The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service.
Daniel 1:19 (NIV)
Over the past several months, this chapter-a-day journey has traversed the history of the period of the monarchy of the ancient nation of Israel as told in the books of Samuel and Kings. That period of history ends with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. At that point, a new period of history began known as “the exile.”
The nature of empire-building evolved in ancient history. As emerging empires captured more and more territory, they had to learn how to exert power and control over kingdoms and cities that were in increasingly remote locations. The way the Babylonians did it was to bring all of the prominent peoples of a conquered kingdom (politicians, religious leaders, and nobility) into captivity. This allowed the empire to keep its eyes on those most likely to rebel, and those most likely to rebel found themselves in the heart of enemy territory where they would be impotent to instigate a rebellion back home.
Since we’ve already come this far in the journey, I thought it would make sense to follow these captives to Babylon. Today, we pick up the story in the book of Daniel. Daniel was a young man from Judah who was among the first captives taken to the land of his enemy in Babylon. In today’s chapter, he and three of his friends are among those chosen for the king of Babylon’s “re-education” program. They were taught to become Babylonians. They learned the language, the stories, and the customs of the Babylonians. They were given new names to go along with their new lives and circumstances.
The story of Daniel is fascinating from a historical perspective, but I find what’s happening spiritually to be even more fascinating. This exile had been prophetically proclaimed by the Hebrew prophets for years. In fact, prophets like Jeremiah made it clear that the king of Babylon was acting as God’s servant in the event:
Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations.
Jeremiah 25:8-9 (NIV)
Going even further, God tells the captives like Daniel to embrace their new lives in enemy territory and bless their enemies:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NIV)
Through the 102 chapters of ancient history that we’ve just traversed on this chapter-a-day journey, the narrative has been focused on God’s people and what God was doing in and through them. Suddenly, God tells them that He is also working in and through their enemy. Like yesterday’s chapter, God makes it clear that He has a purpose for them in the wilderness of their captivity. God wants them to bless their enemies, serve them, and pray for them.
On a national, geopolitical level this is a massive shift. But it’s a foreshadowing of the very heart of what Jesus would bring down to a personal, individual level:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
Matthew 5:43-47 (NIV)
In the quiet this morning, it strikes me how often along my spiritual journey I’ve had an “us vs. them” mentality politically and religiously. The history of the Babylonian exile and the shift in God’s paradigm with His people reminds me that God’s love is for all people. His purposes are for all people. If I am going to truly follow where Jesus leads, then I have to let go of my notions of “them.” I have to be willing to see God’s love for my enemy, live in the land of my enemy, bless my enemy, and even serve my enemy.
That’s at the heart of what He calls me to be and do.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.