TiO 45 – The Story – Daniel in Exile (Chaper 18)
The Main Idea
Now that Judah has been exiled to Babylon, the centre of the action, at least for a while, has been moved there. In chapter 18 we see the stories of four men, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. In these stories we see faithfulness: the faithfulness of four young men in a foreign land and the faithfulness of God.
Warm Up Questions: (Choose 1 or 2)
Q1: Have you ever lived (not just visited) in a place where you knew few people and where you were unfamiliar with geography and/or customs? Tell that story.
Q2: Can you think of someone in your life who was faithful to you even when you were not faithful in return? Tell that story if you are able.
Q3: How have your views of Bible stories changed since you were a child? Did you find that the stories in chapter 18 sounded or felt different than those same stories when you heard them in Sunday School?
Dig a Little Deeper
By the end of chapter 17 most of the people of Judah have been taken away into exile by Babylon. All that remained in the land were peasant farmers who were tasked with cultivating the land and harvesting crops—most of that revenue went back to Babylon in taxes. So, the focus of the narrative moves to Babylon and the court of the king where many young men from the people of Israel have been chosen to be educated in the schools of Babylon and to serve in the court of the king—four of these men are the focus of chapter 18. As you study this chapter, keep in mind that many people are introduced to these stories as young children but kepp the same picture of flannel graph (or Veggie Tales) lions and smiling heroes in their minds throughout their lives. Do not skim over the details of the stories but, instead, reflect deeply on the horror and profound misery that these situations would have generated In the hearts of the exiles.
Here is some information which is relevant to this story:
1) Exile and retraining was a common practice in the ancient world: take the best men—yes, it was most commonly men—and disrupt their lives by moving them from all the familiar things and retrain them in their captors’ literature, science, court customs, and religion. To reduce the likelihood of them causing lasting problems in the royal court they were often castrated as well, thus ensuring that they could not produce offspring.
2) The practice of changing names was common in the ancient world as well. Because your name generally had special meaning and connected you to your family and your culture, changing your name was one more way to disconnect you from the familiar and focus your attention on who you were to become.
Introduction: Men from Israel Chosen (pp. 249-250)
“Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility … they were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.”
Wanting to take advantage of the raw talent that was available to him in the form of smart and handsome young men, the king of Babylon ordered that the best of the captives from Judah be recruited to serve in his court. Four of these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. These four were given Babylonian names and trained to serve the king.
Act 1: Daniel Is Tested (pp. 250-254)
“And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. … In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned [Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah], he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.”
Every court had in its employ wise men. They were educated in science and philosophy and astrology and in all sorts of arcane practices. When the king had problems or needed insight into the present or the future he would call on these wise men to give him guidance. Some of the insight came in the form of dreams. Daniel proved his worth and the insight that only God could give by not only interpreting the king’s dream but also telling he king what it was, even though the king would not reveal the dream—as a test.
Act 2: Three Men in a Furnace (pp. 254-256)
“Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!’”
Living in a foreign land is never easy. Not only is it lonely and the customs strange, but it is doubly problematic if the expectations of being a part of the culture are that you do things which run contrary to your beliefs. This was one of the many times that men from Judah faced the trial of living in a foreign land. So, the king sets up a statue and demands that people worship, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—now named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—refuse, they are tossed Into a furnace to kill them but they survive and the king recants his decree.
Central to this story Is what these three men say to the king before he tries to execute them:
“‘King Nebuchednazzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown Into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even If he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’”
Act 3: Daniel In the Lion’s Den (pp. 256-260)
“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published [that no one should pray to any person or thing except for the king], he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to God, just as he had done before.”
A new boss can bring trouble. Each time a new king arose in Babylon, something happened which allowed Daniel and his friends to distinguish themselves and to show the power of their God. Now Darius has arisen, someone who did not know Daniel or his God—this sounds a lot like pharaoh and Joseph, way back In the opening of chapter 4.
Ever looking for a way to trip up the devout exiles of Judah, the governors of the various Babylonian provinces convince the king to enact a law forcing people to pray only to him. Daniel was having nothing to do with that and so, as was his custom, he continued to pray regularly in a place for all to see. Predictably, he was arrested and the punishment enacted: he was thrown Into a pit filled with hungry lions. God saved Daniel and the king had a change of heart. He even penned a poem In praise of Daniel’s God.
Epilogue: The Prophecy of Jeremiah (pp.260-261)
“This Is what the LORD says, ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to [Judah].’”
Throughout the trial that the people of Judah—those that remained of the people of Israel—endured in exile in Babylon, they could still recall the words of Jeremiah: that the exile was only temporary and that eventually they would be allowed to return back to their land.
Looking back at the story of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in Babylon, we see stories of profound faithfulness: faithfulness of a God who stuck by his people even as he allowed them to suffer the consequences of disobedience, but also the faithfulness of four men—representatives of other stories, no doubt—who were faithful to God, despite the trials that they went through.
Look back at the story of the three men in the furnace (pp. 254-256) and read aloud paragraphs 2 and 3 on page 255.
Q1: As you consider the response of the three men to the king, what does this tell you about the nature of their faith?
Q2: For the three men, what would have been evidence of God having abandoned them?
Review the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (pp. 257-260) and read aloud paragraphs 2 and 3 on page 258.
Q3: What was Daniel’s response to the edict issued by the king? What does this tell you about Daniel?
God is faithful to us and we are called to be faithful to him. However, while God’s faithfulness to us is often used as a reason for us to be faithful to him, we are never told to “keep obeying as long as it seems God is blessing you.” Instead, we are simply called to obey despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. We are to say, as the three men in the furnace did, “God is able to deliver us … but even if he does not … we will not serve your gods.”
Q1: How do you feel when your faithfulness to God is not rewarded with blessing?
Q2: What has God actually promised us, in terms of blessing?
Faithfulness is hard, especially when we do not see immediate (or any) good result of being faithful to God. But, we are called to declare our allegiance to God with words (“we will not bow”) and with actions (Daniel prayed for all to see).
Pray for increased faithfulness to listen to God and to do what he asks of you.