Tomorrow morning, the results of the national marriage survey will be announced. While I suspect many Australians are moderately interested, many others are waiting with much anticipation and anxiety.
I was thinking through the book of Daniel this morning and realised again how instructive it is for us. So, ahead of tomorrow’s results I wish to suggest, for Christians, some lessons worth learning from this Old Testament book.
1. Choice when there is no choice.
Daniel did not choose the time in which he lived, nor did he decide to leave his homeland for Babylon, where he was forced into the service of King Nebuchadnezzar. He did however have choices as to how he would live in this place of exile.
2. Ask permission
Soon after his move to Babylon, Daniel made the decision to refuse food that would defile him (i.e. cause him to disobey God’s food laws). While he was firm in his conviction, Daniel nonetheless asked permission from his supervisor to eat an alternative. He even proposed a trial period, to see whether it was beneficial for the broader group.
Daniel was strong in his views but he did not push this on everyone else. Rather, he did encouraged a better way via presenting clear requests to those in charge.
3. Seek the wellbeing of society
Daniel find himself living in a very different culture to where he had been raised and understood. He was now living in a city that had destroyed his own city, and had removed all that was common to and valued by God’s people. He was living in a place which showed little regard for the God of Israel and his purposes. Despite all this, throughout the entire book, Daniel uses his wisdom for the good of Babylon, even the Kings of Babylon: he gave regular counsel, and his 3 friends became administrators over Babylonian Provinces.
4. Work for mercy
One one occasion when Nebuchadnezzar became fed up with his advisors and threatened to have them executed, Daniel mediated on their behalf. Despite the irreconcilable worldview being propagated by these figures and the damage inflicted by their whacky views, Daniel called for mercy.
This is one of the greatest gifts we have to offer Australian society. In our culture that is becoming sharply polarised, and where disagreeable ideas are quickly associated with ‘extreme’ and hateful ideologies, Christians can resist this behavior. “Blessed are the merciful”, says Jesus. Seek the good of those who do not tolerate Christianity, be generous in our attitudes toward fellow Australians who have no time for Christian speech and ideas in the public square.
5. Faithfulness is always better than freedom
Daniel and his friends repeatedly risked their security and position, choosing to honour God over obeying wrongful laws. From this we shouldn’t surmise that Daniel was not a loud voice or angry voice or hateful voice. He was courageous, not stupid.
When a law was introduced, forbidding prayers to anyone except the King, Daniel continued in praying only to God. He didn’t make a song and dance out of it, but quietly maintained his practice.
Daniel didn’t abandon or avoid what he believed was right and good, and when asked to give an account, he spoke truthfully, with clarity and courage. Of what value is societal freedom if we have to sell the soul and give up God?
For Daniel, faithfulness to God would at times result in threats, and other times, especially when God’s word was demonstrably proven true, Daniel was vindicated. Vindication normally follows faithfulness, not the other way round, and the only vindication promised to Christians in Scripture, will come about when the Lord Jesus appears on the last day.
6. Whose word is our hope?
Unlike Melbourne’s much loved Elm trees that are sadly facing extinction, no matter tomorrow’s marriage survey outcome, the good news of Jesus Christ will remain true and good.
“the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:24b-25a)
Daniel didn’t view exile as the end of his story, nor that of the people of God. Through the word of God, Daniel was often reminded about the faithfulness of God’s promises and appeals to Him.
“15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” (Daniel 9:15-19)
7. Conscious about confessing sin
Daniel was not ignorant of Israel’s history of covenantal unfaithfulness, and nor did he try to cover it up. Chapter 9 records a prayer of confession, and a request for Divine mercy in light of the multitude of sin,
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong.We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you.8 We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets.11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.”
I’ll have more to say tomorrow, once the results have been published, but dear Christian, as we wait let us guard our hearts and check our motives and think carefully about our words.
We pray as did Daniel, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.”