(Please find a Spanish translation of this article here.)
2020 has been. . .ah. . .something, huh? And its not over yet.
A few days ago, I wrote a reflection (read: “preaching to myself”) regarding how God often has different plans for us that we do. His plan is always better than mine! James 5 reminds us:
“8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
As we look for encouragement to persevere with grace and faithfulness in the face of 2020, lets look at one of the most familiar prophet, Daniel. We do not have a lot of specific details about Daniel’s background from the book named after him, but here is what we can glean from Scripture and history:
First of all, The Lord superintended the exile of Daniel. Daniel 1 records “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim, King of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar] hands. Exploring the concepts of God’s sovereignty will have to wait for another post, but this passage is very clear: God Himself exiled His people.
Daniel was probably from a leading family. Isaiah 36:9 details the word of the Lord to Jehoiakim that some of his own sons would be sent into exile to serve the conquering kingdom.
Daniel suffered the traumatic removal from his home and everything that he knew. He was subjected (literally) to a new language, a new diet, a new education, and even a new name.
Daniel most likely suffered physical violence against his body upon entering the training in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. One of the details recorded in the prophecy of Isaiah 36 was that the young men removed from Judah would become eunuchs in Babylon. Was Daniel made a eunuch? Daniel 1 records that he approached his supervisor who was the Chief of the eunuchs. Also, the Mishnah’s rabbinic tradition maintains that this was his lot. While I can’t take a dogmatic stance on this, the castration of young royal captives was common in these worlds to protect the king’s household.
Daniel was removed from the spiritual influences of his family, the calendrical religious remembrances of the Jewish people, and proximity to temple worship. No matter how much he might have desired a strong spiritual context to prop him up, everything around him actually served to do just the opposite.
Daniel anticipated death at the hands of the Babylonians on at least two occasions: in chapter 2 when the captain of the guards was rounding up the wise men and in chapter 6 when he was thrown to the lions.
In short, Daniel’s life was probably not what he imagined when he was growing up! Just think what kind of person he would have been if he had given in to the trauma and anger and disappointment of this unexpected life.
My friend Gunner Gundersen, my favorite author of wise pithy tweets wrote last week: “Bitterness is self-bondage masquerading as emotional justice.” Daniel didn’t give in to it. He anticipated a better Judge to come.
Instead, we see his life centered on patient trust in the work of God, the Most High. How did Daniel stay faithful? How was he content in the life he didn’t expect? What sort of example does James point us to?
1. Daniel recognized God’s Sovereignty.
- He understood that it was the Lord who had placed him in this position.
- He prayed throughout his ministry! He remembered the time of the sacrifices at the destroyed temple in Jerusalem for at least 65 years of his exile.
- He sought out the writings of the prophets. See Daniel 9.
- He repented and pled for his people to be returned to the Land and to the Lord.
2. Daniel resolved to honor the Lord and demonstrated courage in all his actions.
- He wouldn’t eat the king’s food.
- He didn’t bow to the idols to whom to food was offered.
- Daniel didn’t cower before Nebuchadnezzar in reporting hard prophecies about the King’s imminent madness.
- He honored the word of the Lord as reported by Jeremiah—a letter sent to the exiles, including Daniel: “Seek the welfare of the city where I HAVE SENT you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29.7
3. Daniel rejoiced in the character of the Most High God.
- Daniel’s prayers reflected his joyful embrace of God’s work, like this one recorded in Daniel 2. Look at what he says about God:
20 Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
22 he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
23 To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”
Daniel clearly understood the power, sovereignty, wisdom, discernment, and strength of the Most High, and was able to fully trust in God’s work because of this knowledge. Daniel, resting in God’s character, persistently pursued and praised God, even when to do so might bring him harm. What did Daniel’s character look like?
- Drenched in Grace
Every day, every minute, really, I have a choice of how to respond to this life I didn’t expect–I can be bitter, angry, and disappointed, or I can throw myself into the gracious arms of the Lord Most High and trust that this life IS HIS plan for me. Like Daniel, I can work and wait, praise, repent, pray, and look forward to God’s goodness and justice to be worked out in all things. Let’s walk this road together!