In this episode, we begin our 12 week series, Reading Between the Lions; a study on the Book of Daniel. We begin with some background and historical information to get a good foundation for the rest of the book. We delve into how the leaders of nations, when they want those in their land to assimilate to their beliefs and way of life, do so by indoctrination. This is true whether the people are there by choice or as a result of being conquered. Join us as we study this fascination and surprisingly relevant book!
Episode 101 – “Assimilation Through Indoctrination”
Welcome back! Today we’re starting a new series lasting for twelve weeks on the book of Daniel called “Reading Between the Lions”. Yes, we said, “Lions” not “lines”! We try to be creative when we make up these names!
We do! So, let’s start by saying a few things about this book in general. First, Daniel was written while he was in captivity, shortly after Cyrus of Persia captured Babylon, in 539 B.C. Some scholars have tried to say that the book of Daniel was not written by him, and they date the book at a later date; partly because there are parts of it (which we’ll mention later) that are sooo specific to what happened in history these people can’t accept that Daniel wrote of these things back then.
But, if you’re a Christian, you know that God can do anything! Even give a man specific details that are going to happen later in history! And, if you’re a Christian, you SHOULD believe what the Bible says, and this late-date theory contradicts what the book of Daniel itself says, because verse 9:2 and 10:2 indicate Daniel IS the author, and that it was indeed written shortly after the capture of Babylon by Cyrus. And, in addition to that, Jesus associates the book with Daniel in Matthew 24:15.
The overarching theme of Daniel is God’s sovereign rule and control of history. All throughout history, God is on the throne! The nations are doing His bidding. In everything, God is using mankind’s sinful decisions, their passions, their desires, and even their incompetence, to work out His plans.
We should begin by giving some of the backstory to the book of Daniel. All along, God’s people had been warned that breaking His law would result in
punishment. Leviticus 26 warns of blessings for obedience, and curses for disobedience. In particular, Leviticus 26:33 says, “And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.”
And after the Israelites moved into the Promised Land, they eventually split into two kingdoms – the northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah). In 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria and “The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria” and relocated them to three different places scattering them amongst three other people groups, according to 2 Kings 18:11. And the following verse tells why that happened - “because they did not obey the voice of the LORD their God but transgressed his covenant,…. They neither listened nor obeyed.” 2 Kings 18:12.
Judah (the southern kingdom) wasn’t obeying God either for the most part. Their king when at that time was named Hezekiah. He, was fairly decent compared to most of the kings and, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” according to 2 Kings 18:3. But he had a problem. Assyria was now on his kingdom’s doorstep and were actually starting to step over the line.
Hezekiah gets reassurance from the prophet Isaiah that God would take care of them in the city of Jerusalem. And king Hezekiah is given tangible evidences that God is in control of absolutely everything, including the movement of the sun (showing control over nature), and even over life and death! But either in a time of spiritual weakness, or in a moment of pridefulness, Hezekiah shows the treasury, the armory and all the goods to an envoy that’s come from the nation of Babylon (which at that time was a weak nation).
Right. And what was wrong with showing this Babylonian envoy all the goods? He was showing them that He was in a position to make an alliance to help stand against Assyria. King Hezekiah had started to rely on man, not God to save Jerusalem. And we’re telling you this because when the prophet Isaiah finds out what the king did, he prophesies, “Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD.”
But that prophecy won’t be fulfilled in Hezekiah’s lifetime. After Hezekiah dies, two wicked kings ruled over Judah, followed by a third, very godly king – Josiah. It was during his reign that Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (later known as Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego) would have been born. These guys would have spent the first ten (or so) years of their lives under King Josiah’s godly rule. That’s one of the reasons they had such a strong faith in God and knew and trusted Him as we’re going to see going through the book of Daniel.
By the time Daniel and his three friends were in their teens, King Josiah was dead, Judah was once again under wicked rulers, and Babylon had become the world superpower. Babylon takes over Judah and Jerusalem and exiles most of the people to Babylon.
Daniel and the other people from the Southern Kingdom of Judah going into exile in Babylon are the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy to King Hezekiah. Just as God promised in the prophesy, they, and eventually all the goods, were carried off to Babylon.
The book of Daniel is part history and part apocalyptic. If you’ve heard us talk about some of the other books of the Bible with apocalyptic language, you’ll know that it was a genre of writing that was used to encourage people who were enduring times of extreme suffering to give them hope. The Israelites were suffering during Daniel’s time, during their exile in Babylon. Daniel’s visions reminded them that God is in control of all things, and that He will eventually deliver them and bring about a glorious Kingdom that will never end.
Now that we have the backstory, let’s read Daniel chapter 1:1-7. I’ll start.
1In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal familya and of the nobility, 4youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
The first thing to take notice of is exactly what we’ve said over and over – it was the Lord’s will that they were taken to Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah had been warning them to turn from their sin; they didn’t. And Jeremiah 25:8-11 says, “Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, 9behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. 10Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
So, God incited the kings of other lands to do His bidding. That’s how it works. Those kings were working for their own purposes – whether noble, or sinful, or for prideful reasons or for whatever. But it’s very clear that God was in control and incited them. Daniel 1:2 says, “the Lord gave”. He handed the king and some of the stuff, and the brightest and the best, over to Nebuchadnezzer, king of Babylon at the time. Ephesians 1:11 and other Scripture tells us that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will.” Nebuchadnezzer didn’t know he was serving the Lord when He conquered and exiled them, but he was. John Calvin says that Nebuchadnezzar as God's servant "is to be referred to God only, who governs by his hidden and incomprehensible power both the devil and the ungodly, so that they execute, though unwittingly, whatever he determines."
Daniel and this first group of the brightest and best exiles spend three years learning the language, the literature; they had their names changed and they were supposed to eat the food of the king. Why would a king serve these captives the best food in the land, want them taught, and change their names? Assimilation. The best way to assimilate someone into your culture is to teach them your ways, get them to like your food and lifestyle, and give them a new name...a fresh start!
Assimilating into a new culture means “to absorb into the cultural tradition of that population or group where you are.” Conquering kingdoms would take many of the people back to their homeland, while leaving some of their own people in the conquered land with a few of the original inhabitants left there to help them. You’re basically mixing the conquered people with your people in both lands. This is done to force the conquered people to learn and understand new information and concepts, in other words indoctrinating them, to make them similar (and eventually the same) as your own people.
It’s a smart military move. Doing this usually means that within a few generations, the old national identity would be gone, and the people would become as if they’d always lived there. This lessened ideas of revolts and uprisings from the people you had taken captive. Assimilation is very hard on exiled people; no matter what the reason they are taken out of their homeland, and no matter how good it is where they end up.
Learning the language and literature would have introduced them to the polytheism (worship of many gods) of the Babylonians, as well as introduced them to the magic arts, sorcery and astrology. As for their original Hebrew names, two of them contain the Hebrew component meaning “God”; and two of them the component yah, a shortened form of Yahweh (“the Lord”). Daniel means “my judge is God”; Hananiah “Yahweh is gracious”; Mishael ‘Who is what God is?”; and Azzariah “Yahweh has helped”.
Nebuchadnezzer didn’t want them left with names that reminded them of their God. So, he gave them Babylonaian names. Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
It’s disputed what their new, Babylonian names mean. Some commentators tie the new names to the Babylonian gods, some don’t. But one thing is clear; Nebuchadnezzer had in mind for them to forget about the One True God!
Let’s read the rest of the passage. “8But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” 11Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12“Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. 16So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.17As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. 21And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.”
I want to digress for a moment and say one thing about this vegetable and water thing: Vegetables and water will not put muscle on you. This was a supernatural work of God. It’s NOT in there as a diet for us to follow.
Daniel’s “diet” has been marketed today as a Bible-based plan for “spiritual, emotional, and physical health”. While the diet in the marketed plan may be a good diet, God’s Word should not be used out of context for gaining wealth or status. We should reject this type of thinking. This part of the Bible is not in here for us to follow as a diet; Jabez’s prayer is not a mantra for getting “blessings”; and the Bible isn’t to be used in the manner of “7 Easy Steps” toward anything, like happens with the Proverbs a lot. We need to reject this kind of false teaching.
I agree wholeheartedly! So, the four friends learned what the pagan king wanted them to learn. There’s nothing wrong with that. How does it relate to today? Well it’s actually good for Christians to learn about other religions or about things like ungodly social agendas like BLM and Critical Race Theory. It helps us be aware. There’s nothing sinful about learning about them.
And, likewise, There was nothing sinful about responding to a new name. Daniel and his three friends didn’t buck the system when their names were changed. They didn’t pitch a fit and insist on being called by their Hebrew names.
They went along with the assimilation and indoctrination when it didn’t compromise their beliefs. But when assimilation and indoctrination became sinful, they drew a line in the sand. Verse 8 tells us that Daniel resolved not to ‘defile’ himself with the king’s food. What would be defiling about the food? The answer is, we are not told. The Bible does not give specifics on what type of food was being served; therefore, we don’t know!
It could have been that the food was not allowed by the dietary laws in Leviticus 11:1-47; or that the blood had not been drained from the meat according to Leviticus 17:10-14; or that the food had been sacrificed to idols Exodus 34:15, Numbers 25:2. Regardless, it was the same food the king was eating; so partaking in the same food would almost be like fellowshipping with the enemy. When your enemy starts to be your friend, assimilation is taking place.
The one thing we see in all four of these young men is their demeanor is commendable. In Daniel 1:8a we’re told Daniel had “resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food”. They are steadfast in their decisions not to sin. But they aren’t fighting. They aren’t arguing. They’re very diplomatic. Daniel 1:8b says, “So he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself.”
Even when defying orders (as we’ll see later) they aren’t abusive, or hateful, or acting like jerks to the those ruling over them.
And the reason they’re not is because they trusted God. They entrusted themselves – their very lives – to God. They had a firm grasp of God’s sovereignty; and knowing and believing that made them able to stand firm.
Daniel 1:9 is another example showing us God’s sovereignty. It says, “God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs,” The Lord turned the hearts of men to show favor toward Daniel and his friends just like He did with Joseph in Genesis 39:2, as Solomon tells us in Proverbs 16:7 and we see it many other places in the Bible. God sovereignly controls the hearts of men. He hardens them, as we see with Pharaoh, one example of which is in Exodus 9:12. He does it with the heathen minds in Romans 1:28. He changes men’s hearts from stone to flesh Ezekiel 11:19, and regenerates them so they can respond to the gospel message.
Sometime after Daniel’s group had been exiled, Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiles to tell them how God wanted them to live while they were in the pagan land. Jeremiah 29:4-11 says, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,a 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.10“For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfareb and not for evil, to give. You a future and a hope.”
The four young men were living like God wanted them to live. And He uses them mightily. God gave them wisdom and understanding far exceeding any of the magicians and enchanters of that day. After their training they were put into high positions. They were working for the good of the place they were in. They had hope of a future restoration of their people to their homeland.
Jeremiah 29:11 gets taken out of context and used to promote the idea that Christians will be wealthy and prosperous. But that promise was to God’s remnant of people who He was going to bring back to Jerusalem someday. The promise is culminated in Christ. We have the hope of a future in our true homeland in the New Heavens and Earth.
The chapter ends by telling us that Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, who conquered Babylon in 539 B. C.
Some of you listening may wonder why we’re talking about assimilation and indoctrination so much. If you’re asking yourself that question it’s because as Christians, we are foreigners in a strange land.
1 Peter 2: 11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Hebrews 11, Psalm 119 and other passages also tell us this world is not our home.
The world loves it when professing Christians start to look and act like them. But we’re not supposed to. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The attempt at assimilation and indoctrination is happening all around us. It’s happening by what’s taught in schools and universities; through tv and movies; through books – not just non-fiction books – but fiction books too.
I can’t tell you the number of times John will start reading a sci-fi book and end up putting down because it’s littered with sinful stuff pushing a social or political agenda. I’m going to quote from our series “Deciphering Revelation” here: “the more society gives in to temptation or compromises, - the more it normalizes sin, - the more likely it is that we (meaning Christians) will capitulate in those areas.”
Take sex changes for example … 50 years ago it was an outrageous thing to hear about and you only heard of it once or twice. Now, it’s a normal part of society. So much so that it’s paid for by insurance companies. And some people who claim to be Christians are buying into the idea that going against God’s creation of male and female is normal. And, just to be clear, we’re not talking about hermaphrodites who genuinely have a medical issue that’s a result of the Fall, something that affected ALL of creation.
We get ‘desensitized’ to it. When someone wants to push a political or social agenda, what do they do? They indoctrinate us by bringing the subject out to the public. Bring it out there for everyone to see. That starts people talking about it. And, after awhile, there’s enough people defending the actions as “not sinful” or maybe even “good” that it starts to seem normal and eventually “okay”. And after a while, we start to accept sinful behavior and we may even question whether it really should be deemed sinful, which is ultimately questioning God.
Or, they have someone who makes statements that sound so incredibly outrageous or inflammatory (like Olivie Cortez …) and soon, something from the middle doesn’t sound so strange or foreign. Regardless of the tactic, or what’s going on around us, we have to stand against sin.
Exactly. And, so, Christians have to draw lines in the sand on a whole host of things. And it’s not always easy. For instance, some Christians today have drawn a line in the sand about this COVID vaccine. Some have believed that a vaccination you get yourself protects other people. And so, they believe that it’s going against the good of society (and therefore sinful) not to get it. Some have asked “Is it sinful TO get the vaccine? So, those Christians have investigated each brand that’s available – the Pfizer, the Moderna, the Johnson and Johnson, etc. - asking, “How was it made? How was it tested? Were aborted fetuses used to make it? Were aborted fetuses used to test it?” And things like that. And then they’ve made their decision and drawn the line in the sand.
And, like always, we need to carry our decisions through to more than just that one thing if it relates to other things. If we fall on the side of this vaccine being tested or made in certain ways that are sinful, then we’d better be asking what do we do about all the other ones we’ve gotten or have to get for ourselves or our children? And if we’ve gotten the vaccine because you’re convinced it’s “good for society” then what else do you need to submit to because it will be good for society?
The decisions Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego had to make (at least the examples we’re given in the Bible) were pretty straightforward when it came to whether they would be trespassing God’s Word or not. Some of our decisions where to draw the line in the sand will be straightforward too, but some not so much.
Through the prophet Jeremiah God tells the exiles in Babylon to marry, have children, seek the good of the nation where they are captive. So ultimately we should seek that good. So, do we get a vaccine just because they’re telling us to? No. We do our research. If we’re seeking the good of society as a whole, we ask the question “Is this good for society as a whole? Is it necessary? Are there potential problems with it?” And then, we have to decide what we do with our findings.
We do. Do we post on social media? Tell our friends and family? What do we do if it’s going to cause an argument? Can we handle ourselves the way Daniel and the other three handled themselves in the midst of drawing a line? Can we be steadfast in our decisions not to sin without fighting or arguing. Can we do it without being abusive or hateful or acting like jerks?
Chris, we can by remembering that God is on the throne and He is ruling and reining over every single thing. That’s key to helping a Christian stand firm.
A couple more things about the book of Daniel. We have to be careful when we read the story of Daniel, and when we teach it to our children (or other people’s children) that we don’t make Daniel, or Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego the heroes of the story. The hero is God. HE saves His people. He’d already promised that He would save a remnant and bring them back according to what we read from Jeremiah.
And our hero, Jesus, is coming to take His remnant, the Church, home. Something else to think about from this first chapter of Daniel …. Not everybody was taken into exile. This is only the first of three Babylonian invasions of Judah. This one in 605 BC, the next in 598-597 and the last in 589-588. And even at the end of that, some people are still left behind, usually to help the people who stay behind from the invading country. To our human minds, it might seem that those taken into exile are the ones who are most under God’s wrath and judgement. But a prophecy that came later through the prophet Jeremiah paints a different picture.
It does. The Lord showed Jeremiah two baskets of figs; one is full of good figs, the other bad ones. Jeremiah 24:5-6 says, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. 6I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up.
It was through the exiles in Babylon that the restoration of God’s people would come. NOT from those left behind.
Right. Jeremiah’s prophecy about them was, “9I will make them a horrora to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. 10And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.”
The point is, we don’t know the big picture! The exiles might have wished they could’ve been the ones left in their homeland. They didn’t know what God had planned because Jeremiah prophesied about the figs after they were gone.
That’s right we don’t know what God is doing. But He is always on the throne ruling and reigning! And that’s where we’ll end today!
If you haven’t seen our launch video for The Bible Blueprint – A guide to Better Understanding the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, check it out on one of our social media pages! Or you can find the link to it from our website, proverbs910ministries.com. Have a blessed day!