A long way from Home.
In 1953 When the Queen was crowned, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland handed a Bible to the new Monarch With these words “This book is the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is wisdom; this is the Royal law; these are the lively Oracles of God.”
I wonder if there were to be a coronation in 2006 if the same would happen. The world in which we live has changed. Within living memory, the church has had great influence in this nation, but now that influence is in decline, and more and more Bible believing Christians are regarded as anachronistic and irrelevant.
This morning we are going to begin a new series which I am going to call “A long way from home.” We are going to be looking at some of the OT passages that describe the experience of God’s people when they were “A long way from home” because I believe that those passages of Scripture have something significant to say to the church in our generation.
So what was the exile?
If you would like to take a Bible I’d like to just do a few minutes sketch of the History of Israel in the Old Testament.
- Creation: Adam and Eve
- Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Joseph
- Exodus: Moses
- Conquest: Joshua 1400BC
- Judges: Deborah, Gideon, Samson, Eli, Samuel: 1375-1040BC
- Kings: Saul, David and Solomon. Division of the kingdoms Israel and Judah.
That the experience of the church in the West in our day is not dissimilar to the experience of God’s people in the period of exile in the OT, and that there are therefore important things that we can learn by looking at the passages of scripture that come from that period.
What will we look at?
Daniel, Esther and we may finish by looking at Jeremiah’s letter to those who have been taken into exile.
Read Daniel Chapter 1
The book of Daniel begins with some historical information. It tells us that In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. What we know is that this was the beginning of the end for Jerusalem and Judah. Over one hundred years before in 722BC Israel had fallen to Assyria.
Then in around 5 years before the beginning of Daniel Babylon had defeated Assyria, and later Egypt and had become the dominant world power.
At the beginning of Daniel Judah becomes a vassal state, an outpost of Babylonian power and over the next twenty five years it will rebel and fall, and then later be utterly destroyed.
And so Daniel begins with shocking history. That Jerusalem, God’s city, where the temple was, where God met with people, the centre of Jewish worship is defeated, and worse, some of the vessels of the house of God are taken for use in the temple of a Babylonian deity.
And anyone caught up in this might be expected to think “what has happened? Has God lost his edge? How can the holy city be under Babylonian rule? How can the holy things from the temple be stolen and used in idol worship Has God gone away?”
This brings us to the first thing that we need to notice in the passage:
God still reigns.
When you are a long way from home, the temptation will be to forget that God reigns.
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia [a] and put in the treasure house of his god.
You see verse 1 on it’s own is purely secular history. If you had just verse one on it’s own you could be forgiven for thinking that “stuff just happens” History swings from one moment to another, nations rise and nations fall and that’s the way of the world.
Verse 2 however tells us why it happened. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand. The book of Daniel begins with a conviction that God is in charge, things do not happen by accident. This is the beginning of God’s judgment on Judah, that Jeremiah and other’s had spoken about.
This is such an important idea for us to get our heads around. The idea that even in exile; even in Babylon, God is in heaven and he reigns. Nebuchadnezzar may think that as ruler of Babylon he determines what happens but he will find out that there is a God in heaven who reigns.
You see in the crisis moments of life, when the awful things happen when there is bereavement or broken hearts or sorrow there is a temptation to dethrone God.
I was speaking with a friend this week who has been through such a dark place the last couple of months in a way that was just such a shock when it came along. He was able to say that he feels that he has come out of that experience with “his belief in the sovereignty of God intact,”
Sometimes we don’t know why, sometimes we are left with great questions
What the world will do to you
When you are a long way from home the world will try and squeeze you into it’s mould.
Notice with me verses 3-7. There is a temptation here to see this as the benevolence of Nebuchadnezzar. He was a nice guy who liked to think of himself as a bit of a philanthropist so he gives some bright young guys from Judah a bit of a start in life….
Except that is not what is going on here. Nebuchadnezzar has just conquered Jerusalem. He now has the problem faced by any winning general. How do I maintain order, and how do I keep Jerusalem in it’s place as a part of the Babylonian Empire.
And in these verses we see that he has a cunning plan. It is a plan to brainwash the brightest and best from Jerusalem. It is a plan to change their world view, and turn them into Babylonians.
What do I mean by world view? I mean that set of attitudes that we have formed in us by the culture to which we belong. The values and priorities that we have that shape who we are and condition us and what we believe.
So what is Nebuchadnezzar’s plan? And what can we learn from it about the world’s attempt to form our world view. How can we avoid becoming Babylonians? How can we avoid being squeezed into the world’s mould.
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in 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. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. [b] 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. 6 Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
Notice what happens. First he isolates them from their piers and their families from the temple and the regular worship of God. (v3) He takes them out of the environment where a God centered world view is nurtured and instead isolates them so that they can be filled with a Babylonian world view.
We need to guard against becoming isolated as God’s people because we are in such peril on our own. When we drift from being together in fellowship we are so vulnerable to “becoming Babylonian.” Not just being together. Hebrews 10:24 says:
24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Secondly he has them indoctrinated. (v4) They are to be taught the language and literature of the Babylonians. Why teach Israelites Babylonian poems? Because we are what we are because of the stories that shape us and help us interpret the world around you. What stories did these young men learn as they grew up? They would have been taught about Adam and Eve and Abraham, and Moses and Joshua, and David and Bathsheba. God centered stories that formed the foundation for faith. What would Babylonian literature teach them? I don’t know, but not that there was a God in heaven who invited people to have faith in him, A God who redeemed people, A God who gave victory, A God who honored worshipful obedience, and hated sin.
What literature do you get most of? What stories shape you. Television and Film? “The triumph of humanity” Human centered thinking. Are you staying rooted in the literature of home? I just this week finished the OT again. And I’m so pleased that I can get into the stories again! Read Abraham, Moses, Caleb, Joshua etc. Let these stories shape your life. Read Jesus, Read Paul let that shape how you see the world.
Thirdly he gives them the best that Babylon has to offer. (v5) Just look at this! They get offered food right from the table of the king. And they don’t want to eat it! Some of you are thinking: “they are mad!”
Why? Maybe they knew that it had been consecrated to a Babylonian Deity, It’s clear that there is an issue, eating and drinking would have meant defilement, but here Daniel draws a line. He resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. And with graciousness and tact and diplomacy, Daniel asks for an alternative which he gets.
There are so many who go Babylonian over this issue. Give them the very best says Nebuchadnezzar shower them with luxury, see if they prefer Jerusalem then!
We need to be so careful don’t we. There is no doubt that wealth and luxury can be like a bucket of water on the fires of a passionate heart. What a tragedy it would be to have a big house and a nice car and a cold heart. One of the texts that bothers me, and should bother us is Luke 8:14 where Jesus explaining the parable of the sower says: The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. Maybe you have hankered for more. Have you ever thanked God that he has given all that you needed.
Fourth he messes with their sense of who they are. (v7) The chief official renames these young men. There are some commentators who will tell you that this was just because the Babylonians found it hard to pronounce words like Daniel. I am sure this wrong.
Listen to the meanings of the names that their parents gave them. Daniel means “God is my judge.” Hananiah means “Yahweh (or God) is gracious” Mishael means “Who is what God is” and Azariah means “Yahweh has helped!” Now do you notice a theme developing here? They have God centered names. And instead they are given names that relate to Babylonian God’s Abednego for example means servant of Nego.
The community of faith, flawed though it was, that these young men came from was a God centered community. When they had kids they named them in ways that honored God, and that acknowledged that life was lived out under his care, in response to him and with his help. And now they are given new names, new identities by those who care for them now that exalt the God’s of Babylon. Babylon says now you are Abednego, now you are a servant of Nego.
So how do we avoid becoming Babylonian? Who tells you who you are? God’s tells you who you are in his word, and the world will tell you all the time who you are. Whose voice will you listen to? Listen to the voice of truth!
Faithfulness despite what the world will do to you
When you are a long way from home you may need to take a stand on things that matter.
Let’s draw out attention to verse 8-16. As Nebuchadnezzar’s plan unfolds we have seen the resolve not defile themselves with the food and wine from the king’s table, and so Daniel speaks with diplomacy and offers an alternative.
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your [c] food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”
11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
I find myself wondering at verses 12-13. There is such faith in God implied. This was a bold suggestion to make. Do you get the sense here that Daniel feels that they are not in this alone? This is one of the reasons why the idea of God reigning is so important. It brings with it the conviction in these moments when an individual or a church has to resolve not to defile itself the utter conviction we are not in this alone!
If the day comes when We need to take such a stand so as not to defile ourselves I pray that we will do it with the grace, wisdom and conviction of Daniel.
God honors faithfulness
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 in, 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.
There is a sense in which you could say at the end of the story “So what? They didn’t eat dodgy food whatever does that achieve in the purposes of God?” By the end of Daniel chapter 1 not much has happened, but there has been a preparation for the future. Look at verse 17 God gives Daniel an anointing for the future to understand dreams and visions. This is central to the way in which God will use him.
In the day of “no big deal” obedience, God equips for the more moments days to come. Your obedience today may not shake the heavens and the earth, but it may prepare you for an anointing and a day that will.
In their refusal to bow to the pressure of conform they become excellent. You know the world’s way is not better. The superiority of Daniel and his friends is recognized by a pagan king
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.
There is one in the eye for Babylon! They had refused the whole reprogramming package, they had held on to the values of home. They had refused to defile themselves and the king found them ten times better than anything Babylon produced. Praise God that he honors his servants!
Where are you from? Where is your home? We may be a long way from home, but God is in heaven and he reigns. We may daily face the pressure to conform to buy in to a world view that displaces God. Don’t give in resolve not to be defiled, and Be with God’s people, read the literature of home. Be faithful in all things, be obedient in the small things and there will be a greater anointing for tomorrow.
Oh that we would be found to be ten times better than all the gurus, spiritual advisors and so called wise people of our generation.!