“It was the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon declared war on Jerusalem and besieged the city. The Master handed King Jehoiakim of Judah over to him, along with some of the furnishings from the Temple of God. Nebuchadnezzar took king and furnishings to the country of Babylon, the ancient Shinar. He put the furnishings in the sacred treasury. The king told Ashpenaz, head of the palace staff, to get some Israelites from the royal family and nobility—young men who were healthy and handsome, intelligent and well-educated, good prospects for leadership positions in the government, perfect specimens!—and indoctrinate them in the Babylonian language and the lore of magic and fortunetelling. The king then ordered that they be served from the same menu as the royal table—the best food, the finest wine. After three years of training they would be given positions in the king’s court.” Daniel 1:1-5 (MSG)
The first sentence of Daniel sets the stage. The names are different today, but the situation hasn’t changed. Babylon declared war on Jerusalem. “During the third year of Johoiakim’s reign,” it was the good-versus-evil showdown.
I love history almost as much as I love science, so let me paint you an interesting picture.
Do you remember where God told Jonah to go? Nineveh, a city so evil Jonah couldn’t imagine they would change. Nebuchadnezzar’s ancestry included Nimrod, the mighty king who ruled over Babel—yes, the Babel—a culture so rebellious and self-absorbed the people thought they could build a tower and find God. Nebuchadnezzar commanded a mighty army that crushed the Assyrians, devastated the Egyptians and sacked Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar ruled over the entire world that included those rebellious, evil people and cultures.
Babylon is synonymous with pagan worship, decadent excess, debauchery, savage conquest and Godlessness. After a military victory, Babylon had habit of making slaves out of best and the brightest people from the conquered culture. Babylon assimilated those enslaved people into the Babylonian culture.
That’s where Daniel comes into the story. He’s one of the best and brightest from Jerusalem. Handsome, healthy and smart, he’s taken into the “Babylonian Indoctrination Program.” He had three close friends with him. This is how Daniel’s story begins—four men against the evil monster, Babylon.
Swimming Against the Current
The stage set in the book of Daniel is a familiar scene. It began in the Garden of Eden. It continues today. The only difference; the names and places have changed. It’s a sad, disheartening start to the story. The good guys are overtaken and enslaved by the evil empire.
It’s also an encouraging beginning.
It doesn’t feel very encouraging, does it?
That uneasiness must be what a salmon feels as his instinct drives him from all that is familiar to a place of unease, a place where everything is unfamiliar and unsettling. It’s place that requires him to swim against the current in order to get there.
Daniel and his three friends, and all who call themselves Christians, share a common bond: we are called to swim against the current, to live in culture that is foreign, sometimes downright evil. The call isn’t to simply live there, cowering, hoping somehow to make it through untouched by evil and unaffected by sin’s consequence.
The call to the Christian is to make a difference—to swim against the current.
Years after Daniel’s enslavement, Paul wrote, “offer yourself as a living sacrifice to God,” and he concluded that thought with this: “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” Romans 12:21 (NLT)
Living a Holy Life
That is Daniel’s lesson to us today. In those moments when evil wins the battle, remember that good will win the war. Don’t let evil get the best of you. Don’t let evil beat you into submission. Don’t let evil make you think it’s stronger than the One who lives in you.
There is only one thing that conquers evil. Evil can’t be legislated away, it can’t be ignored, no amount of money will turn evil into good, one can’t simply hope things will get better, one can’t wait for the “good guy” to come riding in to save the day.
There is only one thing that conquers evil—goodness.
Goodness is always found upstream.
Father, when I want to give up because evil seems too strong—remind me You win! Give me the strength to swim against the tide of evil. Empower me for acts of goodness. Help me abandon my comfort and ease. I will offer myself to You to be an instrument of goodness today.