by Jack Hay, Scotland
They were contemporaries but their circumstances were so different. Ezekiel belonged to the family of the priests, but Daniel had royal blood in his veins. Ezekiel was a married man who during his ministry unexpectedly lost his wife, Ezek.24.15-18. Daniel was a eunuch. Ezekiel was associated with the common people in the misery of their exile; he “sat where they sat” Ezek.3.15. Daniel was one of the elite of Babylon and for a lifetime was a senior government official in successive administrations. This disparity of circumstances could have irritated Ezekiel, but he had a generous spirit, and anything he had to say about Daniel was positive and fulsome. In his two references to him, he credited him with righteousness on a par with Noah and Job, Ezek.14.14, and with wisdom surpassed only by the prince of Tyre, Ezek.28.3, whose ‘wisdom’ was of the kind referred to by the Lord Jesus when He spoke of the “children of this world [being] in their generation wiser than the children of light” Lk.16.8. Thus Ezekiel credited Daniel with outstanding righteousness and wisdom, qualities that were critical for his effective service for God. These same features were equally necessary for the Lord’s servants in New Testament times: “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly [‘righteously’] and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe” 1Thess.2.10. “As a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation” 1Cor.3.10. The Lord Jesus urged His own: “be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” Matt.10.16. Things are no different for the service of God today; we all need to cultivate righteousness and wisdom.
The Lord’s Approbation
Apart from Ezekiel, the only other person to mention Daniel was the Saviour Himself, when He designated him “Daniel the prophet” Matt.24.15. Thus we have it on the highest authority that he was a prophet. He had no ‘burning bush’ experience like Moses to launch him into the prophetic ministry, no appearance of “the angel of the Lord” as with Gideon, no vision of enthroned Deity as with Isaiah. Nor was he like the prophet Amos, who was able to pinpoint a specific time when Jehovah “took” him and spoke to him as he was following his flock and said to him, “Go, prophesy unto My people Israel” Amos 7.14,15. Although unsought for, God’s call to Amos was clear. Daniel had no such crisis experience, but he was undoubtedly eased into the service of God to great effect.
For him, a very responsible job was combined with his work for God. He was a government minister, but he had a higher calling than that and he filled both roles with perfect poise, holding the secular and the spiritual in proper balance. So his experience mirrors that of the majority of believers today. Most are in ‘secular employment’, and only a small minority of the Lord’s people leave their native land to carry the gospel to foreign shores. Like the Lord Himself, these missionaries are engaged in their “Father’s business” when others might have expected them to be among their “kinsfolk and acquaintance” Lk.2.44-49. Some of these dear missionaries are able to recount incident after incident in which the Lord directed them, either through the reading of Scripture, or through a preacher, or by unusual circumstances, all of which conspired to constitute the call of God to a particular sphere. Others have had a less dramatic experience; for them it was an increasing conviction regarding the pathway of the Lord’s will for them, and time has shown that their persuasion was no passing notion.
Like Daniel, some of these servants have spent a lifetime in the one location, but we must not see such circumstances as a Biblical requirement. It has often been said that a missionary’s job is to do himself out of a job, meaning, that with conversions and the development of gift, his presence is no longer necessary and under Divine direction the time comes to move on. That appears to be the New Testament pattern, and so we speak about Paul’s ‘three missionary journeys’, as he moved from place to place with the gospel. I mention that lest some of the Lord’s servants should come under criticism for abandoning their post, when all the time they are relocating under the superintending hand of God.
Coming nearer home, the ratio of ‘full-time’ homeland preachers to the total number of believers is minimal, so most readers are like Daniel, holding down a job while at the same time being committed to the Lord’s service. When you became part of the assembly, you realised that combined with the privileges of assembly fellowship there were responsibilities, and, without fanfare, and certainly without a dream or a vision, you just buckled down to get involved, and you discovered that outlets and opportunities opened up to you. Many of you may not have leadership skills and you feel lacking in initiative, but when others are enterprising, you can be counted on for support. Am I right, or are you still waiting on some spectacular happening that would constitute ‘a call’ to serve? To be honest, you may wait in vain. Daniel had no vivid experience to point to, and yet he served. If you are still looking for something, maybe this little publication will be used by God to give you a nudge into some aspect of service for Him. Do not keep praying about something that you have been commanded to do; just do it. “Be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” 1Cor.15.58.
Sin and its Legacy
Daniel was carried from Jerusalem in the days of King Jehoiakim, in the first wave of captives to be transported to Babylon. It was the inevitable consequence of the nation’s rebellion against God. Despite a late conversion, Manasseh had left a huge legacy of evil in the land of Judah. Neither his conversion nor the brief revival under his grandson Josiah could leave the nation unpardoned, 2Kgs.24.1-4. Josiah’s son Jehoiakim was a puppet king installed by the king of Egypt, but the expanding power of Babylon left Egypt impotent. Thus Jerusalem was conquered, its elite citizens were carried into exile, and among them was Daniel, a member of Judah’s royal family, “the king’s seed” Dan.1.3.
As far back as Hezekiah’s reign, it had been predicted that Judah’s princes would be “eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” 2Kgs.20.18. Hezekiah had foolishly and proudly entertained Babylon’s envoys and it had far-reaching effects. We all need to calculate the ramifications of any activity and its potential impact on others. It is rather sad that when Hezekiah was told of the effects of his folly he was unconcerned. He ‘shrugged his shoulders’ nonchalantly, just glad that the calamity would not happen in his time, v.19! We dare not be as indifferent about any legacy of trouble that we could leave for others. Gideon fathered an illegitimate son with catastrophic results, Judges chapter 9. Solomon’s conduct in later life resulted in a divided nation. Let us be on our guard, lest our bad behaviour results in serious trouble further down the line.
Daniel and his Loyalty
It is most remarkable that when we are first introduced to Daniel he is loyally devoted to Jehovah, with convictions about maintaining a lifestyle consistent with commitment to Him. That was something that he had never been taught in the royal court of Judah! In the eleven years of his reign, Jehoiakim “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” 2Kgs.23.37. So Daniel was reared in an atmosphere of idolatry, injustice, violence and other vices that were calculated to provoke the God of Israel, but, as a teenage lad, he chose to be different. We have no idea of the influences that swirled around him. Did he have a Godly mother? Had the book of the law that had been unearthed in Josiah’s day been duplicated so extensively that he possessed a copy and came under its guidance? Had the recounting of the oral traditions of the nation’s history gripped him? Really we are in the dark, but, somehow in early life he had resolved that the God of Israel’s redemption would be his God, and that he would regulate his life by His precepts. These convictions that were the building blocks of his life back in Jerusalem were carried into Babylon, for geography and environment should have no bearing on character or conduct. For Daniel, it was never a case of “when in Rome do as the Romans do.” He was totally committed to his God and the principles of His Word.
The lesson is simple: no one needs to be moulded by the current standards of his or her locale. Joseph was distinct from his brothers. Gideon destroyed the image of Baal that his father worshipped. Moses abandoned the luxurious surroundings of his upbringing. Two spies dared to dissociate themselves from the majority view. In the face of Goliath’s aggression, David’s courage was in contrast to the paralysing fear that gripped Saul and his army. The challenge is to be willing to be different, different from our unsaved acquaintances, and possibly even different from what would be accepted standards among believers today. Be like the “few” in Sardis “which have not defiled their garments”; those whom the Lord regarded as being “worthy” Rev.3.4.
While Daniel had no dramatic call to God’s service, he passed through phases of life that ultimately saw him involved in the work. Remember, this might be the norm as far as the most of us are concerned. We think first of all then of his young life, and for him there were the three years at the ‘University of Babylon’. It was an ancient ‘Oxbridge’, and few of us are able to relate to that precisely, but the point is, that in developing years, convictions can be formed, and attitudes adopted that are all part of the process that allows a believer to evolve into a state of usefulness for God. This part of our study is based on Daniel chapter 1.
In the chapter, Nebuchadnezzar is introduced as an instrument of Divine judgment: “the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand” v.2. Habakkuk was dumbfounded that the Chaldeans, “that bitter and hasty nation”, should so ruthlessly carry all before them and then attribute their power and success to their own god, Hab.1.6,11! Unknown to them, it was actually the Lord Who made them the executors of His wrath. The use of the Divine name Adonay is significant in this context. It means, the ‘sovereign Lord’, and thus we attribute Daniel’s presence in Babylon to the superintending hand of God; it was He Who arranged circumstances to negotiate him into a sphere where he would be useful for Him. Daniel is not unique in this. Even before his conversion, the life of Saul of Tarsus was being ‘choreographed’ by God, Gal.1.15. Even his religious training under Gamaliel, Acts 22.3, gave him an unsurpassed knowledge of the Scriptures, which in course of time would be interpreted rightly to him by the Spirit of God. The death of Dorcas brought Peter to a location where he was on hand to receive the call from Caesarea to preach the gospel to the Gentiles for the first time, Acts 9.32-43. God moves the scenes to mobilise His servants and have them in position to work out His purpose, and thus Daniel was thrust into the heartland of Gentile power to be God’s man for his generation, right there in the cradle of idolatry.
It sometimes happens that God’s plan for a believer can involve an unsought-for relocation. It could be a redundancy or a promotion that demands a move that brings fresh opportunities for service in a new environment. The sudden illness of an ageing parent could necessitate an upheaval, and it is all in the Divine plan to employ the saint in a new sphere of usefulness. These circumstances and their like are never welcome, but neither were Daniel’s circumstances, and yet they were Divinely organised to install him in a new situation where he would represent God. See the shifting experiences of life in that light. The unsought-for new state of affairs may not be deemed ‘a call’ as such, but with hindsight, the hand of God can be traced in it all.
Nebuchadnezzar had plans for the elite of the Jewish youth to be among his advisors. The criteria for selection were breeding, beauty and brains, Dan.1.3,4. They had to have royal blood in their veins, a good physical appearance, and an exceptional ‘IQ’. Daniel and his friends fitted the bill. It has to be said that in themselves, high intelligence and educational prowess do not qualify a man for the service of God, but neither do they disqualify him. Peter and John were regarded as “unlearned and ignorant men” in that they had no formal training, but “they had been with Jesus” Acts 4.13! That is what equipped and empowered them. In contrast to them, Apollos was “an eloquent [‘learned’ R.V.] man” Acts 18.24, so the point is that God draws His servants from all quarters, and the highly educated should never despise those who have had no tertiary education. Turning the coin, in some cultures there is an innate hostility towards highly qualified people. That is an attitude problem that should never rear its head among the people of God.
The plan was to school these Hebrews in “the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” v.4, who constituted the ruling class in Babylon. Thus an attempt was being made to alter their thinking and their language. “Learning” is literally ‘a book’, so their lives were to be governed by a book that was different from the inspired volume that had moulded their young lives. More recent equivalents would be Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Mao’s Little Red Book, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Brainwashing in the ‘University of Babylon’ was geared to eradicate any memories of Israel’s God and the religion of their fathers. Their thought processes were about to be remodelled!
Nothing has changed. Modern educational establishments have the potential to wreck young people who have grown up in a sheltered environment and have experienced the preserving influence of the Word of God. Doubts will be cast on that inspired Book. The arguments of science will be marshalled to challenge its early chapters. Modern philosophies will be arrayed against its moral demands and its clear teaching about gender distinctions. The hedonistic ‘eat, drink and be merry’ culture of the institution will challenge the Bible’s call to piety and propriety. Being pitchforked into that environment will demand immense resolve. The example of Daniel in resisting attempts to mould his thinking should be a real stimulus to standing against any anti-Biblical propaganda that is being touted, or any lifestyle changes that are being encouraged. It has often been said that university can either make or break a professing believer. Young people, see Daniel as a role model, and let his courage, conviction, and consistency be reflected in your life.
Ashpenaz, “the master of his eunuchs” v.3, was delegated to implement government policy. For three years, those under instruction were to receive board and lodgings, “a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank” v.5; their diet was top quality. In addition to the attempt to recalibrate their thinking there was the intention to change their diet. The world still has ambitions to adjust the spiritual diet of God’s people. In Scripture, milk and meat are metaphors for the Word of God, 1Pet.2.2; Heb.5.13,14, and there is a strong appeal made to us to “desire” that milk and to see it as crucial to spiritual growth. The enemy of our souls wants us to be spiritually malnourished and he will do all in his power to impair our interest in the Scriptures, and hold us spellbound with distractions. Perhaps these are seemingly harmless hobbies and pleasures that, though innocuous in themselves, make no contribution to our growth in the things of God. In many cases, while there may be nothing seedy about what interests us, or in our reading or viewing, the hours devoted to these things could be more profitably spent developing our spiritual lives by feeding our souls, and devoting our time to earnest Christian service. Like Daniel, while you may have no specific dramatic call to service, realise that part of the preparation for God’s work is your spiritual diet. It not only builds character but it also provides the range of Bible knowledge that is necessary to regulate your own activities in service, and to set the parameters within which you will labour. It also equips you to counsel others, whether by explaining the gospel to sinners, or imparting the truth to saints.
Another of Babylon’s ploys to expel any thought of God was to change the names of Daniel and his friends. Each of them had either Elohim or Jehovah embedded in his name, but these were substituted by names connected to Babylon’s deities. It was an effort to change their allegiance. Happily, neither this subtle scheme nor subsequent threats of violence affected their fierce loyalty to the God of Israel. So the attempts to introduce Daniel to a new dialect, a new diet, and new deities all foundered. Be aware of the world’s attempts to displace Christ from the throne of your life. At conversion, by the Spirit, you acknowledged, “Jesus is the Lord” 1Cor.12.3. Never deviate from that stated position by allowing anything else to usurp Him. “Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord” 1Pet.3.15, R.V.; this is the precursor to being “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is within you with meekness and fear”.
Daniel was far from home; who would know how he was behaving? Joseph was in similar circumstances in Egypt. His old father had heard of his brother Reuben’s disgusting behaviour because he had sinned on home ground, Gen.35.22. If Joseph had allowed himself to be entrapped in far-off Egypt, his father would never have discovered it, Gen.39.7-20! However, his conduct was not governed by any fear of being found out, but rather by his distaste for such “great wickedness”, knowing that it would be “sin against God” v.9. Never allow standards to slip just because distance has removed the need to look over your shoulder! We should never need the presence of CCTV cameras to ensure good behaviour! Remember that your God is omnipresent, Ps.139.7-12.
As noted earlier, back home Daniel had been living in an atmosphere that had become increasingly idolatrous, just like Babylon. Now that he was in Babylon itself, further temptations presented themselves: top of the range royal dainties and palace wine were available. Amazingly, with all these negative factors surrounding him, “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” v.8. He perceived danger in the wine, a danger that was flagged up in its very first mention in Scripture when it eroded Noah’s inhibitions and “he was uncovered within his tent” Gen.9.21. Be as cautious as Daniel. Doubtless, he assumed that the meat had been offered to idols or contained blood and fat, and he deduced that by submitting to this scheme he would “defile himself”. Let us try to be as sensitive to the defiling influences around us and be as firm as Daniel in taking steps to avoid being tainted. Remember, this chapter is assuming that, like Daniel, you want to be involved in God’s service without having a specific supernatural call; like him then, realise that the intoxicating potential of strong drink can only be detrimental. It is significant that Israel’s priests were strictly prohibited from using wine or strong drink when they were functioning in the Divine service; it seemed to be totally incompatible with their spiritual activities, Lev.10.8-11. Let your life choices and habits make you an obvious candidate for some niche in the service of God.
His ‘purpose of heart’ led him to make representations for exemption, Dan.1.8. An initial refusal did not deter him and a further appeal did bear fruit, which is a lesson in persistence, vv.11-16. His convictions were infectious, for the three others happily complied with his strategy to maintain their distinctiveness in the royal court. Never underestimate the positive influence you can exert on others. No doubt Daniel’s stand emboldened his three friends, but it is very telling that even in his absence, in chapter 3, they stood firm in their refusal to bow to the golden image. There comes a point where the mentoring has to end, and everyone has to stand on his or her own two feet. Sadly, Lot collapsed when Abraham’s influence was removed, and King Joash drifted badly when Jehoiada the priest was taken in death, 2Chr.24.17. Stand firm without having to be propped up for the whole of your Christian experience. Props can be knocked away!
The decision of these young men necessitated sacrifice, for the diet they requested was far from appetising. We need to understand that taking a stand on some point of principle could prove to be costly, but such experiences are character building, and preparatory for the sacrifices that dependable dedication to the work of God requires. Be sure of this: if you are going to be a ‘Mr Reliable’, it will involve sacrifice. I will never forget an encounter with a young brother on a red-eye flight on a Lord’s Day morning. Like me, he wanted to be at his destination in time for the Lord’s Supper, but it was because he had a Sunday School class that he was keen to get home, curtailing a brief visit to friends who had had a celebration. That is commitment!
On account of the Hebrews’ loyalty, God’s promise came into play: “Them that honour Me I will honour” 1Sam.2.30, and so “God gave them knowledge … ” Dan.1.17, and at the end of their university course, the king found them to be ten times as erudite as the local Babylonians, vv.17-21. You will never be a loser if God’s interests come first. Thus Daniel’s university years were a training ground, as God schooled him for future service. That service extended for a lifetime, right into the reign of King Cyrus, v.21. The hallmark of his life was consistency, something that should be a spiritual target for us all. In young life, “an excellent spirit” was in him, as recalled by the queen mother, Dan.5.12. As an old man, that excellent spirit was still in evidence, Dan.6.3. Never allow the passing of the years to dilute convictions or to lower standards.
The King’s Problem
We now come to consider Daniel chapter 2. Previously, I described Daniel’s experience of being initiated into the Lord’s work as more of an easing in, rather than a crisis call. With the university course behind him, he was now in the early stages of his employment as a government advisor, and in this chapter we encounter his first assignment as a spokesman for God. It was in his workplace that he was going to make an impact, and many a believer has discovered that in that environment opportunities for service have developed.
Shakespeare was on target when he had Henry IV acknowledge, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”. In the Book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar was one of three kings of whom this was true; in his case, a dream robbed him of sleep and left him anxious, Dan.2.1. Not everyone agrees that the king had forgotten his dream; they see his behaviour as a ruse to test his advisors, but I am happy to call the problem: ‘The Forgotten Dream’. The wise men of Babylon, with their occult powers, were unable to come up with any solution, and it was left to Daniel, with Divine guidance, to resolve the issue. A surface lesson is that, though demonic power is real and to be reckoned with, “greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world” 1Jn.4.4. Egypt’s magicians had to acknowledge “the finger of God” when His power overtook their limited miraculous activity, Ex.8.19. Similarly, the “special miracles” that Paul performed at Ephesus outstripped anything that the cult of Diana had ever produced, Acts 19.11,12.
The king’s threats, v.5, were not bluster: “whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive” Dan.5.19. He is described as “a king of kings” Dan.2.37, but his bullying attitude was so different from the true King of kings, the One Who is “meek and lowly in heart” Matt.11.29. Readers who are in positions of authority, whether secular or spiritual, should take note. “Forbearing threatening” is the command to believing bosses, Eph.6.9. “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage” is the word to elders, 1Pet.5.3. A nasty, hectoring temperament is so out of keeping with “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” 2Cor.10.1.
Nebuchadnezzar had to his credit that he was a man of his word. The rewards promised to whoever would disclose the dream were all bestowed upon Daniel, Dan.2.6,48. King Saul was a man of a different stamp. He promised his daughter to Goliath’s conqueror and then reneged on his commitment, 1Sam.17.25; 18.17-19. Of God it is said, “He is faithful that promised” Heb.10.23; let that same reliability be reflected in the lives of His people.
Those involved in attempts to aid the king fell into two categories: Babylon’s magicians, and the solitary figure of Daniel. The magicians adhered to the protocols of Babylon by greeting him, “O king, live for ever” Dan.2.4, but Nebuchadnezzar was highly suspicious of these grovelling courtiers. They were playing for time, v.8, and they had “prepared lying and corrupt words” v.9. Then in their perplexity they threw caution to the wind and their response to the king enraged him and he pronounced the death sentence, v.12. The Lord Jesus made the connection between anger and killing in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, Matt.5.21-24, as if to indicate that anger is murder in embryo, and many Bible narratives demonstrate that link. They are too numerous to list, but the first is as early as Genesis chapter 4, where “Cain was very wroth”, and soon “Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him” vv.5,8. Here too, the king’s fury produced murderous intent. Let every believer take heed: “Be ye angry, and sin not” Eph.4.26. ‘Anger management’ is a recognised therapy, but it is only in the Holy Spirit’s power that the Christian can keep the lid on an angry disposition. Being angry with your brother without a cause can lead to abusive language, “Raca”, or “Thou fool”, leaving the need to be “reconciled to thy brother”.
As an established advisor to the king, Daniel was under threat, Dan.2.13, but his prudent response to Arioch the executioner, vv.14,15, stands as one of these great illustrations of “a soft answer turn[ing] away wrath” Prov.15.1. When Joshua and Gideon dealt with the disgruntled descendants of Joseph, they exhibited the same kind of diplomacy, Josh.17.14-18; Judg.8.1-3. Jephthah’s belligerent attitude to that same resentful tribe ended in carnage, Judg.12.1-7. Tact can often defuse a hazardous situation, so be sensitive; never pour fuel on the flames, as when “the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel”; that too ended in slaughter, 2Sam.19.43!
The fact that Daniel was polite carried weight with Arioch, and somehow, Daniel arranged an audience with the king and extracted a concession from him, v.16. It really is a testimony to the respect in which Daniel was held in the king’s court. The monarch could not tolerate the scheming of Daniel’s unscrupulous colleagues, vv.8,9, but the prophet’s track record of integrity impacted upon him, and he deemed it reasonable that a man like that should have time to ponder. Do we stand out for honesty and reliability among our colleagues? Is our past conduct such that people have confidence in our integrity? Are we to be trusted? The man who was about to have his first recorded experience of being used by God had all these credentials. Unlike Daniel, Timothy’s call was to a ‘full-time’ ministry, but he too had commanded the respect of those who knew him best. He “was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium” Acts 16.2. It cannot be overstressed that potential servants of God, whether like Daniel in employment or like Timothy in ‘full-time’ service, require the respect of others. The work of the overseer is one area of service to which the Holy Spirit appoints some brethren, Acts 20.28. One of the qualifications is that “he must have a good report of them which are without” 1Tim.3.7. Deacons also must be “found blameless” v.10. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of a healthy reputation when anticipating serving God. While character and reputation are not synonymous terms, never underestimate the importance of reputation. Someone who is regarded as being shifty, or unreliable, or self-seeking has a long way to go before being able to claim to attain the standing that is necessary for effective service.
His Companions’ Prayers
In this second crisis to engulf these young Hebrews, Daniel was quick to muster his friends for united prayer, vv.17,18. The Book of Daniel holds basic lessons regarding personal prayer; it is a thread that runs throughout it. Chapter 6 is particularly familiar, with Daniel praying regularly and maintaining his prayer life in changing circumstances. It hardly needs to be said that consistent disciplined prayer times are another ‘must’ as far as the prospective servant of God is concerned. At the outset of his Christian life it was said of Saul of Tarsus, “Behold, he prayeth” Acts 9.11. That pattern which he established in his spiritual infancy was maintained throughout his life. Letters that he wrote as an older man are saturated with prayers and the records of his prayerful concern for those to whom he wrote. He had learned that service and prayer could never be divorced. They are intertwined, and the twelve apostles captured that concept when they said, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” Acts 6.4. If you have aspirations for any form of service, ensure that both preparatory prayer and persistent prayer are connected with it.
However, in Daniel chapter 2, the emphasis is on the need for collective prayer in emergency conditions. A New Testament equivalent was when, on release from prison, Peter and John resorted to “their own company”, and “they lifted up their voice to God with one accord” Acts 4.23-31; or again, when Peter was in danger of execution, “prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” Acts 12.5. While it is important to have stated times for congregational prayer, unexpected situations call for impromptu gatherings to supplicate God.
The young men’s prayers had to be specific: the prayers were “concerning this secret” Dan.2.18. The same point can be made from the verse just quoted from Acts chapter 12: the prayer was “for him”. Too often, prayers are very general and there is no sense of burden; they are so vague that you would hardly know whether there was an answer or not! I am not suggesting that we follow the ‘name it and claim it’ philosophy of the ‘prosperity gospel’ exponents, but specific prayer is Biblical and should feature in assembly prayer meetings.
One criterion for vocal participation in collective prayers is the ability to lift up “holy hands” 1Tim.2.8. In other words, just as in personal prayer, Jms.5.16, so in public prayer, there must be moral suitability on the part of the supplicants. Daniel and his friends had these credentials, as is seen from chapter 1. “Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel” Dan.2.19. An immediate answer to prayer is not always the case, and so there is the observation in Scripture that “men ought always to pray, and not to faint” Lk.18.1, illustrated in the persistence of the widow who pestered the unjust judge. Daniel’s situation required an immediate answer, and so God in His mercy responded at once.
Hard on the heels of saying, “Pray without ceasing”, the apostle Paul added, “In every thing give thanks” 1Thess.5.17,18. Daniel followed that pattern, for no sooner had God responded to the prayers than “Daniel blessed the God of heaven” Dan.2.19. We will not analyse his thanksgiving, but be encouraged that God does have the ability to change things, v.21, and to reveal things, v.22, for these are matters that are relevant to us all. On a practical level, just as the prayers had been specific, so too were the thanksgivings: “Thou … hast made known unto me now what we desired of Thee” v.23. Frequently we have heard the cliché that if prayer is answered, ‘we will be careful to give Thee the glory’. I trust that we do! Taking up the service of God demands the dependence on God that Daniel exhibited here, and the willingness to acknowledge that any apparent ‘success’ must be down to His activity.
Arioch the executioner had been so helpful to Daniel, but he now sees an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the king by slightly twisting the truth: “I have found a man” v.25. He wants some credit! Claudius Lysias had the same strategy as he rearranged facts, giving the impression that he had rescued Paul because he was a Roman, when in reality that fact had emerged subsequent to his rescue, Acts 22.26; 23.27. Tinkering with facts, exaggerating facts and being selective with facts can all be calculated to deceive. Daniel’s transparency should be our aim; he gave credit where it was due: “there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets” Dan.2.28; “this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have” v.30. The attitude of every servant should be as expressed by the Psalmist: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake” Ps.115.1.
A study of the king’s dream and its interpretation would take us far off course and be beyond the remit of this chapter. It tells of the triggering of the times of the Gentiles, with details of world history past and future. However, it was the catalyst that launched Daniel into his role as a spokesman for God. That was the start, and for decades he continued to function as God’s servant. There was a stage when he was sidelined as far as secular duties were concerned: it seems that he had no place in Belshazzar’s administration, chapter 5. However, he was still active for God during that period of his life, for the visions of chapters 7 and 8 were received and recorded during these years, Dan.7.1; 8.1. With the conquest of Babylon by the Medes and Persians, he was again at the pinnacle of power, Dan.6.1-3, and it was in these heady circumstances that he once more demonstrated his dependence upon his God, in that he had his three daily appointments with the Almighty. His enemies could have set their clocks by the regularity of his devotions. A lifetime of serving the state in such a responsible position had not left him with an inflated ego. Despite his perceived importance, he just regarded himself as a frail being who could never operate self-sufficiently; whether for secular activity or spiritual involvement, he required Divine guidance, Divine wisdom and Divine power. We all need to learn the lesson that to try to do anything independent of God is to invite failure and defeat.
As stated frequently, the object of this chapter of the publication is to see in Daniel a role model for our own lives, being able, like him, to be fully committed to ‘secular employment’ while at the same time being used to maximum capacity in the service of God in assembly life. With God’s help it is doable. Like Daniel, just be available without experiencing the dramatic call. Remember though, it all started with him making life choices that promoted holiness, rejected worldliness, and embraced the concept of sacrifice. The “corn of wheat” principle that was pre-eminently true in the Lord’s experience was extended to the pathway of discipleship, for He was quick to say, “He that loveth his life shall lose it: and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve Me, let him follow Me” Jn.12.24-26. As far as employment and family life are concerned, avoid trying to ‘juggle too many balls in the air’, and always let the spiritual take precedence over the secular, seeking “first the kingdom of God” Matt.6.33. Before ever he took the gospel to India, William Carey is reputed to have said, “My real business is to preach the gospel and win lost souls. I cobble shoes to pay expenses.” That is the attitude that this chapter of the publication is promoting: like Daniel, do your work well, while all the time using what ‘spare time’ you have in faithful committed service for God.