Today we begin a 5-week blog series that will focus our attention on a basic truth that not all of us want to admit. We find it difficult to admit if we can at all. There should be a support group for those who realize this truth. This truth makes me very sad and very angry at the same time. This truth fills me with questions. At times, I am filled with worry because of this truth.
What is that truth? We no longer live in a Christian nation.
If you are a ‘believer in Jesus Christ’, you are absolutely living in a foreign land. I am not even sure if I can use the term ‘Christian’ anymore without having that term mixed with politics and certain unBiblical ways of thinking that muddy what Jesus Christ taught. Sometimes people identify as ‘Christian’ and then explain what they believe are nothing like what I would expect and what I mean when I used the term ‘Christian.’ I feel so stupid saying that, but it is true. We no longer live in a nation rooted in Biblical values, but rather we live in Babylon.
Babylon began in Genesis 11 with the building of the tower of Babel which was an actual tower that people tried to build in order to take control from God. Babel was that place where people on purpose tried to replace God. In the Book of Revelation and in other prophetic books in the Old Testament, Babylon became a symbol of a society that marches to the beat of its own drum away from God and away from His way of living. We live in Babylon.
OUR CULTURE… ‘FAITH FOR EXILES,’ Kinnaman & Matlock, 2019, pages 19-21
You may or may not realize that we live in a very fast-paced and complex culture. Our culture influences you whether you want it to or not. The pace and the complexity of our culture didn’t have to, but it leads us away from God in many areas. It seems like much of our culture is engineered to push God out and to push ‘self’ up.
Our lives accelerate fast. News is fast. News is so fast that an event anywhere in the world can be reported on in real-time to anywhere else in the world. The speed of information is incredible and also comes many times at the expense of actual facts. The pace of life and the rate of change on things is so accelerated that most of the time we can’t keep up. We live in the age of the screen. Most people live with advanced computing power in the palm of their hand and those devices drive how we see the world and how we interact with it. Technology makes everything easy, but it also makes everything fast and accessible and easily manipulated.
How does this fast pace draw us away from God? We do not have time for Him. We take kids to this sport and have that event and when Sunday comes around we are tired. Go go go go crash. Travel ball happens on Sunday and we choose that over Him. We are so busy we just catch church online instead of coming in person and we think it is the same. It is not. The pace at times pushes God out.
Our lives are also increasingly complex. Everyday life feels more and more uncertain and complicated. ‘Cause and effect’ used to be a normal way to think, but anymore it feels like life is unpredictable and people are even more unpredictable… their reactions are unpredictable. Take topics like politics or vaccines or facemasks or gender identity and you cannot predict the conversation you will have with someone. Even someone in your own household.
In the midst of this accelerated and complex culture, what defines life is changing and it is changing quickly. We live in a pluralistic culture that is quite open to truth from any source because there is no Absolute Truth or one way to see the world. The Bible is no longer the source of truth, but is one of many voices people listen to and consult when trying to understand their life. The Bible rarely holds central authority over people or society. All kinds of voices can be accessed instantly and not all voices are for our benefit or are even wise.
DANIEL IN BABYLON
Life is indeed different in Babylon which is what Daniel discovered in twenty-one verses of chapter 1 of the book written by him and bears his name. Daniel 1 shares with us some of Daniel’s story about how he found himself living in Babylon and how he anchored his soul in faith.
BESIEGED, GAVE, AND BROUGHT
Chapter 1 of Daniel begins with three keywords: besieged, gave, and brought. First, we see the people of God under attack by the forces of Babylon. They are besieged. This is not anything symbolic or metaphorical, King Nebuchadnezzar literally and physically marched his armies to the doorstep of Jerusalem and surrounded it. God’s people were under attack. Besieged. The armies of Babylon cut off all trade and imports of food and water and blockaded the city so the inhabitants would suffer and die.
Second, we see that God used Babylon to discipline His people who had turned away from Him and He allowed the Babylonians to win the attack. God ‘gave’ them over. We know that God promised this would happen if the people did not change their ways because He told them through prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Hosea. They did not listen. This was the result.
Third and perhaps most important, the Book of Daniel begins with a very interesting action word in Daniel 1:2 which summarizes the predicament Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah find themselves in. The action word in Daniel 1:2 is “brought” [ESV, NASB, NET, LEB, RSV, AMP]. The NIV and KJV use the more descriptive words ”carried off” and “carried into.” Daniel and the others are “carried off” from their homes, family, friends, and influences they had known in their young lives. They, as the result of the sin of the nation and the siege of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, are now prisoners of war and exiled away from home. You see, the Babylonians conquered whole people groups and societies by attacking, taking the best and brightest away from home, and then re-educating and brainwashing them as good Babylonian citizens.
BURDENS OF NEW FOODS AND NEW NAMES
Chapter 1 continues to tell us about the life of Daniel and others are in and this new life brought them burdens and issues they had to face. Verse 5 tells us they were to be trained and indoctrinated for three years and then they would serve the king. The boys were in a foreign land and were now forced to eat foreign food… some of it against their religious beliefs outlined in the Law of Moses. What would they do? The culture they were living in tells them one thing, but their religious beliefs tell them another. In this chapter we see specifically there is conflict of the body and mind.
There is conflict of the body because the verses share with us that the foods offered to them from the king was not religiously acceptable to the Jewish young men. Do they go along with the culture or do they remain true to what they know is correct in God’s sight? This is not easy. How do we know it’s not easy? Daniel and the other 3 are not the only ones captured, but they are the only ones we hear about.
The boys decide to stand their ground and remain faithful to God. Daniel took a risk and decided to follow his beliefs. There was a whole test set up that many of us learned about in Sunday School or VBS when we were children… this is when Daniel and the others ate vegetables and religiously clean food while the others being educated ate from the king’s table.
There is also conflict of the mind because not only was this physical food test before them, but in the midst of all of the changes and challenges, Daniel 1:7 tells us the Babylonian officials were giving the boys new names. They are away from home and are learning a different way of life and customs. They are forced into this test of their religious convictions. And now their names are even changing. The boys’ names were changed as a way of encouraging them to forget God and the traditions of their homeland and to become conformed to the ways and gods of Babylon. It was a forced assimilation. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians wanted Daniel and his companions and all captured people to conform to the pattern of their world and a name change was one step toward that goal.
Names have meaning and power and direct us. The name of a thing is important. The name of a person is important. When you redefine a term or a thing or a person, you can make it be whatever you want and truth is lost.
“Daniel” means “God is my judge” in Hebrew. “Belteshazzar” means “Bel protects his life.”
“Hananiah” means “God is gracious” in Hebrew. “Shadrach” means “Command of Aku”
“Mishael” means “Who is what God is” in Hebrew. “Meshach” means “Who is what Aku is”
“Azariah” means “God has helped” in Hebrew. “Abednego” means “slave of Nebo”
I hope you can see that living in Babylon means a change of identity and what is important. The Babylonians did not want young men who believed in the God of Israel, but wanted young men who worshipped Bel, Aku, and Nebo. The Babylonians wanted people to conform to their way of life. The pressure on these young men must have been tremendous. They are pressed on all sides to change every aspect of their being. I can imagine them having some sleepless nights.
GOD IS FOUND FAITHFUL
God is in the middle of all the clutter and stress and pressure. Verse 9, God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the steward. In verse 17, God gave Daniel and the others learning and skill. In verse 17, God gave Daniel understanding of dreams and visions. In verse 20, God made them ten times better than all their co-workers. Daniel and his companions found that in the midst of the pressure to change from Jerusalem to Babylon that God was faithful to them in the middle of it all. These young men found that if they abided in the presence of God and committed themselves to His way of life, that there is strength and hope and a firm foundation in Him.
Jesus said the same thing in John 15:4-6 (ESV): Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
Daniel and Hananiah and Mishael and Azariah found that the chaos and the clutter could be dealt with when they based their lives on what they knew to be from God and what they knew to be tied to Absolute Truth. This was not easy. As we will see from their lives I the rest of the book, it was not always smooth sailing for them because Babylon as meant to beat and bend and force faith out of them. They had to be intentionally intimate with God to hold on.
CHALLENGE: CLEAR OUT THE CLUTTER
We do not live in a Christian nation. The question is: What are you going to do about it?
* Clear out the clutter and spend time in God’s Word soaking up His voice and His will.
* Clear out the clutter and worship Him often in spirit and in truth.
* Clear out the clutter and pray to listen for God’s voice and share your heart with Him.