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.
Daniel 1:3-4 (NIV)
At the beginning of every script, the playwright “sets the scene.” Perhaps it’s my years of working on stage, but whenever I launch into reading a book I’m always wanting to “set the scene” before I begin. For the story of Daniel and his three friends, I think it’s critical to understand the context.
The Babylonian (modern day Iraq) army swept into Palestine and laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. It was an ugly time. People were starving. The prophet Jeremiah describes people reduced to cannibalizing their own children to survive. Jerusalem eventually fell and the Babylonians ransacked the city. They burned the city, tore down its protective walls, and destroyed the beautiful temple of Solomon that had been one of the wonders of the ancient world. Daniel and his friends would have been witness to a horrific holocaust at the hands of these enemies. And now, they are enslaved to their enemy and expected to serve Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians.
I think it’s hard to imagine what it must have felt like for these four young men. It’s very likely that their own families had died during the siege or had been slaughtered by the Babylonians. Their homes and families were decimated. The level of despair laced with rage that they felt had to have been off the charts. I’m reminded of the song lyrics of these Babylonian exiles in Psalm 137:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
In today’s chapter we find Daniel and his friends choosing a path of righteous rebellion. Their choice was to serve God and be faith-full in the midst of their terrible predicament.
We all go through periods of tragedy in our lives, even if the pale in comparison to what Daniel and the boys experienced. Nevertheless, I find that when people experience intense suffering and injustice they spiritually tend to go one of two ways. They become angry with God for their circumstances, flip Him off and walk away, or they choose in to believing that God has some ultimate purpose for them in the inexplicable pain.
Today, I’m appreciative of the mettle it took for these young men to choose in and to cling to their faith in God despite all they had seen and experienced. We will see that there was, indeed, eternal purposes in their dire circumstances. They will see and experience things they could have never imagined. I’m reminded this morning of the adventure of choosing in.