Babylonians at the Gate—Daniel 1
In Daniel 1:1, we are told that “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 into his hand. Then the king ordered the chief of his officials to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family, youths with no defect, who were good looking, intelligent, educated, and talented to serve in the king’s court.”
Judah and Jerusalem became a vassal state to Babylon in 605 BC in order to avoid being destroyed by the conquering horde of Chaldeans from Babylon. This was the first of three invasions of Jerusalem that Nebuchadnezzar would make until in 586 BC the city was completely destroyed. In the first go-round in 605, a deal was struck for reparations to be paid, gold vessels from the Temple given, and hostages to be taken back to Babylon including the king of Judah. Among the hostages were some royal princes including Daniel and his three friends who were renamed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. I wonder if we can even imagine the sudden reversal of fortune for the teenage Daniel? Can you imagine being a bright young man with an amazing future ahead of you, and then suddenly you become enslaved to an evil tyrant and drug off over a thousand miles to a new home in a foreign land to learn a new language?
Jerusalem would break the deal they made in 597 BC, as recorded in 2 Kings 24:8-16, so that Nebuch. (I will shorten his name from here on) came back and took the new king captive, and replaced him with Nebuch’s own king. Nebuch also took 10,000 more hostages back to Babylon along with all the valuables from the Temple in Jerusalem. He truly took the best and the brightest along with all the loot of King Solomon back to Babylon. Every step of the way the authors of the Bible let us know that this was all according to the plan of God to discipline Israel for its idolatry. Jerusalem rebelled again in 588 BC, and this time, after a long siege, Nebuch completely destroyed the city, the Temple, the walls, and all the buildings. Except for a few, all the surviving Jews were taken back to begin what historians call “The Babylonian Captivity” in 586 BC.
They Shouldda Seen it Coming
Before Israel ever came into the “promised land” they were warned by Moses about what would happen if they degenerated into idolatry. In Deuteronomy 28:15-68, Moses basically laid out the future of Israel. If they would not obey the Lord, and honor Him as God alone, and it was clear to Moses that they would not, then a very patient God would discipline them in three increasingly harsher periods of time. The first time of discipline is known as the time of the “Judges”. Moses laid out in Deut.28:15-35 a discipline of hard times in which foreign nations would subjugate them and loot their stuff. This period was approximately 1350-1050 BC. The second period of discipline predicted in Deut.28:36-63, lays out sieges of their capital cities ending in destruction and the people being carried off into captivity. This happened to the northern kingdom in 722 BC by the hands of Assyria, and then in 586 BC Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon and the Jews were taken to Babylon.
In addition to Moses’ prophecies, God also sent many prophets to warn the people and the leaders. In Jerusalem’s case, Isaiah predicted around 700 BC that Babylon would eventually take all the treasure of Solomon from the Temple and destroy the city. At the time the world powers were Egypt and Assyria, so that was a very bold prediction. Closer to the time that it would happen, many prophets like Habakkuk and Jeremiah constantly warned the people of what was coming, but it always fell on deaf ears. In the case of Jeremiah, they just hired their own so called prophets to refute Jeremiah, and tell them what they wanted to hear.
Barbarians at the Gate
In 605 BC, during a time of prosperity and peace, Daniel was a young teenage Prince of Judah. His country had a mutual defense pact treaty with the two great powers in the known world—Egypt and Assyria, therefore Judah had nothing to worry about. Daniel was from the best family, he was handsome, athletic, bright, and he was a very good religious person. He had it made, his prospects were unlimited. He was free to do and be whatever he wanted. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, out of the blue, and quite undeservedly for Daniel; the most shocking and surprising bad news occurred—Babylonians at the Gate! News arrived that the combined forces of Egypt and Assyria were crushed by a fast moving Chaldean army from Babylon. General Nebuchadnezzar swept into the Middle East with his horde of warriors and was now at the gate of Jerusalem. Against such an imposing force, there was nothing for the king of Judah to do but go out and seek terms of surrender. Part of the deal he cut was for some of the “best and the brightest” young men to be taken as hostages to Babylon. Daniel was chosen to go. You can imagine what he was thinking, “Why me? How about those guys? Is there any way out? What did I do to deserve this?” The irony was that his personal excellence is what doomed him to be chosen.
Who Let the Dogs Out?
Daniel lost everything in one day. He was now a slave working for an evil tyrant. He had lost his family, his home, his possessions, his nationality, his freedom, and his future. You might say that he still had his good name, Daniel which means “God is my judge”, but they changed his name and he was now named for some disgusting pagan idol. You might say he could start over with a new family in Babylon, but based on the fact that he worked for the “chief of the eunuchs” it is likely that he was castrated which was common for the young captives that worked in the king’s court. Daniel never married nor had any children.
Some time ago, I was counseling a friend who faced a financial crisis. He was all stressed out and worried he would have to sell his country club membership, his nice home, car etc. He said, “I can’t do it!” I asked why not. “I won’t be me anymore.” That raised an interesting question about his identity. He saw his identity and self worth based on his occupation, accomplishments, and wealth. If he lost everything, who would he be?
Three Important Questions Answered by Daniel
Daniel’s desperate situation of losing all his family, home, possessions, and freedom, raises at least three important questions:
1. When you lose everything, who are you, what is your identity?
2. Why did God allow it? Why does God allow evil?
3. How did Daniel persevere, and make the most of a bad situation?
Based on Daniel’s story found in Daniel 1-12, we see the answers to all these questions played out in Daniel’s life. First, appearances were that Daniel lost everything, but we find out he still had the most important thing—his relationship with the living God. God was with him. Daniel came into the world naked and he left the world naked, but God knew exactly who he was from the beginning to the end. He retained his spiritual identity throughout the crisis, therefore who was he? He was a man of God that God loved and had a plan for his life.
Secondly, why did God allow this evil thing? Because God had a better plan that he could not have even imagined. Most races of people that were defeated by Assyria or Babylon, and taken off into captivity, ceased to exist as a separate people. Daniel and his Jewish friends were an important piece of the puzzle that God used to preserve Israel. God had promised through the prophet Jeremiah to end their captivity after 70 years, and let them return to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. Daniel was instrumental in that happening. Partly because of Daniel, Israel was saved, elevated, and restored to the land. Jerusalem was rebuilt by the Jews, as was the Temple. We know that the Christ had to come to a Jewish Jerusalem, teach in the Temple, and be crucified for our sins. Praise God that He used the life of Daniel as a part of His providence to bring this about. Therefore it is safe to say that Daniel’s circumstances were an important piece in the puzzle that God used to bring about our salvation. Daniel had a much greater impact for the Kingdom of God in Babylon that he would have had anywhere else.
Thirdly, as the cliché goes, Daniel turned lemons into lemonade—but how? Through his personal excellence, personal integrity, and his personal spiritual life, Daniel made the most out of a bad situation. Daniel had high standards, a high quality of work, and a great attitude in spite of his circumstances. We see this in the beginning when the text says, “the king found them ten times better than the others in his realm” (Dan.1:20). As to his personal integrity, we see throughout the book that he was closely watched by his rivals, and tested constantly, but they could find no fault. In his spiritual life, Daniel served and worshipped God throughout his stay in Babylon at great personal risk. He was totally committed to the Lord. Through these pursuits Daniel became a man of great influence and impact for God.
I challenge you to remember Daniel’s life because the Babylonians are coming to our gate (metaphorically) some day also. Remembering his example we can prepare ourselves for the great changes that might be undesirable but inevitable in this fallen world. Remember that your true identity is in Christ, that God has a better plan, and by faith we can make lemonade when life deals us lemons.