Scripture Text: Daniel 1:17-21
The Blessings in Exile (Sermon Text)
When you think of God blessing you, what do you imagine? What do God’s blessings look like to you? Maybe you think of God blessing you with a good job. Maybe it is wealth. Maybe it is good health. Do you consider the opportunities to do good, or to share truth, or to help others as blessings of God? Are the blessings you receive only for yourself or are they to be shared and used to benefit others? God blesses us in a variety of ways. We sometimes miss God’s blessings because we are looking for something else. We sometimes miss God’s blessings because we are focused on something going on in our lives that does not meet our expectations. We want this but God wants to bless us with that. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “God wants to give us a vacation at the beach, but we are content making mud pies in the street.” We can miss God’s blessings because we do not recognize them or we settle for something else.
An important lesson Daniel teaches us is how to live faithfully for Christ in a world that is not our home. One reassuring thing we have read is that God is still sovereign in a turbulent and unpredictable world. Even in the midst of exile, God is in control. Another thing is that God blesses His people while they are in difficult circumstances. It might not be the blessings we expect to receive, but God’s blessings are there. Judah had rebelled against God, so God had punished them. He used Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Judah and to exile many of His people to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar then tried to assimilate the exiles into Babylonian culture by wiping out their religious and cultural identity and creating dependence upon Babylon. Daniel’s world was turned upside down. They were a long way from their family and friends and everything they knew. Daniel and his friends could have desired for God to bless them with escape, to let them go back home, or to remove the pagan nation of Babylon from power. What would you have wanted if you were Daniel? God blesses us in ways we do not expect.
The Blessing of Knowledge and Wisdom
The book of Daniel really shows how God is sovereign and in control, even when our world is falling apart. We can be assured that God is not ever caught off guard. He is never surprised. He is never dismayed when things do not go according to our plans. In this chapter, Daniel wrote that God “gave” something three times. He first gave the Jewish king, Jehoiakim, and the nation of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar who exiled His people to Babylon. But, God also gave Daniel and his three friends favor to the authorities so that they would not have to defile themselves with the king’s food. As a result of their faithfulness, God blessed them with a better appearance than the other youths who were eating the king’s rich diet. Now we see a third time God sovereignly gave something, and it is something good. Look at the following verse.
Daniel 1:17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
How many would like to be blessed with knowledge and wisdom? How about the ability to understand visions and dreams. As blessings go, many of us may want other things, like a nice house, a promotion at work, or good health. God’s blessing to Daniel and his friends was not limited to their physical well-being. He gave them that, but God also blessed them with an outstanding intellect during their three years of Babylonian education. God gave to all four of them exceptional knowledge and understanding of the Babylonian literature and wisdom. They were the top of their class. Now, some people can become arrogant about their gifts, especially their intellect. They can become prideful, thinking they are superior to other people. Daniel does not reveal pride in these statements, for he acknowledged that all of their abilities and gifts came from God. God is the Giver of all gifts and the Source of all blessings (James 1:17).
While God gave each of the four Hebrew men knowledge and wisdom, He gave Daniel an additional gift that the others did not receive. This passage reads, “And Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” This could show a difference between Daniel and his other friends. Daniel was not boasting about this, for he had already made clear that these gifts were from God. God sovereignly and miraculously gave Daniel a gift that was highly prized in that day, especially in Babylon. It was the ability to understand visions and dreams. This was an important part of Babylonian culture, as Babylonians believed their “gods” spoke through dreams. God’s gift to Daniel of interpreting dreams would soon become extremely important. You might be in a situation similar to Daniel. God may have blessed you with some gift to use for Him. Are you being faithful to God by using the gifts He has given you? Are you using the knowledge and wisdom of God (The Bible) to navigate the turbulent storms of life we experience?
The Blessing of Influence
How many want to be influential? Some do not. Some may just want to ride the waves and end up wherever the current takes them. Others, however, want to be able to influence the course of their ship. I am not saying Daniel wanted a position of influence, but God sovereignly placed him and his friends in a very important place so that they could influence the king and the direction of a nation. Look at the next verses.
Daniel 1:18–19 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 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.
The passage reads, “At the end of the time”, a reference to verse five, that mentioned the three years Daniel and his friends were educated and prepared for service. Remember, Daniel and his three friends were taken to Babylon and put into the service of Nebuchadnezzar. Compared to the plight of other Jewish people who were also exiled into Babylon, this was probably not so bad. It was still exile and an assault to their faith, but they may have had it better than most. To be fit for kingly duty, the youths went through a three-year program in order to prepare them for service. It was like going to seminary to prepare someone for ministry, except the king’s court was no church and the king was no righteous man or priest. Even so, God placed Daniel and his friends in this situation. God put them as His emissaries in a place where they could influence the king. How many would like to have the opportunity to influence the direction of our nation? This was a tremendous blessing. Today, we may not be standing in the capitol or sitting with the president in his oval office, but we still have the blessing of influence. We are the salt and light of the world. Are we taking advantage of that influence? Are we standing up for Jesus and influencing the world for Him?
The Blessing of Long, Fruitful Service
The next thing I think we see in this passage is that God blessed Daniel and his friends with long, fruitful service. Not only did God provide them the opportunity to influence Nebuchadnezzar, but God also enabled Daniel and his friends to be better at providing wise counsel to him. Look at the following verse.
Daniel 1:20 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.
God’s favor enabled Daniel and his friends to answer all of Nebuchadnezzar’s questions, so that he found them ten times better than the others. They had passed a test of ten days on a vegetarian diet, and now God blessed them with ten times the wisdom and understanding of the other advisors. Nebuchadnezzar had a variety of people he employed to help him. This is a good trait of any leader, for we ought to surround ourselves with wise, godly, counsel — the key words being wise and godly. In addition to the wise Hebrew men, Nebuchadnezzar also had magicians and enchanters. We are not entirely sure what methods these people used to gain knowledge or to give advice to the king, but it is safe to say that it was not from God. Scripture explicitly tells us to not use sorcery or magic (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). Whatever ways these magicians and enchanters gained knowledge and wisdom, Daniel and his friends far surpassed them. God’s school of learning is much better than any thing the devil or this world has to offer. You will be ten times better than the most learned, secular intellectuals in the world, if you stay true to God, His Word, and His will.
Not only was Daniel’s service to God and the king fruitful, it was also a long career. God enabled Daniel to remain faithful to Him under the rule of several pagan kings and in the hostile environments of several foreign governments. Daniel most likely remained in exile until his death. Do you want God to bless you with a long, fruitful life? That seems to be true for Daniel. Look at the last verse of this passage.
Daniel 1:21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Daniel was in Babylon for a very long time, until the first year of King Cyrus, which was about 539 B.C. Israel was replaced. Babylon was replaced. Persia was replaced. Through all of this, God sustained Daniel as his world kept changing. Perhaps this is a lesson we need to learn as we encounter good times and bad times on this earth. Whatever our circumstance and whoever is in power, we can use the time God gives us to live faithfully for Him. We can still be a witness for Jesus Christ no matter what country we reside or who is in leadership. We live in a world with all sorts of attractions, distractions, and pressures that lure us to compromise our faith. Some Christians even forsake their faith for the temporary comforts or relative peace in this world. Daniel reminds us that faithfully serving the Lord has great reward. This does not mean that we will always have worldly success. There have been many faithful Christians who have suffered at the hands of evil men. Even Daniel and his three friends came under persecution and hard times in Babylon, which we will see in subsequent chapters with the fiery furnace and the lion’s den. God, however, does reward faithfulness, and the greatest reward, the one that is incomparable, is the reward of eternal life with Jesus.
What About the Current Affairs?
Daniel also speaks to the believer’s participation in society, particularly in politics. Sometimes Christians avoid political involvement, and other times they are overly involved. Daniel shows us how to serve in governmental affairs, particularly in difficult circumstances. Daniel also teaches us that there are limits to one’s commitment to the state. When we are asked to do something that violates God’s laws, we must decide whether to obey God or to obey man. That lesson is reiterated throughout the book of Daniel. But, what does this book tell us about living in a society that is corrupt or that is hostile to our faith? Put another way, what will we do if tomorrow we wake up to a new America and a new “king” who does not support our faith? What will we do if tomorrow we find ourselves exiles in an unfamiliar country? Will we be faithful to God? Will our hope be found in the political process and in the future of America? It should not! The only enduring and everlasting nation is the kingdom of God and the only righteous and perfect leader is Jesus Christ. Our hope cannot be our political parties or our political process. Our hope must be in Almighty God, who alone can turn hearts back to Him.
The hope God offers is the only realistic hope that carries the promise of a certain outcome. It is a sure thing! This hope is not dependent on whether the world order stabilizes or disintegrates, or whether America falls or recovers, or whether the country is run by Democrats, Republicans, or someone else, or who is appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States. Our hope rises above the trouble and chaos of this present world, enabling us to stay focused on our future reward and to endure whatever situation we face in this world. Our hope is in Jesus Christ! The added benefit of this hope is that those who exercise it before others set an example that may just make a difference in the world. Enough Christians exhibiting faith in God just might be the salt that helps America. But, if God sovereignly chooses not to do that, we still have the hope of a brighter future and an everlasting life with Him. What can compare to that? We are not going to change people by the political process. We are not going to solve the real problems of the world with a particular person in government. Whatever happens in the future, no matter who is leading our country, no matter what our circumstances may be, we can serve our God faithfully. We can be His witnesses and His representatives to a world that does not know Him. Be a Daniel in Babylon!
In conclusion, this passage encourages us to remain faithful to God in difficult circumstances. This passage encourages us to trust God and to receive His blessings, even though they may not be the blessings we hope to receive. This passage encourages us to place our hope in Jesus Christ and not in a nation, an earthly king, or in anyone else. The book of Daniel shows us that it is possible to be faithful to God even when we are exiles in a foreign land. It also shows us that God is sovereign in all things and that He controls all of history, even the most dire circumstances. God even blesses His people while they are in exile. God did not bless Daniel with freedom from Babylon. God did not bless Daniel with going home. God did not bless Daniel with a righteous leader and the restoration of a nation. But, God did bless Daniel with knowledge and wisdom, with influence on a pagan king, and with a long, fruitful life of service to God. God used Daniel while he was in exile. Remember, we are sojourners in a strange land traveling to our eternal home that our heavenly Father is preparing for us. Therefore, continue in faithfulness and reap the rewards of a godly life. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.