a forcibly displaced man, the young Daniel is caught up in the might and power of the Babylonian Empire and taken into captivity. The objective of his captors was to totally dominate and indoctrinate Daniel and others in such a way that they would become ambassadors of the Babylonian cause. All across our world today there is the suffering and pain caused by people wanting to use people instead of seeing fellow man as someone made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Yet all across our world there are also those who continue to stand in the strength and power of God. The tragedy of not knowing who we are in God is seen in the following true story from Japan.
In Japan there are two million people called ‘burakumin’ meaning ‘village people.’ They are regarded as the outcasts in Japan and are ostracized and discriminated against because they are descendants of slaves and servants in the feudal society of the 16-18th centuries. Many of them hide their identity, even from their own children. An entry in a young woman’s diary speaks of the time when she found out that she was actually one of those outcasts…
“October 3rd 1978. Tuesday. It is 3 a.m. Father. I heard and understood what you said to me. I cannot write it down in detail just now…But I now know my history. Flowing in my veins is the blood of those people who suffered discrimination. On this body of mine is engraved the history that can no longer be hidden. Father, why did you not tell me about this before? You must have suffered a lot. Your face, sometimes looking strong, sometimes lonely and sometimes severe, used to startle me. How often I felt hurt. I cried. Father. I did not know what kind of pain you had to carry with you.”
Quoted from, ‘The Crown of Thorns’ by C.S. Song, contained in: Return to Babel, Editors J and P Levison p 92.
What we are like under pressure often reveals what is really going on in our hearts and who we really trust in. Do we trust in the One who knows the stars by name (Ps 147:4) and every hair on our head (Luke 12:7)? Do we accept our true identity in Him, or do we allow the circumstances we find ourselves in and the experiences we have gone through in life to mould, label and shape us?
Daniel arrives in Babylon
We cannot imagine what must have been going through Daniel’s mind as he approached Babylon and saw the three-hundred-foot high walls that were to imprison him. Yet Daniel was not alone, for the One who “has established his throne in heaven and whose kingdom extends over everything” (Ps 103:19) was with him.
“For as the skies are high above the earth, so his loyal love towers over his faithful followers.”
It is impossible to imagine how Daniel felt in being uprooted and marched into a pagan city that dominated the horizon. Yet in seeing Daniel’s openness to the Lord, we realise that Daniel knew that his greatest danger would not be what was around him, but what was within him. As Jesus once said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? (Luke 9:25). As we walk through this life, we often depend on what is around us to make us feel good, yet in reality it is the things that are within us that cause us most problems.
“A mother struggles to create the perfect home. Her husband does not help much. She doesn’t tell him how much she resents it, mostly because she’s always been afraid of conflict. She is angry at her children for not being perfect, for not being on track to get into the right school, for not making her look good as a mother. She is angry at her body for aging; feeling attractive has been the one unforced sense of worth in her life, and it is ebbing away. She withdraws. She drinks a little too much. She gossips with her friends about her other friends. She finds ways to fill time. She thinks that her problem is her husband, or her kids, or her age, but it’s not. It is her soul.”
Dr John Ortberg in Soul Keeping page 45.
The need to slow down
There was a lot of movement around Daniel’s life and in the nation that he loved as oppressive powers were brought to bear upon it. Yet Israel’s real problem was not the strength and power of the nations around her; it was her weakness and failure to rest in the Lord. In a turbulent 21st century world our greatest problem is always going to be the same as it was for Israel: self.
We live in a world where we are increasingly producing vehicles that go faster and computer’s that work in split-seconds, whilst across society as a whole, families fall apart under the pressure that society puts on us all.
“Like a bee in a flower bed, the human brain naturally flits from one thought to the next. In the high-speed work-place, where data and deadlines come think and fast, we are all under pressure to think quickly. Reaction, rather than reflection, is the order of the day. To make the most of our time, and to avoid boredom, we fill up every spare moment with mental stimulation. When did you last sit in a chair, close your eyes and just relax.”
C. Honore “In Praise of Slow” p 120.
It is when we slow down and give God our attention (Matthew 11:28) that we are able to reduce the mountains of the mind and raise up the valleys, so to speak (Matt 11:28).
In the ways of the world, time has become little more than space in which we seem to control and dominate creation. Instead of doing this, we should be looking to our heavenly Father who is the master of time and redeemer of time. It is in being open to His leading that we are able to do less, yet achieve so much more.
“Research has shown that people think more creatively when they are calm, unhurried and free from stress, and that time pressure leads to tunnel vision.”
C. Honore in, “In Praise of Slow” p 121.
Being open to the Lord
In order to triumph over suffering and hardship we need to focus on God and not become too preoccupied with what is around us – no matter how loud it shouts at us.
If Daniel had been caught up with the size and opulence of Babylon, he would have been drawn away from where God says life is lived first and foremost - in the heart and mind (Mt 5:28, 6:21, 13:15). A heart that is open to the Lord is more important than our own plans, agendas and “how to get out of difficulty” strategies.
If we do not realise this then we live under one of two illusions. We believe we are strong enough and able enough to overcome things in our own strength or we think we are too small and insignificant to be able to make any difference. Yet if I am caught up and preoccupied with life around me, then I am away from my true home and imprisoned by thoughts that paradoxically continue to draw me away from life in my failure to see that that which preoccupies me, imprisons me.
It is the heart which desires to be open to (Matthew 5:8) and rested (Matthew 11:28) in the Lord that does not make this mistake and lives in the reality of His presence and is then able to see things as they really are from God’s perspective. We are covenant beings – sons and daughters of the living God who have been created to receive and in resting in God and recognising who we are in Him we are able to rest in Him as we recall all that He has said and done. In this is great security; in this is victory even when we are able to do little or nothing about the circumstances we find ourselves in.
The best thing that Daniel could do as he entered the city of Babylon and the very best thing that any of us can do when faced with difficulty, is to reflect on the goodness, grace, mercy and love of God.
“Reflection is more than a mere turning inward upon ourselves, and it does not necessarily mean the denial or exclusion of exterior things. Sometimes we are more recollected, quieter, simple and pure, when we see through exterior things and see God in them than when we turn away from them to shut them out of our minds. Recollection does not deny sensible things, it sets them in order. Either they are significant to it, and it sees their significance, or else they have no special meaning, and their meaninglessness remains innocent and neutral. For recollection brings the soul into contact with God and his invisible presence is a light which at one gives peace to the eye that sees by it, and makes it see all things in peace”
Thomas Merton in “No Man is an Island” p 230
Sometimes when we go through difficulty and hardship, we try to reason out what is going on first and foremost, and then come up with our own ways of coping. Yet this often does little more than divorce us from the presence of God who loves us and is sovereign over all. Although we may not always know what is going on, our real problem often begins when we stop talking to God.
“Freedom does not consist simply in being what we want to be; for what we want to be is frequently determined by forces outside of ourselves…freedom is the capacity for “going out of self” and rising to a “higher level of existence…the free person is one who is not enslaved by self or by circumstances but who can creatively transcend both.”
D.J. Moore in, ‘The Human and the Holy, the Spirituality of A.J. Heschel, p 181
Don’t stop talking to God
God is the ‘draw near to me and I will draw near to you” One (James 4:8) and there is nothing that is powerful enough to stop us from talking to Him. Therefore when we stop talking to God, we do so all by ourselves or through what we have allowed to dominate our thinking. Yet God is always there to help. God is not someone who says “Draw near to me” and then doesn’t help us as we seek to approach Him.
“Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God"? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40: 26-31
Our compassionate Father
Daniel was carted off to Babylon along with a large contingent of prisoners from Jerusalem and also some of the treasures from God’s temple. The purpose of taking the treasure was not to bolster Babylonian wealth, but to point out that the God of Israel was not as great as the Gods of the Babylonians. A big mistake!
The Babylonians had plans for Daniel, yet Daniel was still very much in in the hands of the one who is “the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians: 1-3). Daniel ends up in a city full of idols which needed to be approached by man. In contrast, Daniel is a man who had been approached by the living God and whom God would work with to show who was really in charge.
“There is not one among the gods like you, Lord. Nobody does things like you! All the nations of people you made shall come someday and fall down before your face, Lord, pay honour to your name, for you are great, doing extraordinarily wonderful things! You are God! Only you are God – O LORD God, teach me your way so that I may walk in your truth; pull my heart together till it fear only your name. O LORD, my God! I want to acknowledge you with my whole heart! I want to praise your name forever and ever because your covenantal love has been so overwhelming to me: you saved me out of the worst dead-ends.”
Psalm 86: 8-13 C. Seerveld.
One man who was saved out of the religion he was born into is Hilal. His story goes like this:
“Hilal is a Pashtun from the north-west frontier of Pakistan and while working as a waiter, I met with a Christian man every week for about two years to discuss religion. I was hoping he would become a Muslim. Although I was 24 years old, sometimes my way of thinking was immature, and I would only hear what appealed to me own biased opinion where Christianity was concerned.
But as I read the Bible, Jesus came across as someone more than a prophet when it came to miracles. He told the lame to get up and walk. He made the blind see, He raised the dead to life, fed 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish, and spoke with authority about the forgiveness of sins….
Gradually a change began to take place within my heart and I began to look more serious into what the Bible says someone must do to get right with God. When I learned about the need for a personal relationship with God, I finally decided to trust my life to Jesus for His forgiveness, and I received new life through the power of God’s Holy Spirit”
Jesus through Asian Eyes, produced by Good News, section 11.
When we go through difficulty, let us take comfort in knowing that God knows exactly what is going on and is the one who indwells us by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:18). When faced with difficulty we need to be careful not to go back to old methods of coping as an attempt to minimise the damage concerning what is going on. To do so is to quench the Spirit as was the case in Galatia at the time of Paul. So much so that Paul had to say to the Galatians….
“I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing — if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”
Made in the image of God
Babylon was a city full of temples and images of the gods, yet in reality it is man who is called to be the image of God: to reveal what God is like to a fallen world. Due to the fall into sin, this can now only come about through accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” John 14:16-17
In all things and in all ways, we need to put God first, even when the world is screaming at us as indeed the walls, temples and powers of Babylon must have ‘screamed’ at Daniel as he entered the city. Yet Daniel was not a young man with an idle curiosity about God, or someone who was aware of Israel’s history and therefore had some idea of what was going on. Daniel was aware of God’s presence and did not give in to the demands of the world around him. Daniel knew that although Israel was undergoing judgement for her waywardness, the ultimate purpose of the Great Shepherd was to bring his flock home.
“The Bible is a never-ending expression of an eternal concern: God’s concern for humanity. It is not so much a book to be read as a drama in which we are called to participate; our participation is our response….ultimate meaning and ultimate wisdom, then, are not found in the world but in God. The only way to share in wisdom is through a relationship with God.”
D. Moore in, ‘The Human and the Holy, the Spirituality of A.J. Heschel, p 97
Jesus teaches us that the truth will set us free (John 8:22). The truth is found in Jesus: God loves us and has made a way for us to come home to Him. In accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour, the truth moves from something said in history to someone who lives in our lives: the Holy Spirit. He is the empowerer who brings transformation and helps us to experience the freedom that comes from thinking the right way and living accordingly as sons and daughters of God.
“Do not conform any longer 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.”
A Pagan King’s Table and the Son of a King
A handful of decades before Daniel entered Babylon, Isaiah had told God’s people that the nation would be deported (2 Kings 20:12-20) and Jeremiah had predicted seventy years of captivity (Jeremiah 25:1f). Now, Daniel and his friends, through no fault of their own, were in Babylon and were chosen to eat at the king’s table (Dan 1:5). They were to be trained in the language and literature of the Babylonians for three years and then enter the King’s service. During the training they would eat at the King’s table, which simply means that he provided all the food for them. The chief official also gave them new names. Daniel (God is my Judge) was to be called Belteshazzar (may Bel preserve my life) and Hananiah (grace of God) was to be called Shadrach (order of Aku, the Sumerian god of the moon).. Mishael (who is like God) was to become Meshach (who is like Aku) and Azaria (God helps) was to be Abednego (servant of Nego who was a form of Nabu, the god of wisdom). But why give them new names?
In the Ancient Near East, names speak of nature and character and in renaming the captives, Nebuchadnezzar’s chief official was effectively saying, “We own you and we control your minds and thinking.” God was going to show them that this was not true and Daniel and his friends were able to overcome opposition because they effectively stood on the shoulders of another.
Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” and also said, “If I have done the public any service, it is due to my patient thought.”
A God who judges and Hebrew names
In the Hebrew names, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azaria we are reminded of whose work we stand in. We stand in the work of the All-Powerful Creator who is the One true Judge whose purpose it is to bring about restoration and reconciliation.
Daniel was in captivity due to Israel’s disobedience and the subsequent judgement that God brought to bear on the nation. Yet God’s judgements are always accurate, fair and with the purpose of restoration and reconciliation; hence we are the ‘reconciled ones.’
Our modern day view of judgement carries the idea of sentencing or acquitting, yet the Hebraic background to correctly judging all things speaks of knowing how things fit together properly. Whilst we, at times, do not understand what is going on, God knows how all things fit together. This world is His, He knows what has happened to it and He knows what is going to happen to it. He also knows everything about you and I – how life has hurt us, how we have damaged ourselves and how we have hurt those around us. He also knows how to bring our hearts and minds back into harmony. Daniel (God is my Judge).
God is also the ‘Gracious One’ whose son is the Alpha and the Omega (Revelations 21:6), the One whose work spans the whole of history (1 Peter 1:19-2, Titus 1;2). The Hebrew word for ‘grace’ is ‘chen’ and at its ‘heart’ this word carries the picture of fencing in and protecting life.
The One who wants to protect us is the One we have offended most. His love is not weakened by our rebellion and failings. Yet when we forget or ignore the need to pray, we are those who are loved, yet unable to receive love because we have become closed off to the ever-present One. Hananiah’s name (grace of God) was a reminder that God is ever-present; but do we call out to Him when we run into difficulty?
In Mishael’s Hebrew name (who is like God), we are reminded that God is not like us. He is the One who is depicted as a Father embracing a son who deserves nothing but judgement (Luke 15:15-23) and as a landowner going out in the heat of the day in order to bless people (Matthew 20).
The very reason God reasons with people (e.g. Cain, Isaiah) is because His Son was going to come and die in our place. Without Him, there could be no reasoning because without Him there is only judgment. It is through Christ alone that the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation can be made. The purpose of God’s reasoning with man is to bring man to his senses so that he can then find his true home in God. Although judgment may seem harsh at times, it has to be viewed in the bigger picture of God’s salvation, creating activity which is depicted in many ways as growth and blessing.
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
In Azariah’s name (God helps) we are reminded of the one who helps: the Shepherd whose eye is upon the flock, whose staff of authority guides and protects and who stands alongside us in our hardship and difficulty.
“I took the weight off their shoulders; their fists broke free from the laden baskets. You cried aloud in your dead end, and I lifted you out! Veiled in a thundering cloud I made you an answer. At the waters of Meribah I put you to the test… Listen, my people, I have to protect you! – If you would only hear, Israel what I have to say – Let there be no strange god among you! Do not be asking favours from some foreign God. I, the Lord God YAHWEH, am your God, the One who brought you up out of the land of Egypt: open your mouth wide and I shall fill it full. But my people did not listen to my voice. Israel did not go along with me. So I left them, let them in the blocked stubbornness of their hearts go; they went their way in their own clever thought – patterns…..The LORD would feed them from the best grain! Why, with honey out of bare force I would make you content”
Psalm 81:6-12,16 Seerveld.
Just as the morning sun rises and sheds its light across the land, so God’s true justice is going to flow out across the world through the Messiah. He is the One who stands in our place, who carries our failings and who knows how all things should fit together as He brings justice and peace to bear upon brokenness and separation. In a world where we are becoming increasingly isolated and distracted, perhaps we need to slow down and engage our minds on the One who moves mountains. We need to use our God-given imagination and focus on the incredible pictures that God reveals in the scriptures.
“Imagination is important for remembering and for anticipating – for knowing the past and the future. But how can we know the present if we cannot relate that present to the past and future? If we have no knowledge of what has been happening, how can we make any sense out of what is happening now? And if we have no idea about the goal of events, where they are going, surely our knowledge of present events is at best highly defective.”
Dr J. Frame, ‘The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, page 342.
God’s dealings with cities
In picturing Daniel and his friends going into Babylon, we are confronted with the might and power that sought to dominate their lives and the world at that time. However, as we have already noted, God is always in control and chooses to deal with people in a way which will eventually lead to the restoration of peace and harmony in His Universe. At times this will involve great blessing and at other times it will involve judgment, which in a sense, is a microscopic picture of the final judgement when God calls time on man’s rebellion.
Before moving on, we will look at how God dealt with some of the other famous cities of the day. This will remind us that God works in many varied ways and communicates with people; giving them the opportunity to know Him personally rather than face Him as an adversary.
Archaeology is continually revealing the truth of the Bible in the dust of history and so we begin by looking at the city of Sodom, in the time of Abraham. After this we will look at Nineveh, a city that listened to God and bowed the knee. In looking at both cities we are reminded that God’s grace and mercy is always available and that we need to reach out to accept it. If we don’t then all that remains is judgement.
Sodom and Gomorrah were cities of the plains in Abraham’s day, known for their decadence (Gen 13:13). The location and remains of Sodom were recently discovered by archaeologists who were helped by texts from the Bible.
Sodom was visible from Bethel and Ai and situated on the plain (Heb: ‘Kikar’ meaning circle like a coin). When God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham could see the smoke from where he stood on a slope by the Oaks of Mamre (Gen 19:28). The ruins of the city (at the eastern end of the plains/’disc’) have sections of walls that were 100ft thick:
“The enormous fortified walls include sections that are 100ft thick. The imposing gateway fits the description of the location where the angels met Lot (Gen 19:1). There is plentiful archaeological evidence for the sudden destruction of Sodom. A thick layer of ashes and charred walls all bear witness to destruction by fire. ..Across the site melted pottery has been found, with one side still intact and the other side turned to a greenish glaze through intense heat. To produce this kind of damage there needed to be a sudden high temperature followed by quick cooling.”
C. Sinkinson in ‘Backchat’ p 48.
In his book, ‘Backchat,’ Sinkinson goes on to say that similar glass was found in the deserts of Egypt and known to have been burnt by meteor impact.
Before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, we read of God coming to, Abram, and sharing what He was going to do. In doing this we see that God does not act randomly…
“Then the Lord said, "Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? After all, Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using his name.”
God communicates with those who are open to Him and seek to know Him as He reveals Himself in word and deed (Psalm 25:14). Even in the most difficult of situations, God can make Himself known to those who deserve nothing yet, outrageously, can receive everything through repentance and faith. The following story is just one example of this.
Boris Kornfeld was a Jewish surgeon in a prison labour camp in Siberia in 1953.In the camp he met a Christian whose recitation of the Lord’s Prayer each day had a profound impact on him. On one occasion his own hidden anger shocked him so much that he found himself praying, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.”
One afternoon while examining a patient who’d undergone an operation for terminal skin cancer, Kornfeld saw in the man’s eyes such a depth of spiritual misery that he told his entire story, including his secret faith in Christ. That night Boris Kornfeld was murdered as he slept. But his testimony wasn’t in vain. The patient who heard it became a Christian as a result. That patient’s name was, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Nobel Laureate whose writing exposed the horrors of Russian prison camps and ultimately saved the lives of many.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about his time with, Dr Boris Kornfeld, in his three-volume ‘The Gulag Archipelago’ (Pages 612-15). In it he speaks of being in a fever whilst lying in the surgical ward of the prison camp. Dr Kornfeld sat with him all night and told him of his conversion from Judaism to Christianity; Solzhenitsyn says he was astonished at the conviction of the new convert. Dr Kornfeld was to lose his life that very night, but his last words to Solzhenitsyn had a great impact on him. Dr Kornfeld had spoken of a loving Saviour but also of the great sinfulness and failure of man. That night he was hit with a hammer whilst asleep and died on the operating table the next morning without regaining consciousness. It was during Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s time of recovery that he thought about his own life and the words of Dr Kornfeld. Solzhenitsyn wanted what was right for his life and put his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. In his writings up until his death in 2008, he often spoke of justice and of faith. God will bring justice to bear on His world, as and when and however He sees fit.
“Walking by faith means to follow someone else who knows more than we do, someone who is also good.”
In the Bible we find Abraham as a man who walked by faith and sought to learn how God combined both grace and justice. This is why he seeks to intercede, not for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but for those who desired what was right, even if they were getting it wrong.
Although Sodom and Gomorrah did not repent we do see the mercy and grace of God towards Lot and his family….
“With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you’ll be swept away when the city is punished.” When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them."
God desires to show mercy
Mercy speaks of bowing the neck in kindness and passionately reaching out to help the one that deserves nothing but judgement. In mercy, we do not receive what we do deserve; in grace we receive what we don’t deserve. However the key point here is: Do we receive?
In 2 Corinthians 1:3, God is spoken of as the ‘Father of mercies.’ In other words He is the root of all mercy. In Classical Greek the word for mercy means ‘to wash over’, and is used of cancelling a debt. An amazing picture of God’s mercy is seen in how David treated Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth (name meaning ‘idol-breaker’), because of the covenant he had made with Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:7, 13). Jonathan was King Saul’s son and a deranged Saul had often sought to kill David. When David became King, he had Mephibosheth - who was crippled - brought to him. He returned his grandfather’s land to him and allowed him to remain in Jerusalem and eat at the king’s table each day. Mephibosheth was the grandson of someone who had wanted death and was a man who could do nothing for David. Yet due to the covenant between David and Jonathan, he could receive everything. In this we have a microcosmic picture of God’s grace to us through covenant.
The mercy we receive is because of God’s heart; it is because of His heart that we have a covenant relationship through His Son, our covenant head. All who turn to God in repentance and faith can find reconciliation. Outside of this there is judgement and the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah is a warning to those who reject the gospel (Matthew 10:15; 11:24; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7). Yet this does not have to be so as God’s dealing with another city clearly reveal.
Nineveh in the days of Jonah
Nineveh, was an Assyrian city on the eastern bank of the Tigris. The city derived its name from the Babylonian name for ‘where fish were abundant’ (Nina) and Istar or Nina the so-called goddess of the city who was associated with reproduction. According to archaeologists the circuit of the inner wall of the city was about eight miles, suggesting a population of circa 0.5 million. Many people would have lived just outside the walls, as was the case with cities of that era. In the eighth century the city received an unexpected visit in the form of a spewed-up Israelite prophet: Jonah.
From 2 Kings 14:25 we know that Jonah was around during the time of King Jeroboam 2nd of Israel (c 793-753 BC), who whilst bringing about reforms was still caught up in idolatry. God sent the reluctant prophet Jonah to Nineveh to speak of coming judgement (Jonah 1:2).
Jonah’s antagonistic attitude towards Nineveh was probably based more on national feelings than personal ones. Nineveh was an enemy to Israel; Israel was not serving God, so why should he bother going to Nineveh? Jonah heads off in the opposite direction, yet through amazing circumstances and repentance, ends up in the belly of a large fish and is eventually spewed out and sent into Nineveh.
The King of Nineveh hears the news of forthcoming judgement and issues a proclamation with the command that people must give up their evil ways and violence (Jonah 3:6-10); the result?
“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.”
The word ‘compassion’ is associated with a deep feeling at the pit of the stomach – the desire to reach out and help others. In God’s dealings with Nineveh we see that the door to forgiveness is open to all who would enter - including the Ninevites!
As we have already mentioned, Babylon was a city full of idols, images and symbols which represented a god or gods. In total contrast to this, Israel was told not to make any idols (Deut 5:8-10). But what is an idol?
An idol is anything in the created order that takes up our attention and the worship that is due to God alone. On many occasions Israel wandered into serving false gods that could be seen and touched, yet had no power whatsoever. Ironically the ‘power’ such idols had was given by those who served them and in doing so people became trapped in their own belief systems, cultic practice and, on occasion, demonic oppression.
“The people missed their calling. Israel could not resist the overwhelming presence of the cults and culture of Canaan. They were stung, then shocked, then tempted and finally seduced by the sheer visibility of the gods of the Promised Land. This issue of visibility was one of the biggest problems that Israel faced. In Canaan, every need had created its own god: for fair, fertility, war – the list is long. And for every god there was a dedicated temple with an image, made by human hands, depicting the presence and the power of that god. Israel could have none of this; it served a God whose law was clear, of which Deuteronomy was a persistent reminder: ‘You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol…’(v7,8).”
Allan Boesak in, ‘The Fire Within’ page 42.
We are covenant beings
Man is a covenant being, meaning that he has been made for a relationship with God. If we do not have that relationship with God, we will form a relationship with objects (e.g. alcohol or money) or belief systems (atheism and other false religions) as a means of coping and seeking to control life. Those who served idols in the Ancient Near East were doing so as a means of gaining control: “I have done this therefore you must do this for me.” In stark contrast to this, Israel came to God out of thankfulness for what He had done, recognising their continual need of mercy and grace. However at times, Israel created an image of ‘God’ in their own minds (like the church can today) and in doing so, strayed from the One true God whose power, presence and love, sets us free.
“…Sometimes too, we even create in our imagination an idol we call “God.” That idol serves the purpose of the puppet-king, who does our bidding and succumbs to our manipulation. He exists to help us meet our felt needs, such as the feeling of being loved. In that subtle and seductive way, we end up worshiping an idol at the same time we are convinced it is the right God we are honouring.”
Power Religion, p 235 Ed M.S. Horton.
The Babylonians followed idols as a means of gaining power, yet real power for the believer comes from being in communion with the one true God and not from the things around us. Too many Christians lean upon their church, denomination and style of worship instead of God. Yet if Daniel had relied on Jerusalem and the temple to make him feel good, he would have fallen as soon as he entered Babylon. Instead he trusted in the Lord.
Made in the image of God
Whilst the Babylonians created idols and sought to appease and control them, Israel (when obedient) followed the living God who reaches out to fallen man. As believers, we are not to build great temples or create images to express the power and majesty of God; it is, in a sense, much more difficult for us than that. As Abraham Heschel (a well-known Hebrew scholar in the 20c) once said, it is not necessary to have a symbol but to be a symbol. We are called to reveal what God is like and this can only come about through being open to the One who continually shows amazing grace, loving-kindness and love. In Jesus we see how a person made in the image of God lives: in close communion with the Father and a reliance on the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit.
In seeking to be like Jesus, we are not called to stand for God but to live from the very presence of our relationship with Him. Therefore being like Jesus is intimacy with our heavenly Father and a total reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit above all else. Our calling in life is not first and foremost to express ourselves, but to come closer to God. No matter what we face or what we have come through, the simple truth remains: there is nothing but self that can stop us from coming closer to God. In the following testimony we read of a women who in the midst of horrific opposition and suffering began to see who Jesus really was and eventually placed her trust in Him.
Johanna Ruth Dobschiner, was a Jewish woman who lived through the Nazi holocaust as a teenager. During this time she saw unspeakable atrocities and lost many members of her family (parents and brothers included) to the idealism of Nazi Germany. It is interesting however to see that throughout this time she not only maintained a belief in God, but even when being persecuted for being a Jew, she also becomes a Christian, which was seen by many to be a betrayal of her Jewish roots. Whilst undergoing such suffering, she says this of Jesus (though at this point she did not know Him as her Saviour):
“Whoever he was, I liked and admired him greatly, especially the way he stood up for righteousness, purity and every straightforward thought and word…If I had been alive then, I would have stuck up for him. I’m sure. Definitely I would have gone with him on his travels. He had the right idea about God and life in general. He could have taught me a great deal.”
R. Dobschiner in, ‘Selected to Live; p 161.
Later she writes:-
“Even when my family and all those other millions were killed after the most inhumane torture, even then I believed that a god was alive who would receive these suffering souls into some place of relief. Anyhow, I trusted he would. That was all.”
R. Dobschiner, ‘Selected to Lie’ p 248
Ruth’s acceptance of suffering and hardship was not a passive yielding to whatever came her way without another thought. Nor was it a simple step that so many seem to take in accusing God of being responsible for all that she was, or denying the existence of God altogether. Instead, she sought to understand what she could and learnt to place her trust in Christ as her Saviour. As Paul writes:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
Daniel was not bound up in his own protest movement
Daniel was caught up in the affairs of a nation undergoing judgement and power of paganism; yet he was not bound up in mind and heart because he sought to put God first in his life. If we walk with the Lord, we can triumph over our greatest problem (self) and know His power and presence in whatever way God sees fit.
In Babylon, Daniel could have tried to start a low-key protest movement or just kept his head down. He could have been wowed by the size and opulence of Babylon and allowed his situation to draw him away from God. Yet he did not; instead Daniel sought to serve God in any way possible. In a worldly way, it may seem a very small thing to do no more than seek to adhere to the dietary laws of Israel and not eat meat with blood in it, but in the ways of the Kingdom, this revealed an open heart. All too often we get caught up with plans and agendas when what God desires above all else is that we seek Him. One church leader who came to this realisation writes the following words of challenge and encouragement to all who struggle in their plans:
“After a couple of years, God highlighted Psalm 27:4 as a key for my life. The words, “One thing I desire” absolutely captured my heart. I began discovering how many other “things” were central to me. The more I meditated, the more my real motives were exposed. Fleshly agendas which had previously fueled desire and passion became brazenly obvious. I was horrified to realise that I wanted God’s activity more than I wanted Him.”
Lucas Sherraden and Graham Cooke in ‘”When heaven opens’ pages 40-41.
God often moves in unexpected ways and in Daniel chapter one, we read that God caused a pagan official to show favour and sympathy to Daniel (Dan 1:9 this meaning that the official, blinded by the powers of the day, had his eyes opened to seeing the truth. Despite his fear, he was able to grant Daniel his request. In seeking God first, Daniel was blessed with great wisdom and understanding; so how would we define wisdom?
”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.”
Wisdom involves seeing the picture as it really is and accurately discerning right from wrong. This explains why the Hebrew root of the word ‘wisdom’ speaks of the dividing wall in a tent, or the separation of water from milk that is left out in the heat. The one who is able to separate what is right from what is wrong, and knows how things should really be, is a wise person.
Wisdom sees things the right way. For example, it’s knowing that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Genesis 1:27-8, Psalm 139:14), and acting accordingly. It is about seeing God as He is (Prov 9:10) and ultimately knowing Him as our Father (Psalms 68:5, Matthew 6:6, Ephesians 2:18).
“Healthy Christians are characterised by a heightened awareness of a sense of belongingness to God – shifting our focus from the egocentric to the Christocentric….’To be’ centres on self; ‘to belong,’ centres on Christ. When the decision is made to surrender to Christ and make Him the centre, then everything belongs to Him…..To continue to belong is to maintain the surrendered life.”
Dr H. Darling, Man in His Right Mind page 129.
You and I are not a few isolated chemicals and events thrown together. We belong to God and are precious in His sight. Our life is not so much about who we are, but about whose we are. A wise person knows this truth and lives accordingly in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. As already stated, he or she is able to discern and separate the good from the bad and see the whole picture from God’s perspective.
“The wisdom of God is clearly seen in Jesus who is the outworking of God’s purposes, and the Incarnate Son of God. In the weakness and frailty of flesh Jesus showed the universe that God’s way of living had always been the right and only way of living (wisdom is proved right by her actions Matthew 11:9b). Jesus exercised true discernment in all areas of life, this flowing out of the deep intimacy of agape love given and received in His relationship with His heavenly Father. From His life we see that wisdom speaks of a greater depth of penetration and insight than is signified by mere knowledge or understanding.”
Prof J. Warwick Montgomery in, ‘The Suicide of Christian Theology’.
God knows us perfectly, and if He wanted to, could even tell us the weight of a dust particle landing on our shoulder (and the speed at which it travelled). Our Father would know the difference one grain of salt can make to a flavour; He knows all things and He knows all about us and what affects us most. You and I belong to someone who sees everything in our lives and desires to bring healing and wholeness.
Wisdom is about engaging with God and knowing that we can do so because of His great desire to engage with us as a Father. Wisdom involves knowing that, in Christ, we no longer stand under condemnation (Romans 8:1) and that nothing in our lives is trivial to our Father (Luke 12:7 Mark 9:41).
Jesus – the wisdom of God
Chapter one ends with Nebuchadnezzar finding the wisdom and understanding in Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah ‘ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (1:21). Nebuchadnezzar’s name means “Nebo’s favoured prince” with Nebo being the Babylonian deity known for wisdom and literature, yet this is a man now confronted with the true wisdom of God.
When we put God first we are not swayed by our circumstances, no matter how dire they may seem; God is more than a match for the wisdom of the world. As Paul writes:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:18
The Romans saw crucifixion as a death befitting for slaves and nobodies, whilst Jews saw it as totally shameful. Society was built around power and might and to many who lived with surface-level thinking, the crucifixion of Jesus epitomised nothing in their eyes, but weakness and failure.
To many, Jesus must have looked like a helpless victim, hardly recognisable as He hung on the cross, enduring the jeers of those who’d come along for entertainment. Yet He was not helpless in any way whatsoever, for it was the choice of this heavenly King to suffer.
Jesus deliberately withheld the power and glory that was His and did not call upon a heavenly host (Mat 26:53) that has always been more powerful than all the armies and weaponry of the world put together. One day He will return in glory with an army of angels as judgement is fully brought to bear on the world.
“...This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels…”
2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
At the cross, Jesus chose not to call upon all that was His. Instead He chose to come in weakness and in doing so, displayed the strength and power of a man who was totally yielded to the will of His Father. No one took His life from Him because no matter the torture and the suffering, no man had the power to do so. Instead He willingly gave His life, for that is the only way He could have died: He underwent all the pain and all the suffering and yet He is the One who bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.
Think about it. Whilst Jesus was being whipped and torn as people sought to degrade Him and wrench His life from His body, it was the power of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that held the world of these people together. And as my son-in-law Peter said to me a few days ago, whilst they were trying to squeeze the air from Jesus’ lungs on a cross at Calvary, it was His power that allowed them to continue to breathe.
There were many challenges that were going to come Daniel’s way as he lived out his life in Babylon. Yet in all things, he was able to remain true to the Lord because He understood God and was aware that his greatest difficulty would never be from anything around him but from his own sinful nature.
“The root cause, which the bible calls a sinful nature, results in man’s failure to fulfil the original purpose for which he was created, namely, to enjoy daily fellowship with God, who created him for that very purpose. In the final analysis sin is everything which makes this fellowship impossible or which diminishes it in any way. The sense of loneliness which results is inescapable and the true meaning of forgiveness is that it restores that fellowship with God which is fundamental to man’s inner health and peace.”
Prof A. Custance, Forgiveness and the Subconscious, page 28.