|VEGETARIAN... AND LOVING IT!
Series: Strangers In An Estranged Land - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 14, 2020
Before we come to Daniel we need to set out the big picture of how Daniel - and those that were with him - how what they went through and how they went through what they went through - how all that can speak to how we can be living today here in Merced.
Maybe you’ve noticed this? Doesn’t it seem like the world we woke up to this morning is way different that the world we we’re living in just a few months ago?
In some ways, no. Merced is still Merced. We’re living in the same place. But it’s not the same.
It just seems like we’re becoming estranged - more distanced - from the land we grew up in even though we’re living in the same place. Maybe that feeling gets more intense if you’re older. I don’t know.
America is hurting. There’s a lot of pain out there. And despair. And hopelessness. Anger. Uncertainty. Confusion. Fear.
Some of that is what’s been festering for years. But crisis exposes stuff.
Please hear me: I’m not trying to make a political statement or to give a medical opinion or to speak for or against people that are protesting or not.
But - coming to Daniel - what is deeply concerning is what all that is exposing about where and when we live and what people’s changing attitudes towards God and a growing antagonism towards - especially - evangelical Christians.
Christians who desire to live under the authority of the Bible as the word of God and who desire to live and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as our only means of salvation.
As America is changing, being a disciple - a follower - of Jesus these days means being increasingly counter culture. Strangers in an estranged land.
It’s tempting - maybe even informing - to think about our siblings in Christ who each day face persecution - death - certainly hardship - because they hold fast to their relationship with Jesus Christ.
And to ask ourselves if we have what it takes to live for Jesus in those circumstances? Giving everything. Death to self. Life is about God. To forgive and bless and pray for those who persecute us and to be concerned for their salvation. Because we may soon find out. Even here.
The late Tom White - former director of Voice of the Martyrs - himself having been imprisoned for his faith. Tom White wrote this: “Some who are attracted to the work of the Voice of the Martyrs have a misconception about Christians in captive lands, thinking they are more dedicated… In our nation where we have religious freedom, we may envy those believers who sneak around using a little flashlight in the jungle to deliver Bibles and other materials and assistance.” Then this statement: “Christians need this courage wherever we live.” (1)
That’s what we’re going to be looking at in Daniel. What does that look in here and now? How can we have that kind of courage in our lives?
Daniel 1:1-4 gives us Our Introduction to Daniel’s World. Where and when Daniel is.
Daniel 1:1: In the third year of the reign of Jehoakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.
Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding and learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. - Chaldeans being another name for Babylonians.
Let’s grab the back fill.
The Babylonians invaded Jerusalem three times. “The third year of the reign of Jehoiakim” was the first invasion which took place in 605 B.C.
We need to try and imagine what that would be like. For some of us it may be a stretch to think back to being 14. But try.
Life at age 14 is pretty strange as it is. The great task is trying to make sense out of life - life that often doesn’t make sense. And somehow we’re suppose to understand who we are and how we fit into all that.
What’s that line? “Every time I figure out the answer they change the question.” That’s being a teenager.
Daniel - whose that age - has his country invaded - his whole world turned upside down. He’s taken away from his family, friends, and anything familiar - gets hauled off 500 plus miles east - a four month hike through really lovely country - especially if you like rocks and sand - is taken as a prisoner to this city where no one speaks his language - where everything is strange and foreign.
That’s a game changer - especially for a 14 year old.
The country we woke up in this morning isn’t the same one we were in just a few months ago.
In verse 2 - notice that Nebuchadnezzar - along with taking Daniel and the other prisoners - Nebuchadnezzar also takes some of the vessels of the house of God - takes them to the house of his god.
The prisoners had four months traveling through the dessert to think about that. Then they arrived at Babylon - capital of the empire.
The city of Babylon was a huge fortified structure - overwhelming in power and ego and ungodliness. The main wall was 85 feet tall - about seven stories high [almost 3 times that wall] - 65 feet thick.
The walls to Nebuchadnezzar’s palace alone were 135 feet thick. On every brick of the outer 23½ feet was written the name of Nebuchadnezzar.
Coming into Babylon through the Ishtar gate - Ishtar being the Babylonian goddess of love and fertility - the Ishtar gate was a 40 foot tall structure decorated with dragons and bulls - symbols of Marduk - the number one Babylonian god - and Hadad - the storm and war god.
The number one Babylonian god was… Marduk. Hang on to that, there’s a quiz later.
Passing through that gate - through these massive walls - there were these 3½ foot square paving stones that had the inscription, “I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon… I paved the road of Babylon with mountain stone for the procession of the mighty lord Marduk.”
Inside the city there are at least 53 temples to different gods - 180 open-air shrines to Ishtar - 1,800 niches and pedestals and sacred places for the other gods. The temple of Marduk alone sat on 60 acres.
Pulling all that together: How do think a 14 year old boy would feel coming into that city? “Toto. We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
“If the God of my people is the one true God what am I doing here? Maybe all those old stories - all that stuff about deliverance from Egypt - maybe they were just stories. Maybe there’s something to this Marduk god.”
That’s Daniel’s world. What kind of courage would it take to live for God?
Verses 5 to 7 describe What Nebuchadnezzar Offered Daniel.
Nebuchadnezzar ordered Ashpenaz to teach these young boys the literature and language of the Chaldeans - everything it took to be ready to serve in the king’s court.
To do that - verse 5 - The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
Three things we need to see.
First - notice Nebuchadnezzar’s offer of education.
This is the best education available at the time - the best university under the best circumstances. Three years with a full ride scholarship. A sweet deal.
But we need to think about what’s really being offered here. The education is in what? “the literature and language of the Chaldeans.”
That’s not arithmetic - science - and agriculture. That is hymns and stories of the Babylonian gods. Immersion in Babylonian thought - values - attitudes - philosophy. Nebuchadnezzar isn’t educating. He’s indoctrinating.
Even today there’s a tug of war between people who want to educate the next generation and those that want to indoctrinate generation next.
Second - notice Nebuchadnezzar’s offer of lifestyle.
The best food and wine - right from the king’s own table. Its like being on a cruise ship - Royal Babylonian. All you can eat of the best of the best. Escargot every night. Anchovy pizza on demand. How could anyone pass that up?
But, the food was sacrificed to... idols. To eat it would have meant participating in that sacrifice. It would have meant compromising our morals and spiritual purity. Nebuchadnezzar isn’t just offering them an upgrade in diet - he’s trying to change their lifestyle - to get them to act like Babylonians.
It’s only food. Right? The American way of life. Where food is used as a decoration - taken for granted - enjoyed in excess - gluttony. Life is about us. It’s not like I’m really flirting with devotion to another god.
Or, is food a choice of what we give ourselves to or not?
Third - notice Nebuchadnezzar’s offer of identity.
New names - new identity. Reading them in English we can miss the meaning of the names in the original languages.
In Hebrew Daniel means... “God is my judge.” Nebuchadnezzar changed Daniel’s name to what? Belteshazzar. Which means, “Protect his life, Bel.” Bel was another name for Marduk. Marduk was? Number one Babylonian god.
Hananiah means... “Yahweh has been gracious.” Nebuchadnezzar gives him the name Shadrach which means “Command of Aku.” Aku was a Sumerian moon god.
Mishael meaning... “Who is what God is?” becomes Meshach meaning “Who is what Aku is?”
Azariah “The Lord helps” becomes Abed-nego “Servant to Nebo” - Nebo being Marduk’s son.
Point being that behind Nebuchadnezzar’s offer - Nebuchadnezzar is trying to change them - from the very core of who they are - bring them into conformity to Babylonian society - lead them away from honoring the one true God - to honoring the gods of their captors.
So what’s seems like favorable treatment - a really great opportunity - is really a very subtle attempt to influence - indoctrinate - these boys.
Our society is in a downward moral spiral that sucks at us from every way possible. We live in pluralistic society - a plethora of religions and philosophies that continually distort truth. All of which has one common source… Satan.
All of which has one common goal... lead people away from God.
It’s important for us to see that what Daniel struggled with is very similar to what we struggle with in today’s spinning out of control America. Same source. Same issues. Same need for courage where we live.
Coming to verse 8 is Daniel’s Response.
Verse 8: But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.”
Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days.
Looking at Daniel’s response...
First: Daniel Resolved - he made up his mind.
Verse 8: “Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself”
The issue isn’t Jewish dietary laws: To eat pork or not to eat pork. The issue is defilement - purity before God - obedience - who Daniel belongs to.
The food is sacrificed to idols. But, Daniel belongs to God. Regardless of what our society may tempt us with or throw at us - we belong to God.
That Daniel - resolved - made up his mind means that there was a process of thought involved.
Our bodies only do what they do because they were created by God to do what they do the way they do what they do. Meaning that we can really mess up our bodies by eating or drinking in a way that shows a total disrespect for the God who created our bodies with purpose. Or, we can eat and drink in a way that respects how God has created our bodies and the purpose for which God desires to use our bodies.
All of which is an acknowledgement that we are God’s creation. We are God’s people created by God for His purposes - for His glory not ours.
Second: Daniel Acted - with respect.
Verse 8 - “Therefore - because he has made up his mind as to what God expected of him - therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.”
Notice how. “He asked.” Daniel didn’t walk up to Ashpenaz and say, “Hey Ash, we’re Jews. Man, we don’t eat stuff like that. We ain’t goin’ there.”
Ever hear Christians shove their faith down people’s throats and then wonder why people blow them off? Why God isn’t glorified?
Daniel comes with a suggestion - a test that’s really not going to get anyone in trouble - at least not in ten days. It’s a solution that’s obedient - honoring - to God - that shows respect for those in authority. That opens up the opportunity for God to be glorified - for God’s purposes to be accomplished.
Pulling that together: What Daniel is doing here is something that Daniel we see Daniel doing over and over again in this book. Ultimately Daniel is taking God at His word and choosing to live in obedience to God.
Follow God’s instructions and leave the results up to God.
As we think through our situations - with what we are tempted to buy into or in whatever push back we get - as we make our choices - that we need to be seeking God - prayerfully - in His word - in dependence on Him. Looking to Him for understanding - for wisdom - for answers.
Because ultimately it’s God who gives us life and what we need to live life - including these bodies. Whether that’s eating or what we’re watching or how we’re spending our time or responding to a pandemic or protests - we need to be making choices according to God’s will - according to who God has created us to be and His purposes for our lives.
Verse 15 opens up God’s Response
At the end of the time, when the king commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.
If Daniel isn’t moving forward where God wants to go - if God doesn’t show up - Daniel is in serious trouble. Maybe even dead.
Verse 9 records that Ashpenaz goes along with Daniel’s suggestion. We’re told that that going along with Daniel is God at work in Ashpenaz’s heart.
Verse 15 tells us that this whole vegetarian experiment was a huge win for Daniel and team. They came out looking better that all the other youths - some of whom were probably from Judah and who probably had put a ton of pressure on Daniel to compromise.
Verse 17 says that God gave them learning and skill and wisdom. God gave Daniel the ability to understand visions and dreams.
Daniel and his friends are found by Nebuchadnezzar to have wisdom and knowledge that exceeded even that of the magicians and conjurers by ten times. Not by one or two times. But ten times more. They entered into the kings personal service - a position of trust and influence.
Which is a pattern that runs beginning to end of Daniel 12. As Daniel honors God. God blesses Daniel. God uses Daniel way beyond what Daniel by himself is capable of. God using Daniel for God’s purposes - for God’s glory.
When Nebuchadnezzar had dreams - Daniel was the one who made sense out of them. When Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind - Daniel was there beside him. Daniel explained to Belshazzar what the handwriting on the wall meant.
Verse 21 tells us that Daniel was there doing that until the first year of King Cyrus - which was 539 BC.
For almost 70 years Daniel had a significant influence on world events - standing right next to throne of the kings of Babylon - and later the Medes and the Persians.
Fast forward to chapter 9 to 537 BC - Daniel advising Cyrus the king - and it may have been Daniel who wrote the decree for Cyrus that sent the Jews back to the Promised Land.
This book isn’t Nebuchadnezzar’s book. It isn’t Belshazzar’s book. It isn’t Cyrus’ book. It’s the Book of Daniel. That’s God’s response. God using Daniel for God’s purposes and for God’s glory.
Processing all that for when we head out into our semi-post COVID-19 - drama filled - hurting - full of fear - and pushing back against God and His people - world.
Hang on to two takeaways.
Names have meaning. True?
My mother’s maiden name was Shakarian. Shakar in Armenian means sugar. Several generations back the name was changed from Katchadourian to Shakarian because one of my great greats went into the candy making business. Shakarian loosely meaning “son of a candy maker.”
Going back to the roots of each person here we’d probably find descriptions of occupations and family members and towns from way back where and when. Names have meaning.
We’ve been given the name Christian. Meaning someone who believes in and follows Jesus. When it first was used in Antioch, “christian” was a term of disrespect. “One of those… christians.”
But the church went with it. That’s who we are. Identity. We believe in Jesus and we follow Him. We’re Christians. We’re in Christ because of Christ seeking to follow Christ and become more like Christ.
While we were once under the authority and power of Satan and the powers of darkness - God so loves us - values and cherishes us - that He gave Himself to die for us. Our lives have been purchased from Satan’s power through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus the Christ.
The Holy Spirit - God - has come to dwell within us. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. He has sealed us - set us apart - given us the promise of heaven - life with God which begins now and extends into eternity.
In Christ, we are the sons and daughters of the Almighty God of creation. We are citizens of His Kingdom - heirs of the riches of heaven.
God has given to each us purpose and meaning for our lives. We have a crucial place in His plan of redeeming mankind from sin. We are soldiers in a spiritual battle - fighting on the winning side. Given the great opportunity to live for God and to make a significant difference in this world. We are overcomers - victorious through Jesus Christ. Amen?
When we’re tempted to compromise and cave in because of the circumstances and crud around us. To fear what has already been conquered on the cross. We need to see ourselves - as Daniel did - as God’s man or woman.
We need to grab on to that truth. Hold tenaciously on to it. Cling to it and marinate in that truth. To trust God for the reality of it. To cry out to Him for the realization of it in the midst of where and when we are.
Christian. Remember Who’s you are. Identity. It’s who we are in Christ.
Second takeaway: Influence.
Somehow we have this idea that if we stand up for God then we’re going to be marginalized - rejected - toasted - maybe even get dead. Which may happen. There are very real reasons why we think that.
But as Daniel stands for God - God shows up. As Daniel honors God - God honors Daniel. God gives Daniel great influence - with the kings of his day - even today in our lives - even tomorrow.
Significant portions of prophecy - like in the Book of Revelation - need the Book of Daniel to be understood. There are God given reasons why we’re studying this book today.
That doesn’t mean that we’re going to stand next to kings for 70 years. And yes it may mean rejection. Sometimes choices have hard implications.
Following Jesus, many of our Christian siblings are going through really really tough circumstances - even persecution. But their influence - how God is using them - in the lives of their persecutors - those around them - even in our lives - the immeasurable eternal degree of that influence will be known forever in heaven.
The point is - if we will - remembering Who’s we are - make up our minds to stand for God against what Satan is doing in this world - then God will show up. He already has.
And God will bless us. God will use us. We will be His witnesses in this world. Used by God to make an eternal difference in the lives of those around us.
Bottom line - as we’re watching the world around us seemingly spin out of control and wondering what all that may mean as we’re getting more estranged from the familiar - don’t ever let the world take away your awareness of who you are in Jesus Christ. And expect - as you stand for God - that God will be there with you - for you - for His glory.
1. Voice of the Martyrs, March 2006
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.