Pursuit Of Holiness
Taught Not Caught
Bryan Chapell begins his sermon, “The Undefiled,” with this story.
“When I was in seminary, the wife of one of my classmates worked as a quality control inspector at a pharmaceutical company downtown in order to support the family. One day, through mistaken procedures, a major order of syringes was contaminated and would not pass inspection. When the wife of my friend reported the contamination to her boss, he quickly computed the costs of reproducing the order and made a ‘cost-effective’ decision: ship the order. He ordered her to sign the inspection clearance despite the contamination. She refused.
Because of government regulations, my friend's wife was the only one who could sign the clearance. The syringes did not ship that day. So the next day, a Friday, the wife got a visit from the company president. He said he would give her the weekend to think it over, but if the forms were not signed on Monday, her job would be in jeopardy.
In fact, much more was in jeopardy. This inspection job was this couple's only means of support. The husband's education and ministry future was also in jeopardy. All their hopes, dreams, and family plans of many years could be shattered as a result of a choice to be made over the next two days. For this young couple, all the abstract doctrinal instruction they had been receiving about personal consecration, world transformation, and credible witness boiled down to this one very real decision: could they afford to remain undefiled from the contamination the world was urging them to approve? Was the witness of holiness worth what it would cost?
The couple's predicament, of course, was not unique to them. In all ages God's people are pressured to pollute the purity of their dedication to God. The pressures come from lots of potential sources: bosses, finances, competitors, friends, relatives, congregations, our own desires for success and significance. This couple faced such pressures, you have faced them, Daniel and his friends faced them. The pressures face anyone who will seek to live undefiled in a world of sin. That's why the Bible, in order to help us face these pressures, speaks so plainly about the risks, reasons, and rewards of holiness.”
This couple was going to have to decide whether or not to follow what they were taught by their parents, church, and seminary. When it comes to tough decisions we most often return to what we were taught – our character.
Character traits developed in me by my parents
Hard work ethic
Faith in God
I remember attending a workshop at one of the UB National Conferences where former Bishop Phil Whipple was sharing about hiring staff
He shared that he would rather hire someone with character instead of someone with a lot of skills
His reasoning behind this was that it was easier to teach them the various skills they would need, than to teach them character qualities that take time to develop
Character is something that is taught over a long period of time, while skills can be easily caught within a short period of time
What skills have you learned?
What character traits were you taught? (good and bad)
Daniel and his friends were taught some pretty incredible character traits that stuck with them even when they were separated from their families. One of the main character traits they had learned was a firm commitment to God. They also learned what holiness meant and how to maintain that. From Daniel’s example in the passage today, we will learn that . . .
BIG IDEA – Holiness begins with a firm commitment to God.
Kenneth Gangel does an excellent job of providing the main point headings in the Holman Old Testament Commentary for Daniel. I’ve used those headings as the main points this morning.
GOD (Daniel 1:1-21)
Attack by Babylon (vv. 1-2)
Jehoiakim was the son of Josiah
Josiah was the king who returned the Israelites to the worship of God
He was one of just a few kings who were righteous and did what was right before God
Most of the other kings were wicked and turned away from God
After Josiah’s death, his younger son Johoahaz was actually made king, first, but his reign only lasted three months (he was a wicked king)
Pharaoh-neco appointed Eliakim, Josiah’s elder son, as king and renamed him Jehoiakim
Year of Jehoiakim’s reign
Daniel says it was in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign
Jeremiah says it was in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign (Jeremiah 25:1)
Which one is correct?
Both, because they are talking about the same time period
Two different calendars [Dwight J. Pentecost, Daniel (The Bible Knowledge Commentary; ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; Accordance electronic ed. 2 vols.; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), 1:1328]
Jewish calendar began in September-October
Babylonian calendar began in March-April
Two different ways of counting [Gangel, The Holman Old Testament Commentary, Daniel, 15]
Babylonian reckoning (Daniel) – they “considered the first year of a king’s reign the year of accession and the second year would be the official ‘first year.’” [Gangel, 15]
Egyptian reckoning (Jeremiah) – they considered the first year as the actual first year of their reign
So, Jehoiakim had been king for four years (Egyptian timing), three years (Babylonian timing)
Jeremiah (25:1) tells us that it was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign that he besieged Jerusalem
It was 605 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar became king and he didn’t waste time establishing his dominance in the region
He immediately began his conquest of the surrounding nations
While Nebuchadnezzar thought he was ultimately in control, we see the almighty, sovereign God, who is actually in control
In God’s sovereignty and under His control, He allowed Nebuchadnezzar to overtake Jerusalem and delivered king Jehoiakim into his hands
PRINCIPLE #1 – God is sovereign!
Nothing happens outside His divine control and purpose
This is the first time, in the passage we’re looking at today, that we see God’s sovereignty, but it’s not the last
God is still in control of world changing and nation changing events
Whatever our political views are, we can trust that God is in control!
Whatever our beliefs are about a world-wide pandemic, God is in control!
Whatever financial struggles we’re experiencing, either personally or as a church, God is in control!
How many of us would say that we feel like we are being taken captive (emotionally, spiritually, politically, relationally, financially)?
How many of us would say that we feel like some of our most prized possessions are being carried away?
Perhaps most of us can relate to what the Israelites were feeling at this point – we may not be going into captivity and being carried away to another land, physically, but perhaps that’s how we feel emotionally, mentally, or spiritually
We may be experiencing the feelings of hopelessness
God is with us and promises to never leave us or forsake us, but to be our helper (Hebrews 13:5-6)
We can trust Him!
#1 – My Next Step Today Is To: Trust in God’s sovereign power and turn to Him with my feelings of hopelessness.
God also allowed some of the articles from His temple to be carried away to Babylonia
“Daniel tells us that twice in one verse, indicating its importance. He wants us to understand that this is not only a battle between nations but also a battle between deities – God against Marduk, great god of the Babylonians.” [Gangel, 17]
This spiritual battle wages to the very end of time as we see in Revelation
The temple in Babylonia would have been to Bel (Marduk)
The purpose in carrying away some of the articles from the temple was to prove that the deities of Babylonia had conquered the God of Judah
And yet, we know that’s not the case, as Daniel pointed out (God was in control)
Nebuchadnezzar left some of the articles in the temple, so the Israelites, who remained in Jerusalem, could continue to worship their God
They were a vassal state of Babylon
Nebuchadnezzar didn’t only take articles from the temple of the Lord, but he also took young men from Jerusalem to Babylon
Training in Babylon (vv. 3-7)
Who was to be trained?
Nebuchadnezzar puts the chief of his court officials, Ashpenaz, in charge of choosing those who will be taken into captivity and trained
This was common practice in the ancient world – taking the brightest and best of the royal family and nobility into captivity and training them, so they would eventually become advocates, for the conquering nation, with their own people
Attributes of those chosen
Physically – young, without defect, handsome (I may be biased, but I think my three boys would have qualified physically)
Young men/youths/children – Daniel and his friends would have been around 12-15 years’ old
Their age will be significant as the events of this passage unfold – so keep their age in mind
Intellectually – aptitude for every kind of learning, well-informed, quick to understand (again, I’m biased, but my three boys would qualify)
We would all feel the same way about our own children
Now that we know who was to be trained, we can focus on what they were to be taught
What were they to be taught?
Language and literature of the Babylonians
“The traditional language of Babylon was Akkadian, a complex and ancient language written by means of a cuneiform script (using a stylus to make wedge-shaped characters), in which each symbol represented a syllable.” [John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 730]
[Show pictures of Akkadian cuneiform script]
While the Babylonians knew Akkadian, they primarily communicated using Aramaic, which was similar to Hebrew, in that it used an alphabetic script instead of a cuneiform script
Daniel and his friends may have already know Aramaic
There were certainly all kinds of general literature for these young men to learn (sciences, mathematics, etc.), but perhaps they were taught specific forms of literature based on how there were going to serve the Babylonian kingdom
We know that Daniel served as a diviner, because God had given him the ability to understand visions and dreams of all kinds (Daniel 1:17)
It’s probable that Daniel focused on the omen literature that would serve him well as a diviner
We’re not really told how the other three youths served the Babylonian kingdom, so it’s more difficult to determine their course of training
This wasn’t a 12-week course on how to serve the king, but rather a much lengthier training that would completely indoctrinate them to the customs, traditions, and ways of the Babylonian people
How long was their training?
Their training would take them three years
After their training was complete, they would serve the king
Every aspect of their lives was regimented and set by the king – what they were to learn and what they were to eat
What were they to eat?
The king assigned a daily portion of food and wine from his own table
This shouldn’t be seen as a way to defile the Hebrew captives
The king probably didn’t even know about their dietary restrictions
He was providing the best, he had to offer, for them
Remember, the purpose in their training was to transform those who were captive from their original origins to Babylonian citizens
We only learn later that Daniel and his three friends considered the food and wine something that would defile them
We’re not told the exact food items that were part of the daily portion, but perhaps it included bread and meat of some kind
Captives weren’t the only ones who received a daily portion from the king’s table [Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, 731]
Ranking members of the administration
Craftsmen and artisans (native or foreign)
Diplomats, businessmen and entertainers
Of those who were taken captive, we see that some of them were from Judah
Line of Judah (line of the king)
Daniel – “God is judge”
Hananiah – “Jehovah is gracious; whom Jehovah has favored”
Mishael – “Who is what God is?”
Azariah – “The Lord helps”
“To change someone’s name is to exercise authority over them and their destiny.” [Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament,]
Belteshazzar (Daniel) – “Bel’s (Marduk) prince; he whom Bel favors.” [Chief-god]
Shadrach (Hananiah) – “young friend of the king; command of Aku.” [Sun/Moon-god]
Meshach (Mishael) – “Who is what Aku is?” Could also be from Babylonian goddess Sheshach (Shak) [Earth-god]
Abednego (Azariah) – “servant of Nebo; servant of the shining fire” [Fire-god]
So, Daniel and his three friends, along with the other captives, were going through a lot of changes all at once
Daniel accepted all of the changes, but one
Commitment in Babylon (vv. 8-14)
Daniel made up his mind that he would not eat the royal food or drink the wine
Why did he make up his mind about the food and drink, but not the name change or curriculum?
Having his named changed and learning about the customs, traditions, and ways of the Babylonian people did not directly go against Jewish law
Eating food prepared by Gentiles would have made the food unclean – it was not Kosher
The food might have been sacrificed to idols and eating it would have meant approval of the worship of those gods
Firm commitment to God
Holiness begins with a firm commitment to God.
Where did Daniel learn this firm commitment to God?
He would have been alive during King Josiah’s reign
He would have seen and experienced the repentant heart of not only the King, but everyone else in Jerusalem
Perhaps he watched his father and mother recommit themselves to the Lord – he saw, first-hand, the transformation that God’s Word had in his own family
He was wholly committed to the Lord and would not sacrifice that commitment by eating food and drinking wine potentially sacrificed to idols
“The great lesson from the incident is that religion should regulate the smallest details of life, and that it is not narrow over-scrupulousness, but fidelity to the highest duty, when a man sets his foot down about any small matter, and says, ‘No, I dare not do it, little as it is, and pleasant as it might be to sense, because I should thereby be mixed up in a practical denial of my God.’ ‘So did not I, because of the fear of God’ (Neh. v. 15), is a motto which will require from many a young man abstinence from many things which it would be much easier to accept.” [Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 10757]
PRINCIPLE #2 – God is pleased when we choose holiness over worldliness.
We are being bombarded every day with temptations for worldliness
Perhaps our employer is asking us to do something that we know is not morally or ethically right (what will we choose?)
Maybe a friend at school wants us to help them do something that we know isn’t right (what will we choose?)
Some of us may have family members who are pressuring us to do something wrong (what will we choose?)
A fellow college student or professor may be encouraging us to be more tolerant of a social or cultural shift that is in opposition to God’s Word (what will we choose?)
Society wants us to be tolerant of other religions and “cultural norms” that go against the Bible (what will we choose?)
Laws within our land (abortion, same-sex marriage, legalization of drugs, etc.) tempt us to accept what God says is unacceptable (what will we choose?)
#2 – My Next Step Today Is To: Resolve to stand firm on my commitment to God and choose holiness over worldliness.
Committed to God at a young age
As I mentioned earlier, Daniel and his three friends were probably in their early teens
They were pursuing holiness, because of a firm commitment to God
These four young men seem to be the exception among the captives, but they are an incredible example for our young people today
Too often in our day and age, young men and women in their early teens are not pursuing holiness and a firm commitment to God
We often hear them say that they will pursue God and holiness when they are older
Many young people, who walked away from the church and the Lord in their mid to late teens and early twenties, return to the Lord and the church when they begin having children (they know the importance of training up their children in the Lord)
This doesn’t have to be the norm
Young people can and should be pursuing holiness and a firm commitment to the Lord
The primary teaching and modeling for pursuing holiness should come from Dad and Mom
They learn both from our teaching and our example
There are certainly young people who are living in a non-Christian homes, but are striving to live for Jesus
That’s when the body of Christ steps in and provides the teaching and modeling for these young people to follow
#3 – (Young People) My Next Step Today Is To: Not wait until I’m older to pursue holiness and a personal relationship with God.
#4 – (Adults) My Next Step Today Is To: Commit to teach and model a life of holiness for the next generation.
Daniel gives us a great example of how to handle potential conflict, especially when it pertains to defiling our moral and ethical beliefs – he appeals to those in charge
He asks the chief official for permission not to defile himself
PRINCIPLE #1 – God is sovereign!
We see that God is sovereignly in control again as He causes the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel
The chief official understands Daniel’s concern about the food and wine, but he isn’t ready to choose holiness over worldliness
He prefers having his head attached to his shoulders (he’s afraid for his life)
The chief official wasn’t willing to question the king’s assignment of food
That didn’t stop Daniel from continuing to appeal
Next, he goes to the guard who has direct supervision over him, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah
His appeal is to have the guard give these four a test run for 10 days
Instead of eating the royal good and drinking the wine, they will only eat vegetables and drink water
After the 10 days are up, the guard can compare their appearance to the appearance of the other captives who have eaten the king’s food and wine
The guard can then treat these four young men based on what he sees
The guard agrees to the test
What will happen as a result of these four young men choosing holiness, because of their firm commitment to God?
Blessings in Babylon (vv. 15-21)
PRINCIPLE #3 – God honors the obedience of His people.
These four young men looked healthier than the other young men
They also looked more nourished/fatter (we don’t associate fatter as healthy term, but think about malnourished children who are only skin and bones – for them to be fatter, means well nourished)
The guard saw the results and took away the choice food and wine from everyone and gave them all vegetables to eat and probably water to drink
The intellectual blessings all came from God!
All four men received knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning
Daniel also received the ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams
It didn’t matter what the king questioned them about
As it pertained to wisdom and understanding, these four young men were ten times more capable of providing a balanced answer, than all of the other magicians and enchanters in the kingdoms
That’s a pretty incredible blessing from the Lord for pursuing holiness and a firm commitment to Him
These four young men were given positions within the kingdom
They had completed their three years of training and were ready to serve the Lord by serving the king of Babylon
Daniel remained as an official in the Babylonian kingdom until the first year of King Cyrus
That was nearly the entire 70 years of the Babylonian captivity
Daniel served under four kings
Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonia Empire)
Belshazzar (Babylonia Empire)
Darius (Medo-Persia Empire)
Cyrus (Medo-Persia Empire)
What blessings have you received as a result of obeying God?
Are you feeling hopeless today? (trust God, because He is sovereign and in control)
Resolve to stand firm on your commitment to God choose holiness over worldliness
Young people – don’t wait to pursue holiness and a relationship with God (the blessing far outweigh the hardship)
Parents and adults – we are called to teach and model a life of holiness and a firm commitment to God
For Daniel and his three friends, holiness and a firm commitment to God didn’t stop with this one difficult situation.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego chose holiness over worldliness and experienced a supernatural fire walk and a promotion (Daniel 3:1-30)
Daniel chose to maintain his firm commitment to God and pursuit of holiness even when there was a 30-day prayer ban decreed by King Darius and experienced a supernatural slumber party with a den of lions (Daniel 6:1-28)
Are you ready to experience the supernatural blessings of God as you pursue holiness through a firm commitment to Him?