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, and this was because God had a plan for him to serve as a minister in Babylon.

Briton Riviere - Daniel in the Lions DenDaniel was a role model for other Jews living in captivity. Upon arrival in Babylon, Daniel and his friends were forced into a Chaldean reeducation program which was intended to assimilate them 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. “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; Tit 3:1–2).”[3] 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 in the second 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 we are to regard ourselves as “as aliens and strangers” living in a foreign land (1 Pet 2:11). As Christians, our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20).

Open BibleSo, how do Christians overcome the demanding influences of a pagan culture and serve as lights to others? First, we must be in submission to God. Scripture tells us to “Submit to God” (Jam 4:7), and “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Being in submission to God means we desire the Lord’s will above all else. When this happens, God’s Word opens up to us (John 7:17). Second, we must replace a lifetime of human viewpoint thinking with God’s Word (Psa 1:2-3; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). As Christians, we cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. A biblical worldview enables us to see our spiritual identity as children of God (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:1-5; Eph 1:3-6; 1 Pet 2:9-10), as saints (Acts 9:13; Rom 1:7; 8:27; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:1-2), and ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:20) who have meaningful and eternal purposes in God. More so, biblically trained minds empower us to properly interpret the world in order to see it from the divine perspective. Cultural conformity is effectively resisted by believers who are “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 our Christian minds (Prov 3:5-6; Isa 26:3; Col 3:1), and we are not allowing our thoughts to be bogged down with the cares of this world (Matt 6:25-34). Mental discipline is necessary, for our psychological stability is often predicated on the biblical content and continuity of our thinking. Third, we 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 filled with the Holy Spirit means being controlled by Him. It means we follow where He guides, and His guidance is always according to Scripture. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean we have more of the Spirit, but that Spirit has more of us, as we submit to His guidance. It means the Spirit is fulfilling in us all He desires. Fourth, we must learn to live by faith in God and His Word. Learning God’s Word becomes effective when mixed with our faith as we apply it to all aspects of our lives. Our faith is effective when God’s Word is more real than our experiences, feelings, or circumstances. The writer to the Hebrews states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). Fifth, we must accept God’s trials that help us grow. God uses trials to strengthen our faith and develop us spiritually. Often, we don’t like hardship, but we must learn to accept it as necessary. For the Lord uses it to burn away the dross of our weak character and to refine those golden qualities consistent with His character. The growing believer learns to praise God for the trials, knowing He uses them to advance us spiritually (Psa 119:71; Rom 5:3-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Heb 12:11; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pet 4:12-13). Sixth, we must restore fellowship with God through confession of personal sin. As Christians, when we sin, we break fellowship with God and grieve and/or quench the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Th 5:19). Fellowship is restored when we simply confess our sin to God and trust that He forgives us as He promises (1 John 1:5-9). Seventh, we must maintain fellowship with other believers. Scripture teaches, “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Spiritual growth does not happen in isolation, as God expects us to exercise our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (see Acts 2:42; Rom 12:10-13; 14:19; Eph 4:32; Phil 2:3-4; 1 Th 5:11-15). Eighth, we must serve others. We are part of the body of Christ and God calls us to love and serve each other. Peter states, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10).  Lastly, we must be wise stewards of the time and opportunities God provides us to advance spiritually. Paul writes, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). The believer does not reach spiritual maturity overnight, and since we have only a measure of time allotted to us by God (Psa 139:16), we must make sure our days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will. (Eph 5:15-17; cf. Heb 5:12; 1 Pet 1:17; 4:1-2).

As Christians, we will face ongoing worldly distractions in our lives which are designed by Satan to prevent spiritual growth. We have choices to make on a daily basis, for only we can choose to allow these distractions to stand between us and the Lord. As Christians, we experience our greatest blessings when we reach spiritual maturity and utilize the rich resources God has provided for us. However, learning takes time, as ignorance gives way to the light of God’s revelation. Frustration is often the handmaiden of ignorance, but spiritual success comes with knowledge of God and His Word.

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