Do You Fit In?
Do You Fit in?
When the invading army comes ...
I’d like you to imagine if you will, that you’re part of GiG, our high school aged youth group. We meet here at Cornerstone on Friday nights,
So this Friday night we were looking at Jesus’ parable about the strong man, and imagine you’ve come along, you’re 14, 15 years old.
And when you come to GiG, if you have a mobile phone, you have to put it in the phone box during GiG, so you’re not tempted to be distracted by it!
But at the end of the evening, your parents come to pick you up, and of course rather than talk to your parents in the car on the way home, you get out your phone, which you haven’t looked at for the last 2 hours, and you see there’s a whole stack of messages from your friends, showing you photos of an army invading Australia.
You spend the rest of the weekend glued to your screens, watching as wave after wave of invading soldiers march through our various cities,
Tanks rolling through the streets,
And the shocked and devasted faces of Australians, who never thought such a thing could happen to us.
And so Monday when you go to school, you see that the military machine has reached even to Mount Barker, and the new school administrators call out your name.
You’re told to collect your bag, and your laptop, and get on one of several buses you’d noticed parked out the front.
You and a handful of your friends are driven to the airport, put on a plane, and without having said goodbye to your family,
Without getting one last look at where you grew up,
You find yourself in the capital city of the country that has invaded us.
Right in the heartland of those who killed your countrymen,
In a special school where you’ll be indoctrinated with the worldview and thinking of your enemy,
With the expectation that after 3 years, you’ll be able to serve in the public service, maybe even the military, of the country that snatched you from your home and family.
How do you stand firm?
When your culture is determined to shape your worldview,
To change what you think, and value, and how you act,
When your society has a deliberate plan to stop you looking at the world the way you currently do, how do you resist?
Now, it seems entirely far-fetched to us, but this is the experience of Daniel and his 3 friends.
The language of young men in verse 4,
The length of Daniel’s life after this event,
And our knowledge that this kind of training in the ancient world started at 14 years of age, suggests that he probably was, just a teenager.
Here’s a young bloke, violently thrust into a situation, where he has to work out,
Does he fit in?
What does obedience to God look like?
What is it to be God’s person, when almost everyone around is not?
How do you relate to a world, ignorant of, and opposed to God?
And of course, this isn’t our experience, we haven’t been carted off in captivity. And it was the royal family and the nobility, so this wouldn’t have been us! We would have all been left behind!
But I’m sure you’ve noticed, we live in a society that wants to shape our worldview! Change the way we think and act,
Our world says, “a Christian approach to life is incompatible with our culture in all these various areas, so you need to toe this line.”
If you’re a Christian, then you will have, you certainly should have, wondered about those issues facing Daniel, as you try and work out how to live out your faith in God in 21st century Australia.
Do you fit in?
What does it look like to be God’s person?
How do you work out how to stand, in the face of that kind of pressure to conform to the world around you?
And if you don’t call yourself a Christian, but you’re here today because maybe you’re interested in becoming a follower of Jesus, these are questions that you’ll need to find an answer to.
What is it to be God’s person, in a world that has its own priorities?
How do you live, how do you make choices, when those around us, those above us, our society, make demands of us, that sometimes are in conflict with what God asks of us?
So I think no matter who we are, there’s lots to learn from Daniel.
There’s a worldview that demands acceptance (v 1- 7)
So Daniel finds himself in the heart of a culture that is opposed to God, and absolutely determined that he adopts its worldview.
Babylon was the superpower of the time, and in 605 BC, verse 2, the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into King Nebuchadnezzar’s hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
You can read the story in 2 Kings 24 and 25.
But here, just the barest of detail is given isn’t it?
Including this, that the precious articles from God’s temple in Jerusalem, are carried off to the temple of Nebuchadnezzar’s god in Babylonia.
Except in the original language the author refers to the place as Shinar.
I don’t know what you might imagine is the most notorious place name you could come up with,
A location that communicates something just by hearing the name.
Once upon a time we talked about Hindley Street like that, didn’t we? You just heard the name, and all sorts of terrible images filled your head!
Well that’s Shinar, but worse.
It’s Shinar, in Genesis 11, where the Tower of Babel is built.
The tower that grew from people’s desire to make a name for themselves without God.
Shinar is representative of people’s desire to carve out meaning and identity apart from God.
Shinar is a reminder that people want to put themselves in the place of God.
It’s what the Bible calls sin; Putting yourself in God’s place.
And so just as Hindley Street once represented a whole slew of behaviour, and attitude, and lifestyle, if you heard the things described in verses 4 and 5, spoken of someone taken to Hindley Street and forced to live there, you’d absolutely understand that it’s more than just a chance of location, wouldn’t you?
Daniel and the boys are not just enrolled in a new school!
They’re to be taught the language and literature of Hindley Street.
They’re to eat the food and drink of Hindley Street.
They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were work in Hindley Street!
Now, it’s a poor comparison. But do you see what’s really going on?
None of us would hear that about living in, and being educated in Hindley Street and think it’s neutral, that these boys will turn out just fine. And that’s just a street in Adelaide!
This is indoctrination,
It is assimilation,
It is a very carefully and cleverly constructed approach, to re-shaping the entire world-view of these young men.
You probably saw in the news a couple of weeks ago, that North and South Korea have started dismantling the loudspeakers that they had installed on their borders, to blare propaganda into each other’s country.
Well, loudspeakers that blast political commentary and the pop music of Korean Girl bands over the border are amateur hour compared to this.
See the language and literature of the Babylonians, verse 4, is not just learning their equivalent of Banjo Patterson and taking enough English lessons to pass the citizenship test.
Just a bit before the time of Daniel, thousands of clay tablets from an Assyrian library had been brought to Babylon. There’s over 30,000 of them now in the British Library, and the ones the Babylonians called “literature” cover everything from historical events,
These 4 young blokes are deliberately being taught a new worldview,
What’s important in their new world,
How to think,
What to believe,
And what matters.
The education theorists tell us that people learn in different ways;, some learn by hearing, some by doing,
Well, the Babylonians had figured out they could teach you even through your stomach.
The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table verse 5.
All to convince them, that Babylon is good,
That their new world is what matters,
And that clearly, their God was irrelevant in this day and age.
Daniel and his friends are even given new names.
Their Hebrew names all contained a reference to God, while their new Babylonian names, all make reference to pagan gods.
But for many people, this process of being sold a new worldview would have been appealing.
Full scholarship university education,
The finest food in the land,
And a job in the Babylonian public service.
When I finished uni I nearly went to work in the Commonwealth public service.
If that job had come with all my meals flown in from Buckingham Palace daily, maybe I would have taken it!
To the casual observer, this looks like a good opportunity.
The world always offers plenty, in its attempt to reshape the worldview of Gods’ person.
Even today, the enticement to stop thinking and acting like a Christian person, and to think and act more like everyone else, it’s pretty strong isn’t it?
And the expectation is, Daniel and his friends will fit right in, and eventually enter the king’s service
The Babylonians had done this with all the other nations they conquered, so they’re pretty confident, that 3 years is enough time, if someone is thoroughly immersed in the culture and worldview of their society,
Then they’d no longer hold to the God they’d known,
They’d no longer value what they used to value,
They’d no longer think, like one of God’s people.
3 years was enough.
3 years of being told, “this is how we do things here”,
3 years of being exposed to stories, celebrating the achievements of our culture, the narrative of our new heroes,
3 years of being surrounded every day, by people who were content to swallow, and recite, the narrative of the culture.
The cultural overlords knew 3 years was enough.
Can I get you to do something? Stick up your hand, if you’ve lived in Western society, Australia or somewhere like us, for 3 years or longer.
Do you see the challenge?
We may not be getting food from Buckingham Palace, or from the members’ Dining Room at Parliament House, but make no mistake, we are absolutely immersed in a culture, that wants us to conform to its worldview.
Our society wants us to learn its language and literature, to celebrate the stories of the heroes of our age,
To value the things that they value,
To forget about priorities and values that maybe we once had, and to “move with the times.”
Think of the movies, the TV shows, the newspaper editorials, the panellists on Q & A, constantly saying to us,
The idea of a Christian life, in which a person makes decisions according to God’s priorities, that’s no longer welcomed,
You now need to toe the line,
You need to become one of us.
Your value system is outdated.
Friends, you and I are not Daniel. But we live in a world that is opposed to God, and knows, really, nothing of him.
And if the Babylonians thought 3 years was enough for someone to be assimilated into their worldview, then we ought to be on our guard.
Because Daniel was, wasn’t he?
Daniel chooses not to assimilate (v 8 – 14)
Daniel and his friends seem quite willing to go along with much of what’s expected of them in their world, but they choose to draw a line, where they say “we’re going to be different.”
They know that their God has said “be holy”, that is be distinct, separate, set apart. It doesn’t mean they can’t do anything like a Babylonian,
But they know they can’t do everything like a Babylonian.
You know sometimes you meet Christian people, and all they want to do is talk about how Australia used to be a Christian country,
And how persecuted Christians are here,
And how everything was better in the good old days when Christians were in charge.
If anyone had reason to speak like that, it was Daniel.
And yet his choice to remain distinct, doesn’t involve a noisy protest, but a sacrifice.
He chooses to go without,
To skip the fancy food from the palace kitchen, and just eat veggies.
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.
Absolutely there are times when God’s person might radically refuse to conform, but this isn’t one of those times. Daniel asked, for permission not to defile himself.
There are a couple of lines in the book of Daniel, that I just love, because of how they encourage me to trust in God.
Here’s one of them, in verse 9, 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel
So when Daniel asked, “Can I just have veggies?”, the official replied, “sure, whatever you want”?!
The chief official says The king would then have my head if I let you do this.
We know God’s at work,
God’s looking out for Daniel,
He’s at work in this chief official,
But that doesn’t mean everything automatically goes Daniel’s way does it?
Daniel still needs to think about, “How can I obey God’s Word?
How can I be holy and distinct?
What’s that going to look like?
He’s got to read his Bible, and work out how to apply that. God doesn’t do all that for him!
See, if you’re a Christian, you don’t ever need to doubt that God is for you,
That God wants you to be able to live the life he’s called you to,
That he wants you to live a life that’s distinct.
God wants you to resist temptation,
We just need to look at the cross of Christ to see the lengths that God went to, in order for us to be his people.
God’s great plan is to gather a holy people for himself. The distinct identity of his people is really important to God.
And yet, it’s not all laid on for Daniel is it?
Don’t ever think that God’s favour shown to you in Christ is equal to the promise of an easy life, or even, an easy pathway to obedience.
Even within God’s favour, faithfulness to God on Daniel’s part, requires effort, and diligence, and thinking, and giving up what almost everyone else around was enjoying.
That’s good for us to bear in mind, I think.
So Daniel comes up with this plan, to maintain his difference, he asks the guard looking after them, if he can have a trial.
And again notice the humility, no sense of entitlement, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
So this is Daniel’s line in the sand. And Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah join him in it.
And God responds.
God acts so that these 4 are allowed to continue in this path of being distinct that they’ve chosen.
Verse 15, 15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished,
Jump down to verse 19, The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
Why does Daniel refuse to fit in at this point?
But why this?
They’d evidently been willing to answer to Babylonian names,
They haven’t been unwilling to learn all the polytheistic and pagan literature, with its magic and sorcery.
Their decision not to become like the world around them, is all about what they eat.
And over the years people have made different suggestions about why Daniel’s refusal kicks in at this point.
So maybe it’s because of the Jewish food laws. You might remember, God’s people couldn’t eat meat from certain animals.
And so maybe Daniel’s hesitation is that the meat that comes from the king’s table, might include meat from animals that God’s people couldn’t eat. Since he wasn’t the one preparing it, he might not have been able to tell the difference. A bit like a meat pie, you’re not always exactly sure what’s in it! So Daniel says he won’t have any at all.
But wine wasn’t prohibited by those food laws, and here Daniel refuses wine and choses water to drink, verse 12.
So obedience to the Jewish food laws, doesn’t seem to be an explanation.
Some people have suggested that Daniel wants to model a vegetarian diet, and that the point of the story is that we should all be eating vegetarian!
There are, actual books and programs, all about “The Daniel Diet”, where you give up meat and eat vegetables like Daniel.
Although I must say, Daniel here does it for 3 years, the slackers on the Daniel Diet only do it for 3 weeks!
But is that the point? Just to teach us to eat healthy, and God will be pleased with us?
Well, besides being a pretty poor approach to interpreting the Bible, that’s kind of the opposite to the flow of the story, isn’t it? Everyone expects that ordinarily, eating vegetables will make him look worse. So much so that the chief official thinks his head is going to go on the chopping block.
Everyone’s surprised when Daniel looks better, literally, fatter than the others, and the implication is that it’s not that their diet is inherently better, but actually that God has miraculously intervened.
So pretty sure the point is not to promote vegetarianism as necessary for God’s blessing.
The third common suggestion, is that Daniel chooses not to take the meat from the king’s table, because it’s been offered to the Babylonian gods.
It would have been the usual practice for some of the king’s food to have been offered as a sacrifice to his gods. And when the king and the others ate it they understood themselves to be worshipping these gods.
The difficulty though, is that the vegetables would also have been offered as a sacrifice to the gods.
So Daniel doesn’t seem to be simply trying to avoid worshiping idols.
And later on in Daniel’s life, recorded in chapter 10 verse 3, Daniel enters a period of mourning, and he says, 3 I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips;
The very food Daniel has chosen not to eat here, seems to be commonplace for him later in life.
So although, if you’re like me, and you’ve been around church for a while, we’ve heard these various explanations given for why Daniel chooses not to assimilate at this point, there must be something else going on.
Daniel chooses to remain distinct in a private matter
The thing that I’ve noticed more and more, as I’ve read this account in recent weeks, is that this was a very private decision.
Walking out of class in the middle of Babylonian religious instruction, that would have been a very public statement.
Refusing to answer to your Babylonian name, that would have made a point that would be hard to miss!
But this, notice that even the chief official whom God had caused to show favor and compassion to Daniel, even he doesn’t seem to know what’s going on.
This is between the 4 blokes, and the guard whom the chief official had appointed over them.
There are likely many aspects of Daniel’s life that he can’t control;, where he’s forced to live for example,
What those around him call him,
There are some aspects of the culture that he’s chosen not to resist;,
Not everything in Babylon is bad and to be avoided. The 4 young men certainly seem to throw themselves into their work in the Babylonian public service, don’t they?
they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
But in this aspect that is under his control, even though, virtually no one else knows, Daniel decides, “I’m not going to be like the Babylonians.”
It’s only a small thing,
But at this point in his life, when he understands the pressure to become just like the world around him in his thinking, and values, and behaviour,
Every time he sits down to meal, and everyone else is eating porterhouse and Grange, and he’s eating carrot sticks and Adelaide water, he’s reminded,
“Daniel, you’re different.
Daniel, you’re not just like everyone else,
You don’t have to become like everyone else,
Think like everyone else,
Act like everyone else,
Assign value and priority like everyone else.
He’s chosen to give himself this reminder, and Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, every time they sit down to a meal,
God’s person can be different,
God’s person can maintain their identity as an obedient faithful servant, even if literally almost every freedom is taken away.
Some of us are old enough to remember Godspell, the musical based very, very loosely of bits of Matthew’s gospel account.
One of the songs in Godspell, “By My Side”, contains a line that says, “I’ll put a pebble in my shoe.”
We can immediately imagine what that’s like, can’t we?
No one else can see it, but you don’t forget it,
You know it’s there,
You’re constantly reminded.
That’s kind of the effect of what Daniel’s chosen here.
A private reminder, perhaps, even a painful reminder at times when his favourite dish was served up in the palace kitchens,
But Daniel and his friends have said, “In this, we’ll be different.”
And they’re constantly reminded, because of choice that they’ve made, “God’s person is different.”
They’ve put a pebble in their shoe, so that they’re always conscious of it.
John Calvin, the 16th Century church Reformer, described Daniel’s choice like this,
he was conscious, of his own infirmities, and wished to take timely precautions, lest he should be enticed by such snares, and fall away from piety and the worship of God, and degenerate into the manners of the Babylonians, as if he were one of their nation, and of their native princes.
“I’m not going to be like them.”
God’s faithful servant is different.
God’s person is still different today
Which makes me wonder, how we might choose to remind ourselves, that God’s person today, a follower of Jesus, is distinct.
How could we choose to build in a pattern of behaviour that trains us in holiness?
To guard our hearts, to remind ourselves, in Calvin’s language, that we are not one of their nation, and of their native princes.
See, Daniel and the others eating vegetables, doesn’t automatically stop them thinking like a Babylonian,
There’s not some magical vitamin in veggies that stops you from adopting the priorities of the world around you.
There isn’t some magical vaccination we can take, to guard us from the values and priorities of our world that is far from God,
But we can make choices that remind us not to uncritically absorb everything around us.
A friend of mine used to work in Romania. During the communist years when Christianity was outlawed, church property confiscated, and an atheistic worldview taught in schools, Christian parents would say to their children as they sent them off to school each morning, “Don’t buy into the propaganda.”
Every day, they chose to remind their kids, “you’re different.”
Where can you choose to remind yourself, that Christ’s person today, is different;, thinks and acts differently.
Some Christians I know do it with their money. They physically put money in a different spot or a different bank account, as soon as they get paid, so that that money can be put to gospel purposes.
Now, that doesn’t stop you spending your money any different to any other person in the world,
But when you look in the spot where that money is, you’re reminded, God’s person thinks about money differently.
God’s person is different.
A friend of mine used to read his Bible first thing each morning, and he’d say to himself, “No Bible, no breakfast.”
Now, that’s not a rule, just like Daniel eating veggies isn’t a rule, but every morning when he thought about his breakfast, he was reminded, “God’s person is different”,
What we think is important,
How we use our time,
They’ll be different to the world that thinks God belongs in some past age.
Do you pray before you eat,
At the beginning or end of each day?
Do you remind yourself, “God’s person is different.”
I think about my day and my time, differently to someone who doesn’t acknowledge God.
Where will you draw the line, and say “I’ll be different”?
If we make these kinds of choices, even private, hidden choices, to remind ourselves that God’s person is different,
Then when someone, or our culture, calls on us to fall into line,
To adopt the prevailing worldview,
To buy into the priorities and values of a world that wants to keep God on the sidelines, or beyond,
What will have already reminded ourselves of constantly,
Thousands of times before that?
God’s person is different.
Are you teaching yourself that?
Are you taking steps, to build into the muscle memory of your life, that God’s person is different?
So that when the crunch time comes, and it will,
And you face the pressure, the almost unbearable pressure to conform to a world out of step with God,
You’ll be able to stand,
And be different,
As the book of Daniel unfolds, these 4 teenagers find themselves facing almost unimaginable pressure to conform, to go with the flow, to fit in with their culture in its rebellion against God.
And maybe like me you’ve asked, “how do they do it?”
Here’s the answer. Chapter 1 makes sense of the rest of the story.
They made a private choice to teach themselves, that God’s person is different.
And they never forgot that.
Whose God is God?
I want us to notice one thing as we finish;,
God’s sovereignty. It’s a major theme in Daniel, but look again at verse 2,
the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
It might look like God was defeated, that the gods of Babylon are more powerful than the God of Israel.
But the author has chosen his language very carefully to make his point that God still rules. The word translated “Lord” is not Yahweh, God’s personal name, but the title Adonai, which is less personal, but it’s the word for “owner”, “sovereign”, the one in charge. The author want us to share his conviction, that God is sovereign over all of these events.
And when he speaks of articles from the temple of God, being taken to the temple of the god of Babylon, he actually calls the temple in Jerusalem, “the house of the God.”
This isn’t some competition between the gods of 2 nations, we’re talking about the God, and something that’s false.
In fact Daniel makes this point by always talking about “the God” when he speaks of the God of Israel.
Israel’s God is God.
And then we come to that very last line
21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus
It doesn’t really sound like a statement about God’s sovereignty, does it?
Except, Cyrus wasn’t a king of Babylon,
Cyrus was a Persian. By the time Cyrus comes along, the Babylonian empire has fallen, and Nebuchadnezzar is long dead.
And if we’re familiar with the later Old Testament, we know that it’s Cyrus who frees these captives from Judah, and allows them to go home.
The mention of Cyrus right in the opening chapter, means we’re already looking past the end of the Babylonians, and the return of God’s people from exile.
Verse 21 really should come with a spoiler alert!
We can really only imagine how the teenage Daniel must have felt, as he watched the invading army roll through his land, and then as he was carried off to exile in Babylon, and yet what a comfort it would have been, for him to know this.
Babylon would fall,
God would use Daniel to protect and bless his people in their exile,
And God’s people would return to their land, just as God had promised they would.
Of course, Daniel couldn’t see that from where he stood,
But he points it out for us, so that no matter what minor or major disaster you learn of when you turn on your phone in a few minutes, you’ll know that God rules.