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10 August 2005

The Assessment

A Bible Study in Daniel 1-6: Copse Road 10 August 2005

I would love to be confident enough in Bible Study to announce a single


bible study in Daniel’s Visions. I’m not, and I’m sorry if you are
disappointed; instead I propose a study in the assessment strategies used
by God as shown in these opening – these easy chapters – in Daniel.

Of course it will be a flying visit – a brief helicopter circuit of chapters that


were probably more popular when we were at Sunday school than since.

This is the season of tests and examinations – so here’s a short paper on


God testing his four candidates in Daniel 1-4 and 6.

So that leaves us with FIVE ASSESSMENTS

The four exiles are selected for royal service but refuse the diet of privilege
Daniel (and his friends) are subjected to the tyranny of Nebuchadnezzar’s
unreasonable dream challenge
The three friends are subjected to the fiery furnace
Daniel is tested by the content of God’s Word as he must deliver it
Daniel is in the lion’s den.

INTRODUCTION CHAPTER 5

God constantly subjects the world and its people to a process of


assessment – and a striking example of this is in the story from Chapter 5
of Belshazzar’s feast.

The tyrant having used the sacred vessels from the temple at his feast
sees a finger writing a message of judgement on the conquest frieze on his
wall:

5 Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the


plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king
watched the hand as it wrote. 6 His face turned pale and he was so
frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way.
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“This is the inscription that was written:
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN
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“This is what these words mean:
Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
27
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
28
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Weighed in the balances and found wanting – so familiar it has entered our
language as a universal metaphor.

It illustrates the principle that is enshrined in each of these early chapters


in Daniel – God is constantly assessing our lives. Sometimes he uses
specific tests to do it.

The range and variety of those experiences is our study subject tonight.

OUTLINE

Chapter 1 Tested by diet DISTINCT


Chapter 2 Tested by tyranny PRAYERFUL
Chapter 3 Tested by fire NOT ALONE
Chapter 4 Tested by the Word FAITHFUL
Chapter 5 Tested by God The hand ***
Chapter 6 Tested by lions MY GOD IS ABLE

Chapter one : tested by diet – be


distinct

The opening chapter tells us how the cream of Jewish society was brought
to Babylon to serve the regime, and that amongst these were some from
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Judah : Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Three of them ever since
known by their adoptive names – but Daniel always by his Hebrew name.

Daniel (v8) was concerned about defilement caused by the foreign diet.
His plan to avoid that diet was unpopular with the guard in charge of them
– but Daniel asked him to give it a test:
11
Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten
days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 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.” 14 So he
agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
15
At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished
than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took
away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them
vegetables instead.

So, at the very beginning of the book the tone is set for a confrontation
with the Babylonian authorities.

I hope that the four men liked their vegetarian diet – because from that
point on they were restricted to it!

The RESULT of the stand taken by Daniel was God’s blessing :


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.

The CONCLUSION of the matter was recognition and responsibility:


18
At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official
presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he
found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they
entered the king’s service. 20 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.

We need to note the polite but firm way in which their distinctive lifestyle
was preserved. They did not refuse their new names even though those
names contained references to foreign deities – but they stood firm in the
matter of diet. They needed to be DISTINCT.
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This principle should not be lost on us – not as a simplistic rule about diet –
but as a rule about separateness from the world.

Are we seen to be distinct – as a matter of choice and behaviour, not mere


ethnicity? It would have been obvious to anyone else in Babylon that they
were Hebrews – but the stand taken over diet was a way of preserving
their Hebrew lifestyle.

We should be careful not to use the passage as an excuse for matters of


diet only – but we should also consider the way in which we care for our
bodies in a world of excess and indulgence.

Chapter TWO : tested by TYRANNY – be


PRAYERFUL

The subject of Chapter two is Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and his totally


unreasonable requirement of his advisors. The second test is a test of the
four friends’ function as privileged members of the Babylonian community.

They are brought within a hairsbreadth of execution – simply because the


king made the unreasonable demand that his astrologers tell him what his
dream was as well as it’s interpretation.
If you look down the chapter – particularly if you are using the NIV you see
at once the distinctive feature of the narrative: a section of poetry in vv
20-23

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;


wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he sets up kings and deposes them.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.”
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This draws our attention to the reaction of Daniel to the demands and test
of tyranny.
17
Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his
friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for
mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his
friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

In other words – PRAY.

(It’s interesting to see that Daniel was able to ask for time – even though
Nebuchadnezzar had accused the astrologers of playing for time earlier in
verse 8. V16)

The test was the result of an unstable mind on the part of Nebuchadnezzar.
An unreasonable demand. Ours is still an unstable world in which
unexpected and unreasonable demands are made of us. The situation is
wholly alien – the resources for handling it lie in God alone – so PRAYER,
and PRAISE and the TESTIMONY to GOD’S unique powers is the response.

The resources for dealing with unexpected and unreasonable demands are
twofold – the inner strength that comes from faith in God, and the
intervention of God Himself.

Daniel demonstrates that inner strength by :

Encouraging his friends to plead for mercy


Waiting on God for help
Praising God in a hymn
And
Declaring God’s power to the king

This wonderful blend of personal faith, encouragement and praise,


supported by the prayers of his friends is an example to us today.

The world, like Nebuchadnezzar watches us with evil intent and distorted
value systems : we respond with PRAYER and PRAISE and PRACTICAL
demonstration of God’s power.

28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King
Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.
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Chapter THREE : tested by FIRE – NOT


ALONE

The Fiery Furnace: See Heb 11,34

Notice the absence of Daniel from this test. His comes later in Chapter 6.
We are not all tested in the same way. Indeed sometimes it may seem
unreasonable to us that we are tested in such ways when others are not.

The background to the test continues to be the totally obsessive nature of


the king – but his actions only challenge the Jews. To the others it would be
a remarkable spectacle – a statement of the power of the king and the
age.
The other astrologers (v8) point out the refusal of the friends to obey the
edict. This was doubtless calculated to stir up the unstable extremism of
the king
13
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and
Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and
Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and
Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I
have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither,
lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and
worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will
be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be
able to rescue you from my hand?”

Implicit in his words is the challenge to the power of Jehovah.

The singular bravery of the three friends and their remarkable faith is
legendary :
16
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O
Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this
matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is
able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18
But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will
not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set
up.”

As in the case of Chapter three and Daniel’s example – so here in the case
of the three friends it is FAITH and TOTAL OBEDIENCE TO GOD that meets
the challenge:
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The God we serve is able to save us… he will rescue us …

But even if he does not … we will not serve your gods …

It is very difficult for us to identify with such a remarkable courage – but


the same rules apply:

God is able

We won’t compromise

Their faith and courage is rewarded with a theophany –


24
Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked
his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the
fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, O king.”
25
He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound
and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

IF we stand firm in the face of apostasy and the direct challenge to our
allegiance – then He will be with us, He has promised.

43 But now, this is what the Lord says—


he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.1 ISAIAH

Chapter FOUR : tested by THE WORD – BE


FAITHFUL

1
The New International Version - Anglicised, (London: Hodder & Stoughton
Ltd.) 1984.
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In this chapter the test or assessment is different. It resides in the


willingness of Daniel to deliver the message to Nebuchadnezzar,
knowing that the explanation of the dream involved personal
judgement and criticism of the king.
19
Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time,
and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let
the dream or its meaning alarm you.”
Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your
enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! 20 The tree you saw, which
grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole
earth, 21 with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all,
giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its
branches for the birds of the air— 22 you, O king, are that tree! You have
become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the
sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.

It is one thing to be faithful to the word when the message is comfortable,


quite another when the news is bad and full of judgement. Daniel does not
shrink from the responsibility to deliver bad news as well as good.

But notice the tactful and polite way in which Daniel approaches the
subject:

Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your


enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!

His words remind us of Nathan before David :

22 you, O king, are that tree!

Once the message had been delivered it was fulfilled and followed by the
repentance and restoration of Nebuchadnezzar.

Not all tests have to do with the possibility of pain or death – some test our
inner resolve in a way that is entirely of the conscience and of the morals.

How do you deliver the word of God?


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Chapter SIX : tested by lions – My god is


able

In the equivalent for Daniel of the test in the fiery furnace of his friends,
Daniel is betrayed by jealous colleagues and sent to the pit with the lions.
Here is another bible story that has entered our language – but which is
unknown by the majority.

6
3
Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and
the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set
him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps
tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of
government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no
corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor
negligent. 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for
charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law
of his God.”

Unlike Daniel we have many areas of our life where criticism may be
levelled at us, like Daniel we are the target of an age which is jealous of
our faith and standards and would like to undermine our confidence.

Satan is busy looking for an opportunity to cause us to fail. The Lord has
promised to pray for us – as He prayed for Peter, and our spiritual end is
secured – but there are many tests that come our way where the intention
is to challenge our God’s ability to defend us.

Darius was all too easily led into the situation where Daniel would be
punished. He was a victim of a proverbially rigid system of laws and of the
machinations of his officers. Not much has changed! In our day there are
many people of influence who find themselves trapped by their own legal
system and open to corruption.

6 So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: “O King
Darius, live for ever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and
governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree
that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O
king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in
writing so that it cannot be altered—in accordance with the laws of the Medes and
Persians, which cannot be repealed.” 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing.

I have always felt that Daniel’s attitude to the absurd decree of Darius
regarding prayer and worship was in some ways provocative :
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10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his
upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got
down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11
Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 12
So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish
a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except
to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions’ den?”

But the reality is that this is exactly why the officials acted this way – they
could count on his absolute consistency in prayer. Both Daniel and Darius
are bound by rules – in Daniel’s case the rule was altogether just.
So of course Daniel is thrown to the lions, and we have the pitiful sight of a
noble king desperate to save him but not able to do so:

14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue
Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.
16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’
den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it
with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation
might not be changed. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night
without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not
sleep.

The recurrent theme in these events is “so as not to be changed”

The laws of Medo-Persia and the circumstances of Daniel sealed into the lions’ den seem
altogether fixed and unchangeable:

The question rings out ever since :

“Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve
continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

HAS YOUR GOD…BEEN ABLE…?

21 Daniel answered, “O king, live for ever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the
mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight.
Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.”

So God honours the man who is steadfast in his resolve – He is able to


deliver and sends his angel.
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SUMMARY

So in these familiar, easy, chapters of Daniel we have a series of tests or


assessments applied to the spiritual life of the four men:

1 Tested by diet DISTINCT


2 Tested by tyranny PRAYERFUL
3 Tested by fire NOT ALONE
4 Tested by the Word FAITHFUL
6 Tested by lions MY GOD IS ABLE

We may be tested in similar ways to establish our spiritual credentials. How will we shape up?
You may like to use the sheet I have prepared to apply these thoughts to areas of your own life.

© David A. Green BD www.davidagreen.com Aug 2005


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Now that you’ve had an overview of the “easy” chapters of Daniel,


here is a self assessment task for you to do – an opportunity to
apply the ideas to yourself.
Sectio No Question Scor
n Copse Road e
1 Does the world/country government remind you of Belshazzar’s PAGE / 1
INTRO . time? 10th August 2005
13
CHAPTER 2 Have you been relocated recently? /2
1 . Do you see your new situation as an opportunity for God to use
you?
3 Does your work/situation put you in a position that may /2
. compromise your Christian standards?
4 Does your diet honour the Lord? Do you demonstrate a wholesome /2
. lifestyle?
5 Do you compare favourably with the unbelievers around you in /2
. terms of lifestyle and fitness?
CHAPTER 6 Do you need encouragement to plead for God’s intervention in /1
2 . your situation?
7 Has God shown you His way “during the night” i.e. in a difficult /2
. situation recently?
8 Did you praise God/ record the goodness of God in that situation? /2
.
9 Did God answer your prayer by using you or someone else in that /2
. situation?
CHAPTER 1 Have you felt that only you were being tested – and others seemed /1
3 0 to escape it?
.
1 Have you noticed God at work in the trial/testing of other /2
1 believers?
.
1 Could you echo the confidence of the three friends in Daniel 3 18? /2
2
.
1 Has the way the Lord has been with you in a trial impressed /2
3 unbelievers?
.
CHAPTER 1 Is there evidence in today’s world/political system of a spokesman /1
4 4 like Daniel? Why/why not?
.
1 Is the message God gives for today’s world systems as unpalatable /1
5 as that in the chapter?
.
1 Are you ready to share a message of God’s displeasure / /2
6 judgement today?
.
1 If you expected that message to be fulfilled at once would that /2
7 encourage or discourage you?
.
1 Do you recognise parts of Christ’s teaching for unbelievers that /2
8 mirror that in this passage?
.
CHAPTER 1 Does your testimony at work or in your neighbourhood provoke the /2
6 9 kind of challenge that Daniel experienced? If not why not?
.
2 Daniel’s reaction has been described as stubborn. Do you agree? /1
0
.
2 Have you been the victim of others’ attitude to your personal /2
1 standards of life or worship?
.
2 Do modern laws remind us of the laws of Darius in any way? /1
2
.
2 Do you notice the kind of attitude in others that we see in Darius in /2
3 v.16?
.
2 Was the root cause of Daniel’s trial stubbornness on his part or /2
4 false accusation on the part of others?
.
2 Does Scripture give us warrant to expect angels to intervene in our /2
5 trials?
.