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 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Captives in the Court of Nebuchadnezzar. The first ten messages that have been delivered on this book were introductory.
And when Mr. Zondervan came to visit us about two or three weeks ago, he said, “I think that we ought to keep those ten messages to themselves and publish them in a book to themselves.” That will be done. The first ten messages—you remember how they, how they followed one another: the first one, Why the Critics Assail the Book of Daniel, and the second one, Daniel Is Eaten Up in the Critic’s Den, and the third one, How the Critics Fare in the Fiery Furnace, and on through ten of them. They are all introductory concerning the Book of Daniel, and they will be published this fall in a volume to themselves.
This morning, we begin the exposition of the text itself. And the message covers the first chapter. And Sunday after Sunday thereafter, we shall follow the unfolding of the Word of God in this most unusual and interesting of all the books in human literature.
Now let us begin:
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—
into the lower Mesopotamian Valley, into Babylonia—
to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels with the treasure into the house of his god.
[Daniel 1:1, 2]
Now as you read those two sentences, they seem introductory, without particular significance. You would think as you enter into the Book of Daniel, that they are merely for the purpose of explaining why it was that Daniel was in Babylon.
But if you look at those sentences more carefully, they have in them a deeply significant statement. Look at it. “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand” [Daniel 1:2]. That record, that phraseology has a message to all nations of all time, and particularly and especially to us; “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim into his hand” [Daniel 1:2] For, you see, God had prophesied hundreds of years before, that because of the sins of Judah, the nation would be delivered into the hands of the Babylonians. You will find that in the twentieth chapter of 2 Kings [2 Kings 20:16-18], and you will find it in the thirty-ninth chapter of the prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 39:5-7]. God had said, because of the sins of Judah, the nation will be delivered into the hands of the Babylonians [2 Kings 21:11,16].
And the years passed. And a century and more passed. But the words of God never fall to the ground, whether there be words of judgment or whether there be words of blessing. As Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of God shall endure for ever.” Or, as our Savior said in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”
And God had said that because of the sins of the nation, the nation would be destroyed and would be carried captive into Babylon [2 Kings 20:16-18; Isaiah 39:5-7]. And that’s what those introductory sentences refer to. This thing that came to pass came to pass in the judgment of Almighty God. “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim into the hand of the king of Babylon” [Daniel 1:2].
Is it not a tragedy that the children suffer for the sins of the parents? [Exodus 20:5]. The sins of Manasseh, king of Judah, the son of Hezekiah [2 Kings 21:11], whom God would not forgive, and the sins of the sons of Manasseh all carried with it the destruction of the capital city in Jerusalem and the destruction of the nation of Judea [2 Kings 21:12-14].
But that is the law of federal headship that continues uninterruptedly as the fifth chapter of the Book of Roman says, “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” [Romans 5:12]. Because of the sin of Adam [Genesis 3:1-6], all of us sin and meet and face the judgment of death. That is the law of federal headship [1 Corinthians 15:22]. And you, whatever you do involves your children, as whatever your fathers did involves us. There is a theology there I haven’t time to discuss this morning. But it’s a frightful thing. It’s a heavy thing.
Can you imagine now the sorrow and the anguish of soul of these young Hebrew lads as they are taken captive and emasculated and made eunuchs in the court of a heathen king? Just a moment’s meditation will bring to us vividly the cries of sorrow that overwhelm these four young men, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, as they were taken to be captives and eunuchs in the court of a heathen king [Daniel 1:3-6].
So vividly was that grief of being taken away from home, that when Daniel was over ninety years of age, when he prayed three times every day, he opened his window toward home [Daniel 6:10]. After he had reached the age of ninety years, and after he had been in the court of the king of Babylon over seventy years, still remembered, still loved, still grieved for the people and the land and the city of home [Daniel 9:3-19]. In the life and captivity of Daniel, we are so deeply reminded of the paralleling of his life with that of Joseph.
Joseph—in the forty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis—Joseph, now prime minister of Egypt, could hear his brethren as they spoke one to another when they came to the land of Egypt for food. And those brethren said one to another, “This evil has befallen us because of our brother Joseph when we heard his cries and when we saw the anguish of his soul.” And Reuben said, “Did not I say unto thee, sin not against the child?” [Genesis 42:21-22]. After the years and the years, I can understand that. The sorrow and the cries and the sobs and the tears and the anguish of soul, as Daniel and those three Hebrew children were carried away into Babylon [Daniel 1:3-6].
I said a moment ago, it is remarkable how the life of Daniel parallels that of the life of Joseph: both of them carried captive into exile, both of them rising to be prime minister of a foreign kingdom by virtue of their personal and pristine character and qualities. Both of them with the powers of prophecy that elevated them above their brethren, both of them making the wisdom of the day and the enchanters and the astrologers around them—of which there were a multitude in Egypt and in Babylon—seem ridiculous in the sight of those who knew wisdom and truth, and both of them used of God to protect their people in an hour of great need and sorrow.
There is hardly a character in all history and, certainly, in the Bible that is comparable to that of Daniel. He is one of the few men of whom God has nothing but good to say, as God depicts the life and character of Joseph, of Jonathan, and now of Daniel. He was a tremendous man: a giant intellectually, an executive of tremendous ability, a man of virtue and godly character, and a man of illimitable faith. So we now turn following the life of Daniel and his three friends, captives in the court of Nebuchadnezzar; we now turn and follow the attempt to assimilate them into heathen culture and worship.
So according to the commandment of the king, Ashpenaz, the master of the eunuchs, picks them out of all the young men of the seed royal, of the household of the king, who are without blemish, who are fine specimens in mind, in body [Daniel 1:3-4], and he says, “Three years train them in the learning and lore and language of the Chaldeans. Then after the three-year course, let them stand before me” [Daniel 1:4-5]. Well, there is nothing wrong in their instruction and education in Chaldean learning, language, and wisdom. There is nothing in their Judean learning to interdict their Chaldean learning, nothing at all.
Moses, the Bible says, was learned in all the wisdom and in all of the knowledge of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22]. Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle [Romans 1:1], was a man who was graduated from the Greek University in Tarsus, capital of the Roman province of Cilicia [Acts 22:3]. And when Paul stood to speak before Areopagus [Acts 17:19], the high and supreme court of the Athenian nation, he quoted from their own Greek poets [Acts 17:28]. There’s nothing wrong in learning the wisdom and lore of the Chaldeans. But the point of this learning [Daniel 1:4-5] was in order to undo and to wipe out the knowledge of Jehovah God. And that is a tragedy in any language, in any nation, in any institution, in any age, and in any child.
And the purpose of education is that we might take out of the heart of the child the knowledge of God. And so much of modern education is like that. Its diabolical and dark purpose seems to be that we might undo and destroy the faith of the child, of the youngster, of the teenager, of the student, in God. I can see that in the purpose of this educational course by what they did in changing the names of the young men. Their names, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, those are beautiful names bestowed upon them in hope and in assurance by godly and pious parents [Daniel 1:6].
Why, I can just see those parents as they took those babies, placed in their arms, and they named them Daniel, el or jah, or iah. El is God, jah Jehovah, ’elohîm, God, Jehovah. Daniel, “God is Judge.” Hananiah, “God is gracious.” John comes from that, Hananiah. Mishael, “God has no equal.” And Azariah, “God is my helper.”
I can just see the godliness of the parents in the naming of those four children. But look what Nebuchadnezzar did to them. “And he gave them names” [Daniel 1:7], and without exception their names exalt the idols of the king. And the purpose of it is to take out of their lives all of the knowledge and reverence of Jehovah God. In each instance, the name given to each one of those boys is the name of some heathen idolatrous deity. To Daniel, he gave the name of Belteshazzar, Bel. And his name, Belteshazzar, means “Bel will protect him.” And to Hananiah he gave the name of Shadrach, Shadrach, the name of the moon god. And to Mishael he gave the name of Meshach. His is a devotee now of the goddess of mirth. And to Azariah, he gave the name of Abednego, the servant of the heathen god Nego. It was an attempt to wipe out the name of God and the memory of the altars of worship of their youth.
Isn’t it strange how God is? God had written those names in His book a long time before Nebuchadnezzar wrote those new names in his book. And God had a purpose of those young men. “And He that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” [Psalm 121:4]. Now you see what happens? You look at what happens. “And the king commanded that they eat the food from the king’s table, and drink the wine which he drank” [Daniel 1:5]. They were to be gelded Babylonians [Isaiah 39:7].
Now from the Babylonian point of view, that was a gracious thing to do. They’re going to live the life of a king. They are going to eat at the king’s table. And they’re going to drink from the king’s flask and flavum. Oh, I can just see the luxury of that life in the court of Babylonia! And the purpose of it was to make them forget the God of the Jews, and the altars of their youthful worship, and the memory of their pious parents. But sometimes that’s hard to do. How do you forget? How do you forget godly parents? And how do you forget those prayers and Scriptures and devotions of childhood and of youth?
I do not know how long the psalmist was in Babylon when he wrote these words, “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” [Psalm 137:5- 6]. How do you forget the love and grace and prayers and blessing and teaching and example of godly and pious parents?
Daniel was born in the days of good King Josiah. Daniel could remember as a child the finding of the book of the law in the temple [2 Chronicles 34:14-21]. Daniel could remember the days of the great spiritual reformation [2 Chronicles 34:29-35:19]. Daniel’s heart was warmed by the fires of that revival. And Daniel heard Jeremiah the prophet preach, and in Babylon, had a copy of the Book of Jeremiah and studied it and read it [Daniel 9:2]. How do you forget? And isn’t it strange that it was just there that Daniel drew the line? Isn’t that an amazing thing? Isn’t that an amazing thing? “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 amazing thing? All of that Chaldean lore, all of that way of court education, all of the things of the wisdom and learning of the Chaldean he studied, and when he passed his examination after the three-year course [Daniel 1:4-5], there was none other like those four men [Daniel 1:17-20]. But when it came to the identification of their lives with the lives of the world, and the submersion and amalgamation of their lives in the worship of heathen gods, there Daniel and those three young men drew the line [Daniel 1:8-16, 3:12-18].
Isn’t that an unusual thing? That food had been offered to idols. And according to the eleventh chapter of Leviticus it was unclean for a Jew [Leviticus 11:47]. God had said, “My people shall be a peculiar people” [Deuteronomy 14:2]. That word “peculiar,” peculium in Latin, means “a private possession.” They belong to God. “And Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the meat offered to idols and with the wine from the king’s table” [Daniel 1:8].
Ah, that tells so much about the young man! He’s not bitter against God, nor does he charge God foolishly. But he has illimitable faith in God, even in the hours and days of tragic, indescribable sorrow and captivity. And he refused to be swayed by the world. Where in the earth is there a boy today who refused to be taken in by the world and what they do? Where is there a young woman today who refuses to conform to the morays and morality of this modern world? Practically all of them bow and bend. Not Daniel and his three friends. They refused. They refused.
He purposed in his heart [Daniel 1:8]. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” [Proverbs 23:7]. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” [Proverbs 4:23]. And he asked for pulse to eat, and water to drink [Daniel 1:12]. Now isn’t that something? Here is the menu of King Nebuchadnezzar. Look at all of those dainties, and look at all of those wine lists.
When you sit down at any luxurious cafe or restaurant today, the first thing they’ll put in your hand is a wine list. And the first thing they will ask you when you get on an airplane is, “Would you like to have a cocktail?” That’s the world. And as I ride these planes and as I eat in these restaurants, it will be a rare somebody who doesn’t follow the menu of Nebuchadnezzar, but not Daniel and his three young friends. They refuse the menu and ask bread from heaven, to eat at the table of the Lord, and to drink from the cup that belongs to God; pulse to eat [Daniel 1:12].
You know, I’ve never had such a good time in my life as I have had trying to find out what that word “pulse” means. One of the finest men I know swears up and down that that is black-eyed peas. One of the finest commentators that I have been reading says that’s cabbage. Maybe we don’t quite know the kind of seed or herb it refers to, but it refers to some kind of vegetable—plain, simple fare. Ah, it takes character and courage to live a life of restraint and temperance and self-discipline. “Give us pulse to eat, and give us water to drink” [Daniel 1:12]. Next Sunday morning, I’m going to preach a sermon on Wine or Water. And it will be interesting. It will be interesting.
Now I must hasten. God honors the devotion and the piety and the choice of these young men, Daniel and his three friends. God honors them. Look. Look. The way God does sometimes is the most amazing thing in the world to me, and how He does it. And you have one of those brilliant illustrations of how God works here in this first chapter of the Book of Daniel. The Lord God looked down from heaven and He saw the piety, and the devotion, and the faith of those young men. God saw it from heaven. And God said, “I will honor that faith and that devotion. I will feed them from My table,” says the Lord God. “And they will eat My food. And they will drink My drink. And I will make the prince of the eunuchs My accomplice in bringing it about” [Daniel 1:9-16].
Now isn’t that something? The sovereign will of Nebuchadnezzar the great king is, “They shall eat from my table meat offered to idols, and they shall drink wine from my flask.” That’s the sovereign will of Nebuchadnezzar [Daniel 1:5]. But the sovereign will of God is, “I shall feed them from My table, and they shall drink from My cup” [Daniel 9:16]. There is an irony in this that I can’t escape. And God uses the master of the eunuchs, the prince of the court of Nebuchadnezzar, to bring it about [Daniel 1:8-16]. Isn’t that something?
Another instance of that same thing is when God brought up the little child Moses. In whose house did Moses grow up? In the house of Pharaoh himself! In the house of the daughter of the king himself, she brought him up. God saw to it that Moses had the finest background and instruction in the land. And God brought it to pass that the daughter of Pharaoh himself brought him up [Exodus 2:5-11]. And God made that the prince of the eunuchs feed and give drink to these four children that belong to Him. Isn’t that an amazing thing? “God brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs” [Daniel 1:9]. Isn’t that something?
Just like when the chief butler forgot Joseph and left him in prison [Genesis 40:9-14, 23]. God didn’t forget him. God looked upon him there in that dungeon, God remembered him [Genesis 41:14-44]. Just like Paul and Silas in the dungeon, God remembered them [Acts 16:23-26]. “And the Lord God brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs” [Daniel 1:9]. And God honored their commitment. “Let our countenances be looked upon,” and at the end of ten days, their countenances were looked upon, and God was shining through their face [Daniel 1:13].
I can tell all the women of all the world that all the makeup in this earth will not take the place of a beautiful and glorious and godly spirit shining through the eyes of a wonderful Christian girl—nothing, nothing. Beauty is the heart shining through. And ten thousand tons of lipstick and rouge and mascara and eye dope, and all the rest of that stuff cannot hide a worldly and a compromised spirit. True beauty is God shining through. And I want you to know some of the prettiest girls I have ever seen in my life are the ugliest. Isn’t that a screwy thing? But it’s the truth. A girl who honors God, and the love and the life and the glory of the Lord is in her—her heart is right.
And that’s true of young men. Some of the finest and most glorious young men I have ever known are some of the ugliest. But God is in their lives. Do you remember Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s description of Sir Galahad, who found the Holy Grail, the cup of the Last Supper?
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.
[from “Sir Galahad,” Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1842]
Their countenances, their faces, they radiated, it was God shining through. And when they stood before the king, after their three-year course [Daniel 1:5], they had ten times more knowledge and understanding than all of the others around them [Daniel 1:20]. For the Book says, they not only had understanding and knowledge in the wisdom and lore of the Chaldeans, but they also had understanding in the wisdom of God [Daniel 1:17].
Education and understanding and learning that is just of this world is empty. It is unrewarding. It is sterile. It leads to nothing but disillusion and despair. But the wisdom from above leads to life and glory and the fullness of character, the blessing of heaven. There are two kinds of wisdom. There is a wisdom of the world, and we ought to go to school to learn it. But there is also a wisdom of God, and we ought to sit at the feet of the Lord to learn it [Matthew 11:29]. And these four young men had the wisdom of the world, yes, but they also had the wisdom of God.
And the chapter closes, “And Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus” [Daniel 1:21], that is, his life as a minister in the court of Babylon. Forty-four years he was Nebuchadnezzar’s prime minister, and entered into the life of the court of the Medo-Persian Empire. All through those years, Daniel was the public servant of the king and of the Lord Jehovah God. And that verse intends to convey to us that the life and ministry of Daniel spanned the entire seventy years of the captivity.
And I can easily think that the last great achievement of this prophet statesman was to negotiate the liberation of the Judean captives in the court of Cyrus, the king of the Medo-Persian Empire. As he laid before Cyrus the prophecies of Isaiah that the people would return [Isaiah 44:28], and as he laid before Cyrus the prophecy of Jeremiah that at the end of seventy years the people would return [Jeremiah 29:10-14], and in 536 BC, the first year of Cyrus, those seventy years had matured [2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Ezra 1:1-3]. And I can see Daniel, aged Daniel, toward a hundred years of age; I can see him lay before Cyrus those prophecies. The Word of God, “Look what God has said.” Laying it before Cyrus, and Cyrus reading it. Isaiah calls him by name 150-175 years before Cyrus was born; laying it before Cyrus [Isaiah 44:28]. And Cyrus publishes the decree and God’s people are free [Ezra 1:1-2]. And they can return home [Ezra 2:1-70], negotiated by this godly prophet statesman Daniel.
Oh, my people, we’re going to wade in deep waters these coming days! But your souls are going to grow fat. You’re going to be blessed as I am blessed, as we read what God has done through this glorious, marvelous, incomparable statesman Daniel, God’s faithful servant.
Now we must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, you, somebody you, give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], put his life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]. A couple, or a family, as God shall say the word, shall open the door, come and stand by me. “Here I am, pastor, here I come. I take the Lord as my Savior today. I give my life to Him” [Ephesians 2:8]. Or, “This is my wife, pastor, and my children, we are all coming together.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, make it this morning. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.