God Is Sovereign – Daniel 1

Do you believe that God is in control of all things, the big things and the small things? Some of those big things might be; do you believe that God is in control of Governments, Empires, and Kingdoms? Some of those small things might be; do you believe that God is in control of your life? Do you have confidence that whatever happens to you in life, God is still in control? What I’m actually asking you is do you believe that God is ultimately in control or sovereign in all things, over Governments and your life? Now how we view God in our lives, and over the world scene, will also dictate how much confidence, or faith, we place in God.

Daniel and his three friends were taken from their homeland into captivity by an religious system designed to brainwash them into becoming wise men in the court of the King Nebuchadnezzar. Through Daniel’s example of how he stood by the principles that God had laid down regarding food offered to idols we shall see how he had faith that God was sovereign over Nebuchadnezzar.

Introduction

However, before we look deeper into this account by way of introduction, let’s just lay some groundwork about the Book of Daniel. Now the Book of Daniel is a very exciting book because it has lots to tell us about how we, as Christians, should live in a society antagonistic towards us and God. It is a Book that is relevant to young people (teenagers) and to Christian’s in their 80’s.  For instance, here in chapter 1, Daniel was about 15 or 16 when he and his friends were taken to Babylon and he was in his early 80’s when he faced the lion’s den in chapter 6; proving somewhat that you never retire from God’s service and neither do the trials!

Daniel is prophetic apocalyptic narrative (that is, it speaks of events related to the end of the world) and divided into two halves. Chapters 1 – 6 deal with Daniels life and Chapters 7 – 12 deal with the visions and dreams that God gave Daniel regarding his present time and the future. Some of which came true after Daniels time and some is yet to occur.

Why should we study Daniel? Well Daniel’s story parallel’s our own time in history. He lived and served in a pagan country for pagan rulers and was very much in the minority. From his life we can draw many useful principles to encourage us to live for Christ, in a world filled with people who do not share our faith.

Now let’s just bring some context to where in the history of Israel the book of Daniel sits. Due to King Solomon’s unfaithfulness towards God the Kingdom of Israel was split into two Kingdom’s; Judah in the South of the land of Canaan and Israel in the North. Just over a hundred years before Daniel, the Northern Kingdom of 10 tribes had been defeated and taken into captivity by Assyria, which left the Southern Kingdom, Judah, by herself.

Nebuchadnezzar – Used By God

So verses 1 and 2 of Daniel set the scene of what has happened to the Southern Kingdom; Judah. Due to Judah’s continued disobedience to God, He raised up Nebuchadnezzar to besiege it and take Jehoiakim and the cream of the Jewish elite back to Babylon. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to Judah since Jeremiah, Isaiah, Habakkuk, Micah and Zephaniah had all warned this would happen, if Judah continued in their disobedience.

We notice something here in verse 2 that is indeed very scary…

“And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand,” Daniel 2:2a

The Lord gave Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. It wasn’t the fact that Nebuchadnezzar had a mightier army than Judah or their army was better equipped or anything else that humanly speaking would have appeared to give Nebuchadnezzar an advantage over Judah. No, rather because of Judah’s disobedience God used Nebuchadnezzar as an instrument in His own hand and delivered Jehoiakim, the King of Judah, into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. God would rather His people to be taken into captivity by pagans than living like pagans in the Holy Land and dishonouring His name.

For us today we that those Nations that principally loved the Lord and sought to bring honour to His Name, when they departed from His ways, God took away His blessing. And we don’t have to look far for an example. Our own Nation used have what was known as the British Empire and the boast was that the sun never set on the British Empire because it was so large. However that is no longer true since we are now a Nation that has long since departed from God’s ways and God has removed that blessing.

We notice something else in verse 2…

“and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.” Daniel 2:2c

By taking some of the articles from the Temple, Nebuchadnezzar was proclaiming that his god was more powerful than the God of the Jews; our God. This was standard practice in the ancient world.

We find that Christians in Muslim dominated schools can find themselves thinking that our God is smaller than their god because they are marginalised. However the opposite is very much true. Just like Daniel who was very much in the minority surrounded by people who believed in a false god, God shows Himself to be much bigger by being real. Their false gods are unable to speak or hear and it’s in chapter 5 we see the penalty upon Belshazzar for using these articles from the temple with the writing on the wall by the invisible hand.

This teaches us two things of God’s character.

  1. Even though people are free to make their own personal choices, God will still bring about His purposes. Because God is sovereign He overrules and without realising it Nebuchadnezzar was used by God to bring about His judgement on His people fulfilling the prophecies that had been foretold by His prophets.
  2. Secondly this also teaches us that when He is not permitted to rule in the hearts of appointed leaders, He will overrule and still bring about His purposes. Jehoiakim did not listen to God and rule according to His word. As a result God overruled him and removed him from the land.

Our God is never surprised by world events since history is ‘His Story’. God is very much in control, even if at the time, just like the Jews in Daniel’s day, they couldn’t see how. God is sovereign and once we realise how sovereign God is it makes us not fear the world, it alters our understanding of how powerful God actually is. He overrules the affairs of Men as we stand firm for Him. It also teaches us that we cannot compromise on our values and we’ll see now from Daniel’s life how this is true.

Daniel – Used By God

Before we do that, let me ask you another question. As a Christian, are you in a minority in your place of work? Are you the only Christian in your family?

Being the the only Christian in a family or a place of work can be hard because our behaviour and the way in which we act, is scrutinised. It is a constant challenge for us to prayerfully be ambassadors for Christ’s Kingdom.

We might be a minority in our families or our places of work but as we shall see from Daniel’s life, who was also in a minority, standing firm on Biblical principles wins God’s favour.

Now in verses 3 to 7 we are given a good description of Daniel and his friends and type of people they were. They were from nobility and we read in verse 4,

“young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand” Daniel 1:4a

It was standard practice in ancients times to take the crème de la crème of the conquered nation to serve in the government help you better understand the conquered nation and benefit from their skills. Even so, again, without knowing it, Ashpenaz had selected Daniel and his friends as part of the faithful remnant of Judah for God’s purposes.

So here is Daniel and his friends isolated from their homeland and indoctrinated into a new schooling system that was completely pagan.

Who has had to learn all about evolution at school? Evolution contradicts the Genesis account of God creating the world and animals in 6 days and yet we have to learn it in order to pass the exams. Daniel was no different in that he had to learn about the occult practices, such as omens, superstitions, myths and legends, and well as scientific formulae for skills such as glass-making, astrology and mathematics.

We read later that Daniel excelled in his understanding of these things when he had to sit his final exam which was an interview by King Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel and his friends were also given new names to confuse them. The changing of names occurs throughout the Bible but it is often God or Jesus, doing the name changing for the better and not the worse as we read here. All of the name changes replace God in the name for the false gods of Babylon.

Daniel (“God is my Judge”) became Belteshazzar (“Bel, protect his life”).

Hananiah (“The Lord is gracious”) became Shadrach (“Command of Aku”, the Sumerian sun-god).

Mishael (“Who is like the Lord?”) became Meshach (“Who is what Aku is?”).

Azariah (“The Lord is my helper”) became Abednego (“Servant of Nebo,” another Babylonian god).

The real sticking point for Daniel was that they were given a new diet that God had strictly forbidden them not to partake in. Daniel knew the Law concerning food as laid down in Leviticus 17 that forbid them to eat food offered to idols. The kings food was likely offered to idols.

For us today we are not bound by these same rules that were laid down in Leviticus because all foods are now permissible to us as we see in Colossians 2:16,

“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths”

and again from Jesus own words in Mark 7:18 – 20,

“So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.”

In essence eating food does not defile us, it does not make us sin. However in the popular press there have been articles about the meat that we eat being halal, which is the Arabic word for ‘permissible’ meaning permissible for a Muslim to eat. In 2014 the Subway chain announced that it removed ham and bacon from almost 200 outlets, and switched to halal meat alternatives in an attempt to please its Muslim customers. It confirmed turkey ham and turkey rashers are used instead in 185 of its stores, where all the meat is prepared according to halal rules.

So what is halal meat, and as Christians should we be concerned that meat is being prepared according to Islamic practices?

According to Wikipedia, Halal meat is prepared by a “Muslim, who must precede the slaughter (of an animal) by invoking the name of Allah, most commonly by saying “Bismillah” (“In the name of God”) and then three times “Allahu akbar” (God is the greatest). Then, the animal must be slaughtered….. Lastly, the blood …..must be drained.

If we eat halal meat knowingly or unknowingly, it does not make us sin before God because it has first been offered to a false god but rather, as it says in 1 Timothy 4:4-5,

“… every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

Do you ‘say grace’, that is, thank God, for your food before you eat it? The principle here is that we should thank God before we eat anything because this sanctifies the food, or makes it spiritually clean, before we eat it.

So Daniel determining that he did not want to eat from the Kings table and not wanting to offend Ashpenaz, asked him to test them for ten days by eating only vegetables. We read that the end of the ten days,

” their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies.” Daniel 1:15

Today Daniel’s diet or fast from meat has been turned into a pseudo-spiritual food detox money spinner with the likes of Rick Warren from Saddleback Church in California endorsing the “The Daniel Plan“. Others have written books claiming lots of health benefits from following a vegetable-only diet. All of this of course misses the point that these verses convey, that by being faithful to God’s Word, it was a chance to glorify God and God blessed them as a result. They followed their faith, their conviction of what the scriptures say and not their diet; and we should do the same.

Daniel – Blessed By God

Daniel and his friends were blessed by God in a clear demonstration of Matthew 6:33,

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Whatever the circumstances surrounding the food that was from the kings table, to Daniel it would have been a compromise and he was not prepared to compromise. Because of his resolve, God blessed him and his friends in appearance and furthermore we read in verse 17,

“As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”

Did you notice how much they had been blessed? God blessed them mightily with knowledge and skill in ALL literature and wisdom and for Daniel he also had understanding of ALL visions and dreams. Wow! What a blessing! Because Daniel and his friends had stood gently on this principle of not compromising on the food they were given, God blessed them mightily. For us we can see that as we trust God and stand uncompromisingly on his Word, we too will be blessed by Him because God doesn’t change.

Finally we read in verse 19 and 20 that Daniel and his friends passed the final exam with flying colours. In verse 20 the word ‘examined’ actually means to be examined and compared. So the King chose the best of the best from that years intake. They were better at what they did than the ALL of the magicians and astrologers that were in ALL of his kingdom. A bit like ‘Babylon’s Got Talent’ with only the king, Nebuchadnezzar, on the judging panel, hand-picking the best performers. Daniel and his friends were 10 times better than the others, not through their own merits like the TV show but rather because they trusted in God and God had divinely blessed them.

Us – Used By God?

So the challenge for today is, whether we are in positions of authority or simply a student at school or college, are we going to be used by God to transform the society we live in around us or are we going to conform to this world’s thinking? Do we believe that God is in complete control (sovereign) over our society and wants to be glorified through our lives for Him?

We can see from this chapter that because God is sovereign, He brings about His purposes, regardless of what national leaders might dictate or what personal choices people make. God is in complete control of world events as well as our personal lives.

Also in Romans 12:1-2 says,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform 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.”

We see from the example of Daniels life that he knew what the Word said concerning food from the kings table, he resolved to not compromise on his faith and was blessed by God for standing firm. He was used by God to transform the mind of Ashpenaz and Nebuchadnezzar, and other rulers, for the glory of God in a pagan land. Because Daniel was not conformed to the pattern (that is, the thinking) of this world and he knew the Word of God, he transformed those around him.

What are you; a conformer or a transformer?

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