“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16.33).
In Part 4, we examined the text of Daniel 1. There are some important propositions we should consider in light of the passage. You may want to review Part 3 to refresh the biblical-theological theme of “Babylon.”
In Babylon, bad things happen to Christians.
If Daniel and his friends were so faithful and committed to God then why didn’t God protect them from deportation? Why not swoop in with another powerful rescue like he’d done before? Why force Daniel into a pagan culture requiring a pagan education?
Because in Babylon, bad things happen to God’s people. Jesus didn’t pull a bait-and-switch on us. He was clear: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16.33b).
We are part of a sinful world. We live under the effects of a curse. And whether or not we’re personally responsible for certain consequences, we are part of what’s gone wrong wrong with this world (cf. Rom 5.12, 19). In a sinful the world, the righteous suffer the consequences of the unrighteous. God is judging the world which means we must suffer collateral effects of that judgment. So Christians die in tornadoes and earthquakes. Christians suffer terrorist attacks, lose their jobs and die from cancer.
Why is your life so hard? Why does your life seem “unfair”? What did you do to deserve this? You were born outside of Eden. You are a child of Adam and responsible for a world given to Satan and sin. Jesus has begun putting everything right again, but until he returns we pray in hope.
What is God doing while we’re living in Babylon? He’s honoring Jesus’ prayer that Satan not get the best of us (Jn 17.15). God is sanctifying you. As an ambassador from the New Jerusalem, you are sent by God into Babylon on a search-and-rescue mission. We preach the gospel so that his children will one day be liberated from Babylon and return home to Paradise.
In Babylon, we’re to be convicted without being mean.
We cannot help but notice the gentility and respect Daniel showed his captors. He drew the line at the king’s buffet, but he didn’t mount some obnoxious protest or launch a smear campaign. He was winsome and quiet. He patiently and respectfully worked within the system, believing God to honor his faith.
Joseph was a similar example, who held tightly to his convictions while serving as Pharaoh’s right hand man. Paul was another example, who when standing before King Agrippa spoke with the highest respect for him (Acts 26.2-3).
Too often we have the idea to be strongly convicted means we must the loudest and most defiant. Any sign of deference or respect for opposing convictions, especially pagan polytheism, is a sign of capitulation. But it’s not.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves to God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gently, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” (1 Pt 2.13-20)
Let’s not mistake being “persecuted” for our faith with being persecuted for being a jerk about our faith (see Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church). Daniel did not start www.godhatespaganpolytheists.com. He put God on display so that God was seen as most precious to Daniel.
This doesn’t mean we refuse to speak out against sin and defend God’s name against all others. But we do it in a way that makes much of God rather than making much of our making much of him. We must be known for what we are for (the glory of God in the gospel) more than what we’re against (all those sinners out there).
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses (2 Cor 10.3-4).
Those weapons are the preaching of the gospel and witness of the church. So we don’t bomb abortion clinics; we adopt kids. We don’t hurl insults: we pray and proclaim the excellencies of Jesus.
In Babylon, we live by faith in God’s providence.
Daniel didn’t kick against the goads or spend his days planning his escape. He didn’t pout about a bad hand God dealt him. God was being true to his word. Daniel settled himself into 70 years surrounded by all things Babylonian. He would spend most of his life there and trusted God to use him there.
We can be easily tempted that God is always working where the sun shines. If we want to be used by God then we need to get out this job, church, marriage, life and be in another one. But you are where you are by God’s providence (cf. 1 Cor 7.21-24).
Generally speaking, we don’t need to make or expect some drastic move for God to use us. Pay attention to where you are rather than where you’re not. Pursue holiness where you are (assuming that’s not in sin!). Proclaim Christ where you are. Enjoy Jesus where you are. Seek Christ’s kingdom first here and now. God will make clear the changes to make. Play the hand you’re dealt now until God deals a new one.
It doesn’t matter where we are because wherever that is is still not home. We’re living in tents on borrowed roads until Christ raises us in the last day.
God have Jehoiakim (1.2). God gave Daniel favor with the administration (v9). God gave Daniel and friends all the knowledge they needed, even from public school (v17). And God will provide what is necessary to live faithfully where he has put you.
In Babylon, we are to make a life without it being our life.
Daniel didn’t lead folks to some separatist life that rejected everything Babylonian. He rejected Babylon’s gods without rejecting all of Babylon’s culture. He could freely participate in the culture insofar as it did not threaten allegiance to Yahweh. Jeremiah had already set the stage (see Jer 29.4-7).
In other words, God’s people should settling into making their lives in Babylon without Babylon becoming their life. This was in part the consequences of sin. Jesus prayed his followers be in the world, but not of it (cf. 1 Cor 7.29-31).
We must live in this world (marry, weep, rejoice, buy and use) but we do so with a loose grip. We live in this world such that losing any part of it is not the end of the world. We use this world without become idolaters like the world. This is the essence of Christian liberty (1 Cor 6.12).
Christians are not here to boycott everything. We are to see everything in light of God’s promise to re-create a people for himself out of the rubble of our sin.
Would Jesus wear New Balance, Nike or Walmart specials? Who cares? Just get a pair of shoes (we need them in Babylon). Make sure they’re modest and aren’t an idol. And when buying them radiate Christ to the shoe clerk.
Would Jesus recycle cans? I don’t know. You’re not more holy if you recycle than if you don’t. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3.17).
Would Jesus shop at Kroger, Whole Foods or Save-a-Lot? I don’t know. Just go get groceries. It’s what we must do while in Babylon. And when you do buy an extra box of cereal for the children’s home.
Would Jesus watch NFL or NASCAR on Sunday? I don’t know, but definitely not NASCAR. Watch it or not, but make sure you boast about Christ’s victory more than the Titans’ or Jeff Gordon’s victory.
Our life is in Babylon for now, but our life doesn’t have to be Babylon. We can wear the world’s clothes without dressing like the world. While here we use what we can of Babylonian life for Christ’s kingdom come.
In Babylon, we must choose our battles wisely for Christ’s sake.
We most often emphasize Daniel’s steely resolve not to be defiled by the king’s food. We’re then charged to be like Daniel in our resolve. That’s all fine and good, but equally as interesting is what he didn’t protest.
Daniel didn’t protest a full-ride to Nebuchadnezzar U for a 3-year degree in Babylonian Studies. Daniel knew that all all knowledge was God’s knowledge. Even an education grounded in idolatrous motives is still subject to God’s revelatory activity. Daniel wouldn’t have chosen his degree path, but God had and he played the hand God dealt him.
Daniel didn’t protest being called Belteshazzar the rest of his life. What was that name to him anyway? Nebuchadnezzar could call him whatever he wanted. Daniel knew his name was in God. “Sticks and stones . . . ” as they say.
Daniel did refuse to be flattered into a perceived union with Nebuchadnezzar. He couldn’t control going to public school or prevent being called Belteshazzar. He could control what went in his mouth. Daniel wouldn’t strain gnats (education/name change) but swallow the camel. He wasn’t there to Judaize Babylon but to remain faithful in Babylon until God restored them.
Believe it or not, not every hill is worth dying on in Babylon. We don’t have to be against everything all the time in the same way. We die on those hills where Christ’s name is most on display. We draw the line at covenantal concerns. We draw the line where we can have direct influence and where faith will be most rewarded and seen.
For example, easy divorcism is terrible and a systemic cancer in culture and the church. We could protest every divorce, picket family court and boycott divorce attorneys. Or, we could draw the line where we know to have direct responsibility and commit to there never being another divorce in our church.
We can spend hours and resources criticizing the public school system and those pesky evolutionists who run it. But are you investing the gospel in your kids at home? That’s where we’re losing the battle. If you’re not saturating your home in the gospel then how is “education” any less secular? We may be erecting different idols, but we’re raising idolaters all the same. While we fight curriculum and name-calling, our kids feast on a secular diet at home.
These are representative examples and they will be different for each of us. But the point is to be wise in what we consider worth drawing lines over. While we’re fighting petty, fringe symptoms over which we have very little control and make little difference, we’re gouging ourselves on Nebuchadnezzar’s food.
Living in Babylon ain’t easy. It ain’t home. It ain’t right. It ain’t comfortable. But it’s where we are for now.
Daniel lived 70 years in Babylon in the hope of God’s promise to make what had gone wrong. That was his “gospel;” his good news that what might seem true now will not always be the case. His good news was that God would hold Babylon accountable, judge their sin, preserve a remnant and deliver them. This was a small echo of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If you’re not a Christian you are like the untold hundreds of other deported young men who bought into the Babylonian system. It’s not that you don’t believe there is a God; it’s that you believe in too many of them. You don’t believe there is One True God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ and to whom we are all accountable and in whom is our only hope of salvation. You demonstrate an allegiance to many gods from whom you expect life.
And Babylon has swallowed you whole.
What’s wrong with this world, your world, is our sin. So this world, your world, is under God’s judgment. And we suffer varying degrees of that judgment as a precursor to the ultimate and final judgment to come.
But God has mercifully provided relieve from that ultimate judgment. God exacted from Jesus the punishment he is bringing on this world and the sinners who corrupted it. All those who repent from their sin and trust Christ will escape this coming judgment and be granted eternal life of happiness in the One True and Living God.
Daniel will be about that message for the next 70 years in Babylon. And all of us from the New Jerusalem now in exile here in Babylon are about that message, too.