Daniel 1 - The Four Teenaged Reformers
When King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem, he immediately set in motion a systematic program to assimilate the people of Judah into Babylonian culture and religion. We read in Daniel 1:3-6:
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
Here we see that Nebuchadnezzar took from Judah some of the youngest, brightest and most talented youths of noble descent and he was going to have them trained in the ways of the Babylonian culture. His reason for this was simple but devious. Being bright and of noble descent, these youths were the leaders and instructors of tomorrow. Once they were thoroughly trained in Babylonian culture and religion, they could lead and brainwash the rest of the covenant people as they were being led into exile in Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar’s grand scale seduction did not stop at the education of the Hebrew teenagers. He planned to use food and drink to pervert their minds. As we all know, God’s children acknowledge that their food and drink are a blessing from the Lord. They even ask God and thank Him for their daily bread in their prayers. In the same way, pagans considered that it was their gods who blessed them with their food and drink. In their eating and drinking, they actually worshipped their gods. Thus the food and drink which came from Nebuchadnezzar’s table represented an essential part of Babylonian religion. When the boys from Jerusalem received food and drink from the king’s table, they were called upon to worship the idols and gods who had made this food and drink possible. If they gave in to that, then they would soon forget who it truly is that gives daily bread to his children. They would honour the gods of Babylon instead. This was a further attempt by Nebuchadnezzar to brainwash God’s people to forget their God.
The attack of Nebuchadnezzar climaxed in the changing of the youths’ names. Instead of having names which contained the name of the Lord their God, they were given names which contained the names of Babylonian gods. In other words, these young people were being claimed for the honour of pagan gods. This was a subtle but full-blown attack by Satan through Nebuchadnezzar to claim these young people as children of darkness. Satan hoped that through them, the leaders of tomorrow, future generations would be led astray: blind guides leading God’s covenant people into ever deepening darkness. By these means, Satan was aspiring to the death of the church of God. At that point it would not make much sense any more for the coming of the Christ.
This should send a shiver of concern and fear down our spines today. We see here one of Satan’s most sinister weapons: go after the youth of the church. Adults may be fairly well entrenched in the Christian faith. But young people are so impressionable and vulnerable – and they are the adults, the parents, the teachers and the office bearers of tomorrow! If Satan can draw the youth away from the Lord, then as they grow up and start raising families of their own and have leadership roles in the church and school, then more and more families and members of the church will fall away from the Lord.
Now we wonder: would Satan try such a dirty, rotten trick today? Of course he would: he would do whatever he could to break up the church of Jesus Christ. The question that has to be considered and answered by us is whether Satan, perhaps even behind our backs, is making inroads into the lives of our children and young people. Do we know where our children are: not just physically but spiritually and emotionally? What influences the lives of our children? Who controls their minds? What lives in their hearts?
Antichristian forces are all around us: in secular education, on the TV, in books and magazines, on the Internet, and in the kinds of friends they have. Do we really know what is going on in their lives? Do we know whether they are getting into pornography? Do we keep track of whether they are making friends who encourage them to seek their pleasures in the things of this world? Do we know what is really important to them – could it be that the most important things in their lives are their careers and future incomes? Do we pay attention to whether they are being influenced by humanistic principles when they go to a secular school such as college or university? Let us be even more pinpointed here. Do we know about our children’s relationship with the Lord: whether they read the Bible and pray regularly? Do we have discussions with them on a regular basis and see that they are prepared to stand up for the name of Jesus in the face of challenge and opposition? We may think the church is more secure today than it was in the days of Daniel. But the fact is, Satan is as fully committed as he ever was to attack the church by leading the youth astray. So the question remains important and critical: do we know what is going on in the lives of our children?
What happened in the case of Daniel who was facing tremendous temptation and pressure from Nebuchadnezzar? We read in Daniel 1:8, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” By the grace of God, this young teenage boy resolved not to give in to Nebuchadnezzar’s plan to assimilate God’s people into paganism. He would not give thanks to pagan gods for his food and drink. He was basically saying: You can destroy my beloved Jerusalem, you can take me away from my parents and you can give me a pagan name, but you can never make me deny my Lord and his Christ. Daniel was risking his life here. But God was gracious and He preserved Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah by convincing the guard to let them have vegetables and water which were not offered to idols. Moreover, Daniel and his friends grew in wisdom and knowledge. This was God’s plan and preparation to use them in the future to overcome the power of Satan against God and His people. They were the four reformers – teenaged reformers – who opposed Satan’s plan and remained faithful to the Word of God alone. Through their faithfulness, the covenant people received clear direction to repent from their sins and to long for the day that the Lord would bring them back to Jerusalem.
The ultimate victory over Satan, sin and death has been won through our Lord Jesus Christ. In his perfect obedience, He paid for our sins and obtained for us the glorious liberty of the children of God. All who cling to Him in faith and seek their salvation in Him alone, will find safety in the continual attacks of Satan who goes around like a prowling lion seeking someone to devour. But of course that also means that we have to be discerning in our faith. We have to see the dangers. We must be aware of the dangerous decline of morals in our society. We must see how the love of money and the love of man himself has become the god of this age. As parents and children, we must have open communication together. Not only should parents see what is going in the lives of their children but children must feel free to discuss whatever is on their minds with their parents. Together we need to turn in faith to Jesus Christ for help in the terrific struggle against Satan and temptation. Together we need to turn to God and his Word to give us the guidance on how we should live. This is ongoing reformation in the church of Jesus Christ. This is how we may trust that not just the present generation, but also our children and our children’s children will serve the Lord with their whole life and look forward to the city whose architect and builder is God.