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ZONDERVANCopyright © 2010 Tremper Longman III, Janet Nygren, and Karen H. Jobes
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSESSION 1
Who's in Charge?
In an important election year, our interest in leaders often rises a few notches. How have things been going with the country? What needs to change? Who has the best plan to address the problems of the nation? Post-election results are frequently different from pre-election hype, as the nation settles down to watch the test of time. Most interesting, I think, is looking back. The longer our perspective, the more objectively we can assess a leader's tenure and evaluate how the complex combination of circumstances worked together to become history. That longer perspective can also give us insight into what God is doing in the world, if we have the eyes to see it that way. More than two and a half millennia certainly gives us perspective on Babylon-and the author of Daniel helps us to view it through God's eyes.
A KING WITH GREAT PLANS
Read Daniel 1:1-7.
1. What actions by King Nebuchadnezzar demonstrate his dominance over Judah? How might his interest in the youths of Israel further his plans?
2. Put yourself in the shoes of Daniel and his friends. What might you consider to be the pros and cons of living in the king's palace?
3. What indication does the narrator of Daniel give that theremight be more powerful forces at work than the might of the Babylonians (1:2)?
The narrator rips away the curtain and informs his readers of the reality behind the appearance. He does so simply by saying that "the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar's] hand." Nebuchadnezzar's might, though considerable, was not the reason why Jerusalem fell under his influence; it was the result of the will and action of God himself. This subtle phrase introduces a major theme of the book, the conflict between overweening human power and the power of God.
A KING WITH GRANDER PLANS
Read Daniel 1:8-21.
At this point, we often look to Daniel as an incredible example of faith, who insisted on following his Jewish customs despite the pressures of being in exile, living far away from home in Babylon. While this might be true, it's worth taking a closer look before we leap to conclusions about what that might mean for us today.
4. Think again about Daniel's experience in the king's palace. What aspects of his life there would compromise his Jewish beliefs? What aspects wouldn't matter? (See for example Deut. 12:20-25; 12:26-28; 16:16-17; 18:9-13; Num. 6:1-4.) In light of this, why might Daniel's focus on food and wine be surprising? What else might you expect him to object to?
5. Besides simple obedience, what was the primary intent of following God's laws? Does Daniel's plan follow the spirit of the law? Explain.
6. What explanation can we infer from Daniel and his friends' good health? What is the source of their knowledge and understanding of their Babylonian "curriculum" (1:17)? What does this say about who's in control of this situation?
7. The Jewish exile from Judah began when Nebuchadnezzar took over Jerusalem (605 BC) and ended when Cyrus (the Persian) took over from Nebuchadnezzar's son Belshazzar (539 BC). Daniel 1 points to that entire period in the way it starts and ends. King Nebuchadnezzar's plan was to influence young Israelites for use in the service of the Babylonian kingdom. How does God turn these plans around for his own purposes?
8. Daniel's story is reminiscent of Joseph's story in Genesis 39-41. Skim through Joseph's story. What parallels do you see? How would this and the rest of Daniel 1 be encouraging to the Israelites in exile?
As we read the account of Daniel in the Babylonian and, later, the Persian courts, we must acknowledge [an] important element of discontinuity with our moment in redemptive history. Daniel and his friends lived their lives of faith at a time when God's people were defined as an ethnic group and a distinct political entity. In a word, God's people were a nation, admittedly at the time of Daniel a nation without independent existence, but a nation nonetheless. After Christ, God's people can no longer be so identified. God's people today are the church. A much less tangible entity than a nation, the church spans ethnic, political, and national boundaries.
9. Given the fact that we live in a nation that is not unified by its religion, and live as a religion not bound as a nation, what similarities do Christians face to the circumstances of Daniel in Babylon?
10. On first read, many people are inclined to think that the lesson of Daniel is simply to imitate him. He lived out his faith despite the pressures of living in a different environment from Israel, and stuck to his guns-and so should we. However, as we saw in question 4, that was not the case-in fact it was impossible for Daniel to obey most of the laws of an Israelite. Looking over the chapter again, what kinds of strategies did Daniel use to live wisely within the constraints of his circumstances?
11. What pressures do Christians face today in a multicultural environment? What strategies do we typically employ to cope with the pressure?
Excerpted from Daniel Copyright © 2010 by Tremper Longman III, Janet Nygren, and Karen H. Jobes. Excerpted by permission.
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