Determine to be Different:
Last October a number of us participated in an Alpha course. I think it is fair to say that regardless of where we were/are on our faith journey with God, we all found it incredibly beneficial, challenging and it caused us to grow deeper in our relationship with God. And each other.
However, in the debrief we were left asking, “What now?” Alpha was great, but where do we go from here. So I thought it would be good to start the year studying the next steps of the journey answering the questions:
- “What does the everyday Christian life look like?”
- “What’s required for ongoing, genuine relationship with God.”
For those of you who have been in relationship with God for a while, my hope is that you too would be challenged and encouraged to go deeper in your ongoing relationship with God.
Scripture is amazing in so many ways and for so many reasons. One of those is that it is a history book recording the lives of human beings… just like us. Some of them got it right. Some of them got it wrong. And some got it right then got it wrong and vice versa… just like us.
However, there are a few characters in the Bible who seem to have got it right from day one—apart from Christ. We find some of them in the book of Daniel. My hope is that by diving into this book we will see a practical and encouraging example of what it is to live in genuine relationship with God when the world around us is at odds with what we believe.
So, when I say the name, Daniel, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
- Lion’s den
- Fiery furnace
Off the top of your head, from what you’ve studied, read, heard, what we you know about Daniel?
So, this is a good start: he was awesome, lived a long time ago and did good by God.
Solomon’s son Rehoboam was a fool and caused a split in the kingdom that would never be repaired. Ten tribes went north and became Israel. Two tribes—Benjamin and Judah—stayed in the south and became Judah. Solomon’s temple was in Judah as too was the Davidic line. Daniel was a citizen of Judah.
In 721B.C. after many warnings and continued disobedience, Israel, the northern kingdom, was taken into exile by Assyria. After witnessing this, Judah, the southern kingdom, was also warned by God, that they were on the same trajectory. They were told (paraphrasing) “turn back to me, stop being like everyone else, or the same thing is going to happen to you”. However, feeling secure in the shadow of God’s temple and the Davidic covenant, they ignored the warnings and in 597 BC they too were taken into exile by Babylon.
God sent Nebuchadnezzar—king of Babylon—to carry out his discipline upon his people. However, Nebuchadnezzar conquered kingdoms by absorbing them and assimilating their assets into his own. This included materials, money and people. He didn’t take everything and everyone at once, he drained Israel of their resources over time. In the first group we heard how he took:
“…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.Daniel 1: 3b-4a
In short, he pilfered the cream of the crop: the elite. Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego were in this first batch. Most agree Daniel was the author of this book which is divided into two parts. The first reads like a historical narrative, the second delves into prophecy and apocalyptic writing. For our study, we’re going to be looking at the first half.
For us to get the most out of this book we need to understand the context. Could all our teenagers stand up please? Any one fifteen and over sit down. This is how old Daniel and his friends were when they were taken into exile.
Now, try to put your parent, grandparent hearts away for a while, and look at this from the kid’s perspective. What would it have been like to be thirteen, fourteen years old, pulled from your family, your home, your culture and placed in a city 1500 km away and told, this is it. Settle down, you’re here for a while. That would be like being taken to Cairns or Melbourne with no transport apart from walking.
From this point on in our studies, please hang on to this fact. As we consider all the things that happened to these boys and as grew into young men, remember this and try to put yourself in their shoes and think, “What would I have done in that situation?” As a young teenager.
1. What did he do?
When Daniel and his friends were planted in Babylon, they were inducted into a new way of life. They already understood what it was to study and learn, that was one of the prerequisites of being taken away. But now they were students of Babylon—life, language, culture, history and religion—which they did for three years. We see the four underwent this training without protest. They knew in order to survive they had to learn to fit in; to embrace this new way of life in their new home. Which is what they did… up to a point.
Now these guys weren’t in isolation. Nebuchadnezzar would have hundreds of exiles from the nations he’d conquered, indoctrinating them all into Babylonian culture. And there would have been other Israelites other teenagers, other people vying for popularity with the king, to try to get ahead. But this where Daniel and his friends were unusual. They knew they had to fit and get along, and obviously it would be good to be in the king’s favour, but Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego were also determined to be different.
Determined to be Different
So, what was it?
Did they fit in or did the stand apart?
They did both.
We heard earlier Daniel protested about the food he was given to eat. Some suggest he didn’t want to eat food provided by the King because it had been offered first to idols. Others suggest that Daniel was making a stand because everything he and his friends had to do in their new life was a sign or symbol of being dominated and assimilated into Babylonian culture. These historians argue that the four wanted to abstain from eating the royal food because of who it was from, not how it got there.
The king ruled everything, he provided everything, the exiles were completely dependent on the king and what he provided. Nebuchadnezzar intentionally did this as an act of total domination, in essence he was saying, without me, you are nothing, you have nothing. You are here at my mercy and your life is completely in my hands. To deny the king, or rebel against him was a guaranteed death sentence.
Whether Daniel rejected the food because of idols or dependence is kind of irrelevant.
The fact was, Daniel didn’t want to blend in to the point of losing his heritage, his identity and his beliefs. He didn’t want to be assimilated, to be forgotten, to be deleted by Babylonian domination. Daniel wanted to remain set apart: holy unto the Lord. He would have been aware his people had been exiled by God’s hand was because they had chosen to blend into the cultures around them in the Promised Land. Denying the palace’s food was one way Daniel and his friends could be different, set themselves apart without incurring a guaranteed death sentence. There was a chance they could actually get away with it.
2. How did he do it?
From day one, in this foreign land, Daniel lived his best life. He didn’t throw tantrums about not being at home, he understood exile was a both a consequence of breaking the law of God, and a consequence of life at that time, in that place—The Ancient Near East. The rise and fall of kingdoms, kings and military powers, alliances and betrayals all led to nobles, the wealthy, powerful and royal families being taken hostage and or killed. So, understanding the situation, Daniel fitted in as best he could, obeyed the law, respected the culture, and became a contributing member of society. And by doing this he earned respect from his superiors and supervisors.
Added to this, whether he learned the skills at court in Judah, or whether it was a gift, Daniel used discernment, tact and diplomacy. He not only knew when to draw the line, but also how to go about it without causing offence and ripples… or waves, which in turn would have made life harder for himself and his fellow Israelites in their new home. In the situation regarding his diet, Daniel suggested a secret trial, and it worked.
This explains how he did it, but not how he knew that he should do it? Remember he was a teenager. Stollen from his family and his home, with no priests, scribes or teachers of the Israelite law around him. He could read, but he didn’t have a copy of Scripture with him. What Daniel and his friends had was knowledge of God and his law. Daniel was far from home, but not far from God. Yahweh’s covenant was not geographically bound, and as Daniel stepped out in faith determined to be different God honoured his faithfulness.
3. What were the consequences?
- He didn’t die, God kept him covered and protected him
- God went before him and opened doors and prepared the way for his faithful servant to have success
- Daniel was blessed with good health,
- The guard, who had taken a chance on them, learned Daniel could be trusted
- He earned more credit and standing in the eyes of his supervisors. And not just his superiors, the king as well
- And so much more:
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.Daniel 1: 17-21
By stepping out in faith and determining to be different, Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack and Abenego were useable by God. They proved themselves in the little things, so that when the time came, they would be ready for the bigger things. Determining to be different was a critical step that was required for these teenagers to fulfill the next part in God’s plan. Which we’ll talk about next time.
4. So what?
Like Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego, we too are in exile: we are far from our home. But we are not far from the Lord. In this world, which is at war with our God, we are called to be different, to be set apart, in other words, to be holy. But we are do this with tact, diplomacy, wisdom and humility.
Because we are also called to love and serve, to be salt and light, to be the hands and feet of Christ. We are told to obey to the law of the land (until it conflicts with the law of God) and pray for our leaders, whether they persecute us or not.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans 12:14-21, he describes love in action:
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.Romans 12:14-21
So, as part of the everyday Christian life we do our best to do all these things, we live at peace, we serve, we love. Because, by obeying God’s law to love, by being a light in the darkness, is how we are different. By doing this we do not give up our identity, we own it. We do not blend in, every day we determine to be different so that we are not only glorifying God, we are useable by him as we follow Christ’s lead, full of the power of the Spirit and we humbly obey his law. Then, as we prove ourselves in the daily things, we are ready for all things.
Determining to be different, set apart, is a critical step in a genuine relationship with God because we are called to be holy just as he is holy. Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy:
9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.2 Timothy 1: 7-10
5. Questions to ponder:
- How are you called to be different now that you are in a relationship with God in contrast to life before knowing Him?
- In what ways have you struggled and or suffered for daring to be different?
- What checks and balances do you use to ensure you are not blending in areas you are called to be different?
- In your experience, what does being Holy–set apart, different—look like and/or require?