Sermon series: Covenant Faithfulness
Connection to unit theme
Though the geographical location of God's people changed, by being exiled to Babylon, their calling to remain pure and holy did not.
To End All Wars is the true story of a group of Allied prisoners in a Japanese labor camp during World War II. In one scene the prisoners discuss what they will do when the war is over. One soldier will get married, another plans to be a teacher. But when they ask the Colonel what he will do, he simply says, "Start preparing for the next war."
We Christians in our war against sin, the world, and the devil, experience something similar. When one war ends, another rises to take its place. We never stop fighting against sin and temptation, at least in this life. God's people, regardless of their circumstances, have always been called to be holy. Even while in exile, God expected the people of Israel to be His set-apart nation (Jer. 29:5-14).
Daniel and his companions are great reminders of how we can remain holy, even in times of distress, pain, and suffering. Let's see how we can learn from their example as we examine Daniel 1:1-17.
I. Look for God's sovereign hand during suffering (vv.1-5)
The book of Daniel is clear, as is the rest of the Bible, that God is sovereign over all things. Even the sufferings that His people experience are simply tools in His loving hand to bring about good. Verse 2 is clear that the primary cause of the exile was the Lord. He is the one who gave Jerusalem into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. We cannot overlook Judah's sinfulness or undervalue Babylon's might. But we must not think that God was uninvolved or passive in all these events. He is the one who sent them into exile (Ezek. 39:28). He is the one who rules the kingdom of men (Dan. 4:17).
The story of Joseph in Egypt is a glorious picture of seeing God's hand in suffering. He, like Judah, experienced an exile. Due to his brother's betrayal, he found himself in the foreign and idolatrous nation of Egypt. Yet God was with Joseph and he prospered. At the end of Genesis, he says to his brothers, "You planned evil against me; God planned it for good" (Gen. 50:20; cf. Ps. 105:17).
Application: This is how we must understand our suffering. Although our sin may have led us into a difficult situation, we can look to God's good and sovereign hand. We can trust that He has not utterly abandoned us. We can examine ourselves, repent of our sins, and resolve to walk in obedience to His commands. The temptation to let go of God is strong when we suffer. But we must hold fast to Him, and let Him work all things for good (Rom. 8:28).
II. Seek the good of those around you (vv. 5-7)
Daniel and his friends were to be trained in the ways of Babylon for three years and then enter the king's service. We should note that none of them resisted this plan. In fact, even when their names were changed to align with the gods of Babylon, the Hebrew youths never opposed the decision. They did well by submitting to the authority and rule of the king, even one as wicked and idolatrous as Nebuchadnezzar. This is consistent with Jeremiah 29:5-14, in which God tells those in exile to seek the welfare and good of the city.
Christians have much to learn from this. Being holy during suffering and pain often means seeking the good of others. When we are suffering it is so easy to turn inward and focus primarily on our own pain and hurt. We can forget the needs of those around us, even when they are greater than our own. God can and wants to use us for His glory and the good of those around us in our suffering.
Application: The Gospel gives us poise and confidence during suffering that can be attractive to non-Christians. Are you letting God use you during such times?
III. Remain faithful to God in all things (vv.8-16)
Tremper Longman III argues that Daniel refrained from the king's food to show the real source of his strength. If he and his friends ate the king's food, it would show that Babylon was the source of their strength and stamina. However, not eating the food meant their source came from elsewhere. Longman says, "Their robust appearance, usually attained by a rich fare of meats and wine, is miraculously achieved through a diet of vegetables. Only God could have done it" (NIVAC).
Daniel, though in a foreign and strange land, never lost sight of the one true God. He resolved to remain faithful and trust in Yahweh. He understood that no amount of material possessions and blessings (like the king's delicacies) could sustain and secure him. Only God was his refuge and rock. C.S. Lewis wrote, "He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only."
Application: Suffering reveals our functional hope and trust. We see clearly how we often run to the wrong things to find security, refuge, and comfort. What have you relied on as your hope apart from God? What experience, dream, or possession is often your source of strength? Will you resolve to remain holy to God in all things? Will you run to Him?
Hebrews reminds us to glance at the example of men like Daniel (11:33). But we must not stop there. We must turn our eyes on the greater Daniel and gaze upon Him (Heb. 12:1-3). We must fix our eyes on Jesus who, though righteous, experienced the ultimate exile on the cross. He was forsaken to bring us in, and abandoned so God might welcome us. Only by trusting and treasuring him can we be holy in our times of suffering and exile.