Be Brave: When My Identity Is Erased

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 9/8/2019

The book (and story) of Daniel begins with a real whopper of a verse. Daniel 1:1 says, “In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it.”

The first character in our story is King Jehoiakim. 2 Chronicles 36:5 says: “Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God.” History tells us that Jehoiakim began his reign as a puppet of the Egyptian King. Jehoiakim was afraid of sharing the fate of his younger brother, Jehoahaz, who was arrested by the King of Egypt and later died in Egypt. There wasn’t any line Jehoiakim wasn’t willing to cross to preserve his own power and well-being. Jehoiakim oppressively taxed his homeland to pay tribute to the King of Egypt. Rabbinical literature tells us he was a godless tyrant who committed atrocious sins and crimes. He lived in incestuous relations with his mother, daughter-in-law, and stepmother. He was in the habit of murdering men, whose wives he then violated and whose property he seized. He tattooed his body, hoping to ink some compelling image, or identity, for his godless self. To no avail, Jeremiah the Prophet spoke against King Jehoiakim insisting he repent and submit to Yahweh, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

As Jehoiakim begins his reign, our second character, the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar comes to power. Nebuchadnezzar defeats the Egyptians and makes his way toward Jerusalem. As the Babylonians lay siege to Jerusalem, Jehoiakim lays down and says, “Hey Nebuchadnezzar, let’s make a deal. Spare Jerusalem, and I’ll be your new puppet.” In exchange, Jehoiakim pays tribute from the treasury in Jerusalem, he hands over temple vessels/artifacts, he even hands over some of the royal family and nobility as hostages.

Our third character, Daniel, a Jewish teenager, is one of the royal family, one of the hostages, taken back to Babylon. BTW, Jehoiakim is caught between a rock and a hard place. Eventually the Egyptians, who were aligned with the Assyrians, rally their strength against Babylon, and Babylon’s rule of Judah is tossed up in the air. Rolling the dice, Jehoiakim switches his allegiance from Nebuchadnezzar back to the Egyptians! Eventually Nebuchadnezzar returns to Jerusalem, lays siege to Jerusalem (a second time), but this time has Jehoiakim bound in fetters and dragged outside the city of Jerusalem, where (just as Jeremiah the Prophet warned in Jeremiah 22:18-19) his body would rot in the heat of day and frost of night.

When you consider these three characters, who does the Bible call our attention to but this young Jewish teenager, Daniel, the hostage. This seemingly insignificant, expendable pawn. . . trapped on a global chessboard. . . tossed between crooked Kings/Queens, Knights/ Bishops, temples/castles. The book of Daniel is written for those who’ve spent their lives feeling insignificant, expendable, and in a word, pawned.

We’re going to work our way through Daniel this fall, chapter by chapter. I hope you will make the most of the Study Guide our staff team created. I hope you can get into a small group this week where we will be talking about these lessons—it’s not too late, you can go to www.lakesidechristian.com/groups. As a teenager, Daniel wrestled with four existential questions and I’d like you to write them down in your Study Guide.

Question #1: Who in the World is in Control? We already saw how Daniel 1:1 paints this catastrophic picture of defeat, “… King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it.” This past week the Green Bay Packers came to Soldier Field and laid siege to the Chicago Bears. It was an embarrassing and humiliating defeat, I was so mad, I had so much hope! Little compares to the defeat Daniel must have felt, as a teenager, watching his homeland laid waste, being carried off to a distant land. What kind of questions might have raced through Daniel’s mind? What sort of emotions might he felt—anger, rage, sadness, depression? What sort of fears?

One of the first questions we ask when the good guys get defeated is “Who in the world is in control?” No nation on earth has been more persecuted/ hated/ displaced, dispersed, laid waste than the Jews. How do you reconcile the historical, holocaust-like realities of Jewish history with this theological belief that the Israelites are the chosen, deeply beloved covenant people, of the Living God?

There will always be circumstances in life when we will question “Who in the World is in Control?” There will be wars and rumors of wars. If not geo-political calamity, then financial. If not financial, then natural calamity--famines, plagues, natural disasters—earthquakes, hurricanes. I cannot imagine the distress people in the Bahamas feel seeing their homes and loved ones literally washed away.

One worldview is that we are pawns, subject to the whims of this natural universe and even worse, natural man. But another view (a spiritual view) is that we sons/daughters of the Living God, and that all the world (all of history, even sinful man, everyone and everything, the devil himself, evil) is subject to the God of the Universe, Yahweh, the God of Israel, the King of Kings/Lord of Lords. What is your worldview?

On October 6, Don Paustian is going to leave a Sunday morning, 12-week class, called “The Truth Project.” It will meet at 10:30am. So many Christians have never developed a God-centered view of history/world. This class will remedy that! But isn’t amazing that two people (a believer/unbeliever) can observe the same basic happenings but have two radically different perspectives of who/what is in control?

The perspective of Daniel is unapologetically that God is in control. Daniel 1:2 says, “The Lord handed King Jehoiakim of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God. Nebuchadnezzar carried them to the land of Babylon, to the house of his god, and put the vessels in the treasury of his god.”

This terrible thing has happened, but the Lord is in control, everything is in his hands, nothing more and nothing less happens than what the Lord allows. Yesterday, Dave Laird was flying to Texas and texted me, “You know, flying along at 36k feet, looking down at all that man has made, in its obvious smallness, laying on top of, and within all that God has created in his overwhelming vastness… just gives one a sense of awe and gratitude. Man with all his boundless energy, enthusiasm, and wisdom… ha! And yet God cares about, and for, each little one of us. What an awesome God.”

What is your worldview? It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” you will wrestle with this existential question of “Who/What in World is in control? How you answer that question will determine which side of history you fall upon.

Question #2: Who/What in the World Am I? In Daniel 1:3-7, Nebuchadnezzar orders his chief official, Ashpenaz (who is a Eunuch) to bring forth some of the finest Israelite boys. The King was seeking “young men without any physical defect, good-looking, suitable for instruction in all wisdom, knowledgeable, perceptive, and capable of serving in the king’s palace. [Ashpenaz] was to teach them the Chaldean language and literature.” I don’t at all want this to sound crass, but it was the practice of Kings to physically castrate men like Ashpenaz. You have to ask yourself though, what in the world for? To what end? And what might the King have in mind for these Jewish boys?

Again, I don’t want to sound crass, but if you want to savage an enemy, and render him impotent, what would you do? You would attempt to erase him! How?

You would erase his sense of ethnic and national identity by physically removing him from his homeland, isolating him from his family/spiritual roots, laying desolate to all the artifacts of his physical/spiritual past.

You would make him ashamed of his Jewish heritage, his very blood so that whenever he looked in the mirror, he’d hate his very own skin/flesh/bones… he’d despise his very brownness, or blackness, or whiteness, or whatever.

You would reeducate him in all the wisdom/knowledge of your own gods—albeit naturalism or spiritualism or scientism or secularism.

You would give him a whole new language (a Godless language, a godless system of philosophy) through which to understand himself/world. New songs, books, lyrics…

You would castrate/destroy his physical sense of masculinity. A Eunuch, thus castrated, could not quite be the man God created him to be, but neither could he function as a woman. This is exactly where teenagers find themselves today in our culture—their very gender, their very sexuality is being savaged, in an attempt to destroy their God-given masculinity/femininity and any true sense of self.

You would enculturate/comprise him with the finest food and finest wine and finest indulgences. You would condition them to think their very existence was to live for sensuality, pleasure than the God of their youth.

You would subject him to rigorous multi-year training and reward him for measuring up to your secular standards. You would take that naïve, godly homeschool boy and cart him off to secular Babylon University to deprogram and then reprogram his worldview. Daniel 1:5, “The king assigned them daily provisions from the royal food and from the wine that he drank. They were to be trained for three years, and at the end of that time they were to attend the king.”

Finally, to erase a man, you would assign him a new identity, a new name. Daniel 1:7 says, “The chief eunuch gave them names; he gave the name Belteshazzar to Daniel, Shadrach to Hananiah, Meshach to Mishael, and Abednego to Azariah.” What you can’t notice in English is evident in the Hebrew. The lingual root of all these young men’s names contained the root of God’s name Elohim. The lingual root of their newly given names contained the root of Babylon’s gods. It was a forced assimilation; Nebuchadnezzar wanted Daniel and his friends to “conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2), and a name change was one piece.

It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” you will wrestle with this existential question of “Who/What in the World Am I?” The world unapologetically wants to conquer you by create identity distortion… identity dysphoria. My history is wrong. My heritage is wrong. Everything I’ve known it wrong. My worldview is wrong. My religion is wrong. My gender is wrong. My sexuality is wrong. My moral compass, my Holy Spirit convicted conscience in wrong… my common-sense moral compass is wrong… My very skin color is wrong. My name is wrong. And if you don’t conform…. You guessed it… your wrong. Parents don’t let Babylon University erase your teenagers. Send them to Jerusalem University. Homeschool them if needed. Deuteronomy 6 them. Get them in youth group. Get them in Sunday School. Get them in the Bible. Get them to Bible University (LCU!). Get them in the Word and get them out of the World.

Question #3: Where in the World Should I Stand? So much to say, so little time. In Daniel 1:8 it says, “Daniel determined that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine he drank.” Do you want to know what’s remarkable about this verse? It’s this. Daniel is 14 years old. He is a Junior Higher. More than this, he is in hostile territory where the pressure couldn’t be greater—and yet this 14-year-old has the clarity of mind to know what lines he will not cross—what he will/won’t consume. The 14-year-old pawn Daniel is the antithesis of the 25 years old King Jehoiakim.

This generation believes it’s wrong to stand, and that its right to conform. The young are taught that if culture doesn’t “like” and “love” and “fav” their status, their status must be wrong. Daniel 1:8-14 is a portrait of how God enabled and a made a way for a 14 years old teenager to stand tall (in purity, in holiness, in conviction, in truth, in sobriety, in healthy living, healthy lifestyle, in strength) despite all odds, despite all the pressure, despite the very real dangers of non-conformity.

Parents if you don’t study Daniel 1:8-14 w/kids they’ll never know how stand. They will always conform. They will always cave. They’ll get erased in an instant. Daniel was resolute. When do you suppose is the time for a person to become resolute? Is it before their taken into cultural captivity or after? We don’t learn to be resolute in the midst of temptation, in the heat of the moment. The time to become resolute is before, not during, and not after. Jehoiakim is a portrait of what happens to a young man with no lines, no inner compass, no principles; Daniel is a picture of how God can work through seemingly impossible dynamics to enable his sons/daughters to stand.

Daniel 1:8-14, “Daniel determined that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine he drank. So, he asked permission from the chief eunuch not to defile himself. 9 God had granted Daniel kindness and compassion from the chief eunuch, 10 yet he said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and drink. What if he sees your faces looking thinner than the other young men your age? You would endanger my life with the king.”

11 So Daniel said to the guard whom the chief eunuch had assigned to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then examine our appearance and the appearance of the young men who are eating the king’s food, and deal with your servants based on what you see.” 14 He agreed with them about this and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days they looked better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food. 16 So the guard continued to remove their food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables.”

It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” you will wrestle with this existential question of “Where in the World Should I Stand?” There is no time like right now to specifically answer that question.

Question #4: What in the World has God Given Me? Here is where I’ll stop today. God doesn’t just want us to “stand resolute” in this world, he wants us to change the world. God has given each/every one of us spiritual gifts through which we pawns can change the world for God’s glory. Daniel is no exception! We will take this idea up next week, but for now I’ll end with Daniel 1:15-21: “God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind. 18 At the end of the time that the king had said to present them, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king interviewed them, and among all of them, no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So, they began to attend the king. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king consulted them about, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and mediums in his entire kingdom. 21 Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.”

Scripture Verses

Daniel 1:1-22, Romans 12:2, Jeremiah 22

Worship Set

Worship Playlist

Call Upon The Lord
by Christopher Brown and Steven Furtick
as recorded by Elevation

You Make Me Brave
by Amanda Cook
as recorded by Bethel

Who You Say I Am
by Ben Fielding and Reuben Morgan
as recorded by Hillsong

Reckless Love
by Caleb Culver, Cory Asbury, and Ran Jackson
as recorded by Cory Asbury

Study Questions

  1. Describe a time when you encountered people with radically different beliefs and values than your own. How did you handle the culture shock? How did you cope with the pressure?
  2. As teenagers, what changes did the young men face when exiled to Babylon? What pressures do young people encounter today?
  3. Why were these young men selected? What was the king's intention with them? Who is pressuring the hearts and minds of our young people today? What are their intentions?
  4. How did the king try to remold these young men into the culture of Babylon? How does our culture try to shape the hearts and minds of young people today?
  5. Look at Daniel 1:8. What proactive measure did Daniel take to avoid having his identity erased? What resolutions might help us maintain our identity as God's people today?
  6. Read Daniel 1:8-9. Why did Daniel avoid the food and wine provided by the king? What are the subtle ways our spiritual edge can be dulled by what we consume? How did God help Daniel?
  7. What risks did Daniel take to remain spiritually true? In your life, what is hard about remaining true to God? What lines do you refuse to cross in order to stay true to God?
  8. Daniel didn't face these pressures alone. He had companions to lean upon. How can we encourage and pray for one another?

Apply It!

Resources

Lakeside Bookshelf

Below are some books to complement our Be Brave sermon series through the book of Daniel. Stop by the bookshelf in the lobby to browse or purchase.

The Daniel Dilemma: How to Stand Firm & Love Well in a Culture of Compromise by Chris Hodges

The Daniel Prayer: Prayer That Moves Heaven and Changes Nations by Anne Graham Lotz

A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today's World by John Stonestreet & Brett Kunkle

Downloads & Resources