Standing Up for What You Believe

Chapter 12:  Standing Up for What You Believe:

Developing Spiritual Determination

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MOST TEENAGERS would have given in! Daniel was only fifteen when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, and it would have been a frightening experience for any teenager. Tensions between Babylon and Jerusalem had been mounting for several years. Finally, the Babylonians sent Nebuchadnezzar himself to take the city.

David’s kingdom had lasted for over four hundred years. The line of Davidic kings remained on the throne in Jerusalem throughout those years. And with them the line of the Messiah had been preserved as well. The promise had been kept alive and well, not by the faithfulness of the kings but by the faithfulness of God.

There had been both good kings and evil kings. The kingdom had reached its zenith under David and Solomon between 1,000–931 b.c. After Solomon’s death, the northern tribes pulled away and eventually established their own capital in Samaria. In 722 b.c. the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians. Judah, the southern kingdom, fared much better under great kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah. But other kings of Judah were not as faithful. They did not obey God’s commands or keep His laws. Time had now run out. God’s judgment was about to fall. Once again the promise seemed bleak.

In the summer of 605 b.c. the powerful general and crown prince of Babylon, young Nebuchadnezzar, marched against the City of David and defeated it. Nebuchadnezzar’s initial victory over Jerusalem was relatively merciful. He allowed the city and the temple to stand, but he decided to take a few select captives back to Babylon.

He chose some of the choice young men from the royal family and the nobility. They would be held as intellectual hostages. These educated and sophisticated young men would be reprogrammed to serve in the royal palace at Babylon. They were assigned to instructors who would teach them the language and literature of their new culture.

In other words, they were going to look, talk, and act like Babylonians. They were even given Babylonian names. Everything possible was done to assimilate them into Babylonian culture and to break down their Hebrew heritage.

Among the captives were four young Hebrews about fifteen years of age. Their names were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Each name identified them with the God of Israel: El or Jehovah. So the Babylonians renamed them after the names of their gods Bel, Mardach, and Nego. We know them as Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

 

Talk About Peer Pressure

There were other Hebrew boys taken captive and put through this same process of cultural reorientation. But these four are the only ones whose names we know because they appear to have been the only ones who stood up for their faith in God.

The others compromised. Besides, it’s not our fault we were taken captive. What did people expect them to do—get in more trouble? A guy could lose his head if he made the wrong move in a place like this! After all, they had been kidnapped by a Middle Eastern dictator—a real madman.

Talk about peer pressure! These young Jews were facing a life-or-death situation. They either had to compromise their beliefs or give up their lives. The choice was simple for most of them: Compromise, man, compromise!

Ancient Babylon is part of modern-day Iraq. We’ve all seen the video replay of Saddam Hussein patting the little British boy on the head while flashing a fake smile at the cameras. “Nice boy. You’ll be safe here.”

Yeah, sure! Soldiers fell and innocents were captured. People were assassinated. Executions were a daily occurrence. What a great place to go to school! I can’t wait to see what final exams are like. If you don’t pass, you end up shoveling sand in the desert.

That’s exactly what being in Babylon in 605 b.c. was all about. These teenagers were prisoners of war, and they knew it. In fact, they were royal hostages. They were being kept in Babylon as insurance against any further rebellion back home.

 

A Little Compromise Can’t Hurt

There was one significant difference back then: Babylon was the greatest city on earth! It was the crown jewel of the Middle East. Its opulence exceeded any place on earth during this era. Its azure blue and sparkling gold walls glistened in the desert sun. It was the greatest metropolis in the whole world—a giant oasis in the middle of the desert.

Babylon sparkled with every kind of material attraction and personal temptation you could imagine. Being taken there was like being hauled off to Las Vegas. Every kind of enticement existed to appeal to their teenage senses. Besides, their parents were back in Jerusalem. Who would ever know if they gave in to a little temptation?

From what we can tell from the book of Daniel, most of them probably gave in. But notice that their names and their memories have since been forgotten.

That’s how life is, you know. We remember only the heroes. The men and women of character are never forgotten. Somehow their lives make such an impression on us that we remember them long after they are gone.

The morally weak and spiritually deficient, on the other hand, are soon forgotten. Oh, we notice them while they are alive, but soon after they are gone, we erase them. Their self-centered lives are not worth remembering. People of character are a different breed. They stand up for what they believe. They stand out from the crowd.

The boys were assigned to a three-year training program similar to a modern university education. They would learn the intricacies of Babylonian art, science, mathematics, and religion. They were also assigned a portion of food and wine from the king’s table. It was good stuff. The only problem was that it was considered unclean by Jewish standards.

If they ate the food, they would be violating their religious convictions. But to refuse it meant refusing the king’s provisions, which could cost you your head!

 

Dare to Be a Daniel

Daniel’s name has long been associated with taking a stand for faith in God. In fact, Westminster Academy in St. Louis, Missouri, gives a “Daniel award” every year to the senior who most exemplifies standing up for his or her faith.

 

I will never forget sitting in the audience at Westminster’s commencement in 1990, when our daughter, Christy, was called to the platform to win that award. My wife, Donna, just glowed! Christy winning the “Daniel award” meant more to Donna as a mother than all the other awards and honors given that day.

Our little Christy had become a young lady with a heart for God, and it showed. She had learned to stand up for Jesus Christ even amid the pressure of her peers. And she has been doing it ever since. Moving to St. Louis had been a challenge for all of us. But it was obvious that she was handling it just fine.

Daniel and his friends had a serious decision to make: They either had to accept the king’s request or find a way to resist it. Rather than becoming defiant, the Bible says, “Daniel resolved not to defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). Then Daniel came up with a creative alternative. He asked the steward to exempt him and his friends from the requirement.

“I am afraid of my lord the king,” the steward said. “The king would then have my head because of you” (verse 10).

“Please test your servants for ten days,” Daniel requested. “Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food” (verses 12, 13).

It was a good idea. It gave the boys an option, and it gave the steward an option as well. What harm could a little “test” do? the steward probably thought. Ten days? All right! But only ten days!

 

Putting Your Faith to the Test

The request meant that Daniel and his friends were putting their faith to the ultimate test. Meat and wine were normally dedicated to the idols and gods of pagan religions. Besides, Jewish dietary laws about such foods were very strict: no pork, only certain kinds of beef or chicken. Everything had to be kosher by Jewish standards.

The boys’ request was intended to allow them to participate in their schooling without compromising their beliefs. It wasn’t just a request to become vegetarians. The vegetables were certainly good for them, but they didn’t require the same kind of kosher restrictions that meats did according to Jewish law.

At the end of ten days, the Bible says, “they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food” (Daniel 1:15). So the steward allowed them to stay on their diet throughout the three-year training program.

At the end of the three years, Nebuchadnezzar himself gave the final examination.

“God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning” to these four young men (Daniel 1:17). The king examined them all and “found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. … In every matter of wisdom and understanding … he found them ten times better” (Daniel 1:19, 20).

God helped them to pass the examination because they stood up for their beliefs and convictions. One cannot read the book of Daniel without being impressed by the character and courage of these young men. While they were still in the training program, Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s prophetic dreams and rose to a position of prominence. He and his friends were eventually appointed administrators over the province of Babylon. In the meantime, Daniel actually served in the royal court (Daniel 2:48, 49).

Daniel’s testimony was so well known that he must have been deliberately sent out of town on business during the event. In Daniel 3, we read the story of his three friends and the furnace of fire. Daniel is nowhere to be found. This time his friends would have to take their own stand for God.

 

Bend, Bow, or Burn!

Nebuchadnezzar was your typical autocratic egomaniac. Power corrupted him so thoroughly that he eventually lost his mind. He loved things that called attention to him. So he eventually constructed a ninety-foot gold statue of himself. Then he invited all the provincial officials (except Daniel) to a public dedication of the statue.

“As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music,” announced a herald, “you must fall down and worship the image of gold” (Daniel 3:5).

Nebuchadnezzar already forced his people to worship all those Babylonian gods, but now he demanded that they worship him too. And, if you didn’t do it you would be “thrown into a blazing furnace” (Daniel 3:6).

Ancient Babylon was covered with brick kilns. These “blazing furnaces” were used to fire the bricks for massive construction projects. There was very little wood in Babylon, since it was in the desert, so bricks were used to build everything—houses, palaces, and city walls. Such furnaces were typically conical in shape with a door at the bottom and an opening at the top.

During the ceremony, the band played and the people bowed. Nebuchadnezzar stood there smiling from ear to ear, until the astrologers interrupted him and denounced the three Jews for not bowing down. They were still angry that he had promoted the Jews to positions of leadership. This was a chance to get those Jews in trouble.

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego … pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up,” the astrologers reported (Daniel 3:12).

Nebuchadnezzar blew up in a fit of rage! These stubborn Jews and jealous astrologers had spoiled his big day. He summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and demanded an explanation. Then he threatened them with execution.

“Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” he said (Daniel 3:15).

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter,” the Hebrew men responded. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we … will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold” (Daniel 3:16–18).

 

Standing at All Costs

Notice their response was twofold: 1) God is able to deliver us, 2) but He may not choose to deliver us. Either way, they were determined to stand up for their convictions. Now that is true courage! Humanly speaking, they had everything to gain by compromising. Spiritually speaking, they had everything to lose: their character, their integrity, and their commitment.

Nebuchadnezzar was furious! Their decision against his authority was pure defiance. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. That’s the illogic of anger. The intense heat would only kill them more quickly! Such decisions never make sense anyway, nor did throwing them down through the opening in the top. Nevertheless, the king ordered it. The Babylonian soldiers climbed the ladder on the outer surface of the furnace and threw the three Jews into the blazing fire down below. Te soldiers who did so died instantly from the heat.

Nebuchadnezzar peered into the furnace from the lower door window and was shocked when he saw four people walking around in the fire unharmed.

“Look!” he shouted. “I see four men walking around in the fire … and the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25).

Babylonian law codes always specified the concept of “trial by ordeal.” In other words, if someone were thrown into a river—or a fire—as punishment and survived, they were presumed innocent.

Nebuchadnezzar ordered the Hebrews to come out of the furnace and he exonerated them. They had survived the ordeal unharmed. Even the royal advisers had to acknowledge the miracle.

“Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!” Nebuchadnezzar said. “They trusted in him … and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God” (Daniel 3:28).

Two things are apparent from this account. First, it was an incredible testimony to Nebuchadnezzar. The pagan king was impressed by their courage and by God’s power. Until you are willing to take such a stand, the power of God will never be evident in your life.

Second, the Hebrews put their fate in God’s hands. They were willing to give up their lives for their beliefs. Some call this the “theology of martyrdom.” Martyrs are those who are willing to die for their faith. When people are willing to die for what they believe, they will also be willing to live for what they believe.

 

The Fellowship of the Unashamed

Very few Americans ever face this option. Rarely are any of us called upon to die for our faith in Jesus Christ. But until we are willing to die for Him, we will never fully live for Him. The true martyr is the one who believes his testimony is more important than his safety, and his faith more important than his life.

The following confession of an African Christian was found among his papers after he was martyred:

I am part of the Fellowship of the Unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit’s power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look up, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by presence, learn by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power. My pace is set, my gait is fact, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear.

I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, back up, let up, or shut up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, stored up, and stayed up the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go until Heaven returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He comes to get His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My colors will be clear.

 

Enduring to the End

Daniel lived all the way through the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity. His courage as a young person paid off time and time again. He stood up against Nebuchadnezzar and eventually won him over to faith in his God. He stood against the king’s wicked grandson, Belshazzar, and saw his kingdom fall to the Medes and Persians. Finally, he stood against Darius the Mede, the new ruler of Babylon who served under Cyrus the Great.

His last stand got him thrown in a lion’s den when he was an old man of about eighty-five. When ordered not to pray to anyone but the local king, Daniel continued praying to God three times a day with the windows open. He was a true servant of God, not some “secret agent” believer sleuthing around unidentified. He stuck out in a crowd because he was down on his knees talking to God.

Daniel’s jealous critics rushed to Darius and accused Daniel of breaking the law because he prayed in public places. Some things never change! Satan is still trying to keep people from prayer. It is the one thing he fears most. When we are talking to God, we are in communication with the one and only Person who can overcome all opposition.

Daniel survived the “trial by ordeal.” He lived through the night in the lion’s den. “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions,” Daniel called to the king. “They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight” (Daniel 6:22).

Daniel was released, and his accusers were given his punishment instead. The lions tore them to pieces. And Daniel was vindicated for his stand. In fact, Darius was so impressed, he issued the following decree:

For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed. His dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth (Daniel 6:26, 27).

Signs and wonders! That got the king’s attention. Daniel’s testimony made a lasting impact on everyone who knew him. Friends and enemies alike were overwhelmed by his courage and his faith. God moved powerfully on his behalf because Daniel stood up for his faith in Him.

Daniel was so beloved of God that the Lord unveiled the future to him through his many visions of the end times. He saw the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven and receiving a kingdom from God the Father, the “Ancient of Days.” Daniel wrote: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).

Although it seemed bleak, the promise was not forgotten, nor was it in any serious jeopardy. The eternal God was still on the throne. The Promisor would maintain and fulfill the promise, just as He always had. [Ed Hindson (2017). (p. 189). Courageous Faith: Life Lessons from Old Testament Heroes (Updated). AMG Publishers. Retrieved from https://app.wordsearchbible.lifeway.com]

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