Remember Your True Identity
How do we live in exile? To begin, we must recognize the hand of God in our circumstances. God may send us to a difficult place to spread His name among the nations. God often brings suffering into the lives of His people to demonstrate His sovereignty, strengthen our faith, show Himself wise and strong, and put His glory on display among the nations that they might be drawn to Him, as He did in this story.
The hero of this story is not the Hebrew teenagers but the all-powerful God of grace who keeps His promises. As we begin the Book of Daniel, we are introduced to four remarkable young men who were uprooted and replanted in the harsh and wicked soil of the Babylonian Empire. They may have been away from home, but they were not outside the sovereign plan of God.
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. 2 The Lord handed Jehoiakim king of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God. Nebuchadnezzar carried them to the land of Babylon, to the house of his god, and put the vessels in the treasury of his god.
3 The king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his court officials, to bring some of the Israelites from the royal family and from the nobility—4 young men without any physical defect, good-looking, suitable for instruction in all wisdom, knowledgeable, perceptive, and capable of serving in the king’s palace—and to teach them the Chaldean language and literature. 5 The king assigned them daily provisions from the royal food and from the wine that he drank. They were to be trained for three years, and at the end of that time they were to serve in the king’s court. 6 Among them, from the descendants of Judah, were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them other names: he gave the name Belteshazzar to Daniel, Shadrach to Hananiah, Meshach to Mishael, and Abednego to Azariah.” —Daniel 1:1-7
On the surface, God’s people were invaded and taken captive. But from a different perspective we see that God’s people were now free to bring God’s light into enemy territory. Babylon was now being infiltrated by the Lord’s “army.” Israel would be oppressed and her people scattered, but the nations would now have a witness among them to God.
In what ways is our identity as God’s people strengthened by remembering that our present circumstances are no accident?
In order for God’s people to be salt and light in the evil empire of Babylon, they would need to be prepared for the challenges such a culture would throw at them—challenges designed to lead them away from God. Look at the pressures Daniel and his three friends had to face:
Isolation. The Babylonian strategy was to seize upon the Hebrews’ vulnerability once they were separated from all that was familiar—homeland, family, and friends (see v. 3). Over time, they would be more likely to abandon their faith and become like the Babylonians.
Indoctrination. The young men were enrolled in an educational school for three years to become experts in the Babylonian language, philosophy, literature, science, history, and astrology, including their pagan, polytheistic religion (see vv. 4-5).
Assimilation. The Hebrews were expected to change their minds and their lifestyle, to eat and drink like the Babylonians, enticing them with the delicacies and privileges of their new life (see v. 5). This would wear them down and win them over to the dark side.
Confusion. Finally, the young men were given new names (v. 7). In the ancient world, a name went to the core of a person’s identity, so this was a way of reorienting their lives away from their past and toward the pagan gods of Babylonian culture.
As Christians, we too are pressured to conform to the ways of this world. How might it be easy to fall prey to these strategies?
In what ways can we strengthen our identity in Christ when facing the pressures of our culture?
Excerpted from Daniel Akin and Walter R. Strickland II, The Gospel Project: God the Sustainer © 2016 Lifeway Press®. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.