Greatly Loved by God

Douglas Bond
Thursday, December 31st 2015
Jan/Feb 2016

"Welcome to Babylon, Daniel," said Ashpenaz, bow?ng low before us.

I stared numbly at Nebuchadnezzar's chief eunuch. So much had just happened to me and my friends.

When Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and I were little more than boys, we had looked on in horror as the king's army destroyed Jerusalem. The city was sacked and the temple was plundered, yet we (for reasons known only to God) had been spared.

Terrifying as the sight of slaughter and desecration were, I began to realize that my darkest fear had come upon me: exile. I loved Jerusalem; I loved God's temple; I loved psalm singing; I loved the Judean feasts. My secret dread, the one fear worse than death, had come upon me. We were wrenched away from the place where God dwelt, dragged off to be the slaves of a delusional tyrant. The Lord had ordained a difficult path for me. How was I to honor and worship God surrounded by those who hated him and his people?

And here was King Nebuchadnezzar's servant Ashpenaz, beaming at us with delight, welcoming us into the king's palace as if it were some great privilege to be dragged from our ruined homeland and our loved ones, to be set apart for royal service in the Babylonian court.

Kindly though he was, I was still suspicious. He was the chief servant of the king who had defiled the house of God and brought us here; he couldn't have actually cared about us.

I watched him bustling about our quarters, seeing to it that the linens were laid, fitting us for new clothes, and I was curious. "Ashpenaz, what are you doing? Why are you treating us well, as if we were something special?"

"The king wishes it," he said simply. "It was his command that we should 'set apart noble youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, youths who understand learning.'"


"Is it not plain?" he asked. "His Majesty wants men competent to stand in the king's palace. It is a great honor. It is my duty to prepare you to fulfill your new purpose in life. After we rename you, you will be instructed in the language and literature of the Chaldeans." Bowing low, he left us.

"I don't like it," said Hananiah. "They want to make us Babylonians."

"And to worship Babylonian gods," said Mishael.

"And to eat Babylonian food!" said Azariah, sniffing the air.

Ashpenaz returned with a retinue of servants carrying silver platters, loaded with an assortment of roasted meat. Others carried pitchers of wine and silver goblets.

My suspicions mounted.

"Let's see how Babylonians do with wine," said Hananiah. Swirling the wine in his cup, he closed his eyes and inhaled. "Ah, mineral-driven, with hints of spice." Nosing the wine again, he added, "Appellation Babylon, though that can't be helped."

"It'll pair nicely with roast lamb," said Mishael.

"Let's see!" said Azariah, eyeing the feast.

Ashpenaz glowed with satisfaction. "For those set apart to stand in his palace, the king honors them with the finest meat and drink in the land, prepared for his own table, to his exacting standards’food and wine fit for the gods."

As I looked at the food, something didn't feel right. "Ashpenaz, what do you mean, 'fit for the gods'?"

"You Hebrews amuse me," said Ashpenaz. "You offer food to your god. In Babylon, it's nothing but the finest for our king and for our gods." Spreading his arms wide as if to enfold us, he added, "And for you his favorites. Now, drink and take your fill." He motioned to the servants and left.

Tormented by the savory aromas filling our chamber, none of us at first spoke. Back in our Judean home, we four friends had taken great pleasure in eating and drinking and were known for our refined palates.

I cleared my throat. "We know what we must do," I said. "Rather, what we must not do."

Azariah swirled the wine in his cup but said nothing.

"Of course, we won't eat the swine flesh," said Mishael.

"But what's wrong with the beef and lamb?" said Hananiah.

"And the wine?" added Azariah, nosing his goblet.

"What's wrong," I said, "is that it's an offering to the Babylonian gods’"

"Which aren't actually gods," pointed out Hananiah.

"And we have to eat something," said Mishael.

"Won't do to starve," agreed Azariah.

"My friends," I said, "recall how God fed his children manna in the wilderness, how he brought cool water from a rock in the barren desert."

"True," said Hananiah slowly. "And he has brought us food here, now."

"That's it!" Mishael chimed in. "This is our manna, here in Babylon!"

"And eating it would be like plundering the Egyptians," said Hananiah.

"And drinking it," added Azariah.

"It is far more likely," I said, "that we are being tempted with the food and promises of false gods. It comes down to this’will we trust in the God of heaven, or in the false gods of the Babylonians?"

My words had an effect. Azariah set down his goblet.

"I have a plan," I said. "Let us trust in God and see his deliverance."

An hour later Ashpenaz poked his head in our chambers. He frowned. "What is wrong? You have eaten nothing."

"We mean no disrespect, Ashpenaz," I said. "But we cannot eat food offered to your gods. Our God forbids it."

Ashpenaz's face grew pale.

I tried to reassure him. "We are grateful for your kindness, and we are hungry. Bring us vegetables only: beans, garlic, leeks, lentils, beets." I could scarcely believe my own words. When I was a child, I loathed vegetables. Meat was the thing for me. "And perhaps some water. We’we cannot drink wine offered to other gods."

Ashpenaz's eyes widened. "But what will I tell the king when you become pale and faint? Daniel, you do not know this king as I do. He will have my head lifted off."

"Ashpenaz, our God made the earth, the sky, the sea, and everything in them; he can turn lentils into lamb roast, beans into the best cuts of beef. If he chooses, he can even turn water into wine."

"But what if he does not?" he asked. I could see beads of perspiration forming on his brow. "Then I am a dead man."

"Daniel, we can't do that to Ashpenaz," said Hananiah.

"Give us ten days," I continued. "If we're not healthier and stronger than the others, then we'll do as you say."

Ashpenaz wrung his hands and said he would speak with the cook.

"So that's it?" said Mishael. "No meat, no wine’just vegetables and water?"

"My friends, our God can turn stones into bread," I said. "He can feed us every day with the bread of heaven."

"But the wine?" said Azariah. "Surely there can be no cross-contamination with the pork, not in the wine?"

"Wine offered to Babylon's idols," I said. "Ashpenaz believes this is the wine of the gods. Let us show him the power of the Ancient of Days, God himself coming down and spreading for us a feast in this wilderness. And, yes, Azariah, God’if he wills’can turn murky Babylonian water into the finest wine."

"Appellation Heaven, you mean?" said Azariah.

"Precisely, wine not only fit for God but crafted by his skill and power."

Hidden Things Revealed

Ashpenaz brought us our vegetables and water, and on the tenth day, he was astonished. "Look at you! Healthier and stronger than all the rest! How is it so?"

We gave glory to God and invited Ashpenaz to do the same.

All was well for a time. Then, one morning, we were awakened by Ashpenaz's cries of distress. He burst into our room, wailing, "The thing the king has asked is impossible. Only the gods can do it!"

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"The king has dreams’bad ones. But this one is far worse. Not only has he ordered his wise men to interpret the dream, but he also demands that they tell him what it was in the first place! No mere man can do such a thing, be he the wisest in all the earth!"

"What will happen?" I asked.

"What do you think will happen?" cried Ashpenaz. "They will be killed!"

"All of them?" said Azariah.

"No," said Hananiah. "Not the students’we haven't completed our instruction."

"Not wise at all," agreed Mishael.

"All will be killed," said Ashpenaz sadly. "Including you."

"But what if someone could tell him the dream and its interpretation?" I asked.

"Who can do that?" asked Ashpenaz.

"The God whom we serve. There is nothing hidden from him."

I then urged my friends to seek mercy from God so that we wouldn't be destroyed with the others.


It was late in the night when I awoke from my sleep. In a dream of my own, God had revealed the mystery to me, and I was beside myself with joy, singing and praising the Lord for his mercy to me and my friends. "Blessed be the name of God forever and ever! O God of my fathers, who removes kings and sets up kings, who reveals deep and hidden things, who has now made known to us the king's matter!"

I called for our servant, and after explaining what had happened, I was rushed to the king's chambers. I was so overcome by the revelation of the dream that even his terrible dignity and awful power didn't frighten me.

"Can you do it?" he demanded. "Can you tell a king his dream and its interpretation?"

"No man can do this," I said. "But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. The true God has revealed to King Nebuchadnezzar what is to be."

As I told him of the statue in his dream, his eyes widened in astonishment. I explained that the head of gold represented his kingdom, and that the other parts of the image were subsequent kingdoms, represented by silver, bronze, iron, and clay. I told him that it was God who crushed all these kingdoms, and that he would set up a kingdom that would never be destroyed.

The king rose from his bed and knelt before me. I glanced apprehensively at his servants, who stared in shock. As the king touched his brow to the floor, he said, "Truly, your God is God of gods and a revealer of mysteries!"

Instead of ordering my execution, the king gave me great gifts and made me chief prefect over the wise men in the realm. At my request, he appointed my friends rulers over the affairs of the province.

Fiery Deliverance

It might seem that being made prefect and governors would have secured our positions as court favorites, but that wasn't our experience. I had just returned from an errand for the king and was looking forward to some much-needed rest when I found Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah talking excitedly. "What news, friends?"

"He wasn't satisfied with a statue with a golden head!" said Hananiah. "Nebuchadnezzar has erected an idol that's covered in gold from head to foot and has ordered everyone to worship it!"

"Everyone who doesn't want to be cast into the furnace," said Azariah.

"The furnace?" I asked.

"We refused," said Mishael, "politely."

"Some of the others reported our refusal to the king," said Azariah. "He’he was offended."

"Offended?" repeated Hananiah. "He was enraged! 'Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands!' Daniel, you should have heard Azariah: 'Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand.' And then Mishael added, 'But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.' I wish you had been there!"

"And the king?" I asked. "What did he do?"

"He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual," said Hananiah. "And bound us head to foot and threw us in."

They were excited, giddy almost. I looked at them. Their skins were unmarked and their bodies unharmed. Their eyes shone and their faces smiled so broadly that I wondered if they had been into the wine. "In the furnace? In the actual flames?"

"In the flames," said Hananiah. "Truly, God never does leave us or forsake us."

Azariah's voice was hushed with reverence. "He himself was with us."

"Who? Who was with you?" I asked.

"The Son of God himself," said Mishael. "It is too wonderful for words."

"Nebuchadnezzar saw him too," continued Hananiah, "and he was astonished. He called us to come out. He sniffed our clothes. Daniel, he was trembling’not a hair on our heads was singed! He has now issued a royal decree: 'Anyone who speaks anything against the God of gods shall be torn limb from limb and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.' And then he sang."

"Nebuchadnezzar sang?" I said. "What did he sing?"

"'The Most High God,'" responded Mishael, "'his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.'"

Heaven Rules

I thought that now we were finally safe. The king's edict protected God's people from persecution and exalted the worship of Yahweh even above the worship of the Babylonian gods! Unfortunately, however, it wasn't long before Nebuchadnezzar had another dream, and once again, we were in danger. He called me to him, and as he told me about it, I could see he was frightened. "What does it mean?" he asked.

It was my turn to be scared. "My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies. The watcher of men will come down from heaven, by decree of the Most High, and will strip you of your kingdom, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will, till you acknowledge that heaven rules." I urged the king to repent of his sins and show mercy to the oppressed.


Within twelve months, the kingdom departed from Nebuchadnezzar. In his grief and humiliation, he became like a raving beast, without reason or understanding. His madness forced his attendants to chain him to a stump, and he ate grass like an ox. He continued like this for seven years, until God finally showed him mercy and restored his mind. The king again blessed his name and sang his praises: "God does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'"

The Hand Appears

But his exile had left its mark on his people as well as himself. During his madness, Nebuchadnezzar's idle son, Belshazzar, had ruled in his place. If Nebuchadnezzar was volatile and capricious, then Belshazzar was a debauched libertine. At one of his drunken orgies, he ordered that the vessels of gold, which had been taken from God's temple in Jerusalem, be brought to him and his harem. As the party raged, a human hand appeared, writing something on the wall. Although Belshazzar promised them great riches, none of his wise men could decipher the words.

It was in the early watches of the morning that I was summoned to the terrified young king. He would reward me beyond my greatest expectations if I would but tell him what the writing meant.

"Keep your gifts for yourself," I told him. "Although you knew God's judgment upon your father, you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You have praised false gods and dishonored the God who raises up kings and brings them down, in whose hand is your breath and all your ways. From God's presence this hand has appeared to give you his word. God has numbered the days of your kingdom and is bringing it to an end. You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting."

The days that were numbered were fewer than anyone imagined. That very night, the king was killed and God gave the throne to Darius the Mede.

Predatory Pride

If life was exciting under Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, then it was going to be an absolute thrill under Darius. I have always been uncommonly afraid of wild beasts’as a child, I was beset by nightmares about lions, jackals, and had looked in fear at the claws and teeth of trophies brought home by hunters.

King Darius, on the other hand, loved lions. But he also loved a well-managed kingdom. He recognized that I had an excellent spirit, but he did not acknowledge the God who had given it to me. Anxious to establish his reign and magnify his name throughout the earth, like Pharaoh and Joseph of old, he set me over his whole kingdom and only as regarded the throne was he greater than I.

But there were those in his court who were suspicious. Why would Darius want his rival's official in his own court? A coalition of satraps, eager to curry favor and displace inconvenient rivals, urged him to establish an irrevocable ordinance: "That whoever makes petition to any god or man’except to you, O king’shall be cast into the den of lions." King Darius, moved by their flattery and ignorant of their real design, happily signed the injunction into law.

What was I to do? Even if the king regretted his decision, Persian law had no amendment process. Unless I prayed to the king, it was the lions for me.

I returned to my room, opened my window, and prayed. "O God, who removes kings and sets up kings, O Lord, hear. I do not present my plea before you because of my righteousness, O Lord, but because of your great mercy. For your own sake, delay not. O Lord, make your face to shine upon your servant whose name is written in your book, who is called by your name."

Even as I prayed, I knew I was condemned’the king's spies were lying in wait to betray me. They dragged me before Darius and triumphantly read their charges. "Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day."

This wasn't the first time I had to defend myself to a king. Hard experience with both Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar had taught me how to address foreign royalty. Darius scoured the legal code for a loophole, but the cunning of my accusers was ready with an answer. "Know, O king, that it is the law: no injunction that the king establishes can be changed."

Cornered by his own laws, Darius was powerless to save me. He was with me before I entered the den where the lions lived’and ate. "May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!"

Frightened though I was, I entered their den in peace, with the word of God as my comfort: "Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake to everlasting life; those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever."

Surely, the Son of Man who had joined my three friends in the furnace could deliver me out of the jaws of these hungry lions. My entrance into the den was anticlimactic at best’after sniffing curiously at me, the lions yawned and curled up for their night's rest. I could feel my muscles tensing, preparing myself for the rush of fur and teeth and claws. But there was nothing’the tawny, shining masses of fur remained curled up in a corner, purring contentedly in their sleep. There is something extraordinarily comforting about the murmuring reverberations of a lion's purr. I curled up next to one of them and nodded off.


I awoke with a start next morning.

"O Daniel, servant of the living God!" cried Darius. "Has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?"

I patted the massive head of the lion, whose mane had been my pillow, and yawned. "My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths. Because of the covenant-keeping, steadfast love of God, I was found blameless, as I am before you, O king."

Darius was elated, but only for a moment. He turned on the conspirators with deadly furor and ordered them and their families thrown into the den. The lions were awake now’ mindful that they had missed their evening meal. I shuddered at the horrific sounds of the lions breakfasting on God's and my enemies.

It wasn't the last I would hear of terrifying beasts. God gave me several visions of his plans for the future, one of which had four terrifying beasts: a lion with eagle's wings; a devouring bear; a leopard with wings and four heads; and a dreadful creature, exceedingly strong, with iron teeth and ten horns, and one more horn with the eyes of a man.

The scene shifted. I saw the Ancient of Days. He wore clothes as white as snow and was seated on his fiery throne. Fire streamed out before him, a thousand served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; his court sat in judgment and the books were opened. On the clouds of heaven, there came one like the Son of Man. To him was given dominion and glory; all peoples, nations, and languages would serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, a kingdom that shall never be destroyed; and the saints of the Most High shall be given this everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.

There were other terrifyingly wonderful visions, ones that left me pale and bewildered, even overcome for days. But I had learned something in my exile: When enemies rise up against the Prince of princes, he will bring them to everlasting contempt. I have learned that the Ancient of Days rules over kings, over fire, over lions, over jealous rivals, over all dominions’over everything.

Best of all, I have learned to rest in the steadfast promise of him who lives forever, of him who proclaimed to me: "Daniel, you are greatly loved."

Thursday, December 31st 2015

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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