Faithful in a Strange Land

Bible Focus: Daniel 1-6

The king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the Israelites from the royal family and from the nobility--young men without any physical defect, good-looking, suitable for instruction in all wisdom, knowledgeable, perceptive, and capable of serving in the king's palace. He was to teach them the Chaldean language and literature. The king assigned them daily provisions from the royal food and from the wine that he drank. They were to be trained for three years, and at the end of that time they were to attend the king. Among them, from the Judahites, were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
Daniel 1:3-6 CSB

Many years ago, I came across a saying that has stuck with me: Character is who you are when no one is looking. We reveal our genuine character when no one is watching or expecting us to act. Social pressure can be good or bad. Good social pressure keeps us accountable to do right; bad social pressure gives us license to do wrong. Either way, we don’t reveal much about our heart when we simply give in to social pressure. It is our unforced and unexpected actions that point to who we really are.

Our faithfulness to God works in a similar way. Many of us take part in communities of faith that encourage us to believe in God and obey him. These faith communities help keep us accountable, making it much easier for us to stay faithful to God. But if our faith in God is genuine, then our acts of faithfulness toward God will emerge even when we are alone or in the minority. We will still want to obey God when those around us don’t expect it and when our faith community isn’t around to watch.

When faith is genuine, acts of faithfulness will emerge.

Daniel was a young man of nobility living in Judah during the reign of King Jehoiakim, who was one of the last kings of Judah. The king of Babylon attacked Jehoiakim and forced him to serve Babylon. When Jehoiakim eventually rebelled, the king of Babylon captured Jehoiakim, exiling him to Babylon.

Around the same time, the king of Babylon ordered the capture of a number of young men who were part of Judah’s ruling class. He commanded that these young men be deported to Babylon and trained in the ways of Babylon so that they could serve in the Babylonian government. One of these deported young men was Daniel.

Daniel spent the rest of his life serving the governments that controlled his homeland. For years, he served the Babylonian empire that had captured Judah and destroyed Jerusalem. Later, he served the Medo-Persian empire that had conquered Babylon. Daniel served these governments well, and he enjoyed great success. However, on at least two occasions, Daniel risked his future to remain faithful to God.

Shortly after being deported to Babylon, Daniel asked his handlers not to feed him food that violated Jewish dietary laws. When they objected, fearing Daniel’s health would decline, Daniel proposed a ten-day test of himself and three others on a diet of vegetables and water. When the four men actually looked healthier after ten days, their handlers allowed them to continue with the diet.

Years later, when the Medes and Persians were in power, some other government leaders grew jealous of Daniel’s success. They conspired against him and hatched a plan to finish Daniel off for good:

Daniel distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm. The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him. Then these men said, "We will never find any charge against this Daniel unless we find something against him concerning the law of his God."
So the administrators and satraps went together to the king and said to him, "May King Darius live forever. All the administrators of the kingdom--the prefects, satraps, advisers, and governors--have agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an edict that, for thirty days, anyone who petitions any god or man except you, the king, will be thrown into the lions' den. Therefore, Your Majesty, establish the edict and sign the document so that, as a law of the Medes and Persians, it is irrevocable and cannot be changed." So King Darius signed the written edict.
Daniel 6:3-9 CSB

After Daniel learned about the law, he continued his daily prayers to God just as he had done before. The government leaders pointed this out to King Darius, and the king realized that he had been manipulated. He tried his best to find a loophole that would save Daniel, but he could not. So he ordered that Daniel be thrown into the lions’ den, and he told Daniel that he hoped his God would rescue him.

After spending a sleepless night, the king returned to the lions’ den and found Daniel completely unharmed. Daniel told him that God had sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions. The king ordered Daniel brought out of the den, and then he had all the leaders that had conspired against Daniel thrown in, along with their families. The lions immediately pounced on them all. But King Darius wasn’t finished. He had one more order to give.

Then King Darius wrote to those of every people, nation, and language who live on the whole earth: "May your prosperity abound. I issue a decree that in all my royal dominion, people must tremble in fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, and he endures forever; his kingdom will never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. He rescues and delivers; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth, for he has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions."
Daniel 6:25-27 CSB

King Darius was impressed by Daniel’s faithfulness to God, but he was more impressed by God’s faithfulness to Daniel. No ordinary man could spend a night with a pack of hungry lions and still survive. A God who rescued his followers from such dangers was a powerful God who deserved to be respected.

Here’s the good news. When we believe in the one true God, he rescues us from a far greater danger than a pack of lions. Jesus’s death wipes away our sins, and Jesus’s resurrection gives us eternal life. If the God who rescues from the lions’ den deserves our respect, then how much more does the God who rescues us from hell and gives us heaven! Knowing God’s faithfulness can give us the strength to be faithful to him. Even when no one else is looking, we can trust that God is always looking out for us.

Featured image from Sehoon Ye on Unsplash.

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