Daniel 1: Transformers – more than meets the eye

The book of Daniel is the Old Testament book of prophecy which is considered a companion book to the New Testament book of Revelation. It has some of the most well- known stories: Daniel in the Lions’ Den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. 

Daniel’s life and ministry covers the entire 70 years of the Babylonian captivity. Deported to Babylon when he was probably 16 years old and handpicked for his intelligence and looks to be trained for government service, Daniel would become Prime Minister of Babylon and worked for Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius.  Daniel is a story of history, prophecy and the story of young man who stayed steadfast in his faith. Daniel was able to do this because his faith was anchored in the sovereignty of God. We will see a story of young men who were placed in a culture whose sole purpose was to conform them to their thinking .But in the end these young men were  not only  NOT conformed but transformed others around them. – Transformers not conformers. This is what we must be and teach our children and grandchildren to be.   

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

Sovereign is defined as: “above or superior to all others; chief; greatest or supreme.” (Webster’s Dictionary). Listen to how God describes Himself: “This is what the Lord says- Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people and what is yet to come-yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides Me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (Isaiah 44:6-8)      God is before all things, He created all things, He upholds all things, He is above all things, He accomplishes all things, He rules over all things, and is in control of all things.  His attribute of sovereignty is that by which he rules creation. He is the Ruler of everything.  He is all-knowing; all powerful and absolutely free. Nothing will enter your life that God does not either decree or allow. And nothing will enter your life, if you are willing to trust Him with all your heart, He cannot work out for your good and His glory.  * One of the most amazing testimonies to God’s sovereignty is His ability to tell the future 100% of the time with 100% accuracy.  So wise and powerful is our God that He can permit men and women to make personal choices of their own free will and still accomplish His purposes in the world. When He is not permitted to rule He will overrule. His will ultimately will be done and His name glorified.

TRANSFORMATION VS CONFORMATION

The story of Daniel and his friends is a story of transformation vs. conformation. We have come to this story at a good season in the year and a good season in our lives. It is the summer season- the season of hummingbirds and butterflies. I currently have a large beautiful Monarch butterfly visiting our backyard. Butterflies seem to live the kind of life I want to live- they float above and seem to be carefree, the very feeling we experienced when we were young and were out of school for the summer. The butterfly is a beautiful illustration of the transformation which takes place in our lives when we are born again. This study comes at good season in our lives at our age. “ The days of our years are threescore and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow ; for we are soon cut off and fly away. “ Psalm 90.  Fly away like a butterfly- float above the earth. But we have some work to do before we fly away. We must teach others the principles which will enable them to not be conformed but transformed.

Transformation comes from the word metamorphosis. Transformation is a dramatic change in form or appearance. Conformation is being shaped, molded to behave according to socially acceptable standards of the prevailing culture. Transformation is a change from inside – out. Conformation is outward pressure to adapt to the surroundings- molded to fit in.    The butterfly has long been recognized as a symbol of the new life, the resurrection. Every butterfly goes through the same life cycle. These give us an illustration of the phases of redemption. Every butterfly goes through four stages of development: egg, larva, pupa (cocoon) and adult butterfly. The name for this is metamorphosis. The adult butterfly lays her eggs on the underside of a leaf, which will be the source of food for the caterpillar. The caterpillar is a worm-like creature. David likens man to a worm in Psalm 22.  The caterpillar crawls on the ground dependent on the earth for his sustenance and existence. The natural man lives the same way always seeking to fulfill his worldly desires with temporal possessions. Always hungry but never satisfied.  The next phase of the caterpillar’s life begins as it attaches itself upside down to a twig and sheds it skin- growing in the place of his skin a cocoon. This is a picture of the tomb. Jesus body was wrapped in linens in preparation for burial. For all purposes the caterpillar appears to be dead, but a transformation is taking place. The caterpillar is becoming a new creature. What comes forth from the cocoon is a beautiful creature, the butterfly. The butterfly must rest and his soft, wet wings must strengthen before it flies. It then takes flight and lives the remainder of its life floating between earth and heaven feeding on God’s flowering plants.  So is the transformation of the Christian, born as lowly worms, followed by death to self and resurrection to the new life in Christ. When Adam was created, his first day of new life was a day of rest. We rest before we walk. This is an important lesson:  Learning to rest, abide in Christ. Feeding on His Word.  

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Romans 12: 1, 2 are food for thought. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, to God which is your reasonable service. And do NOT be CONFORMED to this world, but be TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MIND, that you may prove what is good and acceptable and perfect will of God. “These two verses are about our dedication to God and involve three steps. The word of God is food for our thoughts it strengthens our inward man and transforms our thinking.   First before we look at the three steps, Paul tells us why we should dedicate ourselves to God. Paul says God’s mercies should be reason enough.  What has God done for you and me?  He saved me from sin and ruin and death. He saved me from self. God did this at great cost to Himself, for to save my soul and make me whole; it took the life of His only begotten Son. He, who knew no sin, became sin for me and you. He paid my sin debt with His blood. God does not force us to serve Him. It is a privilege to serve Him. Michael Smith’s song, “Above All” captures this sentiment as well as any song does:  “Above all powers above all kings, above all nature and all created things. Above all wisdom and all the ways of man- You were there before the world began. Above all kingdoms, above all thrones; above all wonders the world has ever known. Above all wealth and treasures of the earth; there’s no way to measure Your worth! Crucified and laid behind a stone. You lived to die, rejected and alone. Like a rose trampled to the ground, You took the fall and thought of me- ABOVE ALL!  Now when you consider that how can you not dedicate your life to him?

Paul gives us the three steps in these two verses:

  1. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Give God your body. You have been bought with a price and you are not your own. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. God the Son clothed Himself in flesh. He was given a body to bring glory to God and save us from our sins. Now we offer Him our bodies to be used for the glory of God. (This will be important to Daniel and his friend to not defile their bodies.)
  2. Give God your mind. The world wants to conform you to its thinking. We prevent being conformed by transforming our minds with the Word of God. (Daniel and his friends will go through three years of training and study designed to conform them to the Babylonian culture.)
  3. Give God your will. Our minds control our bodies and our will controls our minds. We think we can control our will, but our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know our hearts?  The Lord can.2 Cor. 3: 18 tells us this will happen when we meditate in the Word of God :  “ But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.’  Being transformed speaks of an ongoing, continuous sanctifying process.

THE STORY OF DANIEL AND HIS FRIENDS

 Jerusalem falls to Nebuchadnezzar and he plunders some of the articles of the House of God and takes them back to the house of his god. He also picks some young men to be trained for service to him. In verse 4, Nebuchadnezzar lists exactly what type of young men he wanted to recruit:  young handsome men, gifted in wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace and whom they could teach their Babylonian language and literature. Daniel and his three friends, who were renamed- Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were in this group. They would enter a three year training program in which they were fed a daily provision of the king’s finest, richest foods and wine as they were being taught and prepared for the king’s service. Daniel is about 16 or 17 years old. This reminds me of going off to college and entering a new life. It is a picture of how the world wants to conform us and mold us into its thinking and the way we view the world.  Once again we encounter how God works in mysterious ways. God allows the fall of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar has burned the temple of God and taken the sacred furnishings of the temple and put them in the temple of his own god in Babylon. Remember God is sovereign. He has allowed this or decreed this to happen. Why? God would rather have His people live in captivity in a pagan land than live in the Holy Land and disgrace His name.  This looks like a triumph of evil over good. A victory for the enemies of God. Yet we have a story in Genesis which gives us an insight into how God works- the story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery and rose the be the Prime Minister of Egypt. He would tell his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good for the saving of many souls”. God is Sovereign with a capital S.  When God’s people disgrace His name with their idolatrous lifestyle and are being conformed by the world system, which John told us lies under the influence of the devil, God will chasten them and scatter them. Is this happening in America today? What we see is Christians whose thinking is being molded by the godless world culture in the name of tolerance.

I know how my life was molded and set on the wrong path when I went off to college at age 17 and I fear what my grandchildren will face in a world culture which is shaping their thinking from kindergarten all the way through the educational system.  In each generation there is a remnant that is faithful to God and His teaching. Jesus told us ‘few enter the narrow way and the strait gate, while many enter through the wide gate and the broad way. In order to NOT be led astray at these impressionable ages, a child must be taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood: sound doctrine which is profitable for life decisions, equipping them for every good work.   These are the ones who will be overcomers. Daniel and his three friends are overcomers.

THE PURPOSE

The purpose of this three year training course was to conform these smart Jewish boys into Babylonians. This was a “brainwashing” course whose purpose in those three years was to mold them into their culture’s thinking, the Babylonian culture and its gods and its way of life. Each of these boys was given Babylonian names to replace their Jewish names. Each of their Jewish names was significant:  The name Daniel means “God is my Judge.” Hananiah means “the Lord shows grace.” Mishael means “Who is like God?” Azariah means “the Lord is my Help.” This culture wanted to give them a new identity.  Today secular schools and colleges are teaching materials which contradict God’s word. They want to make those who name themselves as Christians to change their beliefs and no longer choose to be called, Christians. They will ridicule them and attack them. If our children and grandchildren cannot defend their faith, they will desert it.

God placed these 4 young intelligent, handsome, talented men in this environment to show their faith in their God was superior to the faith of their captors. They learned the language, studied the math and science, but when the course of training required them to disobey God’s Holy Law, they drew a line they would not cross. Their minds had been transformed by the Word of God, being taught the Scriptures from childhood and memorizing the Torah.

TRANSFOMERS:  THE PRESSURE FROM OUR CULTURE TO CONFORM

“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s delicacies or with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of eunuchs that might not defile himself.”   A purpose is the reason for which something is done. Daniel’s reason is this would be crossing a line he would not cross, a line of disobedience to God’s commands. It would cause him to defile himself.  Joseph would not lie with Potiphar’s wife, knew beforehand what he would do and not do. He would not do this great wickedness, he said, and sin against God.

How do we as God’s people in this culture we live in today, resist the pressure which wants to squeeze us in to conformity with the world’s culture.  Transformers are more than meets the eye was the theme of Transformers, Robots in disguise, which my boys loved.  We have within us The Ultimate Transformer- the Holy Spirit who transforms our minds so we cannot be conformed, or molded by the pressures of a society which preaches tolerance and multiculturism. However the culture today is not tolerant of a faith which say my God is the Only True God. And He and He alone determines what is good and evil for He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except by Him.  The culture conformers are disguised as tolerance, multicultural, science, and 21st century technology.  Our faith in God’s word is viewed as old-fashioned, prejudiced, bigoted and racial. And we are viewed as naïve and superstitious to believe the Bible.

Daniel and his friend actually became transformers rather than being conformers. How did they do this?  They gave themselves wholly to the Lord.  “Keep your heart with all diligence for our it spring the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4: 23)  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.” Proverbs 3.   We obey and leave the consequences to Him. This is the first step.

But notice God had brought Daniel into favor and goodwill with the chief of eunuchs. Like Joseph, Daniel found favor in the eyes of those who were in authority.  “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Prov. 16:7) Daniel was respectful of the authority God had placed over him. He and his friends proposed an experiment in which the chief eunuch was assured in the 10 day experiment, if they were not as fit and healthy as the others, the chief eunuch could deal with them as he pleased. This issue over diet may seem like a minor issue, but being faithful in little is where it begins.  The wise approach is well reasoned, made in a wise and gentle approach, not in a demanding or quarrelsome way.  These four students did not stage a protest, or set a building of fire. They excelled in their studies, behaved like gentlemen, and proposed a test which if it worked would find favor in the eyes of the chief eunuch. In the end the four boys looked better and performed better than the other students.

PRINCIPLES TO APPLY

This first simple test over diet would set the stage. Here we see the principle which Jesus taught in Matthew 6: 33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.”

When it comes to solving the problems of life, we must ask God for courage to face the problem humbly and honestly. We are to ask for wisdom to understand it; the strength to do what He tells us to do, and the faith to trust Him to do the rest.  Our motive must always be the glory of God and not a way of getting out of the problem. 

You need to ask “What can I get out of this?”  Not –“How can I get out of this?”

The Lord had arranged for Daniel and his friends these first, simple tests. They were delivered through this test without compromise.

We all need to get training and education in order to make a living. Training and education are important, but they are not substitutes for the abilities, gifts and wisdom which only God can give us. But when you combine these two you will be blessed. Can you see all the other students asking Daniel and his friends to help them in their studies and activities when they observe their success?   God blessed these four young Hebrew men. They had to do their part- they had to study to show themselves approved unto God. They did their part with great diligence and God rewarded them. Remember this: FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD.  You can pray you will pass the test- but you must also study the material. Both are necessary.

Before any of this occurred, Daniel purposed in his heart he would not defile himself. I want my grandchildren to know what they will do before they face the temptation. A person who has not decided beforehand what they will do and NOT do will be easily persuaded to follow the crowd and be transformed by evil in disguise. Transformers vs Conformers.   

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you might prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12: 1, 2)

Presentation + Transformation= The Revealed Will of God

 Choose this day whom you will serve. Your choice of whom you will serve will define your role- you will either be a conformer, conformed by the godless culture around us or a transformer, transformed by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

TRANSFORMERS- MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE!

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