|Daniel, a key Old Testament prophet, is one
of my favorite young heroes. He lived in the time of Israel’s greatest
disaster – during the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple, and the
Babylonian exile of many of its people.
In the Book of Daniel we read the firsthand account of Daniel being
deported from Jerusalem to Babylon, along with three friends, Hananiah,
Mishael, and Azariah. When Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, conquered Jerusalem
in 606 B.C., he decided to bring back some of the best and the brightest
of the youth of Israel to become his servants, to be taught the culture
and language of Babylon, and to be assimilated into what he considered
to be the vastly superior Babylonian culture.
How did Daniel and his three companions react to their deportation and
new life in Babylon?
They could have chosen to be resentful towards their captors, and in
anger rant against them: “These are the rats who destroyed our nation,
wrecked our city, tore down the house of God and stole the holy things,
blinded our king and took us off into captivity.” Like an underground resistance
movement, seeking to undermine both culture and society, they could have
chosen to act as “God’s terrorists” and try to take it down.
Did they experience shame and insecurity before the apparently stronger
victorious culture they were now immersed in? They could have reasoned
that the safest thing to do was to simply to huddle in a corner, keep their
head down, and hope that their captives would just leave them alone. But
that would amount to living like a coward.
Another option they might have considered was to assimilate to the new
culture with open-arms and open-heart. “If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em…”
That would have required a readiness to forget who I really am, and just
jump right into living like everyone else around me. A decision to
simply accept the prevailing culture, go along with it, be shaped by its
values and its customs, and look as much as possible just like everyone
else. A lot of the Jews in exile probably did this. You know
what happened to them? They disappeared. Their lives proved relatively
meaningless for God’s greater purpose for his people and for the world.
Daniel and his three friends chose none of these options. They chose
instead the course which the prophet Jeremiah gave:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the
exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses
and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have
sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in
marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do
not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into
exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will
find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
Jeremiah’s instruction was very simple. Know who you are in God.
Love who you are in God. Be who you are wherever God places you.
Live in great hope, and grow as a people of God. Live for him and
with him, and love those around you with his heart.
Models for today
In a number of ways I think that Daniel and his friends are excellent
models for young Christians today:
Daniel and his friends were all naturally very bright, talented, and good-looking
(you can read the description in the first chapter of the Book of Daniel).
However, Daniel and his friends did not rely upon their natural benefits
for their success in life. Nor did they allow the low reputation
of their people to be a reason to evade identification with them, or to
call into question their fidelity to God.
Daniel and his friends were young.
They found themselves living in a foreign culture, which generally paid
no attention to their faith, and when it did, was relatively hostile to
Furthermore, they found themselves in circumstances in which they were
being taught the wisdom of this foreign and unbelieving culture, and they
had face the strength of this culture directly, on their own.
Their own people were passing through a very bad time during the Babylonian
exile. They did not enjoy a good reputation, or much honor. It wasn’t
a big advantage to be associated with the people of God, and the temptation
for these young people to be ashamed of their own people, and to avoid
being associated with them, must have been considerable.
boldness, and humility
Somehow, and for some reason known only to God, these young people
were chosen by the Lord for a particular mission. God’s hand was upon them;
his grace was with them; and they knew it. What was their response to the
challenges of this situation? They chose to stand together in the Lord
and to act with faith, courage, boldness, and humility. And God was able
to do a great work through these young people – far beyond what they could
have expected or even hoped for.
As we can see from these verses, Daniel obviously had a lot going for
him, and it would have been a strong temptation for him to do his best
to look like the “winners”, the “beautiful people” of the society around
him, to assimilate as much as he could, to make his background very low
profile, to become practically indistinguishable from the other promising
and gifted young people around him. Many of the other young Jews
who were deported to Babylon probably did just that. They are not mentioned
here in the book of Daniel, or anywhere else, because their lives proved
meaningless. They didn’t make a difference with their lives. They had no
impact for the Lord of any great weight, and they have been utterly forgotten.
Standing out from
Daniel and his three friends stand out from the crowd. Not because
they were more handsome, nor more naturally gifted with grace, charm, intelligence,
or anything else. Rather, because they were faithful to the Lord and to
their people, and to the covenant which God had established with them.
They knew who they were, and they were not ashamed of it. They knew who
the Lord was, and they were true to him.
Their fidelity was costly. It required faith, courage, and boldness
on their part, and put them at various points in mortal danger. It also
put them in a place to be blessed and used by the Lord in extraordinary
ways that resulted in their being placed in ever higher roles of influence
and of authority in the society/culture that they were called upon to live
in. This in turn required of them even greater care, vigilance, and fidelity.
It made them even more the target of enemies who feared their influence
and authority; the accusations and attacks of enemies only increased the
need to respond to their circumstances in faith, in righteousness, with
boldness, courage, and humility.
In Chapter 1 in the Book of Daniel (verses 8-16) we read how Daniel
decided firmly in his own heart that he would not defile himself by partaking
of a number of the pleasant and desirable things that were offered to him
in his favored role. They were things that were forbidden by the Law, but
hey, everyone was eating them and enjoying them, and besides, he had to
eat something and this was what was available. Even from the point of view
of being prudent and reasonable, you could make a good case that it could
have been acceptable for Daniel to take part in what was being given to
But in his zeal for the Lord and for the covenant which his people had
with the Lord, Daniel not only didn’t wimp out, he decided that he wouldn’t
settle for normal prudence. Rather, he would boldly go out on a limb, and
in faith he would give the Lord the chance to do something extraordinary
for him and in him.
First Daniel went to the chief eunuch and asked for special consideration
(see verse 8, Chapter 1). This was already rocking the boat, and could
have been asking for trouble. He risked the possible displeasure, anger,
and rejection of the chief eunuch – on the one hand, trusting that the
Lord would give him favor in his eyes, but on the other hand, also being
ready to face the consequences if the Lord chose not to do so. As it turned
out, the Lord did give him favor and compassion in the eyes of the chief
eunuch. However, the man was (reasonably enough) afraid for his own skin
(because it was the king himself who had decided what the young people
would eat), and was reluctant to make the kind of exception that Daniel
and his friends were requesting.
Daniel and his friends took a deeper and more radical plunge in faith
(see verses 11-13, Chapter 1). Running the risk of getting into serious
trouble with the chief eunuch, they went to the eunuch’s steward to propose
a test that relied completely upon the sovereign intervention of God in
his life. Putting themselves completely in the Lord’s hands, they proposed
that the results of the test would be so clear and apparent that the steward
himself could make his own decision after observing those results. They
also found favor in the steward’s eyes, and he agreed to the test. Daniel
and his friends went onto a very strict vegetarian diet that would be safely
keep them within the dietary demands of the Law, hoping in the Lord for
results that were totally beyond their control. The steward must have been
blown away by their request: healthy young men asking to not have
to eat the meat, the deserts, or to drink the wine, so that they could
live on vegetables and water? This is a serious sacrifice of love
in itself on the part of Daniel and his friends – a three year special
God acted in these young men of faith, courage, boldness, and humility,
anointing them in a special way (see verses 14-16, Chapter 1). They had
shown themselves capable of standing firm for the Lord, of going against
the current around them. This opened the way for the Lord to give them
extraordinary grace, and to cause them to stand out – again, not merely
on the basis of their personal merits, but on the basis of an anointing
for greatness that the Lord himself was giving them.
It was manifested in two different ways: First, they end up with better
color, health, and physical vitality than any of the others around them,
who supposedly were eating much better. The 10-day test became a
three year program, and the Lord sustained and strengthened them supernaturally.
Second, they were granted by God a degree of wisdom and insight so far
above that of the other youths that they became standouts even among the
established wise men and magicians of the realm (see verses 17-20, Chapter
1). God wanted them to stand out, so that he could glorify himself through
them. Beyond this, Daniel was given a spiritual gift of understanding visions
and dreams. It is this gift which makes him famous in the kingdom, and
which makes him one of the four great prophets of the Old Testament. God
also gave them favor in the eyes of king Nebachudnezzar, who gave them
a special place before him, and throughout his reign the king found their
wisdom and counsel 10 times better than that of anyone else among his wise
men, enchanters, and magicians.
Lessons for today
I think we should examine Daniel’s example very deeply. This
is not just a nice story. It is instruction from the word of God about
how to live as young people in an alien culture in a way that is faithful
to God, and available for the mission that he is entrusting to us. It would
have been so normal, so easy, so obvious for Daniel and his friends to
take the safe way, to follow the crowd, to not rock the boat, to not do
something in their faithfulness to God that would make them look strange
They recognized that, even in a situation of many challenges and difficulties,
they had a special identity, a call from the Lord. They pursued fidelity
to the Lord with a humble boldness that won them the favor of those whose
favor they needed. They went out on a limb in their trust that God would
intervene on their behalf, that the Lord would use them where he had placed
them, and that their best response in every circumstance would be faith
and faithfulness, with a blending of boldness and humility which allowed
lots of room for grace to do its work.
They didn’t take the easy way, nor the coward’s way.
They didn’t allow themselves to be seduced by the offer of wealth, power,
They also didn’t take the hostile and aggressive way that would see their
surrounding culture as the enemy.
Let’s choose to follow their example and allow the Lord to strengthen
us in faith, courage, boldness, and humility.
month Part II: Faithfulness and Courage Under Fire
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego]
Book of Daniel
In the third year of the reign of Jehoi'akim king of Judah, Nebuchadnez'zar
king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave
Jehoi'akim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the
house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of
his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.
the king commanded Ash'penaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people
of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without
blemish, handsome and skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding
learning, and competent to serve in the king's palace, and to teach them
the letters and language of the Chalde'ans.
king assigned them a daily portion of the rich food which the king ate,
and of the wine which he drank. They were to be educated for three years,
and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6 Among
these were Daniel, Hanani'ah, Mish'a-el, and Azari'ah of the tribe of Judah.
7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshaz'zar,
Hanani'ah he called Shadrach, Mish'a-el he called Meshach, and Azari'ah
he called Abed'nego.
Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's rich food,
or with the wine which he drank; therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs
to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion
in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs; 10 and the chief of the eunuchs
said to Daniel, "I fear lest my lord the king, who appointed your food
and your drink, should see that you were in poorer condition than the youths
who are of your own age. So you would endanger my head with the king."
Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had appointed
over Daniel, Hanani'ah, Mish'a-el, and Azari'ah; 12 "Test your servants
for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13
Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's
rich food be observed by you, and according to what you see deal with your
So he hearkened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15
At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance
and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's rich food. 16
So the steward took away their rich food and the wine they were to drink,
and gave them vegetables.
As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all letters
and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be
brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnez'zar.
19 And the king spoke with them, and among them all none was found like
Daniel, Hanani'ah, Mish'a-el, and Azari'ah; therefore they stood before
And in every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king
inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians
and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. 21 And Daniel continued until
the first year of King Cyrus.
Keating is Vice-President of the Sword of the Spirit and a frequent speaker
for Kairos and Sword of the Spirit conferences and retreats. He is an elder
in the Servants of the Word, a missionary brotherhood of men living single
for the Lord. He currently lives in Manila, Philippines.