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.

Biblical Wisdom

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: to know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the naive, to the youth knowledge and discretion, a wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:1-7)

       According to verses 2-6 we see a five-fold purpose for Proverbs: 1) “to know wisdom and instruction,” 2) “to discern the sayings of understanding,” 3) “to receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity,” 4) “to give prudence to the naïve,” and 5) “to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles.”

     The Hebrew word hokmah (translated “wisdom” in verse 2) appears forty-five times in the book of Proverbs and is the common theme of the book.  In a general sense, wisdom is the knowledge necessary to perform a task successfully.  Overall, the book of Proverbs is a compilation of wise sayings which provide the necessary instruction for making good choices in life.  The book of Proverbs belongs to that group of biblical literature classified as wisdom writings; and the didactic nature of Proverbs made it useful for parents who wanted to instruct their children, as well as teachers who wanted to instruct their students.  A proverb is a concise and pithy statement that summarizes an experience or compares two things; thus capturing a principle that benefits one throughout his life.  Often it is teaching by analogy. 

       In verse 7 Solomon tells his readers that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; [whereas] fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  In this antithetical parallelism, Solomon contrasts the healthy humble minded person who fears the LORD with the arrogant person who shuns Him. The attitude of the heart determines how a person responds to God’s revelation. The person who fears God respects His authority and responds properly to His word. The fool is the one who is devoid of God’s word, or rejects it after hearing it.

       The Bible contrasts divine wisdom which comes from God, and worldly wisdom which ultimately comes from Satan (James 3:15-17).  Divine wisdom is the knowledge necessary to perform a task in conformity to His standards and values.  Examples of divine wisdom include:

  1. Artistic wisdom: The ability to create works of art (e.g. the artisans who created the garments for Levitical priests as well as the articles of worship in the Jewish Temple, Ex. 28:3; 31:2-5; 1 Ki. 7:14).
  2. Academic wisdom: The ability to learn about God’s world (e.g. zoology, biology, botany, etc.) and write books (e.g. Solomon’s proverbs and songs, 1 Ki. 4:29-34).
  3. Judicial wisdom: The ability to decide legal matters for God’s people (e.g. Judges, Solomon, etc. 1 Ki. 16:28).
  4. Military wisdom: The ability to defeat God’s enemies (e.g. Joshua, David; Prov. 20:18; 21:22; 24:6).
  5. Governing wisdom: The ability to leads God’s people into His will (e.g. Joseph, Moses, Nehemiah, Church Elders, etc.).
  6. Serving wisdom: The ability to meet the needs of others (e.g. Deacons, Acts 6:3).
  7. Teaching wisdom: The ability to communicate clearly God’s Word to others (e.g. Moses, Paul, etc., Col. 1:9).
  8. Spiritual wisdom: The ability to live God’s will in accordance with His Word.

       Worldly wisdom is the knowledge required to live in Satan’s fallen world, has the appearance of real wisdom, but is actually deceptive and seeks to ensnare people in Satan’s schemes (Ex. 7:11; Col. 2:23; Jas. 3:14-15).  Those who are called wise in a worldly sense are actually fools by God’s estimation.  The majority of people in this world operate according to worldly wisdom and live their lives outside of God’s will.

       Examples of worldly wise men include the magicians of Pharaoh’s court who were demonically enabled to replicate some of the miracles performed by Moses (Ex. 7:11), and Nebuchadnezzar’s counselors who claimed to be able to interpret dreams and have spiritual insight into his future (Dan. 2:12-18).  The apostle Paul spoke out against worldly judgments which have “the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col. 2:23); and James admonished his readers to be on guard against “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” which is a wisdom that “does not come down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic” (Jam. 3:14-15).  In the end, worldly wisdom is always Satan-serving; whereas divine wisdom is always God-serving. 

       We do well to know that it is possible to lose wisdom and become a fool.  We know that even Lucifer was once wise, for the prophet Ezekiel tells us that he had “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezek. 28:12).  Ezekiel goes on to say that Lucifer’s “heart was lifted up” because of his beauty and his wisdom became corrupted by reason of his splendor (Ezek. 28:17).  From within himself Satan’s wisdom was turned to foolishness.  Through Isaiah the prophet, God gives us a glimpse into Satan’s mind, and tells us what he was thinking in his heart.  At the time of his foolishness Satan declared:

“I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isa. 14:13-14)

       Lucifer’s pride caused his fall.  He created his kingdom of darkness when he sinned, and through temptation he brought down to death the first humans when he convinced them to turn from God and follow his advice (Gen. 3:1-8).  Now all men are born into this world of darkness, into Satan’s kingdom, born in Adam, born in sin.  The minds of all men are darkened by the sin nature and have a propensity toward foolishness.  Even after regeneration, men’s minds are not suddenly wise, but still dark from all the world’s philosophies.  Two things must happen before a saved person can have God’s wisdom: 1) he must learn to fear the Lord, and 2) he must discipline his mind to seek truth.  The fear of the Lord and seeking truth go together like two sides of a coin.

       The fear of the Lord is to acknowledge Him as Lord and His right to rule over our lives and to respond with obedience.  Solomon declares that we are to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Eccl. 12:13).  The fear of the Lord is that healthy reverence the believer has for God, knowing that He is the Sovereign Lord of the universe, and that as His creature we do well to submit to Him. 

       To seek truth means we apply our minds to know God’s word, and once we know it, to apply His truth to every area of our lives.  Jesus declared “the man who hears my words and does them shall be compared to a wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Matt. 7:24).  Here, Jesus tells us the wise man is the one who hears His words and does them.  There is order here, for one cannot live what he does not know, and knowledge of God’s word must precede application to life. 

       Jesus, as our role-model, spent His entire life learning and living by His Father’s teaching.  Luke tells us that Jesus, as a child, “continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom” (Luke 2:40).  Messiah, speaking in Isaiah 50:4 states, “He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.”  Jesus woke each morning to give His ear to the Father’s instruction.  Mark tells us in his Gospel, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there” (Mark 1:35).  It is healthy to fear the Lord and seek His instruction for every area of our life.

     God’s greatest expression of wisdom is the cross of Christ.  To those who hold to worldly wisdom, “the word of the cross is foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18).  To those who are saved, the cross of Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).  Divine wisdom always leads one to God through the cross of Christ.  Any so-called wisdom that does not lead one ultimately to the cross of Christ is pseudo-wisdom.  God has rejected the world’s wisdom, and the world has rejected His. 

       One knows he has found wisdom when he has found the Lord; for true wisdom exists only in relation to Him.  One knows he is growing in wisdom when he fears the Lord, respecting His authority and doing the things that are pleasing in His sight.  The believer is benefited  and God is honored, when His word is understood and obeyed on a regular basis. 

       The wise believer knows his place in God’s creation; that he is the creature, and God is the Creator, and there is submission one to the Other.  The fool is the one who blurs the creator/creature distinction, and sets his will against the will of God.  The fool is devoid of God’s wisdom, and his words and actions reveal his darkened heart.  On the other hand, the wise man learns God’s word that he may live His will, and this too is revealed through his words and actions. 

       Lastly, the wise believer seeks to incorporate God’s word into every area of his life, and does not compartmentalize, leaving some areas to self.  Wisdom gives order and purpose to life, and affords one the knowledge necessary to make good choices.  The wise believer is able to understand the world around him, and knows why things are the way they are, and why people behave the way they do.   Wisdom gives one hope for the future, because Christ is coming back, and He will reign in righteousness and truth (Rev. 20:1-6). 

Below are forty Scriptural truths regarding biblical wisdom:

  1. The Lord possesses and operates by His wisdom (Ps. 104:24; Prov. 3:19; Jer. 10:12).
  2. Wisdom comes from the Lord (1 Kings 3:12; Prov. 2:6; Dan. 2:21; Jas. 1:5).
  3. God’s wisdom is found in Scripture (Ps. 19:7; 119:98; Jer. 8:9; 2 Tim. 3:15).
  4. Jesus, while in hypostatic union, had to learn wisdom day by day (Lu. 2:40, 52; Isa. 50:4).
  5. Wisdom is better than riches (Prov. 8:11; 16:16).
  6. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10).
  7. Wisdom resides first in what we think, then in what we say and do (Ps. 51:6; Col. 4:5).
  8. The humble receive wisdom (Prov. 11:2).
  9. Wisdom can be communicated by speech or writing (1 Ki. 11:41; Prov. 15:7; 1 Cor. 2:6-8, 13).
  10. The one who loves his soul seeks wisdom (Prov. 19:8; 24:14).
  11. Wisdom is pleasant to the soul (Prov. 2:10).
  12. Wisdom is better than strength (Eccl. 9:14-16).
  13. A wise man accepts reproof and instruction (Prov. 9:8-9; 10:8).
  14. The wise man has persuasive speech (Prov. 16:23).
  15. The wise man boasts of the Lord (Jer. 9:23-24).
  16. The wise man accepts Jesus as his savior (1 Cor. 1:18-31).
  17. Christ is the wisdom and power of God (1 Cor. 1:24).
  18. The wise man walks in righteousness (Hos. 14:9).
  19. The wise man hears and acts on the words of Christ (Matt. 7:24).
  20. The wise man engages in good deeds done in gentleness (Jas. 3:13).
  21. The wise man controls his temper (Prov. 29:11).
  22. The wise person avoids intoxication (Prov. 20:1).
  23. Military victory comes by wise guidance (Prov. 20:18; 21:22; 24:6).
  24. Wise men hang-out together (Prov. 13:20; 15:31).
  25. The wise decide judicial matters (Ezra 7:25; 1 Cor. 6:1-7).
  26. The woman of excellence speaks wisdom (Prov. 31:26).
  27. The wise parent disciplines his child (Prov. 29:15).
  28. A wise child is better than a foolish ruler (Eccl. 4:13).
  29. The wise child accepts his parents discipline (Prov. 13:1).
  30. A wise son makes his father and mother happy (Prov. 23:15, 24; 27:11; 29:3).
  31. Wisdom helps a man understand his culture (Eccl. 1:13).
  32. Wisdom helps the believer discern the future (Deut. 32:29).
  33. One does not have to be old to be wise (Dan. 1:4; Matt. 11:25).
  34. Wisdom leads one away from evil (Prov. 3:7; 14:16).
  35. The wise man learns from nature and others (Prov. 6:5; 24:30-34).
  36. An accepted bribe blinds the eyes of the wise (Deut. 16:19).
  37. The wisdom of the world is foolishness (1 Cor. 3:19).
  38. The fool is the one who rejects and despises wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 23:9).
  39. The rod of suffering belongs to the one who lacks wisdom (Prov. 10:13; 14:3).
  40. There is a worldly/demonic wisdom (Ex. 7:11; Col. 2:23; Jas. 3:14-15).

Dr. Steven R. Cook