A Godly Christian Witness
October 13th, 1996
A GODLY CHRISTIAN WITNESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-13-96 Sunday School
That when we read the Book of Daniel, we are not just being entertained by the addition of a volume in the Bible. But, we are looking at a revelation of the character of Almighty God. So, the message today out of that glorious prophetic book is entitled: A Godly Christian Witness to an Unbelieving and Secular World.
So, we begin. The Book of Daniel starts off with:
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.
And the Lord gave Jehoiakim the king of Judah into his hand
– along with many of the vessels of the Lord and some other captives so these two opening sentences seem relatively unimportant – just the introduction of why Daniel was in Babylon. But, you look more closely at the wording. It is deeply significant. Remember it: "And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hands." Why does this record thus begin, and why this phraseology? Because God had prophesied this very thing many, many years before.
Now, my first avowal and observation: Does God’s Word ever fall to the ground? It reminds us of Isaiah 22 verse 3, when the Lord told Isaiah to go naked and barefoot for three years, through the streets of the city of Jerusalem. God was saying that Assyria will arise and that the whole world will be confronted by that great empire. Now, that was about a couple hundred in years before it came to pass.
Or, take again: God keeping His Word – God had said, in 2 Kings chapter 20, verses17 and 18; and the same prophecy is recorded in Isaiah 39, verses 5 through 7. God said that Judah is to be carried a captive to Babylon. And the seed of royalty would become eunuchs in the court of the Chaldeans. Now, those things were said years, and years, and years before they came to pass; just a reminder to us that God’s Word never, ever fails.
Now, about Daniel; his name means "God is judge." And the Chaldeans suffered for the sins of their fathers. Do you remember what Romans 5 avows? "By one man sin entered into this world, and through him and his sin death," became a part of all of our lives. The law of federal headship works uninterruptedly: Adam’s sin and to his offspring and to us today. This is a part of the personality and work of Almighty God.
Now, we look for a moment at the personal anguish that attended the captivity of these children of the Lord. The grief of the youth in their separation from home is indescribable. They never forgot where they came from. This can be poignantly seen for example in Daniel’s way of praying. In Daniel 9 and 10, he is an old, old man; over ninety years of age. But, he prayed with his window open toward Jerusalem. He was as filled with the spirit of God and the love of his people and of his homeland when he was in his nineties as he was when he was barely twenty and carried a captive to the land of Babylon.
Now, let’s just look at him for a minute. His tears and his prayers and those of his companions; it reminds us of the tears and cries of Joseph, when he was carried into Egypt. And his brothers never forgot it. For example, in Genesis 42 verses 21 and 22, after years and years, these brothers call to mind the tears of Joseph when they put him in the pit and then raised him up to send him a slave into the land of the Nile.
And that just reminds me of how the life of Daniel so much parallels that of Joseph. Both were captives. Both rose, in a foreign kingdom, to the same rank of prime minister by the same qualities of personal character, sterling integrity, unselfish devotion to their work and an unfailing faith in God. Both possessed extraordinary prophetic powers which seemed to raise them to general notice and confidence. You couldn’t help but be aware of the voice of God and the presence of the Lord in the lives of these captives. Both were able to confound all pretenders to mysterious knowledge of whom there were many in both Egypt and Babylon.
I think that is everlastingly true. A true preacher of the gospel will have a vision of the future that governmental, political men never possess. I think the preacher can see the end of what now characterizes the people. And I have a little more word to say about that later.
Both of them – Daniel and Joseph – under God were partners and protectors of God’s people in their suffering. God has a purpose for all of the hurts and sorrows and pains of your life. There’s a reason for it. The great Presider over time and life has a reason for the tears that are brought into your life. We just need to remember them and trust God for their ultimate meaning.
So, Daniel is one of the most wonderful characters the world has ever seen or known – one of the few men of whom God writes only good, as he wrote only good for Joseph, only good for Jonathan. That is nothing written about Daniel but praises the Lord. Even the angel Gabriel addressed him as quote, "greatly beloved." He was truly a commanding figure in personal virtue and in illimitable faith.
Now, I want you to point out something that concerns me and all of these kids that go to school and that young son of Gloria Cowan, who was just here, shaking my hand. I want you to look at the attempt to assimilate these young fellows into heathen culture and worship. I don’t have time to read these passages but, in Daniel 1:3-7, you have a record of that attempt to take these young captives out of the house of God and to make them idolatrous and conforming to a heathen, secular, unbelieving world. They were taught in the wisdom of the Chaldeans; the Chaldean language and the Chaldean lore. I want to show you how successful they were in that.
You remember that in those brief comparatively few years, there were seventy that these Judeans were captive in Chaldea, in Babylon; in those few years, they forgot the Hebrew language, the language they were born with. And of course, how come it to be pertinent to us who read the Bible; Jeremiah said that that language that they forgot would one day be spoken again. Now, you look at that. For 2,500 years, that language was forgotten. Can you believe it? They forgot their Hebrew language. And for 2,500 years, it remained forgotten. And in your lifetime, on May 14, 1948, it became the language of the new Israel having been forgotten 2,500 years and if you go over there today to Israel; that is the language that they speak.
I pointed out one time, in speaking about it, that it was one of the providences that God wrought, because those immigrants into Israel from all over the world spoke every kind of a language known to the human species. And in order for them to speak where the government could converse with them and the people could converse together why, they had to have some kind of a common language. And Hebrew became that language. Oh, it’s unbelievable!
Anyway, these captives are taken to the land of the Chaldeans and they forget their language. They never speak it in their lifetime or in the lifetime of their children’s children. Don’t you remember, in Nehemiah 8, when Ezra stands up there and opens the Book of God? He has to translate it into a language that the people could understand. And that language became the language of the Hebrew people. When Jesus spoke, he spoke in that language.
Oh, how things can come to pass! And I am illustrating how it is one can be introduced to a heathen culture and at the same time love God and serve the Lord, I am speaking of the training of these young Christian men and woman in the world today, going to institutions of say, law or medicine or pedagogy. And these institutions that they attend are as heathen and as secular as they can be. But, it is possible that a devout Christian can attend one of these secular universities like Texas or like Oklahoma – God help us! And they can be as Christian there as they are at home.
You have a good illustration of that in the Bible in Moses. He was learned in all the science and knowledge of the Egyptians. But, he loved God. You have another example of it in Paul. Almost certainly, Paul was a graduate of the University at Tarsus. He was learned in all the Greek language and culture. You have an illustration of that in his preaching at Athens; preaching to those Greeks in their language.
I’m just avowing to you that you do not need to give up your faith, no matter what that professor is saying or what that institution believes or what the culture of the world in which your life is cast. You can love God and serve the Lord just as these young fellows did, even though they lived in a foreign and secular captivity.
Well, God looked upon them as the culture to which they were introduced in Chaldea; in Babylon, changed their names. The four lads had significant names, full of hope and assurance, which their pious parents had given them. Back there at home in Judah, they named their son Daniel, which means "God is judge." Another family named their son Hananiah, which says, "God is gracious." Another family: Mishael – "who is equal to God." And another boy was named Azariah: "God is my helper." Well brother, they surely didn’t keep those names over there among those Chaldeans. Their names were changed. That was also part of the attempt to wipe out the memory of Jerusalem and Jehovah God.
In each instance the Babylonians substituted names, removed all reference to Jehovah and their new names exalted the heathen idols and names of Chaldean gods. Daniel they renamed Belteshazzar, which means "Bel protects his life." Hananiah was changed to Shadrach, which means that he is the servant of the god; the idol Sin, S-I-N, the Babylonian moon god. Mishael was changed to Meshach: "who is what Shach is" – the god Shach. And Azariah was named Abednego: "a servant of the heathen god Nego."
But, God had written their names in His Book before Nebuchadnezzar recorded them in his book. God had chosen them for His service. Remember the word: "He that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." They lived in the purview of Almighty God and God had a purpose for these young men, Nebuchadnezzar not realizing it; certainly not knowing it. The king placed them at his table. He nourished them with his food. He satisfied them with his glittering court. But, he could not ever change their hearts or destroy their faith. And you can read that in the response of these youths in the first chapter of Daniel when they were introduced to that heathen culture and the king commanded that they be responsive to it.
Now, they lived a royal life of plenty and luxury. They were given every encouragement to forget their past – to forget their Lord. They altars of youthful worship and Judean devotion; they were to turn now to the worship and life of gilded Babylonians. From Babylonia, it was a gracious act on their part. Those youngsters lived far above the living standards of the captured people. Daniel 1:5 avows that. They would enjoy meals fit for a king and the life of the court. But, they do not forget their God. The memory of Jerusalem and Judah did not subside.
Remember the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm:
If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let me 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]
Where did that come from in the lives of those boys, those lads, those young fellows? They were born in the court of good King Josiah, one of the noblest kings Judah ever had. And in childhood, they remember the finding of the Bible in the house of the Lord, in the Temple: the book of the Law. And they passed their youth in the days of the great reformation under good King Josiah. And their hearts were warmed and they were what we call "converted" in the tremendous revival under Josiah, upon the reading of the Word of the Lord.
Not only that, but these young captives – Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – they listened to Jeremiah preach. And when Daniel was taken as a captive to Babylonia, he carried the Book of Jeremiah with him. And it was precisely here, in reading the Law of God and in listening to Jeremiah the prophet and, over there in Babylon, Ezekiel, God’s prophet, that he drew the line. Kings meat offered to idols, they refused. "Slay us. Put us in the fiery furnace. Feed us to the lions. We will not compromise," bowing before an idol and eating the meat offered to him.
Now, let me turn aside and say something of us. The Lord God created a new dispensation in Christ – altogether new. We live in a new era: a Christian genesis and consummation. We do not live under the Law. Daniel did. The law commanded the Jew not to eat all those unclean foods. And Daniel was faithful. But, today, Jesus said, in Luke 11 and 41: "All things are clean unto you." And in Acts chapter10 is one of the most vivid of all of the dispensational acts of the Lord God that you’ll ever read. Simon Peter is on the housetop praying and there is lowered from heaven a sheet, with every kind of unclean creeping thing that you can imagine.
And the Lord says to Peter: "Rise and kill and eat."
And Simon Peter refuses to do it: "Lord, I have never eaten such unclean things."
And the Lord says: "What God has cleansed, call not thou unclean."
We live in a new dispensation, in a new era, which calls to my mind that avowal with which I began: God is sovereign. God rules and all of these providences of life that to us just seem casual, just occasional; all of them are a part of the programming of God and that is a good illustration of it. Back there in the Old Covenant – in the Old Testament they were commanded thus.
Last night, just for the interest of it, I was looked through Leviticus. My land! I had even forgotten how detailed, oh dear are all of those commandments of the Lord about everything that you eat; everything that you drink. That was the Law. And that was the command of God for Daniel as he grew up and as he lived in that era, that dispensation.
But, God changed it. God is all-powerful – omnipotent, omniscient. And today, we live in a different era and a different dispensation. It is all in the purview and the hands of the Lord God.
So, we look at Daniel in his purpose of heart. He purposed to obey and to honor and to be faithful to God. And look at him as he is there in the court of the king, under the commandment of the king, and giving himself to the Word and revelation of the Lord, and facing death, because – remember, we will get to it a little later on all those wise men in Chaldea and in Babylon who could not interpret the king’s dream – he was going to slay them all. All of that faced Daniel; taken out of his home, away from his people, a slave – a captive – in a foreign land. But look at him. He was not bitter. He did not charge God foolishly. Neither did Job. He did not lose faith in the Lord, even though his fellow captives did.
In Ezekiel 18 verses 1 and 2, you have the complaint of the captives in Babylon that the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the teeth of the children are set on edge: "We’re here because of the sins of our fathers." And they were bitter and vindictive, full of complaint and castigation. You won’t see a sentence of that; you won’t see a verb of that in the life of Daniel and those children with him. God does not hold children responsible for the sins of the fathers. God does not do it. If we are punished, we are punished for our own sins. So, Ezekiel chapter 18: "The soul that sins, it shall die." [Ezekiel 18:4] And you are not going to face a judgment, and you are not going to face a punishment, for the sins of your fathers. If you are judged, and if you are punished, and assigned to a bitter reward, it will be because of you not because of your fathers.
So, Daniel refused to be swayed by the world program. He was unmoved. His heart was steadfastly fastened and centered in the Lord. Remember what the Book of Proverbs says in chapter 23: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." [Proverbs 23:7] And in Proverbs 4: "Out of the heart are the issues of life." [Proverbs 4:23] His life was one of simplicity of living. He laid aside the menu of the king and chose to eat vegetables. And we see him in his life of restraint and temperance. He refused to lead a life of indulgence.
So, we look at him. And could I speak of the blessings of a life of restraint? Compare the poor boy in college; to him it was said, "An empty stomach makes for an active brain, while indulgence and wine and rich foods and luxuries clouds the mind." Or, look again when Caesar declared to Cicero, "You are a plebeian." But Cicero answered, "True, I am a plebeian. The nobility of the family begins with me but that of yours will end with you." Your life of restraint and temperance will be everlastingly blessed. So God honors His faithful captives.
Now, forgive me while I just try to condense a few minutes a good deal that I have here about Daniel. God honors His faithful captives. When the king said thus-and-so by command, the next sentence says but God, and in the midst of judgment, king’s judgment, God is good to Daniel. And God remembered him in his captivity there in [Babylon] even as God remembered Joseph when he was in prison, even as God remembered Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. All the power of the Roman Empire couldn’t keep them in that jail. So God remembers these captives.
Then, they appear before the king. After those three years why, they are presented to the king. And all of the impulses of life show in their faces. The Bible speaks of it as: "Let our countenances be seen. Let our faces be seen. Give us pulse, give us vegetables. Give us water. Do it for three years and then, let our countenances be seen in the presence of the king." [Daniel 1:12, 13]
I have a little comment on that. The face of a drunkard or a gambler or a libertine or a woman of the world is very apparent what it is. I’ve looked at it all my life, as you have. When people smoke and drink and devour liquor and live a life of compromise and sin, it will show in their faces. It was that way from the beginning. In Genesis 4:6, it says about Cain that Cain was "wroth" and now look at the rest, and his countenance fell," it was seen in his face. And you look in Isaiah. It says about Judah: "the sins of Judah, even their faces, witness against them, declaring their sin as that of Sodom and Gomorrah." [Isaiah 3:9] When you are a sinner in the world, you will not be able to hide it from the way you look in your face.
But, the face of a devout child of God is filled with joy and gladness. So, after three years, they are presented to the court and their faces shone. That’s a wonderful thing that God does for you when you live in the Lord.
So, I have to close. Daniel’s last governmental deed; I’m going to read it; Daniel’s last governmental deed. I turn to 2 [Chronicles], which closes the biblical story of Judah: "Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia" – this is the thirty-sixth chapter of 2 Chronicles:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all the kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me; and He hath charged me to build Him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The Lord his God is with him, and let him go up.
[2 Chronicles 36:22, 23]
And that – and I don’t have time to elaborate on it – that is a vital part of the work of Daniel. He laid before God what the prophet Isaiah said, Isaiah 44 which I don’t have time to read. And he read what Jeremiah had said about the fixing of the time. And he continued his ministry until that day in the presence of Cyrus. In the first chapter of Daniel, the last verse it says: "And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus."
That has two meanings: one, it fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah: "You’ll be a captive seventy years. Then, you’ll be free." And that sentence is put there, closing that first chapter, showing you that Daniel was there throughout that captivity and was present in the court of Cyrus, when Cyrus liberated the them. And of course, it presents the work of Daniel in showing Cyrus what God had said hundreds of years before, and in encouraging him to let Israel go.
I tell you: I don’t know of anything more interesting in the world, or more pertinent than to study that book such as Daniel, then to see God’s hand in our own lives and in the lives of our nation and of our world.