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A Sincere Faith
Winter Quarter: Faith in Action
Unit 2: A Living Faith in God
Sunday school lesson for the week of January 7, 2017
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture Lesson: Daniel 1: 8-21
Background Scripture: Daniel 1
Today we begin a series of lessons from the Old Testament Book of Daniel. The historical background is intriguing, and the relevance for today is how we Christians can face crises in our lives with faithfulness and perseverance.
Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah have been deported to Babylon after the first fall of Jerusalem in 605 BC. Later, Jerusalem and the Temple built by Solomon will be completely destroyed in 586 BC. Not only was this a crisis for their nation defeated, but also a crisis for their faith in the purpose of God.
There is an underlying importance to the names of these four young men who were being trained for three years to serve King Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled Babylon (also called Chaldea) for 43 years. The suffix of their names all refer to God. Any Hebrew name ending in “ah” or “el” is referring to “Yahweh” or “Elohim,” the two most common names for God in the Old Testament. For example, Daniel means “God is judge.” Their new pagan names are to be: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The whole episode hinges on this attempt to change these men into Babylonians by education, culture, and religion. Daniel speaks throughout for all of them.
Their crisis of testing begins with the everyday matter of food. The key verse is 8: “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” Daniel’s devotion to his faith is being tested with food prohibited in Leviticus. The Babylonians can change his surroundings, and even his name, but they cannot change his heart, which belongs to God alone!
Daniel’s method of dealing with this first test of their “reformation” is most enlightening. There was no obstinacy or confrontation. To use our language, he goes through the proper channels by bringing his request to the chief official, who responds with concern, but also fear of the King. In the dialogue, all the pronouns are plural indicating Daniel is speaking on behalf of all four of the young men, not just himself. The official is afraid the king will discover the deception by the appearances of the young men. Daniel next approaches the guard who has been placed over them with a plan. For 10 days, they will eat only vegetables and drink only water. Following this trial period, the guard can see for himself if they have suffered any ill effects from not eating the royal food.
Daniel’s tactfulness gains them the test, and can be a model for us in the 21st Century as we witness to our faith in a multicultural world. The dramatic result of this first test was an overwhelming success. Not only did the four young men survive on the vegetarian diet, they thrived! God blessed their faithfulness in giving them health and vitality in their foreign environment. They exhibited no “holier than thou” attitude, but their steadfastness and perseverance carried the day.
Not only did they thrive physically, they excelled in their education program. The three-year curriculum to train them for service to the king provided an opportunity for their intelligence to prove superior to all the others in the program. God does indeed bless our efforts to honor and follow the Divine purpose.
One of the perennial conflicts in Christian theology is how the church can present the Gospel to the contemporary culture in a winsome and winning way without giving up the central thrust of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
One biblical writer gives three examples from the Old Testament: Jonah, Esther, and Daniel. Jonah wanted nothing to do with the culture to which God wanted to send him—Assyria—the enemy of his people. On the other extreme is Esther, who is immersed in Persian culture. Daniel and his friends walk a middle line, willing to learn and adopt the language and ways of Babylon, but not the values of that culture. In earning the approval of both God and King, their lives proved how effective their efforts were.
The lesson for us in a non-Christian world—and that is where we continue to be—is affirmed by Paul in Romans 12-14 when he taught how the Roman Christians were to live in an alien culture. As John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace,” said to his young protégé` William Wilberforce: “Be sure you are in the world and not of it!” As Paul wrote in Romans 12:2: “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
Every day we must seriously question the values of our society. The way of Jesus very often conflicts with the patterns we accept as standard and normal. We are lulled into this acceptance with a complacent attitude that slides along with the motto of “getting along,” “don’t rock the boat,” “don’t make waves.” There is a way, modeled by the four Hebrews of today’s scripture, to make the witness without anger, argument, and discord. God will guide you, if you just try!
Another gift from God is Daniel’s ability to interpret dreams. This gift will be very important later. On graduating from the three-year program, these four Judean students are interviewed by the King himself. He finds them superior in every way over all the others, and they are accepted into his service. This service will continue throughout the life of King Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, Daniel is still there when the Babylonian Empire falls to Persia. The new ruler is Cyrus, who, in the first year of his reign (539 BC), issues the famous decree allowing the Jewish exiles to go home. We don’t know if Daniel had a role in this action, but the idea is worth considering: did this wise, talented, and considerate man play his part in the next scene of the Divine plan?
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.