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What can we learn from Daniel's example when we are tempted to cave in to societal pressures?
What would you consider to be the most thrilling book in Scripture? I'm not talking about a comforting or favorite book. I mean a book like a ride in a rocket-powered convertible, over the Grand Canyon, with the top down, barefoot. One that will yank you up, spin you around and leave you changed forever.
I think the book of Daniel qualifies for the short list as the most mind-blowingly fantastic book in Scripture. It speaks to the challenges you face every day and shows vividly how to confront the most extreme hardships you could possibly encounter.
Daniel's story begins with a teenager snatched from his home in Jerusalem to a city 900 miles away. I say a city, but she is more. Her name is Babylon, and she is an attitude, a lifestyle—a creed.
Make no mistake, she aims to seduce. Posing as the beautiful life, Babylon morphs into the current image of what every worldly man and woman wants to be—deserves to be.
She is popular, desirable, intoxicating and religious. She believes in so much of everything that one would be hard-pressed to tell if she believes in anything.
To worship self is to worship her. To worship her is to worship her king.
Few could resist Babylon's charms. Few had a firm enough hold on reality not to fall for her pretense. Daniel holds his place in Scripture because he was one of the few.
Kidnapped from his boyhood home, Daniel spent at least seven decades of his life there. He victoriously faced down the temptations and threats of this kingdom of evil. Our goal must be to join him as individuals who can live in an extravagant, excessive culture without being poisoned by it. We need to develop alarms for Babylon's charms.
We live in a day more like the Babylon Daniel faced than we even imagine. The same forces that sought to seduce young Hebrews surround us moment by moment.
The illustrative head of Babylon was none other than Nebuchadnezzar, her most famous king. A powerful leader, his accomplishments during this period of history were legendary, and the empire passed down to him by his father expanded and prospered under his rule.
Handsome young Daniel encountered Babylon when the cup of her inviting intoxication was overflowing. She doesn't just offer him a sip. In time, she offered him the world.
Along with Daniel, three other Hebrew youths—Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah—were also taken captive from Judah. The king's special purpose in ordering their capture is explained in Daniel 1:3-5: "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" (NIV).
Many scholars believe the young men were probably around 15 years old. Assuming this is a sound estimation, they were intensely indoctrinated in the Babylonian "language and literature" from then until they were 18 or so. We'll grasp their undertaking more accurately by understanding the word "literature" in verse 4 to encompass anything in written form, including history religious beliefs and all manner of cultural propaganda.
Picture the culture that surrounded the Hebrew boys in Babylon. What kinds of things do you imagine boys that age would have found impressive in such a rich indulgent environment?
I was raised in a small Arkansas town with few entertainment amenities. The closest skating rink was a half hour away, and the closest bowling alley was too far to bother. Most of the time, I just stuck to riding my banana-seat bike.
Then we moved to Houston.
Neon lights. Billboards. Adult entertainment businesses I didn't even know existed. On the lighter side, skating rinks and bowling alleys dotted every suburb, along with malls, superstores and multi-lane freeways.
Total culture shock. My senses were so overstimulated that I hardly knew where to begin.
Expand the balloon of sensory overload until it nearly pops, and you'll have some idea of what Daniel and the others faced. Jerusalem was a thriving city, teeming with people, but even at its worst, comparatively speaking, the teens would have led a sheltered existence within its walls. Their transition would have been tantamount to moving from a stickball field into a video game convention only to be relentlessly indoctrinated by experts on exactly how to win.
Whether or not we are conscious of it, you and I are daily being indoctrinated and trained by our culture. Look back at Daniel 1:4 and observe how closely these descriptions of the young Hebrews mirror the values of the culture surrounding us. The high premiums our culture places on age, appearance and intelligence are obvious.
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