The Captives in the Court of Nebuchadnezzar
February 11th, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
THE CAPTIVES IN THE COURT OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-11-68 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Captives in the Court of Nebuchadnezzar. For these last several months, when the time has not been preempted by some special occasion, I have been preaching introductorily concerning the Book of Daniel. There have been ten of those introductory sermons. When Mr. Zondervan was here of the Zondervan Publishing House of Grand Rapids, Michigan, he said to me, "I think those ten sermons of introduction should be published by themselves in a separate volume."
That will be done and the volume will be prepared and ready this fall. Those sermons went like this. The first one was: Why the Critics Assail the Book of Daniel. The second one was Daniel in the Critic’s Den. The third one was How the Critics Fare in the Fiery Furnace. And so it continued through. And the last three were on The Language of God, the language God uses in the Bible, and on The Babylonian Captivity, Daniel in the Eyes of His Contemporaries. Then the last one was a comparison between Daniel, the Apocalypse of the Old Testament, and the Revelation, the Apocalypse of the New Testament.
Those ten sermons were preparing us for the study of the Book of Daniel. Now this morning we begin that study. And we shall take the book, paragraph at a time, verse at a time, and so preach through the twelve chapters of the Book of Daniel. This morning we begin the exposition of the text itself. And the sermon this morning is the whole first chapter.
It begins with two sentences:
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.
And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar (in the lower Mesopotamian valley into Babylonia) to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.
As you look at those sentences you might well say they are not particularly significant. They are two introductory sentences that are here just to tell us why Daniel happened to be in Babylon. But if you look at them more earnestly they have a far deeper significance. They are not just introductory. Look at the phraseology and the record to which it testifies. "And the Lord gave Jehoiakim into his hand" [Daniel 1:2].
This is not an adventitious circumstance of ten thousand that happened summarily, casually, indifferently in the story of humanity. "And the Lord gave Jehoiakim into his hand." This is a judgment of Almighty God. For the Lord God had said a century and a half before that because of the sins of Judah and of the house of David that the nation would be destroyed and that the seed of the king, the children of the royal household, would be carried away captive and made eunuchs in the court of the king of Babylon [Daniel 1:2].
Now, when God says a thing does the word of God ever fall to the ground? Does it? Whether that word of God be one of blessing or one of judgment, the day will inevitably come when the word of the Lord shall come to pass. As Isaiah 40:8 avows: "The grass withereth, and the flower fadeth: but the word of God shall stand forever." Or as the Lord Jesus avowed in Matthew 24:35: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, the very stars shall cease to exist, but My words shall never pass away." And when God said because of the sins of Judah and of their kings, the nation would certainly be carried captive into the land of Judah, a century and a half passed but that prophecy came true. And that’s what those words referred to. And the Lord God in judgment gave Jehoiakim into the hand of the king of Babylon [Isaiah 39:5-8].
As you read such prophecies and their materialization, their realization in the life of the people, it carries with it an indescribable, untold sadness. For these children who are going to be presented in this first chapter of the Book of Daniel are suffering because of the sins of their fathers. This is the law of federal headship that continues on through the generations uninterruptedly. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:12: "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin" – and upon all of us the sentence of death has been passed; the law of federal headship. In Adam we all died [1 Corinthians 15:22]. What a pause in our lives. Our sins have repercussion in the lives of our children [Exodus 34:7], as the sins of our forefathers have repercussion in our lives. And this tragic day of the falling of the judgment of God upon Jerusalem and upon Judah and upon the people of the Lord, all of it in that federal headship; what they do affects us.
It does not take a vivid imagination to enter into the sorrow indescribable of the captivity of these Judeans. Think of it: grievously torn from home and people and carried away into a strange land with strange people and a strange tongue, emasculated, made eunuchs to serve heathen gods and heathen rulers in a far away and heathen court. I can just picture so vividly the sorrow of these young men as they are captured by Nebuchadnezzar and forced into a Babylonian captivity. I know that because when Daniel had reached the age of over ninety years and had been in the court of the king in Babylon over seventy years, three times every day he knelt down with his windows open toward home [Daniel 6:10] – after seventy years in the court of the king and beyond ninety years of age, still remembering the days, the city, the land, the country of home.
In the sorrow that Daniel experienced and in his whole life for that matter, you have a very vivid and striking parallel with the life of Joseph. In the forty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis is told the story of the brethren of Joseph as they cowered before the countenance of wrath of the prime minister of Egypt [Genesis 42:6]. They were forced there by a tragic famine and were begging bread from the prime minister of the Pharaoh. And in their dilemma and in their need, they began to talk to one another, not realizing that the prime minister was Joseph, who could understand their language. And the brethren spoke one to another, and they said, "This is come upon us because God is requiring the blood of our brother Joseph, for," they said, "when we looked upon the anguish of his soul and the cries and sobs and tears of his life, we did not heed." And the next verse says Reuben said, "Did not I say unto thee ‘Do not such injustice to the child’?" [Genesis 42: 21-22] And as the Bible presents Joseph in his anguish of soul, and sobs, and tears as he is carried captive in the land of Egypt – that is a description of this lad, Daniel. To follow through for just a moment: both of those, Joseph and Daniel sold into exile; both of them rising to be prime minister in a kingdom far away; both of them endowed with prophetic powers; both of them exalted above all of the necromancers and astrologers and seers of their day; and both of them wondrously used of God to comfort and protect their people in an hour and a day of great sorrow.
Daniel is one of the most commanding figures in the Bible and in all human literature. He is one of the few men of whom God says nothing derogatory. Daniel, Joseph, and Jonathan are the flower of humanity in the Old Testament. Even the angel, Gabriel, addressed Daniel as "O thou man greatly beloved" [Daniel 9:23], beloved of God and beloved of angels and beloved of men. He is a commanding figure, a man of tremendous intellectual capacity, of great executive ability, of marvelous personal virtue and a man of illimitable faith – Joseph and Daniel.
Well, as we follow the story we come to the attempt on the part of the heathen king to amalgamate these young Judeans into the culture of Babylon and into the worship of his heathen gods. So, he begins. "Now you take these four lads, the king commands the prince of the eunuchs, and for three years you teach them the language and the tongue and the lore of the Chaldeans" [Daniel 1:3-6]. Well, there’s nothing wrong in that. Their Judean education did not interdict their Chaldean instruction. For any student to go to school is fine, and to learn, to study, study a foreign language as these young men had to learn the Chaldean language, study all of the knowledge and wisdom that the professors and instructors and teachers are able to pour into their heads, that’s fine. Nothing wrong in that! In fact it is a platform of superiority on which to stand – the man who is educated and trained in the wisdom and lore of the world. The Bible is very careful to point out that Moses was learned in all of the wisdom of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22]. And the apostle Paul was a graduate of the University of Tarsus, the capital city of the Roman province of Cilicia. And when he appeared before Areopagus, the highest supreme court of the Athenian people, he quoted to them from their own poets [Acts 17:28]. There is nothing wrong in what Nebuchadnezzar had commanded to be done, that these young men be trained in the learning and language and lore of the Chaldeans.
But what was wrong about it was this. The purpose of the training was to take God out of their lives! To educate them into idolatry, and heathenism, and the forgetfulness of God! How do you know that, preacher? Because of what Nebuchadnezzar did when he began that training. He took those four boys and changed their names and left out of their names all reference to Jehovah God, and instead placed in their names the names of his heathen gods and goddesses in Babylon [Daniel 1:6-7].
Look at the names of these four lads. Each one of them reflects the hope and assurance of their godly and pious parents. First, Daniel, "God is My Judge," Daniel. Hananiah, "God is Gracious." John is our English word for that. Hananiah, "God is Gracious." Mishael, Mishael, "God Has No Equal." Azariah, "God is My Helper." I can just see the fullness of hope and godliness of those pious parents as they named those four lads. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah. God is our judge. God is our keeper. God is gracious. God is without equal.
But what does Nebuchadnezzar do? He takes those four boys and he changes the name of Daniel to Belteshazzar, "Bel will protect his life." He changes the name of Hananiah to Shadrach. He’s a devotee now of the moon god Aku. He takes the name of Mishael and changes it to Meshach. He is now a worshipper of the goddess of mirth and drunkenness. And Azariah he changes to Abednego, "the servant of Nego," one of the gods of Nebuchadnezzar.
Isn’t that amazing? In each instance, take out all reference to Jehovah God in order that they may be trained to call upon the name of idols, and worship in heathen idolatry. And in order to effect that final amalgamation and the absorption of those young men into the heathen idolatry of Babylon, the king did an astute thing. They are to be enticed, and they are to be involved, and they are to be made part of the luxury of the court of the king. And the king appointed them to eat at the king’s table the king’s meat and to drink of the wine which he drank [Daniel 1:5]. Oh, I can just see in the court of Babylon those four young captives there seated at the table of the king and sharing his dainties, and reading his menu, and eating his meat, and drinking his wine; all of it for the purpose that they might forget the altars of their youth and the God of their fathers!
They are to be no longer worshippers of Jehovah. They are no longer to call on the name of the true God, but now their lives are to be enmeshed in the idolatrous heathen life of the court of Babylon. And they are to become gilded Babylonians. So far very astute on the part of the king, very astute; but, but how do you forget the training of godly parents? How do you do it? However the gildedness, however the luxury, however the brilliance of the court and however the kingly reward, how do you forget the God of your pious, holy parents? How do you forget it?
And they couldn’t forget. I do not know how long this psalmist had lived in the captivity, nor do I know his name who wrote the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm. But I do know he spake of this when he said:
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
This Daniel had been born in the reign of the good King Josiah. As a child he could remember the finding of the Book of the Law in the temple. He had been a part, as a youth, of the great reformation under Josiah. His heart had been warmed by the fires of that revival. He had heard Jeremiah preach, and in that strange and foreign land, he had carried with him a copy of the prophecies of Jeremiah. And how do you forget?
You know, it is a strange thing here. There was no reluctance, no hesitancy at all, as Daniel and his three Hebrew friends entered into a study and into a life of the Chaldean court. They learned the language. They went to the university. They were graduated, magna cum laude. They were the finest and the most brilliant in the class. But just there in the amalgamation of their life with the world, Daniel drew the line! And Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s meat nor with the wine that he drank [Daniel 1:8]. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? Isn’t that an astonishing thing? Coming right along, going to the same class, attending the same university, learning the same subjects, speaking the same language, but when it came to amalgamating his life with the life of the world, Daniel drew a line as deep as hell is deep and as high as heaven reaches upward.
Now I might say, in passing, he belonged to the old covenant. The meat had been offered to idols. It was a sharing of an idolatrous service. And the wine that he drank was a part of a libation to a god or a goddess. And he’d been taught between clean and unclean. The Old Testament Daniel, it was a sign of their separation to the Lord; they were to be a peculiar people [Deuteronomy 14:2]. That Latin word peculium is the Latin word for "private possession." They belonged to God, and this was the sign that they belonged to Jehovah.
But when Daniel purposed in his heart, tells a lot about the man himself, though he was a captive and a eunuch, he did not find himself bitter against God, nor did he charge God foolishly, but with an amazing commitment of faith, he gave himself to obey the injunctions of the Lord God who had delivered him into the hands of the enemy as a captive.
And Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the meat the king ate nor with the wine which he drank [Daniel 1:8]. He purposed in his heart. Out of the heart are the issues of life [Proverbs 4:23]. As a man thinketh in his heart so is he [Proverbs 23:7]. And he said, "Give me pulse to eat, and let us have water to drink" [Daniel 1:12]. Isn’t that an amazing thing, pulse and water? Pulse; what in the earth is pulse? Here he is given Nebuchadnezzar’s menu; all kinds of wines. Whenever you get on an airplane today, the first thing they will do, they will put in your hand all these wines, "You want a cocktail?" That’s part of the world. When you go into a lovely restaurant, the first thing they will do, they will put a long list there with all of those esoteric wines, and then all of the things that belong to the king’s table. Why, wouldn’t you think Daniel and his three friends would have been in awe? They were living fit for a king! Look at this. Look at this. But instead he says he wants pulse to eat. Pulse, what in the earth is "pulse?" What did you say? He heard me this morning. I got a letter from one of the finest men in this world, and he had a missionary who was learned over there in that part of the world, and he said, "Pulse is black-eyed peas." That’s what he said. That’s what he said. Black-eyed peas, pulse. Another learned commentary I read said it was cabbage. Whatever it is it refers to herbs; pulse and water to drink. Next Sunday morning I’m going to preach on wine or water. Water to drink, water to drink. What an astonishing menu! Pulse to eat and water to drink.
We must hasten. We have but a few moments now. God looked down from heaven. The Lord looked down from heaven, and He saw those four young men, Daniel and Hananiah and Mishael and Azariah. God looked down upon them, and the Lord honored their faithfulness and their devotion. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? God had written their names in His book before Nebuchadnezzar had recorded them in his? And God had purposed some glorious thing for those four boys. And He that watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep [Psalm 121:4]. And the Lord took note of it, and God saw it, and the Lord looked upon it; pulse to eat and water to drink and faithful to the name of Jehovah God.
And the Lord did something. And this is the most astonishing thing that I know. And I just can’t imagine God’s ways. He does things in such an unusual and such an amazing and such an astonishing manner! God said, "I will feed those young men, those four lads. I will feed them from My table. I will give them heavenly food to eat, and I will give them heavenly drink to drink, and I will use, I will use the prince of the eunuchs in the house of Nebuchadnezzar himself to do it" [Daniel 1:10-14]. Isn’t’ that something? Same thing did God in the life of Moses. In order for Moses to be trained and educated, God brought it to pass that the daughter of the king himself raised Moses, and sent him to school, learned in all the arts and wisdom of the Egyptians [Exodus 2:5-10; Acts 7:21-22]. And God is doing that same thing again. He is taking the prince of the eunuchs in the palace, in the court of Nebuchadnezzar himself, in order to take care of those lads, that they might eat the food of God and drink the drink of heaven.
And the Lord nourished them up, and they appeared and their countenances were looked upon, and the countenance of those four lads was finer and brighter and more radiant than all of the others around them who were eating the king’s dainties and drinking the king’s wine [Daniel 1:15]. Isn’t that something? It is God shining in the face. It is God and the glory of the Lord sparkling in the eyes. And I’ll tell you ten thousand tons of makeup and another thousand pounds of rouge and mascara and makeup and all of the other things that these women use to put on their face will never take the place of the glory of God shining in your eyes. Every once in a while I will see a girl and she is as ugly as homemade sin, but she is a beautiful girl because God shines in her heart. There will never be anything ever, that any cosmetic agency will ever invent, that will take the place of the beauty of the light of God shining in the face of a sweet Christian girl or a wonderful Christian boy.
That’s what Alfred, Lord Tennyson was describing when he wrote his poem on Sir Galahad who found the Holy Grail:
My good blade carves the casques of men,
My tough lance thrusteth sure,
My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.
And when they looked upon the countenances of those four lads, they literally glowed [Daniel 1:15]. They were radiant. They shined with the glory of God. This is the mystery of godliness.
"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" [Matthew 4:4]. The secret fountains of our strength, beauty, character, virtue, nobility lie in the word and love of God. So Nebuchadnezzar found them ten times better than all of the astrologers, and magicians, and necromancers, and seers, and wise men in the whole realm [Daniel 1:19-20], and it says that in all of Israel.
Now I have a minute left. I want to comment on the last verse of the chapter. "And Daniel continued even unto the first year of King Cyrus [Daniel 1:21]. What does that mean? It means this. The last great achievement of the prophet-statesman was to negotiate with Cyrus the release of the Judean captives, that they might go back home. The life of that prime minister extended through the forty-four years of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, extended through his successors, and extended to the founding and the triumph of the Mede-Persian kingdom. The ministry of this man Daniel, lasted the entire span of that seventy years of captivity. That’s what that verse means. All the seventy years Daniel was prime minister; he lived through the entire captivity.
And the first year of King Cyrus of the Mede-Persians I can see this aged and godly prophet bringing to Cyrus God’s Word. And I can see Daniel as he laid before Cyrus Isaiah 44 and the last verse, and Isaiah 45 and the first verse, and there, two hundred years before, God had called Cyrus by name [Isaiah 44:28-45:1]. I can see Daniel laying before Cyrus God’s Word. And I can see Daniel laying before Cyrus the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, and there Jeremiah had said, according to the word of the Lord, that the captivity should last seventy years [Jeremiah 25:11]. Then I can see Daniel as he lays before Cyrus that passage in Jeremiah and then says, "O King Cyrus, that seventy years is now matured. It’s fulfilled. This is 536. And it’s time for my people to go back home." And the next thing I read in God’s Book is that Cyrus signed the decree, and God’s people turned their faces home [2 Chronicles 36:22-23]. This is the Lord. This is God. And that’s what that verse means: "And Daniel continued even unto the first year of King Cyrus" [Daniel 1:21].
Oh, we think these events and these days of history are just happen-so. That’s why we need to study Daniel. These things are not happenstances. They are not adventitious circumstances that come to pass like chips fall or float down the stream of a river. But these things are under the surveillance of God. It is the great God who sits above the heavens, who judges the nation, who looks upon our lives, and who, according to His will, we live or we die.
I think and I haven’t time even to mention, I think the things that are happening to America today are the judgments of Almighty God. I think these wars are a knocking at the door, and I think the disintegration of our nation, in every part of its fabric and life, is a visitation from heaven. We need the message of this Book, and we are going to turn back to God, or the Lord is going to deliver us in the hands of our enemies, as God delivered Judah and Daniel into the hands of the king of Babylon. Oh, these are days when we need the voice of a prophet, when we need the message from heaven, when we need God’s presence with us!
Well, may He bless us as we go through these Sundays together, listening to God’s Word from heaven? Now we sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, while we sing it, a family you to come into the fellowship of our dear church; a couple you, giving your life and your home to the Lord; a one somebody you, coming down this aisle, opening your heart to the blessed Jesus, in the balcony round, from side to side, into this aisle and down to the front, "Here I come, pastor. I give you my hand. I give my heart to Jesus." However the Spirit shall press the appeal to your soul, come. Come this morning. Make it now. As you sit there, decide for God, and on the first note of the first stanza, in a moment when we sing, when you stand up, stand up coming. "Here I am, preacher, I make it now." Do it. Do it, while we stand and while we sing.