Judah’s best and brightest were deported to Babylon when Jerusalem was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies. Daniel and his trio of friends were among their ranks. King Nebuchadnezzar introduced them to their new homeland by enrolling the four young men in his exclusive three-year “How to Live Like a Babylonian” Training Academy. Students were lavished with food and wine from the king’s table and invited to enjoy the cosmopolitan pleasures of the world’s most sophisticated city. Daniel and his companions graciously resisted. They asked for vegetarian meals so they could stay faithful to Jewish dietary laws. The king’s official worried that their meager diet might leave them pallid and weakened, but God blessed their choice with academic success and physical stamina. They flourished and the ruler of the world’s greatest empire took notice.
The king awoke one morning having been greatly troubled by a dream. He demanded an explanation of its meaning from his wise men and also expected them to tell the dream itself as a guarantee of accuracy. Failure was no big deal except for the accompanying death sentence. The request was impossible, of course, except that God revealed both the events of the dream and their meaning to his servant, Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of a four-layered statue. Its head of gold represented Babylon’s might. The remaining layers of silver, bronze, and iron symbolized world empires that had not yet risen to power. Daniel’s interpretation satisfied the king and saved his life and the lives of all the magicians and wise men in the kingdom. King Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to ruler over Babylon, made high-level officials of his three friends, and worshipped Daniel’s God.
This devotion, however, was only temporary, as the king’s advisors played to his pride. He built a gold statue in his own honor and all were commanded to bow down and worship at its feet. Daniel’s three friends, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, were faced with a grim choice: idolatry or death. They refused to bow. The king was enraged and ordered them to be thrown into a fiery furnace. They defied the king’s last chance order and chose to remain faithful even in the face of death. The fire was stoked and the young men were bound and thrown into the inferno. An astonished king watched a fourth man join them as they walked unbound and unharmed through the fire. And once again the king praised their God.
Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by Belshazzar. King Belshazzar threw a grand party using the holy goblets they had stolen in the raid of Jerusalem’s temple. The LORD sent him a mysteriously written message that appeared on the wall of the banquet hall. The king was terrified…for good reason. Daniel explained that the message said the king would soon meet his Maker. That same night the Persian army invaded Babylon. Belshazzar was killed and Persia became the silver layer in the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of years before.
The new king, Darius of Persia, gave Daniel a promotion. Daniel’s rivals were jealous and plotted his death. They deceived Darius into signing an irrevocable decree forbidding prayer to anyone except the king. The penalty was a single night stay in a cave of hungry lions. Daniel responded by doing as he had always done; he knelt and prayed. Of course, the king’s officials felt “duty bound” to bring such dangerous activity to the king’s attention and Darius was forced to throw his trusted servant to the lions. So, the king spent a restless night and rose in the morning to find that Daniel was safe and sound in the lions’ den. And the great King of Persia worshipped Daniel’s God.
While Daniel, his friends, and the other exiles were kept in Babylon during the seventy years of captivity. The prophet Jeremiah carried out his duties in the ravaged city of Jerusalem. Jeremiah sent a letter of hope to the captives reminding them that God would one day bring them back to Jerusalem and encouraging them to prosper even as exiles in a foreign land. Daniel had done just that. He watched the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms and remained faithful. In the great Upper Story of God, Babylon had been a detour rather than a destination.
What are you prepared to take a stand against in today's world to grow God's kingdom, just as Daniel did?