As we say our final goodbyes to summer and prepare for the emergence of the autumn season, we begin a new sermon series on the Book of Daniel. The Book of Daniel begins in the midst of a crisis. Known as the Babylonian exile, it is perhaps the greatest crisis the people of Israel have ever faced.
The beginning of the end was centuries earlier. Israel’s great king Solomon had died and his heir, his son, Rehoboam, foolishly provoked the leaders of the northern part of the nation, and they split off from the south. Civil war ensued. The northern tribes (ten of them) called Israel stood opposed to the southern tribes (two of them) called Judah. A divided nation was easily picked apart by other rival world powers. The Assyrians eventually overtook and destroyed Israel. Judah was spared this outcome until the rise of the Babylonians.
At the start of the Book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, has conquered Jerusalem. The walls of the city are forever breached. Judah’s king is deposed. Nebuchadnezzar seeking to make not just a political, but a religious statement as he plunders the Temple of the Lord. The many sacred treasures of the Temple in Jerusalem are seized to decorate the house of the Babylonian god.
Added to this, the best and brightest of Israel’s future generations are carried off into exile. Daniel and his three friends are among those who are transported to Babylon. They are quickly enrolled into an indoctrination program designed to eventually assimilate them into loyal servants of their new king, Nebuchadnezzar. Once the youth are so conditioned, the rest of the people of Israel will follow –even if it takes a few generations.
Daniel and his friends were torn from their land and taken to Babylon as young men. They were most likely only twelve to fourteen years old. Daniel’s life ended up bridging the entirety of the seventy-year Babylonian captivity and on into the reign of the Persians. He lived well into his eighties or nineties and never returned home.
The fall of Jerusalem into the hands of Babylon six hundred years before Christ did not make much of a stir in the ancient world. Even for the Babylonians, this conquest was a blip on the radar – so inconsequential it wasn’t even worth mentioning in their official chronicles! To the people of Israel however this was the worst thing imaginable. Game over. No land and no temple meant no identity. For their sons and daughters growing up and learning to call a pagan and foreign nation their home left them no foreseeable future as the Lord’s people. It looked like God’s covenant – his original promise to Abraham, reinforced through Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon – had failed.
What do you do when you lose everything? How do we walk by faith when exile is all we can see? Where is the line between meaningful engagement and dangerous compromise as we seek to be a part of a world that is increasingly hostile and even contrary to God’s Kingdom? Can we be successful – gaining power and prestige in such a world – without compromising the integrity of biblical principles?
As we will discover over the next few months, Daniel and his friends’ story addresses these questions. We will experience and draw wisdom from tangible examples of how to be “in the world but not of the world.” Let us be prepared, in these chaotic and often exilic times of our own, to be both stretched and encouraged to see God our Father as the one who is truly the King over the earthly kings and rulers – powers and principalities – in this world. Together may we come to appreciate that being a faithful witness to the Kingdom of God is an expression of God’s sovereignty in our lives.
Grace to you!