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The Christian Counter

   
A TEST OF LOYALTY
Lesson 41
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Lesson 41

Daniel – A Test of Loyalty

Someone once said that loyalty is like the juice of an orange – the flavor cannot be determined until the orange is squeezed to the breaking point. The Bible testifies to the truthfulness of this statement. Loyalty is one of the most powerful forces within the human heart. Circumstances can squeeze us to a point that we reveal our highest loyalties. Loyalty can produce good results as well as evil results. Many examples in the Bible demonstrate both results: Judas Iscariot was loyal to his dreams of self-importance, power and wealth, instead of humility, poverty and service. When he realized that following Jesus would not fulfill his dreams, he betrayed the Savior of the world for $12.60 (30 pieces of silver). For a while, King David was loyal to his passions for Bath Sheba. He killed her husband, Uriah, who was one of his most loyal soldiers, so he could hide his illicit affair with Bath Sheba and cover her subsequent pregnancy with the clock of marriage. Peter swore his loyalty to Jesus was 100%, but when he learned that he might have to share a martyr’s death with Jesus, he denied three times that he even knew Jesus. The Philippian jailer was loyal to his job until an earthquake destroyed his jail, which suddenly changed his heart. Saul was loyal to his religion – faithfully persecuting apostate Jews (a.k.a. Christians) - until Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus. Afterwards, Paul proved to have unwavering loyalty to Jesus. He suffered extreme persecution from both the Jews and Romans, as he preached salvation through Jesus Christ. Eventually, Nero sentenced him to death because of his loyalty to Jesus. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chose to be loyal to the God of Heaven rather than worship the golden image, and for their decision, Nebuchadnezzar threw them into the fiery furnace. John the Baptist was loyal to God’s standards when he plainly told King Herod that living with his brother’s wife was a sin, and his remarks cost him his life. King Saul almost killed his own son, Jonathan, because of Jonathan’s loyalty to David’s Heavenly anointing. Jeremiah was loyal to the Word of the Lord when he told the people the truth about their apostasy, and his own people threw him into a cistern to die. Job’s loyalty to God was tested with some of the harshest suffering ever recorded. Noah was loyal to God’s commands and suffered an incredible amount of ridicule, but his loyalty and faith saved his family. Ruth was loyal to Naomi by choosing to suffer with her in poverty, but this action made her an ancestor of Jesus. Rehab, the prostitute, was loyal to the spies that entered Jericho, but by doing so, she saved her family. Queen Esther was loyal to her people and ultimately became instrumental in delivering them from destruction. The prophet Daniel was another man of loyalty who was squeezed hard. He chose to defy the decree of the King by openly praying toward Jerusalem and for this small act; he was thrown into the lion’s den.

Webster’s definition of loyalty states that loyalty means being constant and faithful, bearing true allegiance to something. The truth is, every human being has loyalties, but the real question is “To what or whom are we loyal?” Our highest loyalties are revealed when we are squeezed into a decision that favors one loyalty and harms another. Thoughtfully review the first paragraph and notice how certain people had to make some very difficult choices. Inevitably, we all face situations where circumstances leave no option but to favor a higher loyalty and harm the lesser one! For this reason, it is hard to say where our highest loyalties really lie until we are “squeezes” by different choices. (The process of “squeezing “explains why there will be a Great Tribulation. God is going to “squeeze” the loyalty out of every human being to see who loves Him above everything else. See Revelation 3:10.)

I thought a Bible study on Daniel and his lion’s den experience might prove helpful as we focus on the subject of loyalty. Most Christians have rejoiced in the story of Daniel’s escape from the lions, but few people know the bigger picture. Daniel’s loyalty had a profound impact on two significant nations! To make this story as compelling as possible, I have added background information to help you “stand in Daniel’s sandals.”

A Prisoner of War

Daniel was taken to Babylon as a prisoner of war as a result of Nebuchadnezzar’s first siege on Jerusalem in 605 B.C. It was believed that Daniel was about 17 or 18 years of age. It was King Nebuchadnezzar’s policy to take the best captives and enroll them in an academy to prepare them for government service. The King had wisely established a school to train captives from various tribal nations, so the captives could eventually return to their homeland and serve the empire of Babylon as rulers who were loyal to the king of Babylon. It was for this purpose that Daniel and some of his friends were inducted into the king’s academy. The book of Daniel begins with Daniel and the closest friends asking the king’s steward if they could be excused from eating at the king’s table. They wanted to maintain a simpler, vegetarian diet, but the steward refused this first request. He was sure that Daniel and his friends would become sick and feeble if they ate nothing but vegetables and water. If they became sick because of his negligence, he could lose his job or possibly, his head! However, Daniel persisted and eventually, the steward gave in. When the time came for the king to test the trainees, Daniel and his friends were found to be at the top of their class. In fact, the Bible conservatively estimates their knowledge was ten times better that there fellow students. (Daniel 1) Do you think the success of Daniel and his friends had anything to do with their loyalty to God? I do.

A short time later, Daniel gained worldwide recognition when God used him to interpret a dream that God gave to Nebuchadnezzar. As a result of that incident, Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to a very high government position and all the wise men of Babylon reported to him. (Daniel 2) Do you think that Daniel’s success had anything to do with his loyalty to God? I do.

Why was Daniel Sent to Babylon?

Historians tell us that Nebuchadnezzar set siege to Jerusalem three times. He finally destroyed the city in 586 B.C. because Israel’s kings refused to submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s “higher’ authority. In actuality, God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed and all its citizens put into captivity for 70 years because Israel refused to submit to God’s “higher” authority. The Bible carefully justifies God’s anger with Israel. To understand God’s wrath against Israel in 605 B.C., we must start with Moses. Carefully read these texts:

  1. Sabbath Rest Required for the Land – Leviticus 25

     A few weeks after the Exodus, “The Lord said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath rest to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your intended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.’”  (Leviticus 25:1-5) This test is self-explanatory. God required the land to rest every seventh year. Why would any nation refuse a year’s vacation every seventh year? The Lord continues, “You may ask, ‘what will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.” (Leviticus 25:20-22) There is a profound point in these verses: God promised to send a bumper crop every sixth year so there would be enough food to observe a year of rest! Contrary to what many Bible students say, the Sabbath rest for the land was not for agricultural purposes. In fact, God made the land produce its greatest harvest during the sixth year – when the land was in its most exhausted condition! The lesson to be learned from the Sabbath year is simple. God established the Sabbath year rest to test His people. There is no other reason. Would they be loyal or rebellious? (See Exodus 16 for a parallel concerning the seventh day.)
  1. If You Don’t Keep My Sabbath Years – Leviticus 26

God also warned Israel: “If in spite of this [lesser punishments] you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over…I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. I will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its Sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in a country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the Sabbaths you lived in it.” (Leviticus 26:27,28,31-35, insertion mine) It does not take a rocket scientist to understand these words. God wanted His people to understand a profound truth: “…[The Lord said] the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” (Leviticus 25:23, insertion mine) God wanted Israel to know that their occupation of His land was conditional on their steadfast loyalty to Him. (Leviticus 18; Deuteronomy 28)

  1. Because You Have Rebelled – Jeremiah 25

The Old Testament indicates over and over again that Israel did not remain loyal to God. Their cup of disobedience overflowed and around 615 B.C. God gave a prophecy to Jeremiah: He said, “’I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will make it desolate forever.’” (Jeremiah 25:9-12) Notice three things: First, God calls King Nebuchadnezzar “My servant.” This is an important concept. God chose a pagan king to be an agent of His wrath against Jerusalem. (Parallel: The Antichrist will be an agent of God’s wrath during the Great Tribulation.) Second, God said that Jerusalem would be destroyed and that Israel would be prisoners of war in Babylon for 70 years. Third, Babylon – for the same sins as Jerusalem – would eventually be destroyed.

  1. 430 Years of Rebellion

During the 70 years of captivity in Babylon, God anointed two prophets, Daniel and Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a prisoner of war like Daniel, but Ezekiel lived among the captives, while Daniel lived in the halls of power. Ezekiel was timid and afraid of public speaking, so the Lord prompted him to “act out” various signs for Israel to watch. Notice this sign: ‘…This will be a sign to the house of Israel…[Ezekiel] lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel. After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year.” (Ezekiel 4:3,6, insertion mine) This text is important because God indicates the length of rebellion of the twelve tribes as 430 years. (390 + 40 = 430) This number should catch your attention because it is the same number of years that Israel spent in Egypt. (Exodus 12:41) These two separate and distinct instances of 430 years have three things in common: apostasy, timing and vigil. First, the apostasy of the Israelites in Egypt is no different than the apostasy of the Israelites in the promised land of Canaan! Apostasy is always the course of fallen man. Second, God’s timing is perfect in both instances. The Bible says that God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery according to His promise to Abraham, exactly 430 years to the very day. (Exodus 12:41) If God delivered Israel from Egypt on time, then it would be no surprise that He sent them into captivity on time as well. It should be noted that when Israel violated 70 Sabbath years, God sent them into captivity! How do we know this? Ezekiel performed the “430 day” sign for all of Israel to see. There are exactly 70 Sabbatical years in 430 years. In other words, the Babylonian captivity was 70 years in length because that is the exact number of Sabbath years Israel violated. Remember God’s threat in Leviticus 26:34,35? “Then the land will enjoy its Sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the Sabbaths you lived in it.” This text demonstrates the last significant point in common between these separate 430-year periods. God keeps vigil. He does not sleep. He is very much aware of everything that takes place on Earth and He will step into the affairs of men when the timing is just right. He delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt during the right year, and He sent Israel into Babylonian captivity on time and during the right year! Furthermore, the text demonstrates that God also delivered Israel out of their Babylonian captivity during the right year and right on time.

  1. Prophecy Fulfilled

The Bible says, “God handed all of them [the Jews] over to Nebuchadnezzar. He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s temple and the treasures of the king and the officials. They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, which escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdoms of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.” (2 Chronicles 36:17-21, insertion mine) Again, the reason for the Babylonian captivity is simple and obvious. God handed Israel over to Nebuchadnezzar because of their disloyalty. They refused to keep His Sabbaths, so He evicted them and the land rested 70 years.

Zooming Forward

Now that we understand why Israel went into Babylonian captivity, we need to zoom forward in time to the fall of Babylon, when Nebuchadezzar’s reign ended. Historians say Babylon fell on Tishri 16 (around October 13), 539 B.C. Darius came to the throne during that year (his ascension year), so his first calendar year (according to the religious calendar of the Jews) was 538/7 B.C. The first year of Darius’ reign is Daniel’s 68th year in captivity. Daniel was taken captive during 605 B.C., a “Sabbath year,” and he calculated that the 70 years of desolation decreed upon Jerusalem would end on the “Friday year, “536 B.C. (Counting inclusively, 605 B.C. minus 536 B.C. equals 70 years.)

Note: When God established the week of years at the time of the Exodus, God required Israel to set his or her slaves free every sixth or “Friday year.” The seventh or “Sabbath year” was to be celebrated as a year of freedom from the bondage of slavery. (See Exodus 21:2 and Jeremiah 34:14-16.) Daniel was aware of the Jubilee calendar. He also understood how the “week of years” synchronized and knew that 536/5 B.C. was a “Friday year,” as well as the 70th or final year of captivity.



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