The image above is in the Public Domain. James Tissot “The Flight of the Prisoners,”
ca. 1896-1902; Jewish Museum, New York, NY.
I will do a minimum of formal Introduction to Daniel, so if you are interested in exploring Daniel’s date of writing, original setting, etc. refer to the Introduction to Daniel in the ESV Study Bible. (The link in blue will take you to the ESV Study Bible Introduction to Daniel. Take a look at the map of the ancient world at the end of the article. It always helps to have a map before you when you read ancient literature).
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. [ESV]
There is no background in the text given for the first two verses, and there is no resolution at the end of the book, either, for that matter. We are not to assume, however, Judeans were victims of a conquering empire bigger and richer than they were. Interpreters of the book who lean toward social justice view, often make it diatribe against all huge empires who oppress the poor.
From the standpoint of narrative structure, there should have been a prologue and a resolution at the end.
The drawing is adapted from https://literacyideas.com/narrative-writing
The absence of some of the elements of narrative structure brings one to the point of judging one’s own life in light of what is written in Daniel. Read an Ernest Hemingway short story and you will see a similar pattern to the one Daniel chose—minimalist structure—no prologue and no resolution at the end; Daniel begins with problem.
Because Daniel begins without a prologue does not mean the his readers did not know why they were exiled. We are not to assume Judeans are simply victims of a conquering empire bigger and richer than they were. (No social justice reading is intended.)
As the title suggests, the Israelites were taken from their homeland to a pagan land. We are living in the homeland of our forefathers, but paganism now dominates it. The buildings look the same, but the people living in them are far from those who had a Biblical world-and-life view like our ancestors did.
I am positing, in our case, it is possible to be exiled at home. (At least I feel more and more like I am a pilgrim in a strange land!) The absence of a prologue and a resolution, make it easier for us to take the lessons to our heart.
However, the outline of the happenings in Daniel 1:1-2 is as follows—
I. Babylon laid siege to Judah’s land. vs. 1
II. Nebuchadnezzar pillaged the Temple and its treasury house, and took all of it to Babylon. vs. 2
I want to extract some principles I see in these verses for we who are exiled in our own land.
I. God can use any instrument to bring His will to pass. Daniel 4:2
20 Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. 21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; 22 he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him. 23 To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”
We should substitute for “He removes the Kings” = “He removes governments.” Monarchies are rare in the 21st Century, yet God is sovereign over the nations of the 21st Century as He was over Babylon.
My Wife’s Favorite Attribute of God
When my wife was dying, I asked our pastor to come by on Sunday afternoon and serve us communion as an entire family one last time. He asked her some questions about various Bible studies she had led over the years. She told him about the various Ligonier studies they had used. One of her favorites was on the attributes of God. He asked her which attribute was her favorite. Without hesitation she answered her favorite was the sovereignty of God. She died 4 days later. Our sovereign God took her into His heaven to the place He had prepared for her. Now she is sitting at the Table of the King!
If my wife could witness to the importance of the God’s sovereignty of God on her deathbed, I believe we ought to live by the belief of a sovereign God as we walk in life!
II. No nation or philosophy eclipses the Sovereignty of God.
Resounding throughout the pages of Scripture is the proclamation that God is King. And the concept most closely associated with His kingship is His sovereignty. To say that God is sovereign is not to say merely that He is stronger than everyone else, although this is true. Rather, to call Him sovereign is to ascribe to Him a rule and authority that transcends space and time, leaving nothing outside its scope.
The sovereignty of God is like a soft pillow upon which the believer lays his head at night. There is no attribute more comforting to God’s children than the sovereignty of their Father. Under our most adverse circumstances, we believe that sovereignty has ordained our afflictions. In the most severe trials, we trust that God has a purpose, and behind that purpose is His master plan. Even in our darkest valleys, we must rely on this foundational truth, that divine sovereignty is using it as a part of a far greater design for His glory and our good.
— Dr. Steve Lawson, pictured above right, Ligonier Teaching Fellow, from his book Show Me Your Glory
You and I are not capable of using evil to bring good to pass. However, God can. As an older fellow told me one time, “We can’t, but God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick.”
III. God hears our prayers for deliverance.
The Prophet Habakkuk, in 1:1-4, asked God to intervene in Judah and bring an end to widespread violence and sin.
1 The oracle [weighty matter] that Habakkuk the prophet saw. 2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.
This is not a bad prayer, but it seems Habakkuk is hinting at God doing something improper. In any case God answers his prayer.
5 “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. 6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans [Babylonians], that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.
God is going to use a more evil empire to being to end Judea’s sinful behavior. Maybe Habakkuk should have been careful for what he asked of God.
Improper Prayer Requests
My mother used to have a peculiar prayer partner. (“Peculiar” is the nicest way to put it.) On one occasion they were in prayer. They were asking God for things that were good, at first. This was the beginning of the “name it-frame it-claim it” movement. All of a sudden, this lady blurted out, “Give me and Gay a set of diamond earrings!” Mother opened her eyes and stared at her. She finally “woke-up” under my mother’s piercing gaze. She said, “I guess that was a bit too much, wasn’t it, Gay.” Mother nodded yes and they returned to prayer for the country, their church, and the world!
By all means we should bring our complaints (Laments) into God’s presence. Several Psalms are Psalms of Laments. A lament is a complaint. God is the only one who can do anything about our complaints.It is good to tell God our warped experiences in life. We can even bring our anger into his presence. Just stay long enough to hear His correction.
Habakkuk’s right response in 2:1
I will take my stand at my watch-post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer [when I am corrected].
This last phrase of Hab. 2:1 is best translated when I am corrected. The Hebrew word tōkechah = rebuke, correction.
Habakkuk started off his prayer wrong, but by 2:1 he ends where he should be—humble before God and awaiting correction of his thinking revealed in Chapter One.
Depiction of Jews mourning the exile in Babylon by Eduard Bendemann (1811–1889)
I believe the painter had Psalm 137 in mind.
IV. God is sovereign and yet he does not infringe on man’s freedom.
God says he is raising up the Babylonians, but he didn’t drag them to Judea and make them besiege it. Neither did he make the Judeans sin.
The Westminster Divines put this well, Section 2; Paragraph 1—
From all eternity and by the completely wise and holy purpose of his own will, God has freely
and unchangeably ordained whatever happens. [His ordaining] does not mean, however, that
God is the author of sin (he is not), [or] that he represses the will of his created beings, or that he
takes away the freedom or contingency of secondary causes. Rather, the will of created beings
and the freedom and contingency of secondary causes are established by him.
You and I can trust God when nothing else works. So we must trust in God when times are good, so we can be ready for the rough times.