By Russ Ramsey
Not to beat a dead horse, but pandemics stink. One of the toughest realities of living in a COVID-19 world, outside of the horrible medical realities, is how it has disrupted our lives. At the start of the year, things were humming along as usual for most of us, and then, in a matter of just a few weeks, the world started shutting down. We lost our rhythms and routines. We lost our ability to plan for the coming months. We lost many of the plans we’d already made.
Going through something like this helps prepare us to come to a book like Daniel, because Daniel tells the story of an exile—Judah’s captivity in Babylon. Life in Judah was moving right along when Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, came and carried off many of God’s people to live in another land (Daniel 1:2), under the control of another ruler, surrounded by the gods of another religion. Appreciate the difficulty and trauma this must have added to the already complicated lives of the people of Judah.
In these opening verses, we catch a glimpse of King Nebuchadnezzar’s strategy. To get Judah to accept their fate, he took some of the royal, noble, and beautiful people of Israel into his own home. There he would teach them the ways of the Chaldeans. They would eat at his table, read his literature, learn his language, and—in a final coup d’état—worship him. He wanted the people of Judah to abandon their faith in God and embrace a culture where the people bowed before the king in worship.
Among these people we see four names: Daniel, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego. What would they do? Where would God be in the midst of their suffering and trials? That’s where the rest of this book goes.
As we begin reading through Daniel, ask yourself these questions: In the face of exile, how did God’s people respond? What role did God play in their trials? What did faithfulness look like? What did unfaithfulness look like? What does exile for God’s people look like today? Where are people of faith being urged to abandon faith in order to assimilate into another culture? For what purpose? What does it look like to remain faithful?
Whenever we get disoriented, it can be hard to remember which way is up. When we’re in a position of weakness or change, it can be difficult to know how to move forward in healthy, upright ways. Good news! One of the themes running through the book of Daniel is that God is exceedingly more present and active than anyone would have imagined. And that God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
Written by Russ Ramsey