The book of Daniel opens with the defeat of the Israelites by the Babylonian army. The Babylonians marched to Egypt and defeated them. Israel lies in between Egypt and Babylon and the Babylonian army defeated Israel on their way home. They took over and raided Jerusalem and brought the smartest young Israelites back to Babylon.
We often question God’s control when things are not going well. If God is in control, why did he let the Babylonians destroy Israel? If God is in control, why would he allow evil in the first place? The story of Daniel appears to deny God’s sovereignty by letting His people, Israel, to be defeated by Babylon. However, contrary to this, it actually affirms that God is in control even when Israel was destroyed, His name was shamed, and His temple was plundered. The sovereignty of God was mentioned three times in Chapter 1 alone, through the word “gave”. In v2 “the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand”, in v9 “God gave Daniel favour and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs”, in v17 “God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom”. If God is sovereign, then why did Israel lose to Babylon? Why was God’s city destroyed and His temple plundered? Why did God’s people become slaves in Babylon? This all happened by God is a faithful God. We will consider this in 2 parts.
- God puts his people in Babylon because he is a faithful God
What does it mean to be faithful? It means to be true to your promises, to do what you have said. Typically, when we think of God’s faithfulness, we only remember His promise to bless us. But have we ever considered his faithfulness in punishing evil? In Leviticus chapter 26, God promised to bless Israel if they served God faithfully and God also promised to judge Israel if they abandoned God. The final judgement that God promised to Israel was that He would destroy all their cities and scatter them among nations. Israel was defeated by Babylon because of God’s promise.
Israel’s disobedience reached its peak in 2 Kings 20 when the King of Babylon visited King Hezekiah. Not only did King Hezekiah welcome the King of Babylon, he also showed him all the wealth and weapons of Judah in an attempt to form a military alliance. This happened after God saved Judah from Assyria’s attack by sending angels to strike down 185,000 Assyrian troops in 2 King 19. Even after God’s display of great power, King Hezekiah didn’t feel secure and wanted a backup plan. He knew that the God of Israel is not a God who could be tamed, who would grant him all his wishes no matter what he did. He knew that God is just and will punish evil.
What King Hezekiah tried to do with the King of Babylon enraged God as he was trying to replace God with politics. God sent Prophet Isiah to deliver a message of judgement, that Israel will fall in the hands of Babylon. It was God who put His people in Babylon. God was faithful to carry out his punishment.
This may happen in our own lives. We may make mistakes or take unnecessary risks and we suffer the consequences. Wherever we end up in life, we should remember that God put us there. Nothing happens outside of God’s control. This should give us comfort because we know that God is not only faithful to judge but also to bless.
- God wants his people to be faithful to him in Babylon
From the outside, the defeat of Israel appears to be God’s judgement, but it was actually a blessing in disguise. God’s judgement to His people is to discipline them not to destroy them. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves”. God wanted to teach them to rely only on Him. God also preserved Israel under the protection of Babylon so that they would not be destroyed by other nations.
In order to discipline Israel, God was willing to suffer – He allowed His reputation to be destroyed and His temple to be plundered. He is determined to bless His people through a self-humiliating love. This pattern of self-humiliating love is repeated throughout the Bible. The clearest demonstration of this self-humiliating love was when He became a lowly man and betrayed by his own disciple and put to death by those he came to save. He loved us unidirectionally when we were still his enemy.
Daniel could stay faithful to God because he knew that God is faithful. The challenges Daniel and his friends faced in Babylon were subtle at the beginning – re-education, luxury and new identities – designed to encourage them to abandon their God and people and become Babylonians. Similar challenges will also come to us and our kids. We may not experience hard persecution in Melbourne, but this city challenges us in more subtle ways. What enabled Daniel and his friends to stay faithful to God? It is knowing that God was faithful to them first and that God who put them there. If He puts us there, he will look after and bless us, and we do not need to worry. As we enter the new year, may we have courage to trust in God and to rely on His strength.