Life as an Exile

Pastor Dan Nichols


Life as an Exile
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Last week in Daniel 4 we saw the final of 3 scenes in which God reveals himself to Nebuchadnezzar. The first was in a dream, the second was in a fiery furnace, and then God communicates to the king in a second dream. And in this dream, which Daniel interprets, the king sees himself as a tree that covers the entire earth. It is the tree, not one of many. But one called a watcher comes down from over the tree, having authority over it, and chops it down.

And what we see in the text was that God speaks a promise the king, and then works it out. He humbles Nebuchadnezzar for 7 years. And he does to a specific end: that the king would know and declare that the God of Israel is the most high who rules over the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.

To say it another way, the purpose of God’s speech and actions towards Nebuchadnezzar was so that this king would recognize his place; that his authority and rule comes from God himself.

But I actually left out the most important part. A key question was left unanswered: “what happened to Nebuchadnezzar?” God’s intention was to move the king’s heart to a place where he would recognize that Adonai is the true king who rules the kingdom of men. But did it work?

If you were here with us you’ve been anxiously waiting out the last 6 days to find out. Welcome back! The answer is: it does! The chapter begins and ends with a declaration from the king indicating that his heart does indeed recognize Adonai’s supremacy.

So, we zoomed in on the main idea of chapter 4, which is God’s work in speech and in act to get Nebuchadnezzar to see that God rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. But this is just a blip on the timeline; a moment in a 6000 year-long calendar. We need to zoom way out and see what it actually means, that God rules over the kingdom of men, and and gives it to whom he will. And that is what Isaiah 40 is for. (Isaiah 40: 12-24)

In Isaiah chapter 40 this wide-angle lens picture is painted of who God is and his relationship with the nations.

Verses 12-14 say, “who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span.” Or, who can cup his hands and hold all the oceans of the earth. And who can measure the entirety of the heavens with a yardstick?

“Who has collected the mountains and hills and set them in a scale for weighing?” Who picks up the entirety of the rockies, and then the Andes, and then the Himalayas, and sets them all on his personal scale. That's our God! That is who we worship.

But what are the nations in comparison to him? What is Babylon in comparison to him? What about Assyria before, or Egypt before that? What about the Medes or the Persians? What about Greece or Rome or any other national superpower since, including this one in which you and I live? (vs. 15-17, 22)

  • “They are like a drop from a bucket.” When you turn it over, one kingdom falls out, and ends, and then another does the same. Each one as meaningless when compared to the one holding the bucket
  • “They are counted as dust on the scales” Dust has no bearing on a scale. It won’t read the dust.
  • “All the cedars of Lebanon all the beasts that dwell therein would not suffice for a single burnt offering to this God”

In summary, vs. 17: “All the nations are as nothing before him. They are counted as less than nothing and emptiness.”

And so what does he do with these nations and their leaders: He “bring princes to nothing, and make the rulers of the earth as emptiness.”

The big picture of history is that nations come and go by the command of God, because they are nothing to him. He brings them to fruition, accomplishes his intention in and through them, and and then he ends them..

And yet, Yahweh sees every moment his people experience living in this time, dwelling in these nations as eternally valuable. So much so that he appears with them. And he speaks to them. And he protects them. And he provides for them. In this fleeting moment of history God is looking after the good of his citizens, who live exiled in another kingdom.

That is where Daniel is. And that is where we are. We live as Exiles. It is different. Let us not take for granted the blessing it is to live in this land. And yet, we do not belong to it. God’s people do not belong to the kingdoms of this earth. To be an exile is to recognize that your citizenship is somewhere else.

And so for the rest of our time this morning we’re going to walk through the book of Daniel and see what it means to live as Israelites in Exile, as God’s people in a foreign land. What does it look like for you and I to live as citizen’s in God’s kingdom while dwelling in another.

Three things that matter: The Exile’s Allegience, mission, and conscience.

The Exile’s allegiance belongs to the Great King.

Employed throughout the Old Testament is this image of a banner. The banner was a way of indicating belonging, or commitment. It was a visible declaration of who one identified with, in the same way that a flag is utilized today.

And Moses, after the Lord provides miraculous victory in battle, identifies God as, “the Lord my Banner,” or “Yahweh my banner”. And bound up in this flag imagery is this sense of dual affiliation. Of course, I belong to him. I am identifying with him. But also, he is mine. He is my king and my God.

Another way to determine a citizen’s allegiance is by asking “who do you serve”? In Daniel 6 as Daniel is thrown down into a pit with hungry lions King Darius calls down, “Daniel, May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!”

Daniel has lived and served in a foreign nation for many decades, but the king recognizes that Daniel’s allegiance does not belong to him. It did not belong to the Babylonian empire, it does not belong to the present super power. Daniel is not about the kingdom of men.

And because of his allegiance to the most high God, Daniel refuses to align himself with the gods of Babylon. That is what happens in chapter 1. In refusing the king’s food this man chooses to not identify with the king’s gods. Earlier in the Bible while wandering through the desert the people of Israel are invited to a meal where the food at the table is offered as sacrifice to the god Baal. The meal itself is means of worship to Baal. And the text says, “Daniel ate and bowed down to their gods”. But Daniel won’t. He refuses to do anything that compromises his allegiance to Adonai.

And here’s the thing. This refusal to eat could be interpreted as treason against the king and his gods. And God blesses Daniel for it. He protects him. One of the reasons we so fear identifying with Jesus is because of what would seem to be the likely outcome. We think, “this might affect my job” or “this might end my friendship”. For Daniel it was, “this might end my life.” But God uses Daniel’s faithfulness, his commitment to Yahweh as the means by which protects and provides for Daniel and uses Daniel good for the nation of Babylon.

It is because of this allegiance that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down to the nation’s idol, set up in chapter 3. They did so knowing that it would result in death. But they were unwilling to compromise their adherence to God most high, who rules over the kingdom of men.

Now, I think that we need to pause for a moment and ask, what idols to which your present situation is calling you to bow down. Because nobody is going to kick down your front and say, “worship this statue.” In one way, the gods of our culture are worse because they are invisible. I’ll give you three, and you get a mainstream media quote with each one.

The god of vague and inconsistent morality. One accusation of western life and ethic is that there is no moral compass. But this is only partially true. It is true in that there is no sense of divinely given, transcendent moral code. People get their ethics from all different kinds of places. But there is a strong sense of morality.

Pick any one of a hundred pop topics (climate change, national borders, abortion, the presidential election) and you’ll quick realize that everyone’s got some sort of functioning ethic. But it seems as if the thought, logic, and principles behind them have never been more varied and contradictory.

And it centers on the freedom of choice, and self-determination. “I can become whoever I want, and do whatever I want. I get to make choices about lifestyle. I get to interpret my gender, and my sexual orientation. That is, one ought not infringe upon a person’s decisions of what is right, and what is best, for him or her. “You do you”

Here’s Oprah Winfrey (got to have an Oprah quote): “It isn’t until you come to a spiritual understanding of wh you are - not necessarily a religious feeling, but deep-down, the spirit within - that you can begin to take control."

When one looks inside for the source of power, control, and authority one becomes his or her own God; his or her own ethic.

Then there’s the god of (positivity). Tyler Perry: “It’s most important that you surround yourself with positivity always, and have it in your mind at all times.”

The god of positivity kills serious thought, ownership of sin, and repentance. You don’t get to deal with real problems, especially internal ones, when positivity sits on the throne. Positivity has created an end-around that forgoes serious discussion.

The god of difference (unlimited and unchecked diversity). This God says all differences, any differences, are good and meant to be celebrated without question. Every new category created contains worth and is meant to be affirmed.

There’s a media influencer(whatever that means) named Tom Hannah, and he says this: “Tolerance and celebration of individual differences is the fire that fuels lasting love.” And we live in this space where differences, no matter what they are, to not be questioned. Not only are they meant to be tolerated, they are meant to be treasured.

And there is truth in that God treasures differences. But has also determined what those differences are. He has already created that categories. And when we celebrate new categories that we’ve created apart from him we set ourselves in opposition to him and his ways.

We do not get to bow down to the gods of vague ethics, positivity, and difference. We are called to enter into the speak the truth of God into this idolatries.

Daniel is unashamed of the visibility of his faith, even at the threat of death (6:10). His first action, upon hearing that anyone who prays to any person or God other than the king will get thrown into a pit with lions, is to walk out onto what amounts to his front porch and pray in the morning, and then the afternoon, and then at night.

So the Exile’s allegiance belongs to the Great King.

The Exile’s Mission: to declare the king’s message

The Apostle Paul, in the New Testament, utilizes a short but significant illustration to talk about the identity of the one who trusts and obeys Jesus. Paul calls that person an Ambassador. An ambassador is high-ranking official who dwells in one country, but whose citizenship belongs to another. And this person’s job is to represent his country, particular the expressed wishes of that country’s leader, to the nation in which he dwells.

And that’s Daniel. Daniel lives in Babylon. He is even a citizen in Babylon. He belongs to this sovereign super power. And yet his true citizenship lies elsewhere. And when he speaks he does so with a message from the Great King. He speaks as an ambassador.

Folks, this ancient document is so helpful. In it we see so many things related to the message Jesus communicated, and how he did it, as well as how we can relate it today

Daniel communicates the Great King’s message, knowing what the consequences might be. Pertaining to the kings around him, he never really had any thing positive to say. Nebuchadnezzar, while your kingdom is indeed great, it will be taken from you. Nebuchadnezzar, God will humble you by making you crawl on the earth like an animal for 7 years. Belshazzer, this night Adonai will take your kingdom and your life.

I don’t know that Daniel himself expected to make it through the night after delivering these messages. And for us today declaring God’s message carries less weighty consequences, and yet it seems that we are more afraid to do so.

Daniel cares personally for the king’s good (exhortation for the king to turn from his ways in 4:27). I think that you can sense this as you read the book. But to me it is most pronounced in chapter 4 when Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar to turn from his sin. Unlike Jonah, who unwillingly preached to Nineveh, Daniel is invested in the good of the king.

Daniel speaks the Great King’s message because he sees the greater picture, and the greater purpose. Daniel sees that God is in control of history, and that he has placed Israelites in Babylon in part because God has called Israel to be a blessing to the nations.

And that is where we are today. God’s people are the means by which he will work out his purposes in the world.

The Exile’s Conscience: to wisely work out the king’s wishes

We live in a less than ideal world, which means that less than ideal things are happening to you and around you. Wisdom is the ability to walk through them without compromising one’s allegiance to the great king.

And God does not give you a clear answer about ever single decision you have to make. Most of life doesn’t have a “one for one” in the Bible. If someone sets up a big statue and says “bow down to it” we know what to do! But we’ve got to work out the other 90%.

Daniel recognizes that wisdom for living as an exile comes from God, and consequently seeks him (2:17-23). Here is how this works itself out in the book. Two words: fear and freedom

First, fear does not determine how Daniel exercises his allegiance to yahweh. He refuses the king’s food, he speaks God’s message to the king (even considering the repercussions), he attributes all glory to the God of Israel when the king seeks to honor him, he prays visibly. He might be afraid, but it doesn’t keep him from doing what he needs to do.

Second, Daniel exercises the freedom of his conscience in many different ways. The conscience, your conscience, is to be shaped by the Word in a way that helps you walk wisely through life as a citizen in another kingdom.

For most of his life Daniel was called by his Babylonian name, which was given to him in honor of a false God, the Babylonian God Bel. Every time someone addresses Daniel it’s a reminder of another God.

Daniel and his friends served the purposes of the kingdom, which recognizes the authority of this “other God”. If any boss, manager, or political leader’s motives were to be questioned, it’s the king’s. The Tower of Babel was built in opposition to God’s purposes, and this nation of Babylon is the expression of all that Babel intended to accomplish. And yet Daniel, who is not afraid to die for his convictions, serves in Babylon. He even speaks honorably to this king who is opposed to God’s purposes. He doesn’t spite the king.

And I think that this is because Daniel recognizes that the king’s authority and position are given to him by God (2:37). He knows the truths of Isaiah 40, that the nations and their princes are dust on God’s scale, and that God brings them to an end when he wishes..

Daniel worked with and eventually managed people that he fundamentally disagreed with (1:20; 6:3). This might be the most real thing I say to you. Daniel was managed by, rubbed shoulders with, and eventually managed men and women that did not share his theology, principles, or values, by any stretch of the imagination. And that can be incredibly challenging.

There are many things to say about how Daniel worked out his faith in Adonai will dwelling in Babylon; about Daniel’s conscience. But the heart of it is that if you recognize the king’s allegiance, and do not function out of fear of the society in which you live, God will give grace as you think, pray, and work your way through the freedom he has given in the midst of the complexities of life.

So, the exile’s allegiance belongs to the Great King, his or her mission is to communicate the king’s message, wisely working out the king’s wishes in a broken and sinful world. And all who call on the name of the Lord, who recognize that God most high rules over the kingdom of men, are considered exiles. And this is the case no matter how accommodating the nation in which you dwell.

And you must consider the question, am I living like an exile? Or have I made this my home? Have I gotten comfortable here?

Which means that you must start thinking of yourself as one. Don’t get comfortable here. Don’t see this as your home. Don’t invest all of yourself building this kingdom. Don’t let all your concern go towards national and local happenings here on earth. Consider yourself an exile. Consider that your allegiance is not to yourself and your kingdom. Your service and commitment is not to this earthly nation. You are working for the purposes of another. And those purposes find themselves tightly knit to a message; A message that exiles proclaim. Because we belong to another we have been given the title of ambassador.

We speak a different king’s message: About a story of salvation, of redemption. A story about how a hero from a far-off country came to rescue a people for himself. And that message is what leads us to the table, where we see this tale of a king who came and died to bring citizens into his kingdom. Who was Perfectly allegiant to his father. Who Perfectly proclaimed His Father’s message. And perfectly worked out the king’s wishes, to the point of suffering, humiliation, and death. And who will one day return victorious over all the kingdoms of men. Who will turn the nations and the princes into dust one final time.