IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




Living in the Upside Down

Date: Aug. 27, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Daniel 1:1-21

Key Verse: Daniel 1:8

“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.”

Have you ever felt like you don’t quite belong? Have you ever looked around at the world and just wondered what is wrong with it? Right now, there is a lot of anger and hatred coming to the surface, and you can wonder why there is so much darkness. Fear and terror have been running rampant for decades. People all over the place are fixated on sexuality, like their identity is in the frequency that they have sex. Families break up over whims and people are more willing to pay for therapy for kids than work out their differences. We place more value on the environment than the lives of people. Volkswagen feeling the effects of the diesel emissions scandal that it is embroiled in. They’ve been fines billions of dollars for their emissions cheating. Takata cut corners in their manufacturing of airbags and 12 people in the US alone have died with over a hundred injured as the airbags shot shrapnel into people. There is no multi-billion-dollar fine for the company. There is no great outcry even though there could be 70 million cars affected worldwide. What is wrong with this world? If you think this way, then you are not alone. This world is flip-flopped, upside down and makes absolutely no sense. So how do we live in a world that is so messed up? Do we hide our heads in the sand or live in a cave and hope the world will just go away? Or since we can’t beat them, we join them and just succumb to the ways of the upside-down world? Today we start the book of Daniel and through this book we will see Daniel and his friends living in a crazy world, but learning how to stay true to God while doing so.

Like I said, today, we are starting a new series from the book of Daniel called Living in the Upside Down and there are a couple reasons why it is title this way. The first is because of a TV show called Stranger Things. For those of you who have not seen it, the show is centered around the search of a boy named Will Byers. Will, in the opening episode, goes missing because he is taken by a monster. His mom, the police and even his friends go looking for him, but that is difficult because the monster took him into a parallel dimension, a dimension that exists alongside our own reality. The dimension is given the name The Upside Down because it is a mirror of our own reality. There are building and trees like our own reality, but everything is covered in vines, there are spores floating in the toxic air and there is darkness everywhere. Everything looks like it is decaying and there are terrifying monsters. As Christians, we hear about God’s kingdom: a place of light, goodness, love and hope, but we know that this world is far from that. There is beauty in this world, as you can see in a sunrise, sunset or the eclipse this past Monday, but the world is far from perfect. There is ugliness that we see in the violence erupting because of race relations. In Chicago, every weekend is filled with people getting shot and killed. This world is decaying, falling apart, and toxic. This isn’t the bright and shining world. This is the Upside Down.

The second meaning is even more relatable. This world is just backwards and upside down. What is good is seen as bad. What is bad is seen as good. The way to get ahead is not to be lifted up but to push everyone else down. People used to think that this world was ruled by the survival of the fittest, but now it is the survival of the whiniest. We live in a world where hatred and revenge are more common than love and grace. As we start to get into the book of Daniel, we will see that the world 2600 years ago is not very different from our own. It is crazy, mixed up and the only world we have to live in. Let’s look into the book to see how to live a life for God’s purpose in the Upside Down.

Our passage, today, starts out, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.” (1-2) About two years ago, we ended a series on 1 and 2 Kings and it ended with the fall of Jerusalem. The Babylonians came in and besieged the city until it fell. And our passage starts out with the exact same event, the fall of Jerusalem. The book starts here to give us some context to the events that follow. One of the things to note is that verse 2 says, “And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand…”. The author makes it know that Jerusalem’s downfall and the handing over of the king happen because God intentionally let it happen. It wasn’t that God failed the people. The people failed God. They had turned from God over and over again and God fulfilled his promise. He promised the people that he would protect them if they followed him, but if they went away from God, they would move away from his protection and he would let bad things happen. Because the people were so evil, God let them be conquered by the Babylonians. When the Babylonians conquered a people, they took a bunch of the population and moved them to another location. They would mix up their population so that the conquered peoples would be mixed in with the existing ones. It would be an attempt to create unity and to discourage rebellion. Over time, the conquered people would mix with everyone and lose their national identity. They would only be known as Babylonians.

The Babylonians also had another method to control conquered people. Our passage continues, “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.” (3-5) King Nebuchadnezzar wanted some Israelites to be a part of his team of advisors, his royal cabinet. He wanted the best men from the royal family and nobility. Men without any physical problems, handsome, able to learn and quick to understand. It sounds like we have a whole bunch of those here. What Nebuchadnezzar wanted to do with these men was to give them positions of power to show the people that they were not slaves, but now a part of something greater, the Babylonian Empire. There would be Jews right near the king. They would have his ear and advise him on important issues.  They would be like the king’s own family and eat from his table. These are not things that you would do with a conquered people. They were things you do with friends and Nebuchadnezzar wanted to make sure that the people he conquered and displaced would become his friends. Friends, as you may know, do not rebel. The training would consist of three years of schooling in the Babylonian ways. It was kind of like the people who were chosen were sent to college Nebuchadnezzar University or NebU, where you learned all the ways of Babylon and more.

The passage continues, “Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.” (6-7) As the passage says, a number of people were chosen from Judah to be Nebuchadnezzar scholars and only four are mentioned here: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. A lot of times, we like to think that only these four were chosen, but the passage says they were among the chosen. When they entered college, the chief official gave them new names. These four guys had names that were very Jewish and had to do with their God, you know, the God. Their names were changed to more Babylonian names to be more palpable to the king. It is not unlike some of the international students choosing more American sounding names to make it easier for people over here. However, the name changes are interesting because of the meaning. Daniel’s name means “God is my judge”, while Belteshazzar means “Bel, protect his life!”, where Bel is another name for the Babylonian god Marduk. Hananiah means “Yahweh is gracious”, while Shadrach means “command of Aku”, where Aku is the Babylonian moon god. Mishael means “who is what God is?”, while Meshach means “who is what Aku is?” Finally, Azariah means “Yahweh has helped”, while Abednego means “servant of Nebo”, where Nebo is the son of Marduk or Bel. Like I said, each of the Jewish names had a reference to God in it and the Babylonian names had a reference to a pagan god in it. You might be tempted to think that the Babylonians were trying to scrub God out of these men’s lives. That might be true, but Daniel and his friends seem to go along with the name change, but they had a strong conviction about defiling themselves with food.

We see that conviction in the next part of the passage. “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” (8) Daniel and his friends were given food from the king’s table. Now, when you hear that food was given from the king’s table. It sounds like it must be some of the best food around, because the king wouldn’t eat cheaply, no instant ramen noodles for him. When Daniel didn’t want to eat the king’s food, it wasn’t because it was weird. You know, sometimes, rich people eat weird things, like edible balloons, marshmallows that are shaped like human hands or a tiny little zen garden that is made of food products. But it wasn’t that the food was weird, it was that the food would defile Daniel. The food of the king’s table was sacrificed to Babylonian gods and, in some cases, probably contained some foods that the Jews considered unclean like pork. God has explicitly stated that the Jews should not eat such things because they were unclean and Daniel and his friends had a conviction that they shouldn’t do so. It didn’t sit well with them. God told them that they should not eat such things and they didn’t want to. Their consciences were pricked and they resolved not to eat it. They made a strong decision to remain pure because it went against their consciences to eat that food.

Now, this wasn’t something to be done lightly. The chief official was concerned. “Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.” (9-10) By refusing the food, Daniel was putting himself and others in a precarious position. For the chief official, he was ordered to watch over these men, if they started looking weak under his watch, he wouldn’t be doing his job and he could be killed for it. Also, by refusing the royal food, Daniel and his friends could be insulting the king. The king was giving them the best, but they refused it because it wasn’t good enough. Who were they to refuse the king? They could be facing death because of food. Is it even worth it? They chose to stand their ground here and this is their upside-down world. The world was telling them that this food was the best food, but their hearts were telling them that the food would kill their souls. It looked good and probably tasted good, but it was laced with a spiritual poison that would lead them away from God.

Like I said, it was a precarious position. They could eat the food and go away from God or they could refuse the food and face certain death. In that time, Daniel had wisdom in how to deal with the situation. He didn’t staunchly refuse to eat the food like a toddler. Instead, he brought a plan to the guard. “Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, ‘Please test your servants for ten days: 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, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.’” (11-13) Daniel had a plan that they would try to eat just vegetables for ten days and see what happens. Instead of diving in headlong, they would have a trial period. It is a tactic that many companies use today. They have trial periods for their software to see if you like it before putting down the money for the full version. It was a good plan to calm the fears of the guard and official. So, they agreed and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the ten days, the results were astounding. “At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.” (15) By eating just vegetables and drinking water, they looked better than any of the other people in training. This looks like a vindication of a great vegan diet. If you go vegan, you will be healthier than if you were to eat meat. A lot of people are pushing that today, but that is not what is going on here. It is not the vegan diet that made them healthy, it was God. God saw that stand they were making in his name. He saw the respectful way that Daniel dealt with it and he blessed them to be successful. Again, we live in the time of survival of the whiniest, where the most complaining and irritating people see success. People grow belligerent and expect results. The more irritating you are, the more likely you will get what you want. It is a ploy used by children everywhere and has now become the norm. Daniel was wise, tactful and respectful. He held to his convictions, but he didn’t force those convictions down the throat of anyone who heard them. He chose the higher road and God blessed him for it.

God gave them success in all that they did. As they learned from the Babylonians, they became very skilled. “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (17-20) God gave them knowledge and the king found none equal to them. When they started to serve the king, he found their advice to be ten times greater than anyone else’s advice. Because they held to their conviction, God chose to bless them and make them the best at what they would do. Now, standing your ground for God is not a guarantee to success. Just remember Jesus. I would say that he was the number person to hold on to God’s ways, but he was crucified, and a number of Christians were killed for their faith. Even in the Old Testament, Moses chose to not be counted with Pharaoh. He was raised in Pharaoh’s household, but chose to be with his people, but matters were made worse. The people had to do their work under harder circumstances. Moses tried to be a champion for his people, but they wanted nothing to do with him and he ran off. But the outcome should not be the reason we stand firm. We shouldn’t be seeking the reward. We should have conviction despite the danger because we love God.

We have to live in this world, right now. God hasn’t called us to his perfect kingdom, yet. So, we have to live here and we cannot isolate ourselves in closed communities. In the dark and middle ages, a number of people thought that you would become more holy by going to live in a monastery, away from the world. Without the distractions of the world, you could grow in your relationship with God, but we are not called to isolate ourselves. We are called to show the world the type of God we have, and everything that we do should point back to him. Likewise, we are not to succumb to every whim of the world. Just because everybody is doing something doesn’t make it right before God. There are many things in the world that don’t really matter. Daniel didn’t care about the name change, but he did care about the food. It was idolatry and he didn’t want to defile himself. We all have convictions that God gives us and we have to make sure that we do not do something that goes against our consciences, and that can be different for each person. About two months ago, Bob and I went on a trip to Malaysia to attend a conference and our friend Ison’s wedding. After the wedding, we went on a tour with a number of other people to a city called Melaka. In Melaka, there is a mosque on the sea. It is a beautiful building, but you had to adhere to their dress code to enter. The women had to be completely covered, from head to toe and the men had to be properly dressed as well, no shorts or short sleeves. Plus, no shoes were allowed in certain areas. I’m a pretty open person, but I just couldn’t get myself to put on the robe and take off my shoes. I couldn’t commit myself to bowing to their rules. My conscience was not clear, so I stayed outside. Bob had no issue like that and he went in. It was a matter of conscience. It is the same way for many other issues like alcohol. Some people can drink freely without getting drunk, but for others it leads to sin. It is important to live within your conscience and stand on your convictions because you love God.

We live in a crazy, mixed-up world and it is easy to get caught up in everything, but it is important that everything that we do gives glory to God. Jesus died for us, so that we can have life and that life isn’t something to be wasted. We live to tell people about God and what he has done. We have to have a level of credibility or people won’t believe us and we have to have a measure of holiness so that people will want to know what we have in our hearts. It is easy to get caught up in the mess of the world, but we don’t get caught up in stupid arguments as we heard three weeks ago. Last week, we heard that we need to preach the word because people will not put up with sound doctrine. They will want to hear what they want to hear and it is so important for them to hear what they need to hear. We cannot just go with the flow because there is so much wrong in this world. In regard to our beliefs, we cannot waver. We have to remain firm. When we waver, we are not with God, we have stepped away from him, like the Israelites did. Most of us don’t take large steps away from God, but just a number of small steps. Each small step leads us away from God, but we need to stand firm for God in the things that convict us like Daniel and his friends did. It might seem small, but they held firm and they weren’t pretentious about it. They weren’t belligerently vocal and annoying everybody. They held to their belief with wisdom and tact. They convinced the guard to let them try to eat only vegetables instead of hammering it over his head and stomping their feet like toddlers. There is a song that goes: “I will stand my ground where hope can be found. Oh, O'Lord O'Lord I know You hear my cry. Your love is lifting me above all the lies. No matter what I face this I know in time. You'll take all that is wrong and make it right.” (O’ Lord, Lauren Daigle) God takes what is wrong and makes it right. Daniel and his friends are in a hard area, but God was going to use them mightily while living in the Upside Down.

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