Finding God in The Daniel Diet- Daniel 1 (Sermon)
Hi, I am pastor Rob.
What do Julius Cesar, Saint Patrick, Martin Luther, Sacagewea, Chiang Kai-shek, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all have in common? They were all kidnapped. They were all abducted and held captive.
What would it be like to be stolen, removed from your friends, family, and all that is familiar? How would you deal with that? I don’t think that will happen to any of you, but you and I will experience pain, loss, and trials. Won’t we? How does God want us to respond when our world is falling apart? Today, we continue our series in the book of Daniel and see how he responds. We will be reading Chapter 1, starting at verse 1. We will be using the English Standard Version of the Bible. I have asked C.S. to read for us.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim 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. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility. (Daniel 1:1–3)
Thank you. Let’s pray. God, thank you for your Word. It is light. It guides our path. It is true. Thank you for your help in our trials and losses. We need you. Help us as we explore your Word this morning. AMEN.
The theme of our series is: As kingdoms rise and fall: remain faithful to the king who rules overall. Let me say that again. As kingdoms rise and fall: remain faithful to the king who rules overall. Who is the king who rules overall? Daniel had several kings to report to, King Jehoiakim of Judah. Judah was the Southern Kingdom of Israel. We read that in Jehoiakim’s third year, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, surrounded Jerusalem. Around 605 B.C. Jerusalem falls, and the Babylonians take Daniel to serve king Nebuchadnezzar as a eunuch. If you don’t know what a eunuch is, it is painful, and you can’t have kids after that. Why did God allow that horror? Daniel might complain; it doesn’t seem fair or kind. Daniel’s deportation resulted from bigger plans than just a king’s grab for power and wealth. God was not idle or impotent; he was in control and using evil for ultimate good. He was orchestrating judgment on Judah. The pieces were in play years before, at least one hundred. Isaiah, another prophet, spoke to Hezekiah, a king, a word about Hezekiah’s future demise. We read in 2 Kings:
[The] King of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”
Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (2 King 20:12–19)
Do you hear what happened one hundred years before Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, and Jehoiakim? Why did God order such a punishment? What was so bad about Hezekiah’s show and tell? One word: Pride. How was displaying his stuff prideful? What was wrong with that? More likely was going on in Hezekiah’s heart than we know, but I think we can see some of it in the passage I read. We see his pride in his view of ownership. He showed “his house,” “his storehouse,” “His treasure,” “his armory,” and “his realm.” Isaiah notes that it was because of Hezekiah’s father’s and grandfather’s work that he had these things. Isaiah was not giving credit where credit was due. Not only that, understanding the Bible’s teaching on sin and God’s holiness, goodness, and justice, such a severe punishment gives us a sense of the seriousness of this pride. Finally, we see how Hezekiah reacted to correction and can note something amiss. He was at peace. He was content with God deporting his kids and making them eunuchs. He was okay with his children and grandchildren being enslaved and made Eunuchs, just so long as it wasn’t him. Woah. The tricky reality is that pride is pretty normal and pervasive in our day. We view it as not a big of a deal. In the series we just finished on Proverbs, we read chapter 16 verse 5, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished (Proverbs 16:5).” So, reading Daniel chapter 1, we see our main character and hero: God doing something unheard of, following through by punishing his people. Daniel is the vehicle of the story, but God’s justice and power are on display. He is the one who rules over all, not Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar, or Cyrus. This brings me to the first point if you are taking notes: God is in Charge. Let me say that again. God is in Charge.
Now, note verse 2. Where does Nebuchadnezzar take God’s people? To Babylon. Right? But where is that? Look at verse 2.
“He brought them to the land of Shinar (Daniel 1:2).”
Where is that? Iraq. Where is that, other than in the Middle East? The author tells us, keep reading, they went “To the house of his god, ...in the treasury of his god (Daniel 1:2).” So back to this place called Shinar. What do we know about it? Have we read about it before? I could not recall. But we have in the book of Genesis, chapter 11.
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another…. “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:1–4)
This is the story of Babel. God confused the speech of those at Shinar and dispersed them around the world. Why? It connects to Hezekiah’s pride. God judged the people of Babel because of self-sufficiency. God punished them because of their godless effort to reach heaven without him. The people were not trusting in God. Hezekiah did right in many ways, but I think he missed it in his showing off of his wealth. His children and their children did far worse. We read in 2 Chronicles that his descendant Jehoiakim didn’t trust in God. “Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God” (2 Chronicles 36:5). God was in Charge: from Jerusalem to Babylon, and from Babel back fulfilling prophecy, ransacking his temple, and bringing his people out of the Promised Land to the enemy land. I am sure that Nebuchadnezzar thought he was in Charge. He wasn’t. Jehoiakim was in Charge for at least three years of the eleven. But he wasn’t ultimately in control. God was.
What happened next was remarkable. I have asked K.S. to read for us Daniel chapter 1 verse 3. Please, follow along in your BIbles.
Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time, they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. (Daniel 1:3–7)
Thank you. We read here that the Babylonians were brainwashing the kids with a name change, diet change, and an educational change too.
- Daniel, meaning, ‘God is my judge,” they changed to Belteshazzar, meaning “Protect the king of Babylon.”
- Hananiah, meaning, “Yahweh is gracious,” they changed to Shadrach, meaning “I am very fearful of God.”
- Mishael, meaning, “Who is like God,” they changed to Meshack, meaning “I am of little account.”
- And finally, Azariah, meaning, “Yahweh is a helper,” they changed to Abednego, meaning, “Servant of the shining one.”
Each name was an affront to their Hebrew faith. It was an imposition of another belief system. Can you picture that someone stealing you away and trying to indoctrinate you? Reeducation has been a common practice throughout history and around the world. Even now, China is doing that to the Uighurs. How would you respond to being labeled, pressured, and put in boxes to silence your faith? How do you respond when bad things happen that are out of your control? Notice Daniel and his friends’ response. They picked their battles. They didn’t despair, they didn’t run, and they didn’t completely capitulate. We will face testing of our faith, especially if we try to live out our beliefs in the public square. Jesus said,
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:28–31)
How do we respond when God, being in Charge, allows for some pretty hard things in life? First, we see he trusts God and stands up for his faith.
Look at verse 8.
“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.” (Daniel 1:8)
Would you have the guts to do that? Would you give up meat for vegetables for ten days? For some of my kids, that would be torture. Do you think he was a vegetarian for three years! Can you imagine that, kids and omnivores? Would you stand up to the king if it meant you had to be a vegetarian for three years? Would you stand up to the king who destroyed your country, stole its national treasure, and took the best and the brightest to be slaves? That is what Daniel was doing. That is the crisis in chapter 1 and brings us to my second point and resolution. Look at verse 9. “And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” (Daniel 1:9).
My second point is that God is Compassionate. We have seen that God is in Charge. We can translate compassion here as mercy or tender love. God was the one being compassionate, but how? It was in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs. God used the enemy to show compassion to his children. This kindness was a direct answer to King Solomon’s prayer four hundred years before. Solomon prayed this about his people:
“If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them. (1 King 8:46–50)
That is what was happening in chapter 1 of Daniel. That was an extension of God’s compassion and an answer to Solomon’s prayer. Just like Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt, wrongfully incarcerated, God gave compassion to him through the favor of the enemy prison warden (Genesis 39:21). Likewise, Daniel had favor with those who were his captors. Let’s see how this compassion plays out. I have asked K.S. to read for us verses 10 through 16.
And the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse 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 assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. 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 food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables. (Daniel 1:10–16)
The conflict mounts in this verse. How will the king respond to this vegetable rebellion? Remember, this is the king who conquered Judah, ransacked Jerusalem, plundered sacred items, abducted the sharpest children in the kingdom, and began a massive reeducation program. This training included food that “defiled” God’s people. What does that mean? We don’t use the word “defile” these days. I remember a time I used that in high school out of context, and a parent whom I was speaking to was like, “WHAT?” It did not sound good. It was bad. The word means pollution, stain, or unclean. How does food do that? It could be that the Babylonians drank blood, which God prohibited (Leviticus 17:12), or it could be they ate off-limits food, like ham or bacon. It could also be that the food was used in ritual worship of other gods. We don’t know how it defiled them, but it would have if they ate it or drank it. Something about this diet was ungodly. So, Daniel draws a line and asks for an alternative meal plan. Would we? If we truly know God’s love, it can compel us to obey. What is God’s love like? It reminds me of Psalm 103, which says,
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. (Ps 103:8–13)
God is compassionate. Do you believe that? If you do, love him back. Let’s keep reading to see the next point; God is king. I have asked K.D. to read for us, starting at verse 17.
As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature 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 Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them, none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus. (Daniel 1:17–21)
We learn that these talented youth have lost everything, but God is still in Charge. God is still compassionate, and finally, God is still the king. Long after Jehoiakim dies, Nebuchadnezzar dies, and Cyrus dies, God is still the King overall. God ordered that Daniel and his friends have learning, skill, wisdom because he was the King. God was the one who endowed Daniel, like Joseph, the ability to understand visions and dreams because he was the king. God was the one who ordained for them to be ten times better than everyone else because he was the king.
So, what? How does chapter 1 change us? What does this matter on Monday? Indeed, it sets the stage for the rest of the book. It helps us understand. But, so what? Here is the message, the reality is that no kingdom can rise or fall apart from God’s oversight. Nothing happens by accident or chance. He orchestrates all molecules to move. His powerful word upholds the entire Universe. He is the one who decrees favor; a specific vegetarian diet has a better outcome than a kingly one, a teenager’s ability surpassing his peers by the power of time. A person can interpret dreams and visions by God's power. God is the king in chapter 1 who rules over all, issuing punishment and blessings; God is in Charge, compassionate, and king. He is the everlasting king. He always existed and always will. So what? First,
- Trust him. He is in Charge. This chapter challenges us to trust him when all is taken. In the good times and bad, he is in control. Trust him.
- Love him. He is compassionate. He is good, even when life doesn’t make sense. The Bible says he works all things for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28). If he loves us, love him back. How? Jesus said, if you love me, keep my commandments. How do we know his commandments? Be in the Bible. If you love him, be near him. Where is he? He is in his people. Let us be the community together. Trust him and love him.
- Finally, fear him. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is worthy of our respect and honor. This is not a fear that makes us run away but rather bow in reverence. We can honor him by honoring those he puts over us. Daniel honored Nebuchadnezzar for the most part. Let us be respectful to our parents, coaches, teacher, bosses, and government. The Bible says, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). Daniel resisted where he needed to. He feared God over what other people thought of him.
The reality is that we all are captives in a sense. Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We are strangers in this land, with possessions on loan. We follow the King of kings and Lord of lords. He has us here on a mission as ambassadors at work, school, in our neighborhoods, and homes as lights in the darkness. As we learn about Daniel, let us turn our gaze to our everlasting king who is in Charge, Compassionate, and King who rules over all.
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