The Temptation of Daniel, Part 1
Topic: Expository Passage: Daniel 1:1-21
The Temptation of Daniel, Part 1
Good evening! Welcome to our Sunday evening Bible study. Today, we will continue our temptation series by looking at Daniel in Daniel 1. In a few minutes, I’m going to pray, so if you have any prayer requests, feel free to share them in the comments.
I assume that all of you got the announcement about our family’s possible move to Phoenix. If not, you can check your email, and you should be able to find that. You can always talk to Elise or I personally about that if you have any questions. I also thought I’d say a few words here tonight before we begin.
First, we love Life Point. There is no church dearer to our hearts than this one; and it’s not just about an organization, it’s about the people. We love all of you very much; you are not only our friends; you’re our family. We got to know you over the course of time while we were at Ironwood, but you became family in the fires of testing during my first year here on staff. That year sealed our hearts together in a very unique way, and we will never forget that. Also, with us not having family in town, you all have become our family. The Johnsons have become our family. So if God does move us on, we will be excited, but we’ll also be sad to go.
We’ve known that this day might be coming for a long time now, but we weren’t quite sure what our next steps would look like. I considered church planting… I wondered if God would have me to take a senior pastor position at some other church… but we believe that this is how He is leading. A lot of thought, prayer, and counsel has gone into this decision.
That said, the decision is not final yet. At this point, we have only agreed to come candidate. The church would still have to vote me in and I would have to say yes before it is final. So God could still close the door, and we would be fine with that! We just want what He wants. So would you join us in praying for His will?
When these types of announcements are made, we tend to have a couple of reactions. First, we can be fearful: “Who will lead the music? Who will teach the children?” So let me just remind you: for those of you who have been here long enough, you know, we’ve been here before, and God got us through it just fine! So let’s not be like the children of Israel or like the disciples who worried about having no bread right after Christ had fed the five thousand! God will supply all our needs. He always has, and He always will.
The second reaction that people can have when going through a situation like this is sadness. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. You say, “I get it. God is in this. But… it just won’t be the same around here!” And the truth is, it won’t! It won’t be the same for us, either! It won’t be the same for anyone! But isn’t that the way life is? How many of you remember when your kids were small, or for those of you who are younger, when you were a teen or a child. Life changes, doesn’t it? And one of the lessons we learned from the book of Ecclesiastes is that part of living humbly in God’s world is accepting those changes with an open hand, knowing that one day, things will be perfect forever. Until then, we enjoy good from God’s hand while it lasts, living each day to the fullest.
So hopefully that helps as you process this news. I know it is hard. (Or maybe it’s not; maybe you’re like, “Good riddance!” That’s fine too. J) But as I said earlier, if you have any questions, Elise and I would be happy to talk to you about those, and we will keep you posted as things unfold.
Alright, let’s have a word of prayer and then we will get started with our lesson.
As we continue our series on temptation, I wanted to fast forward to the book of Daniel because of what this book teaches us about living in a hostile culture. One of my friends reminded me this week, in a sense, we are all Daniels. 1 Peter 2:11 calls us “exiles,” just like Daniel was living in exile. We are exiles because, as Paul said in Philippians 3:20, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” This is not our home! An as exiles, we can expect to have to deal with a hostile culture. That’s what these narratives in the book of Daniel are all about.
So that’s why I went to the book of Daniel; and I can tell you, as I did my study last week, I was not disappointed! At first, I said, “Okay, there are some good lessons here,” but then as I began to dig deeper, I said, “Wow! There are lots of good lessons here! And they apply so well to our current moment!” So, this is going to be a two-part lesson on Daniel 1. I’m sure you’re not surprised. J
Over the next however many weeks, we will use the following outline. First, we will look at “Daniel’s dilemma.” Next, we will talk about “Daniel’s decision.” Third, we will walk through “Daniel’s discernment”; and last, we will consider “Daniel’s deliverance.” So four points… alliterated… to hopefully make that easy for you–“dilemma,” “decision,” “discernment,” and “deliverance.” Let’s look first and Daniel’s dilemma.
The book of Daniel begins when Daniel and his friends being taken captive as slaves to Babylon (vv. 1-4).
There were many factors that made this a horrible situation. First, Israel was destroyed and thousands of people were killed. Even God’s temple was defiled! Second, Daniel and his friends would never see their homeland or families again. Third, Daniel and his friends essentially became slaves. Now, they were treated better than many others because of what they were to be groomed for, but they were still slaves. Fourth, the Babylonians did everything they could to separate these young men from their past identities. Daniel and his friends were separated from their homeland, their nation, their families, their way of worship; they were totally re-educated–even their names were changed!
And yet, Daniel reminds us in v. 2 that God was still in control. It says, “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand.” Nebuchadnezzar did not win because he was such a good general. He won because God was judging His people. This means that God was still in control. God’s sovereignty is the foundational truth in the book of Daniel.
But in spite of the countless challenges, Daniel also had a couple of things going for him. First, there was his childhood training and relationship with God. There are two unsung heroes in the story of Daniel: his parents! There were a lot of people living in Judah who did not fear God at this time. That is why God had to punish them! But there were also godly families–spiritual descendants of great men like Josiah and Hezekiah–who still feared the LORD. Apparently, Daniel grew up in one of these families.
Daniel was probably fifteen or sixteen years old when he was taken captive by the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar was looking for young men who were well-mannered, free from physical defects, handsome, and above all, smart. He chose teenagers because they already had a base education but were also still moldable. His goal was to turn these Jewish boys into Babylonian men.
Certainly, Nebuchadnezzar was onto something as it relates to the impressionability of teenagers. It seems like his plan worked in most cases. But what he failed to account for was the power of God in the heart of even a child! I believe in regeneration, even in the Old Testament. So what these boys had in their hearts and minds as a result of their childhood training was not just a bunch of facts–they were saved! They may have been leaving Israel, but God went with them to Babylon, and He was with them each step of the way!
By the way, the story of Daniel reminds us that we must never undervalue ministry to children and teens. Daniel took what was perhaps the most pivotal stand of his life at the age of fifteen or sixteen. He had all of the theology and character he needed to make that decision packed into him by that early point. That’s remarkable!
And by the way, it’s not just Daniel. Joseph was probably about seventeen years old when he was sold into slavery in Egypt. David was about the same age when he fought Goliath. Over and over again in Scripture, God holds up the faith of young people.
That is why at Life Point, we do not view children or teen ministries as babysitting. We do not want to shoot over the kids’ heads with our teaching, but we also don’t want to underestimate them! They are capable of knowing and loving God and taking steps of faith on a level that we often don’t give them credit for. Besides that, these are pivotal years in their lives! The truths they learn about God in these years will likely stick with them for the rest of their lives! And what’s more, God can use them right now! Many revivals were started by teenagers! The story of Daniel reminds us of these truths.
Despite all of the challenges that he faced, Daniel had his childhood training and relationship with Yahweh going for Him. He also had his three friends.
There were many Hebrew boys taken captive to Babylon. Most of them failed to stand for God. And yet, Daniel was not alone in his commitment to Yahweh. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah stood with him. I don’t know if these four boys knew each other before being taken captive; I would guess that they did. But regardless, they soon became fast friends. And in the years to come, they would strengthen one another much like Jonathan strengthened David.
One of the best gifts that God can possibly give you is a godly friend. If you have a friend like that, do not take him or her for granted! And if you don’t have a friend like that, pray that God would give you one, and then go out and look for that friend! But don’t just look for someone to encourage you; look for someone you can encourage, just like Jonathan sought out David.
God hasn’t promised to give you a bosom friend, but in the church, we all stand together. So work hard to develop relationships in this congregation! Sometimes women value those kinds of relationship, but as men, we do not. So can I just talk to the men for a minute? You need one another. You may be more of a lone ranger personality, but you need other men speaking truth into your life and helping you stand for God!
You say, “I don’t know how to develop that kind of a relationship.” Start small. Start by showing up to men’s Bible study and other men’s events. Stick around and talk to other men after church (whenever we are able to have church again). Share something that is going on in your life. Have another family in the church over to your house. Go camping together. Go shooting together! Friendships don’t just happen overnight; you have to be patient and stick with it, but they can be built over time. And they are worth building. So men, women, teens, children, invest in godly friendships. Daniel 1 reminds us to do this.
So that is how Daniel and his friends got to Babylon. But next, we are going to see that in Babylon, they faced lots of ethical dilemmas.
Daniel and his friends were bombarded. Let me give you some examples of the ethical dilemmas that they faced. First, they were taught “the literature of the Chaldeans.” There is no doubt that that would have included classes about Babylonian religion. So all of a sudden, these good little Jewish boys find themselves sitting in classes learning about Marduk, and astrology, and divination, and all kinds of other pagan practices!
Second, their names were changed! The name “Daniel” means “God is my judge.” But his name was changed to “Belteshazzar,” which means, “Protect his life”–probably viewed as a prayer to some Babylonian god. “Hananiah” means “Yahweh is gracious”; but his name was changed to “Shadrach,” which most likely means, “Command of Aku.” “Mishael” (“Who is what God is”) was changed to “Meshach,” which sounds very similar and means, “Who is what Aku is?” So you see, there was an agenda behind these name changes! Lastly, “Azariah,” which means, “Yahweh has helped” was changed to Abednego, which means, “Servant of Nebo.” If you are a Jew living at this time, your name is very significant. So how do you respond when are renamed a name that includes the name of an idol?
So Daniel and his friends faced ethical dilemmas having to do with their education and their names, but by far the most significant dilemma they faced in this chapter had to do with their diet (vv. 5, 8).
Why couldn’t Daniel eat the meat? I mean, of all the places he could have drawn the line, why draw it here? A number of suggestions have been made, and the truth is that we don’t know for sure because the text doesn’t tell us, but I think there were probably three main problems. First, the type of meat he was served may have been unclean. It may have been pork or even horseflesh! Second, the meat may not have been prepared the right way. Perhaps the blood was not drained out. But I think the most important factor was that the meat was most likely offered to idols. This was probably the case with the wine too. Daniel was most likely convinced that by eating this meat and drinking this wine, he would cross over from simply learning about these Babylonian gods to actually worshipping them. And that was a line he would not cross.
Daniel faced a number of ethical dilemmas in Babylon, but in the final evaluation, all of them boiled down to one simple question, “Do I obey God or the king?” Sound familiar? We are asking that same question right now as it regards to meeting as a church, aren’t we? Of course, the complicating factor as it related to Daniel’s situation was that to disobey the king meant almost certain death! The three thousand churches that have banded together to meet on May 31 are not facing death for defying that order. But for Daniel and his friends, the threat of death was real! After all, Nebuchadnezzar had already killed off many of their fellow Jews! What were their lives worth to him? Also, we know that Nebuchadnezzar was known for rash executions! Right here in this story, Ashpenaz declines their initial request because he is afraid that if anything goes wrong, Nebuchadnezzar will literally have his head! And in Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar decides to kill off all of his wise in one fell swoop, simply because they cannot tell him his dream! You think some of these state governors are unreasonable; they don’t hold a candle to Nebuchadnezzar!
So for Daniel and his friends, the stakes are very high! I mean, they want to obey God, but they better think really hard before making any rash decisions!
Now, before we go on, how does this story apply to us? This story is practical in the extreme because for the Christian with a sensitive conscience, ethical dilemmas are actually quite common. I want to read to you five case studies that I think will help bring this to light, and you tell me if these sound like real life.
Case study #1: Jennifer is a Christian teen whose mom and dad are divorced. Her dad is saved but her mom is not. At her dad’s house, obeying God basically means following the rules. But at her mom’s house, there are no rules. To complicate matters, Jennifer is often pressured into situations that she is uncomfortable with as a Christian. For instance, last weekend, Jennifer’s mom took her and her brother to see an R-rated movie. Jennifer knew there was sex and profanity in the film. What should she do?
Case study #2: Ben is an aspiring Christian artist studying at a public university. Halfway into his junior year, he realizes that he is required to take a class that is all about painting nudes. What should he do?
Case study #3: As a secretary for a high-powered executive down in L.A., Tina often handles her boss’s correspondence as part of her job. She is regularly uncomfortable with the kinds of answers he tells her to give people; but recently, he has told her to outright lie to a couple of clients. What should she do?
Case study #4: Sarah is a Christian mom who is married to an unbeliever. Although Rick, Sarah’s husband, has never actually told Sarah she can never take the kids to church, she knows that he doesn’t like it. Rick takes every opportunity for an excuse to make Sarah and the kids stay home, from family outings to yardwork. This Sunday, he surprises Sarah by teller her they all need to stay home to watch a NASCAR race. Sarah hasn’t been to church in a month. What should she do?
Case study #5: Mario is a Christian pastor in the very liberal nation of Spain. The government has said that his church cannot meet due to COVID-19. Live stream only worked well for a while, but now it’s October, and churches in other countries have been meeting for months! However, the president has been very clear: if your church is caught meeting, you will be arrested. What should he do?
Now, I made all of those case studies up. None of those people are real. And yet, the situations they represent are very real, aren’t they? In fact, you could probably add a couple more case studies to that list! Because let’s be honest, especially if you work outside of the home, this is where many of us live, isn’t it? We live in Babylon, and life in Babylon involves lots of sticky situations!
So what do we do in situations like these? Well, first, let’s talk about what not to do. Don’t just “go with the flow”!
Many people have compared the world to a mighty river that is pushing us along. The world has an anti-God agenda that it is constantly pushing. And it is exhausting to paddle upstream! Much easier just to “go with the flow”! But that is what we cannot do!
What excuses did Daniel have just to “go with the flow”? Let me list for you seven.
- Fear: “Nebuchadnezzar will kill me!”
- Appetite: “The meat and the wine look good, and everyone says they taste good and are good for you, too!” (By the way, there is a parallel here to Eve in the Garden.)
- Peer pressure: “Everyone else is eating it. I will be mocked if I don’t!”
- Ambition: I’m sure the boys were told all along the way that their future depended on how well they did in this schooling! Daniel might have thought to himself, “How could I ever expect to land a high rank in the government after pulling a stunt like that?”
- Laziness: “I’ve been through so much already, and swimming upstream is just way too much work. I’ll just eat the dumb meat!”
- Hopelessness: “They will never listen. Appealing will never do any good!”
- Bitterness: “God didn’t protect me and my people, so why should I stick out my neck to obey Him?”
These are all excuses that a lesser man would have used. And apparently, most of the Jewish boys taken into captivity did use these excuses! But not Daniel and his three friends! What did they do instead? That question brings us to point #2, which is “Daniel’s decision.”
Daniel’s Decision (v. 8)
Daniel decided, “I am going to please God no matter what.” And this decision came very early! The text leads us to believe that he and his friends never did eat the king’s meat or drink his wine! And as we are going to see, they make multiple requests before their appeal is heard! So this is all getting worked out in the first several days of them being in Babylon! Daniel said, “I am going to please God, not matter what!” What a simple decision, and yet how important!
This decision by Daniel is the center of chapter 1 and a key to explaining the rest of the book. Everything in Daniel’s life flows from this one decision! He is standing on the continental divide, and he has got to choose one way or the other! It’s either please God and stand up or go with the flow and fit in. There is no middle ground, at least in terms of Daniel’s heart commitment. He has got to be all-in or else he might as well not even try.
Daniel 1 reminds us of this important principle: No matter what situation you find yourself in, you can always please God, no matter what. There is always a way to please God. God doesn’t put his children into situations in which there is no good option. There is always a way of escape. The question is, have you predetermined to take it?
You do not make this decision on the fly. If you are that teen girl, you do not make the decision to please God no matter what as you are walking up the doors of the movie theater to see that R-rated movie. You make it as you are in the car on the way to your mom’s house for the weekend. This has got to be in your heart prior to when the temptation comes so that when it does come, you will be ready!
Not only that, but you have got to be dead-serious about your decision. Daniel was dead-serious about his decision. What do I mean by that? He was willing to die if need be. You say, “Pastor Kris, how do you know that?” Because in chapter 3, his three friends get thrown into the fiery furnace over refusing to bow to an idol! And then in chapter 6, Daniel himself gets thrown into a den of lions for praying! How is it that when the decree goes out, “No one can pray to other gods!” Daniel doesn’t even blink! He goes straight home, gets on his knees, and prays. It’s because he had known since the time he was fifteen years old that this day could come, and he had already decided what he would do.
He had decided. It wasn’t just that he said to himself, “I think I might try to please God”; Daniel purposed in his heart, and he never looked back. One of the most important ways to defeat temptation in a hostile culture is to purpose in your heart ahead of time that you will always do what is right. Once you have this commitment, the details will take care of themselves, as they did in this story.
Have you purposed in your heart to please God no matter what? There are way too many double-minded Christians out there! Their problem is not that after a careful, prayerful consideration of God’s word and their circumstances, they have made the wrong decision; rather, it is that they have not decided to please God no matter what! There will always be Christians who differ on how to apply certain biblical commands and principles. That should not be alarming. What should be cause for alarm is when so-called Christians do not seem to care what God thinks! May that not be said of you.
Well, that is where we will stop for today. Next week, we will pick up talking about Daniel’s discernment and Daniel’s deliverance. I hope you have a wonderful evening! Let’s close with prayer.