A young Babylonian general and royal prince named Nebuchadnezzar had recently defeated the Egyptian forces at the Battle of Carchemish on the Euphrates River. Following this brilliant victory in 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar marched his victorious army through the various subjugated provinces, demanding tribute and taking captive promising young men who could be trained and eventually serve as local officials in the expanding Babylonian Empire. During the final, tragic days of the Judean monarchy, a young Hebrew prince named Daniel was one of those taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar’s conquering army.
Daniel, along with his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were among the finest young men in Jerusalem. According to Daniel 1:3, they were among “the king’s seed,” meaning that they were of royal blood. Daniel and his friends were “well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge” (Daniel 1:4). Their outward behavior gave testimony to their inward character. Now captives of the Babylonians, they were taught the Babylonian language, given Babylonian names, instructed in Babylonian customs, and shown special favor by being given the best wine and food. The goal was that these young captives were being groomed to serve as faithful officials in the Babylonian Empire.
Despite being in a Babylonian world, Daniel did not forget that he was a child of God. According to Daniel 1:8, he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself.” Graciously refusing the unclean meat and wine, the captive humbly requested instead that he be fed water, fruit, vegetables, grain, and lentils. After a test diet of ten days and healthy results, he was allowed to continue this nutritional regimen. Daniel’s firm stand to not defile himself impressed his Babylonian masters. According to Daniel 1:5, 18–20, three years later when he stood before King Nebuchadnezzar to be examined, Daniel was found to be “ten times better” than the magicians and astrologers of Babylon.
Daniel was a mortal man who is an example to us of testifying consistently through the words of his mouth and the actions of his daily life the truth of God’s Word. For example, less than three years after his appointment to the Babylonian royal court, Daniel interpreted a dream for Nebuchadnezzar that even the king’s own magicians could not interpret. God revealed to Daniel both the content of the king’s dream and also its meaning. For this interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar rewarded Daniel with “many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors” (Daniel 2:48).
It was one thing to tell Nebuchadnezzar what pleased him. This first dream had a very favorable interpretation for the proud Babylonian monarch. Nebuchadnezzar was revealed to be the “head of gold” (Daniel 2:38). Nebuchadnezzar liked this first dream!
However, the second dream Daniel was called to interpret was very different. As always, Daniel, a faithful prophet of God, could only speak the truth. When Daniel told the proud king that the great tree in his dream that was cut down was none other than himself, and that he was going to be driven from his throne as a madman to “eat grass as an ox,” Daniel then fearlessly yet respectfully warned Nebuchadnezzar to repent. “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity” (Daniel 4:27).
The mark of a man who bears faithful testimony is that he is willing to tell the truth, even when it personally affects him in an adverse manner. Daniel spoke the truth to King Nebuchadnezzar, even though he knew full well that it could result in his demotion, his banishment, or even his execution!
Astonishingly, Nebuchadnezzar respected Daniel for telling him the truth, and at the end of his seven-year judgment, the humbled king confessed: “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are his truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase” (Daniel 4:37).
Daniel’s reputation for telling the truth endured throughout many years of Babylonian rule. By the time a new king, Belshazzar, was on the throne, sixty-three years had come and gone. When a hand mysteriously appeared on the wall of the room where the young, drunken king was banqueting, his queen reminded him of the reputation of Daniel. The aging Hebrew prophet was called to interpret the handwriting on the wall.
Faithfully, Daniel gave the message from Jehovah to the frightened monarch. Refusing all gifts and flattery, Daniel reminded Belshazzar of the way God’s judgment had fallen upon Nebuchadnezzar. He rebuked the monarch for failing to humble himself, “though thou knewest all this” (Daniel 5:22).
Courageously, Daniel read the ominous message upon the wall: “And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:25–28).
That very night an invading army breached the protective barrier of the royal city, and the proud king of Babylon was slain. Just as the Israelite prophet, Isaiah, had written many years earlier (see Isaiah 45:1), Cyrus the Great became master of the world. Although most new monarchs kill all the officials of the old regime, God’s protective hand coupled with Daniel’s integrity spared his life. Now into his eighties, Daniel became a trusted official in the new government of King Cyrus. Many Bible scholars have suggested that Daniel’s influence was behind the decree of Cyrus to allow the captives of Israel to return to Jerusalem.
Perhaps the greatest test of Daniel’s integrity came later during yet another king’s reign. King Darius had been flattered into signing a decree that made it a capital crime to pray unto any god except himself. Now Daniel had lived a lifetime of loyalty to the truth, even in the heathen country of Babylon. But a man’s testimony is not merely his words. It is also his actions. Daniel could have prayed to God in secret. He could have compromised by simply closing his window when he prayed. But no, Daniel would bear witness to the truth by his actions as well as by his words.
“Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Daniel 6:10). That phrase, “as he did aforetime,” is significant. Daniel would not allow changing circumstances and opinions to cause him to change his convictions and his practices. He had prayed to God in Heaven before an open window before the decree. He would pray to God in Heaven before an open window after the decree.
There will be times in your life when you are called upon to make little compromises, to play the hypocrite, to shut your “window.” Are you willing to publicly pray a blessing over your food when dining at a restaurant? Are you bold enough to speak out against profanity and obscenity in the workplace? Are you willing and able to share the Gospel with others, no matter the surroundings? Daniel knew that his testimony was at stake. He had honored God by speaking truth faithfully for eighty years. Now he would honor God in his actions.
The result was a grand display of God’s power. When Daniel was seized and thrown into the lions’ den for breaking the new, unrighteous law, God protected His faithful servant. The next morning and amongst the lions, Daniel was found untouched and still very much alive after the night’s peril. As a result, the astonished king made a new decree: “That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever” (Daniel 6:26). Daniel’s truthful stance and unwavering faith in a wicked country were honored by God and men alike!
By steadfast words and a steadfast life, Daniel gave enduring testimony to a steadfast God. May God give each of us the grace, in our own “Babylonian” culture, to give consistent witness to the truth in both our words and our actions.