This article was originally written as a letter to a Youth group.
Have you sometimes wondered what Jesus' life was like during his childhood and teenage years? The Bible does not tell us much. But one thing it does say is that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). By the time He began His ministry at age thirty, He had matured and received the fullness of God's divine wisdom through the Holy Spirit (John 3:34, Isaiah 11:1-5).
Daniel, whose life I write about in this article, also had wisdom and used his God-given wisdom to prosper in a hostile and unholy environment. As a background, let me give a brief overview of Daniel's early life. Daniel was born Jewish, but as a youth was taken into captivity by idolatrous king Nebuchadnezzar. The Jewish nation at the time had disobeyed God and refused to heed His repeated calls to repentance. So, God sent several prophets to warn that their persistent rebellion would result in captivity by the kings of Assyria and Babylon.
The ten northern tribes of Israel were the first to go into captivity; they were captured by the Assyrians and never really returned to God. The two southern tribes were later taken captive by the Babylonians; this occurred about the time Daniel was a youth. Because this captivity lasted seventy years, Daniel pretty much lived his entire life in Babylon! In today's terms, we could say that Daniel was a kid who had learned about and loved God, but found himself living most or all of his life among people who did not recognize or worship his God. Does this sound familiar?
Let me try to give a mental picture of what Daniel's world was like. In its glory days, Babylon was a developed and sophisticated city. It was the seat of world power and the front-runner of development. It is said that Nebuchadnezzar's Palace, into which Daniel often went, was one of the most magnificent buildings ever erected on earth. Babylon's Hanging Gardens were one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.
Nebuchadnezzar had a very powerful army. At his peak, he defeated every nation he attacked and ruled over the entire world of that time. [Note: scriptures say it was God who gave him that authority and might (Jeremiah 27:5-8)]. Babylon was also a citadel of idolatry. A very religious city, it had 53 temples and 180 altars to an idol named, Ishtar.
It was into this Babylon that Daniel was taken captive. But Daniel was not intimidated in his heart.
[Pause & Consider]: Compare Daniel's world to ours. Think about the greatness, magnificence, and development of our world, schools, colleges, and workplaces. Like Daniel, our world is advanced in many ways but generally does not recognize or worship God. In some respects we, Christians, may feel like Daniel did in captivity because although we know and love God, we are required to submit to the rules and ways of a world that does not worship Him.
When Daniel got to Babylon, he was chosen to be an adviser to the king. To fulfill this role he was required to learn the language and literature of Babylon. He was also required to eat the king's diet for three years. After doing these he would be qualified to serve the king. This was probably considered a great privilege by many, and it was, except that it brought significant personal challenges to Daniel.
First of all, the king's diet was different from what God's law permitted Daniel to eat. Oh oh! Second, the king worshipped idols and expected all his advisers, officers, and workers to do same. Third, the king and his people lived without the moral restraint that God required of Daniel. So, what would Daniel do? Unfortunately, he did not have the choice of withdrawing from this role (he would probably have been killed if he opposed the king's orders!).
Do you sometimes find yourself in the kind of dilemma Daniel faced? Perhaps the Lord has blessed you with the privilege of being excellent at what you do; this may lead to you being chosen to represent your school or college in academics, sports, or arts; you may be on the school, college or class executive team; you may be a highly regarded employee at work or you may be opportuned to live and study in a country that is more developed and sophisticated than yours. You are excited about these opportunities but find that they require you to lower your spiritual standards in certain areas. If so, how do you cope?
Continued as "Surviving An Unholy Environment—Part 2"