by Craig Dyer
Forget Fred Astaire and think Boney M’s 1978 hit song, “By the Rivers of Babylon.”
The people of Judah found themselves deported to Babylon under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Like Christians today across the world, they had to reconcile themselves to living as God’s people in a culture which, to say the least, had no regard for the Lord and His word.
Psalm 137:4 says, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
On one hand is the danger of assimilation – God’s people abandoning all distinctive and sinking without trace into the godless culture around them. On the other is the temptation to complete isolation – enthusiastically retracting from the culture.
The example of Daniel as a teenager in intoxicating Babylon is as challenging today as ever. He struck a balance by both settling in and standing firm.
Daniel 1:5 says, “The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.” Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was to immerse the young, talented Hebrews in Babylonian culture as examples to their people.
Daniel rolled with the changes. He didn’t fuss over his name being changed and his education extended. It was not his instinct to retreat entirely from the obvious dangers of the Babylonian cultural agenda.
Here, Jeremiah 29:1-7, written not long after the deportation, was a lamp to Daniel’s feet. Yet as Daniel settled in, he also wanted to show that he hadn’t caved in: “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank…” (Dan. 1:8).
He wasn’t just applying Jewish food regulations; they said nothing about rejecting wine. And the vegetables he asked for were as likely to have been sacrificed to a Babylonian idol as the royal food he refused. Nor did this cut their sense of dependence upon the king. The vegetables were as much government issue as the King’s rich food.
Honestly, we don’t know why Daniel resisted Babylon at this point on this issue. But he is on red alert about the dangers of being ‘defiled’. He acts intentionally to counter his seduction by godless culture. He found a way to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.
Daniel was the first to resolve and set an example for the others to follow. As he enrolled in Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘university’, he found a way to show that he took God’s verdict on his life with absolute and ultimate seriousness. He sang the Lord’s song to His glory in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.
How do we reconcile ourselves to a world which ignores our God? Isolation or assimilation?
Am I afraid of it and have nothing to do with it? Or am I so comfortable in it that there is nothing distinctively Christian about my life?
The genius of Daniel’s witness is that he gives us no reason for his response, but sets a lasting example. Surely, we should ask the Lord to help us be salt and light IN the world. We need to be on red alert as to the subtle, seductive defilement of the godless culture, and to know how to draw a line for the glory of God and the sake of those who don’t know Him, in a way that shows that our ultimate treasure lies elsewhere.
We will do as Daniel did when we know, as he so clearly knew, that God’s kingdom is sovereign over all the rulers and cultures in this world.
Later in Daniel, we read of desperate times to come, but strikingly, we’re also told, “…the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action” (Dan. 11:32).
Craig Dyer (@CraigDyer1) is training director at Christianity Explored Ministries and associate pastor at Harper Church, Glasgow, Scotland. Convinced of the power of God’s word to change lives, he summarizes his work as “equipping hundreds to train thousands to rescue millions.”