We all probably feel the angst and loss from this change in society. We worry about the world in which our children are growing up in. We fear for our future, our jobs, our security, and we mourn for our nation. While all of this is new and difficult for us, this state of being was the norm for God’s people at various times throughout their history—from being slaves in Egypt to exiles in Babylon to Christians under the Roman Empire.
The book of Daniel is a great book of the Bible from which to learn how to deal with the changing culture in which we find ourselves today. It is a book which chronicles some of God’s people while they lived as exiles under the Babylonian Empire. Daniel and his friends faced unjust laws, ungodly politicians, proud and unreasonable kings, and overt persecution. What lessons can we learn from this?
Let's look at the different major stories of the book of Daniel.
- The King's Men, King's Table, and King's Dream (Daniel 1-2).
Daniel and his three friends, Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego are some of the choice Israelites that were taken into Babylonian captivity and trained to become "king's men." This kind of service to one's enemies and an evil empire must have right away created emotional difficulties and moral dilemmas. Then, they are faced with having to eat from the King's table. While it is unclear what dietary laws this would have violated, in their minds, to eat of this table would have been to compromise their faith.
So they ate only vegetables and water--and God blessed them both physically and mentally (1:15f) above everyone else, and they entered into the king's service.
Then the king has a dream, and he unreasonably asks his wise men to not just interpret the dream, but to tell them what the dream is. They, of course, cannot do this, and so the king orders ALL of the wise men to be killed. Daniel and his friends pray to God, and he reveals the dream and its meaning to Daniel, who tells the king. The king is so impressed that he elevates Daniel to be in charge of all of Babylon, and rewards his friends with administrative positions as well (2:1f).
- The King's Idol and King's Fiery Torture Chamber (Daniel 3).
So now Daniel and his friends are higher up administrators in the Empire. But they serve Darth Vader and a megalomaniac! And when the king puts up a giant statue of himself--a golden idol--for everyone to bow down to, the Jews refuse. And one of their "co-workers" who has it out for them, turns them in.
The king summons Daniel's friends, and when they say that they will not bow down, the king gets furious. And he commands that they be through in a fiery furnace/torture chamber. But God saves them from this, and they are miraculously not harmed in this. This amazes the king, and he praises God for this--and gives them another promotion (3:28-30)!
- The Kings' Bad Dreams/Visions (Daniel 4-5).
In chapter 4, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a huge tree that grows--and then gets cut down by God's messenger. It was a dream that spoke of God raising up this king, but due to his pride, striking him down. Twleve months later after getting this warning, the king walks around in his palace and thinks boastful and prideful thoughts--and God makes him think that he is an animal. Finally, his sanity is restored, and the king praises God and acknowledges that God can humble those who are proud (4:36-37).
Then the story shifts to King Nebuchadnezzar's son, Beltshazzar, who literally sees the writing on the wall. God has judged him for his pride as well. Daniel intreprets the dream--and that very night, the Babylonian Empire ends as the Medes and Persians (modern day Iran) take over.
- The King's Bad Law (Daniel 6).
Daniel 6 is, of course, the story of Daniel in the lions' den. One of Daniels' enemies sees that Daniel prays to God, so he convinces King Darius to make a law that no one can pray to any god except him for 30 days. Daniel, of course, continues to pray, and though the king does not want this, he is thrown into the lions' den. But God shuts the lions' mouth, keeps Daniel safe, and praises God--and passes a law requiring people to praise God:
26 “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
“For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. 27 He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.” 28 So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian (6:26f).
What lessons can we learn from Daniel in dealing with Empire issues?
- It is possible to serve within the Empire and still be faithful to God. Daniel, after all, was an administrator in the Empire. He probably had to paper push all kinds of laws and decrees he did not agree with. And God did not seem to judge him for this, but understood his circumstance.
- Sometimes we must take stands against the Empire. Whether the dietary requirements, worshiping idols, or worshiping a king, there are some things which the Empire demands that we do--usually motivated by evil, pride, and greed--that we just cannot do. Balancing these first two points are difficult, and each person has to decide according to his or her conscience.
- No matter what the Empire does, God will be faithful, his name will be proclaimed, and his people will prosper. This is seen time and time again throughout the book, with God continually blessing and saving his people--and having them promoted! Laws which directed no worship of God, then directed people instead that they must worship the God of heaven. Now that is truly a miracle! So we need not fear. God's ways will triumph, in this life or the next.
What issues/themes do you see in the book of Daniel which are helpful in dealing with "Empire" issues today? What lessons can we learn from these?