Faith and Academia

Daniel

Faith & Academia

 

1. Habakkuk

Many speakers had lamented the wickedness of America. Some had warned of the need for repentance. Others had stressed the need for a spiritual revival. “Repent 2015” had been a rousing success. Nearly 500 religious leaders had agreed that the time for spiritual change in America was overdue.

 

Rolly went home with a heavy heart. The conference had highlighted the plight of America. And as he bowed to pray that evening before going to bed, the fervency from the event poured out. Channeling his inner “Joe Wright,” he prayed:

 

“Father, I come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your guidance for this country. We know Your Word says: “Woe to those who call evil good” but that is exactly what this nation has done. We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it Pluralism. We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it alternative lifestyle. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. Lord, when will you move to correct this situation? When will you bring this nation to repentance? When will you bring revival?” [6]

 

At that moment, his prayer was interrupted. The audible voice of God spoke. “Rolly, do not worry. I have a plan to answer your prayer. I plan to raise up ISIS to begin a large scale purging of the United States. It will start with the bombing of movie theatres, the pillaging of schools, and the closing of all churches. They will then use many of the same methods that they have used in Syria and Iraq including public executions, beheadings, marrying off young girls to soldiers, and the forcible removal of children….”

 

God continued to lay out His plan. Rolly could not believe what he had heard. Carefully, and with as much respect as possible, he spoke back. “But Lord, why would a holy God use such a wicked people? They are even more wicked and godless than those who you are chastising.”

 

While this story is fictional, it is based on a real story. In 608 BC, we read about a godly but confused prophet named Habakkuk complaining before God: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (1:2). In looking around at God’s people he sees rampant apostasy, disobedience, and oppression. All of which God seems to be tolerating.

 

While God is not obligated to respond, He does. He lets Habakkuk know that He has every intention of disciplining His people, but not in a way Habakkuk could have anticipated. As the instrument to punish and to purify His people, God plans to send an invasion force from the Babylonians – a proud, ruthless, godless nation.

 

Habakkuk is shocked. How can a holy God use such unholy means to discipline His people? God’s plan appears inconsistent with both His character and His promises. He even accuses God of neglecting to maintain His standards of holiness and righteousness. “Why do you idly look at traitors and are silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he? (1:13).

 

Once again God responds. God’s answer is centered on this statement: “The righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4). He also states that the way of the proud ultimately will not prosper, be they Israelite or Babylonian (2:14). Finally, God’s answer to the prophet reaches a climax with these awesome words: “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (2:20). [3]

 

Habakkuk is transformed. If I were to paraphrase his thoughts at the close of the book in more contemporary terms — since most of us do not measure our well-being in terms of figs, fruit, and flocks  – we might say: [1] Though the Social Security fund is depleted, Though the stock market crashes, Though my insurance company goes bankrupt and my IRA account vaporizes; Though I lose my job or my business fails, I will rejoice because of the Lord.

 

2. Daniel

Why would I introduce our text with these two stories? It is because our text for tonight takes place less than three years later. After resisting His entreaties spoken through the prophets, God fulfills His promise by delivering His own rebellious and idol-loving people into exile and slavery. The judgment occurs in three stages – in 605 BC, in 597 BC, and finally in 587 BC when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the entire city of Jerusalem, burned the temple, and essentially displaced the entire remaining population to captivity in Babylon.

 

Daniel 1 occurs immediately after Babylon’s victory over Egypt, in the battle of Charchemish in 605 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar proceeded back toward Babylon. Judah had thrown its lot in with Egypt in the great war and was now on the losing side. On the return trip, Nebuchadnezzar stopped on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He threatened Jerusalem with a siege, and King Jehoiakim capitulated:

 

Verse 2:

“And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God.”

 

These Nebuchadnezzar carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god – effectively declaring: “Your God is worthless and contemptible. He cannot protect His people. It is the gods of Babylon that rule the world.”

 

Verse 3:

“Then the king [Nebuchadnezzar] ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility-young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace…” effectively declaring: “Your future is mine, too. I will take some of the finest of your young men because their generation and every generation afterward will serve me. I own the people of this land, I despise the God of this land, and you have no recourse.”

 

Verse 4:

“He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.”

 

For purposes of our conversation this evening, look at what these youths were being offered. The highest court official personally chose them. They were assigned special rations of food from the king’s table. They were to be given an elite education in the best university in the world. They were offered a chance to serve in the presence of the greatest emperor who had ever ruled to that time. They would be his familiars, serve in his court, speak to him daily, and minister to his needs.

 

What an opportunity! Behind them was the failed religion of their own people. Here was an opportunity, if they were strong enough to take it, to advance to a high place and grand success, serving the greatest power in the world.[7]

 

Verse 8:

“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.” Daniel then said to the guard, whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.”

 

Daniel not only resolved to be holy (vs.8), he was selective in what he chose to protest. When he was isolated, he didn’t protest. When he was being trained in the language and literature of the Babylonians, he didn’t protest. When he was asked to participate in a gentile, heathen government, he didn’t protest. And when they were given new names he didn’t protest. But when Daniel was put on a new diet he would not assimilate. [6]

 

This reflects his belief that what we eat and drink, like what we wear and how we speak, generally constitutes an outward expression of our self-identity and commitments. Daniel’s abstinence symbolized his avoiding assimilation. In other words, eating the palace provisions, at least in Daniel’s way of thinking, entailed a compromise of faith that getting a new name, learning Babylonian culture, and serving in a Babylonian court did not. [4]

 

Verse 17:

“To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.”

 

3. Daniel – Lessons

I chose Daniel 1 because a study of this chapter is worth our time. The godly personal life of Daniel is a model for us in higher public education. Daniel was not a prophet. He was a statesman. He was not a patsy. He was a steward who impacted the lives of the greatest political leaders of his time. He was not a follower. He was a model leader.

 

The central question of the book of Daniel is:  “How can a Christian sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”  And that is so directly applicable to where we are today.

 

Because this land which was once ours, the society that used to be permeated with Christian thinking, which used to be permeated with the moral principles which we have adhered to for thousands of years now appears to us as a strange land.  We seem to be confronted with a culture that is sometimes baffling even to understand.  What is going on?  We have the opportunity by grace and faith to respond to the strangeness of this land. We are called upon to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. There are many important lessons for us to learn in this passage. I’d like to consider six things tonight which the Lord would instruct us. [2]

a. We must grasp and embrace that God is sovereign even in His people’s tragedy. [2]

First, we must grasp and embrace that God is sovereign even in His people’s tragedy.

 

Look at verses 1 and 2: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.  The Lord gave Jehoiakim, king of Judah, into his hand.”

 

The first verse tells you about the children of Israel being taken into captivity.  The second verse tells you why.  The first verse may look like the God of Israel has fallen prey to the false gods of Babylon.

 

The second verse makes it clear that even the downfall of Jerusalem and the exile is positive proof of the sovereignty of the God of Israel.  Why?  Because all the way back in Deuteronomy chapter 28, God had promised Israel that if she went astray He would send her into exile.  And now, almost a thousand years later, a patient and long suffering God is fulfilling His promise.

 

You see, the exile is not a proof that God’s plan has failed; it’s a proof that God’s plan has been fulfilled. Daniel knows that there is nothing accidental in human life. It is this belief that God is in control that enables Daniel to do so well in his service to Nebuchadnezzar. [2]

 

Life in the academic world is not always a bed of roses. Changes in academic leadership, pressure to remain on a tenure track, System initiatives, and changing grant requirements are often out of our control. The fact that we don’t get a promotion, that we don’t get tenure, or that we don’t get awarded a grant – is not proof that God is not in control. He is always in control. We need to recognize that there are no accidents in His plan. We need to have confidence that God will use our time, talents, and treasures according to His purposes. We must grasp and embrace that God is sovereign even in our tragedy.

 

 b. We must be aware of the stratagems of assimilation. [2]

Second, we must be aware of the stratagems of assimilation. In verses 3 through 7, we are told how Daniel and his friends came to be in the Babylonian court. But we are also told of a truth underlying it. We are basically told how Nebuchadnezzar and his men planned to assimilate the nobility of Jerusalem into a false worldview.

 

First of all, they isolated them from Jerusalem.  The goal was to isolate them from their families, from weekly worship, from the sacrificial system, from the reading and the hearing of the word, and from the prophetic testimony of the preachers of God in Israel.

 

Next, they indoctrinated them.  They were taught the language and the literature of Babylon.  The goal was to indoctrinate them into the thinking, into the worldview of Babylonians.

 

Third, they gave them new names.  The goal was that they would be called by Babylonian names, connected with the god of the Babylonians, so that they would forget who they were.

 

Finally, they encouraged them to compromise. The goal was to put before them rich food, great privileges, comfort, status, reputation, and importance in order to wean their desires from their God and to draw their desires to Babylon. [2] “Nebuchadnezzar wanted them to dress as they dress in Babylon, speak as they speak in Babylon, behave as they behave in Babylon, and even eat what they eat in Babylon.” [6]

This reminds us of the assimilation stratagems of the academic world. Academia strives to isolate Christian faculty from the Word by claiming a need for separation of church and state. Academia strives to indoctrinate us into a worldview that ignores the Bible as a source of truth. Academia strives to call Christians freaks, right-wing nuts, extremists, and ignorant fools so that we will adopt new names that have no relationship to our faith. That is, it desires to assimilate us by telling us not to identify as a Christian. Finally, Academia strives to make us compromise our biblical worldview by rewarding those who play by the rules with tenure, influential positions, and important grants. We must be aware of the stratagems of assimilation.

c. We must consciously resolve to resist assimilation and identify with God.

Third, we must consciously resolve to resist assimilation and identify with God. In verses 8 through 16, we see Daniel’s strategy for resistance.

 

The key verse is this: “But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank” … (Daniel 1:8a).

 

Holiness does not happen by chance. Sanctification is God’s work brought about in and through men and women who, in dependence on His Spirit, diligently strive to be faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Some people equate spirituality and spontaneity. Not so Daniel. Daniel not only purposed to be pure, he planned ahead. He sought a means to avoid the king’s food before he would be defiled by it. He persevered in seeking God’s way of escape when his first effort seemed to fail. Daniel was not passive in living a godly life. He was actively seeking to please God by avoiding defilement. Holiness requires a commitment to be pure, a plan to accomplish this purpose, and persistence in carrying out the plan. [1]

 

This issue is important for us as Christian faculty and administrators. As Daniel resolved not to defile himself, we will each face choices in which the question of assimilation is absolutely central. Who lays claims to us? At whose table are we nourished? Who is the one with whom we share life itself? The question will present itself in different ways for different people, and we each have to answer it. Perhaps you work in a department where the expectation is that you will lie or cheat. Perhaps the expectation is that you will worship influence/prestige as if it were God. Perhaps it is that you will damage your family, whether because of the party environment in which the work takes place or because of the hours you are required to work. Will you say, “No, I can’t eat at the king’s table, I am nourished from a different place”? You are either going to eat at the king’s table or you aren’t. You are either going to give in or you are going to be owned by the Lord God. You are going to accept an allegiance that’s harmful or you are going to refuse. Resolve not to be assimilated and to be identified with God. [7]

 

d. We must strive to be submissive. [1]

Fourth, we must strive to be submissive.  Having determined that eating the king’s food and drinking his wine would be defiling to him, Daniel set out to abstain from them, but in a submissive way.

 

The goal of Daniel’s Babylonian superiors was to obtain the optimum physical and mental performance of those in training. No one really cared what Daniel ate as long as he prospered, physically and mentally. Knowing this, Daniel sought out Ashpenaz, the commander of the king’s officials, asking permission to abstain from the king’s food.

 

The text tells us that God intervened causing Ashpenaz to look upon Daniel with favor and compassion (verse 9) but it did not result in Daniel’s request being granted. Next, Daniel sought out his immediate superior, not in an effort to circumvent Ashpenaz, but because the immediate superior was in a position to execute and evaluate Daniel’s proposed plan of action.

 

Daniel proposed that he and his friends be allowed to eat vegetables for ten days and then their condition compared with the rest. If Daniel’s group could match or surpass the others, then the goal of the Babylonian officials was obtained, yet in a way that did not require Daniel’s assimilation. Daniel’s proposal is submissive because it seeks the permission of the one directly in charge; it seeks to fulfill the purposes of Daniel’s superiors. The proposal was accepted. God divinely intervenes. The test succeeds.

 

Biblical submission is not a begrudging compliance with the letter of the law set down by those over us. Submission begins first with an attitude which desires to obey God-given authority as an act of obedience to God. Second, it seeks to view matters from the standpoint of one’s superior. Third, it seeks to understand and, if possible, to accomplish the goals of the one in authority. When the means or methods of those in authority conflict with biblical directives, biblical submission seeks to accomplish the goal of the one in authority, but by means which are not contrary to scripture. We must strive to be submissive.

 

This lesson is particularly relevant in the academic arena. The goal in academia is meaningful, impactful research and education. This is what universities exist for. This is what the System stresses. This is what the Provost and President stress. More specifically, the measure of meaningful, impactful research and education are citation counts, grant dollars, and awards.

 

How do we stress this goal while rejecting the false gods of prestige and fame? How do we accomplish the goals of the one in authority without violating biblical directives? How do we submit without being contrary to Scripture? I will have to leave that question hanging because it warrants a much longer discussion.

 

e. We must strive for excellence. [1]

Fifth, we must strive for excellence. Daniel 1 puts forward ideals for which every true Christian should strive: physical and mental excellence, employed to please God and men.

 

We see the same with our Lord and Savior in Luke: “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom  and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

 

The Babylonians did notice Daniel and his friends, not because of their faithfulness to God, but because of their submissive spirit, strong bodies, and scholarly minds. They were interested in the bottom line—performance. Nebuchadnezzar first took note of Daniel and his friends because they best met the qualifications he sought. He chose them in spite of their religious scruples more than because of them.

 

It is little wonder that many Christians have a poor testimony in academia today. Many Christians think of their work as secular and unspiritual. They do not excel or even try to do their jobs well. Spiritual ministry is what is important to them. They do the bare minimum at work so they can get on to more important things – ministry. Others live two lives – one in academia and one in their spiritual ministry. They do well in both but never dare merge faith and academia.

 

Others choose to try and excel in one of the most competitive environments on the planet – Texas A&M! Whether it is athletics, academics, or rankings – competition is in the very DNA of this institution.

 

We compete not only with other institutions – but with our co-workers and friends. Are you prepared to embrace that fact or reject it?

 

A Christian witness begins in the workplace, on the job, by Christians doing a job well, as unto the Lord. If we excel at what we do, men will take note. They may then be more interested to hear what we have to tell them about God (“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.” Proverbs 22:29). A Christian witness ends in the workplace when we view it as it is – our field of full-time ministry. For here we are called to be disciple-makers (as we go – Matthew 28:20), ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), and stewards (Matthew 25:14-20). We must strive for excellence.

 

f. We must expect to be influential. [7]

Sixth, we must expect to be influential. Often when we say, “I will stand for the Lord,” we assume that we will be marginalized, shunted off to some backwater role and forgotten, and the world will go on glorifying the people it always glorifies. But the interesting thing about this book is that exactly the opposite was true for Daniel.

 

His commitment to be a servant of God made him an effective witness in his world. Nebuchadnezzar, the great “head of gold,” fell on his face before Daniel. Later Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind for a number of years, and it was Daniel who helped him make sense of things, and who essentially led this proud man to humble faith. Daniel prophesied the death of Belshazzar and the fall of the city of Babylon. Daniel was similarly elevated when the Persians came to power. It may well have been Daniel, in service to Cyrus, who wrote the decree to send the Jews back to the Promised Land. It may well have been Daniel who wrote the prophecies that led the wise men to seek the infant Christ-child. God established Daniel and made him influential.

 

Choosing to honor God in academia may very well make you more influential than those who obtain all the awards and attention. Choosing to honor God in academia may result in other coming to Christ who may do even greater things for the Kingdom than you. Choosing to honor God in academia may result in you being more influential than if you go along with the academic crowd. We should expect that God is going to honor the choices He calls on his people to make.

 

How can a Christian sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? We must grasp and embrace that God is sovereign even in His people’s tragedy. We must be aware of the stratagems of assimilation. We must consciously resolve to resist assimilation and identify with God. We must strive to be submissive. We must strive for excellence. And we must expect to be influential.

 

Endnotes

[1] Robert Deffinbaugh, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” (Daniel 1:3-21)

[2] J. Ligon Duncan, “Resolution for Holiness” (Daniel 1)

[3] C.J. Mahaney, “Humility”

[4] Sam Storms, “Daniel 1”

[5] Geoff Thomas, “Daniel Draws a Line” (Daniel 1)

[6] Joe Wright, “Prayer in Kansas House of Representatives”

[7] Steve Zeisler, “Fortified for Faithfulness” (Daniel 1)

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