Living in Babylon

     Daniel is one of my favorite characters in the Bible.  His life and times are recorded in the Old Testament.[1] Daniel was born into a good family of noble birth in Judah (Dan 1:3-6). In his early years he witnessed the spiritual and moral decline of his country. Idolatry was rampant in Israel to such an extent that human sacrifice had become acceptable (Ezek 16:20-21). As a result of Judah’s spiritual decline, God brought judgment upon the nation through Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian king (Jer. 25:8-9; Dan. 1:1-2), who besieged Jerusalem in 605 B.C. and transported many captives to his homeland. Though Daniel was young—perhaps about sixteen— he was taken from his family and deported to Babylon where he lived for nearly seventy years under the administration of several kings (most notably Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Cyrus). While most Israelites were conforming to the influences of the pagan[2] culture around them, Daniel resisted. He was a rebel in the best sense of the word, for he walked with God while others bowed to idols. Daniel is recorded in Scripture as a righteous person (Ezek 14:14, 20); however, God allowed him to be taken captive,[3] and this was because God had a plan for him to serve as a minister in Babylon. 

     Daniel was a role model for other Jews living in captivity. Upon arrival in Babylon, Daniel (and his friends) was forced into a Chaldean reeducation program which was intended to assimilate him into the Babylonian culture. Where possible, Daniel submitted himself to his new culture by learning “the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Dan 1:4), accepting a new name (Dan 1:7), and serving as a governmental administrator (Dan 1:17-21; 6:1-3). God expected Daniel to pray for the prosperity of the city where he lived, saying, “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 have welfare” (Jer 29:7). If possible, God’s people were to get along with their temporary captors. Wiersbe states, “The exiles were to be peacemakers, not troublemakers, and they were to pray sincerely for their enemies (Matt. 5:43–48; 1 Tim. 2:1–3; Titus 3:1–2).”[4] However, there were times when Daniel would not go along with the values of his new culture. Specifically, Daniel refused to submit to Babylonian authority when it commanded him to violate God’s Word (Dan 1:8a), or to pray to a human as though he were a god (Dan 6:4-11). In the first act of refusal, Daniel wisely sought a diplomatic solution to his problem (Dan 1:8b-16), and the second time he simply defied the king—albeit respectfully—and trusted God to care for him (Dan 6:12-23). 

     Daniel’s life manifested biblical wisdom applied to everyday circumstances. Overall, his life was characterized by righteousness (Ezek 14:14, 20), diplomacy (Dan 1:6-16; 2:1-16), prayer (Dan 2:17-18; 6:10; 9:3-19), wisdom (Dan 1:17; 2:23), worship (Dan 2:20-22), excellence (Dan 6:3), faithfulness (Dan 6:1-10), and humility (Dan 9:4). We learn from Daniel that God allows faithful believers to experience difficulties in the Devil’s world, which often serve to grow the believer spiritually so that he/she might be a light to others. And, like Daniel living in Babylon, we realize this earth is not our final home, and that we are to regard ourselves as “as aliens and strangers” living in a foreign land (1 Pet 2:11). As Christians, our citizenship is actually in heaven (Phil 3:20).

     So, how does the Christian overcome the demanding influences of a pagan culture and serve as a light to others? First, the believer must replace a lifetime of human viewpoint thinking by learning God’s word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). A biblical worldview enables the believer to see his/her spiritual identity as a child of God (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:1-5; Eph 1:3-6; 1 Pet 2:9-10), a saint (Acts 9:13; Rom 1:7; 8:27; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:1-2), and an ambassador of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:20) who has a meaningful and eternal purpose in God. More so, a biblically trained mind empowers the believer to properly interpret the world in order to see it from the divine perspective. Cultural conformity is effectively resisted by the believer who is “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). This means Scripture saturates the Christian mind (Isa 26:3; Pro 3:5-6; Col 3:1), and the believer is not allowing his/her thoughts to be bogged down with the cares of this world (Matt 6:25-34). Mental discipline is necessary, for the stability of the Christian is often predicated on the biblical content and continuity of his/her thinking. Second, the believer must be in daily submission to God, seeking His will above his/her own (Rom 12:1-2). Arrogance impedes the Christian life, but humility brings God’s favor; for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5). Third, the Christian must learn to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18), and to walk in dependence on the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16, 25). Being spiritual means we are yielding ourselves to the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength to do God’s will, and this in accordance with Scripture. Fourth, when the believer commits sin, he/she breaks fellowship with God and has grieved and/or quenched the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Th 5:19). Fellowship is restored when the believer simply confesses his/her sin to God and trusts that He forgives as He promises (1 John 1:5-9). Lastly, the believer must be a wise steward of the time and opportunities God provides to advance spiritually (Eph 5:15-17; cf. Heb 5:12; 1 Pet 1:17; 4:1-2). The believer does not reach spiritual maturity overnight, and since he has only a measure of time allotted to him by God (Ps. 139:16), he must make sure his days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] English translations of the Bible place Daniel among the prophets, and there is good cause for this, since Daniel received direct revelation from God and was called a prophet by Jesus (Matt. 24:15).  Daniel is also listed among the prophets in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament).  However, the Hebrew Bible—called the Tanakh, an acronym for the Torah (Law), Nebi’im (Prophets), and Kethuvim (Writings)—places Daniel among the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, etc.).  It’s possible that the book of Daniel was listed under the Writings in the Hebrew Bible because his words and life modeled the wisdom one needed to live successfully in a pagan culture.

[2] I use the term “pagan” to refer to any value system that is contrary to God and His word.  Unfortunately, pagan values are often the norm, permeating every aspect of society including education, politics, law, art, literature, music, and so on.  To stand against paganism is not merely to resist the final forms it takes within a culture, but to see those forms as derivatives of a worldly system that is set against God and to resist the very value system upon which those forms are predicated. 

[3] Later, in 597 B.C. the prophet Ezekiel was taken to Babylon (Ezek. 1:1-3).  Jeremiah lived in Judah until its destruction in 586 B.C. and was taken away to Egypt (Jer. 43:1-7).

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Decisive, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 124.

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, conservative, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas. Steven’s ministry activity is entirely voluntary (articles, blogs, podcasts, and video lessons), as he works a full time job as a Case Manager for a local nonprofit agency that helps the elderly and disabled in the community.
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