Chapter One The Key To Spiritual Discernment

The first chapter of the book of Daniel, as noted on the chart, is introductory. It sets forth the appropriate moral condition of one who desires to be enlightened in the ways and counsels of God. In it we read of a little company of faithful men maintaining a state of separation to God from evil. They remained faithful in a day when everything seemed to be against them, and it appeared as though there was none on earth to whom they could turn for help. These four devoted young men—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—set themselves against all the evil of the kingdom of Babylon. They refused to defile themselves; these were the men to whom God could communicate His mind. I believe it is important to dwell on this because in our own day much prophetic study has been taken up by very unspiritual persons. If we are going to get the mind of God in studying the book of Daniel, we must remember that it consists of revelations, deliverances, and visions given to a spiritually-minded man who was separated from the iniquity of his day. If we are to understand it, we also need to be spiritually minded; we need to walk apart from all that is unholy, all that would hinder progress in divine things. We need to remember the words, “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward” (2 John 8).

The truth of God is learned through the conscience; this is why the most brilliant men can read the Bible through over and over and never hear the voice of God in it at all. It has been said that “what is one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” The very Word of God may become poison to an unspiritual man if he reads it without being in subjection to God—reads it to find difficulties—and arises from its perusal more confirmed in his unbelief than he was when he sat down to consider it. The results are different when the same book is put into the hands of a spiritually-minded person—one who has bowed in God’s presence, acknowledged his lost condition, trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, and who is now seeking to live in obedience to God and His Word. That man sits down to the same book and finds it to be food for his soul, building him up in his faith.

If you want enlightenment in divine things, see to it that you walk in the power of an ungrieved Spirit; for “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him” (Psalm 25:14).

In Daniel 1:1-2 we find the fulfillment of what God had previously declared (through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets) would soon take place. For years Jehovah had been sending prophets to the backsliding kings of Judah, warning them that the day of His patience had almost run out. Even though Israel had been His chosen people, because of their sin He was going to give them over to the power of their enemies, and the land of Palestine was to lie desolate. Singularly enough, God connects this with their failure to keep the sabbatical year. He had told them when they came into the land that every seventh year must be His. For 490 years they had not kept one sabbatical year. They doubtless thought they would do better by tilling the land annually and that they would be richer as a result of following their own way. God had told them that if they gave every seventh year to Him they would have abundance in the sixth year to last them until harvest in the eighth year (Leviticus 25). They evidently did not believe Him and thought to better themselves by their own efforts. Thus, through covetousness—a sin that is eating away at many of God’s professed people today—the word of the Lord was ignored and His commandment broken.

For 490 years God seemed to be indifferent to this disobedience on their part. He appeared to wink at their sin, but He had taken account of it all. When they thought His law was dead, He sent Jeremiah to tell them that now they must go down to Babylon as captives for seventy years, while the land kept sabbath! They imagined they had cheated God out of seventy years, but He squared the account by giving them into the power of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Chaldeans, who carried them away to the land of Shinar. They remained there until the seventy years had expired, while the lost sabbaths were being made up.

It is a very common thing for men to forget the claims of God and to suppose that He will never assert Himself. Even saints have been known to fail in this respect. But no one ever prospered who ignored the authority of Jehovah; none can prosper now who forget the obedience due as children to a Father and as redeemed ones to Him who is not only Savior, but Lord. In the world, and even in the church today, we hear a great deal about the rights of the people. But there is One whose rights we do not hear emphasized as often as we should: our Lord Jesus Christ. Men of the world are utterly indifferent to His rights, and saints are only too apt to fall in with the spirit of the times. But a day is fast approaching when God is going to square the account. Men may not be concerned now about what is due to Him, but the day is coming when He is going to awake from His seeming slumber, as He tells us in Psalm 50. Then their proud, haughty knees will have to bow, and their tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, to the glory of God the Father, when the once-rejected Savior demonstrates His authority and power. Judah ignored God’s rights, and as a result they were sent down to Babylon.

But there was a second and greater reason why God chose to give His heritage over to the power of the Chaldeans. For centuries idolatry had been gaining ground among the Israelites. They had turned away from the living and true God to serve the false gods of the heathen. Babylon was the home of idolatry, so the Jews were sent there so they might learn to loathe the idols they had loved. And we find the lesson was well impressed. Ever since the captivity the Jewish nation, whatever its other sins, has been free from this great evil. Unhappily they are like an empty, swept house, from which the evil spirit of idolatry has been driven. But they refused Messiah when He came in lowly grace, so in the near future a host of wicked spirits will enter the empty house, and the Jews, except a preserved and delivered remnant, will own and worship the “man of sin.”

The four youths already mentioned were distinguished among the rest of their captive brethren. They were taken by the king’s orders to be trained to administer in state affairs and fitted for positions of trust and confidence. Their names each contain some form of the name of God in Hebrew and indicate their pious ancestry; for in Scripture, names have meanings that often help greatly in elucidating the Holy Spirit’s mind on a given subject.

All these young men were devoted to Jehovah, as their names imply. But that did not suit the prince of the eunuchs, into whose charge they were given, so he gave them new names that indicated their subjection to the Chaldeans. He called Daniel, Belteshazzar and the others, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These names contain the titles of heathen deities, as though this would force them to be subjects of senseless idols. But these men, although labeled as servants to heathen gods, stood firmly for the God of Israel. They refused to dishonor Him by compliance with a demand that would have rendered them unclean before Him.

The test came. These young men were to eat of the king’s meat, which was dedicated to idols and thus abhorrent and defiling to a godly Jew. But the king had given his orders, and it might have seemed as though these Hebrews had no choice in the matter. Many would have argued in this way and said there was no individual responsibility in such a case. Nebuchadnezzar’s authority was derived from God. They had only to obey since the Lord Himself had put them under Nebuchadnezzar’s power. But Daniel and his young companions did not view it this way. They looked on the king’s command as a trial of their faith. Would they keep themselves from the unclean in the land of the idolater? Would they be just as particular about being true to God as if they were in their own land? Would they honor His Word and glorify Him by being subject to that Word, though captives in the country of the oppressor?

They stood the test in a most marked way, as did the apostles in a later day, who said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Daniel asked Melzar, the master of the eunuchs, to give them pulse—vegetables—to eat. Fearing an adverse result on their physical conditions he objected, fearing the king’s wrath. But the devoted young men pleaded for an opportunity to prove whether they would not thrive as well on pulse as the rest of the company did on the king’s meat. Melzar consented, and the test showed that at the end of ten days Daniel and his three friends were fatter and fairer than any who were fed with the regulation diet. Therefore, permission was given to continue the same fare; thus they were able to maintain a position of separation from the unclean, even in the very home of idolatry.

All this might have seemed a very trivial matter to many of the Jews. Some who read the account in our day may also consider it all a mere quibble on the part of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. But it brings out a principle of great force and beauty that should appeal to every Christian’s heart and conscience. The only way to grow in the Lord is by being faithful in little things. He who honors the Lord by conscientious adherence to His Word in what some would call minor details is likely to be exercised about greater things.

I have heard Christians refer to certain precepts in the Scriptures as non-essentials. But we may rest assured there are no non-essentials in our Bibles. “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6). When people talk of non-essentials in regard to anything in God’s Word, it is well to ask, “Essential or non-essential to what?” Regarding the soul’s salvation, undoubtedly the one great essential is faith in His blessed Son; His finished work alone avails to put away sin and procure peace with God. But if it is a question of what is essential to the enjoyment of communion with God—essential to obtaining the Lord’s approval at the judgment seat of Christ—then it is well to remember that in everything the believer is sanctified to the obedience of Christ. We should seek to imitate Daniel, who had “purposed in his heart” (Daniel 1:8) that he would not defile himself. Paul and Barnabas urged the early Christians “that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord” (Acts 11:23). This is the only way to be kept from defilement. Anything that defiles the conscience breaks the link of communion with God and hinders our advance in spiritual things. There can be no true progress if this inward monitor is not preserved. “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:19) is a solemn word worthy of being carefully pondered.

These Hebrew young men were given spiritual enlightenment above all the men of their times because of their carefulness in maintaining a good conscience. They had an understanding in divine mysteries that others could not grasp because it remains true in all dispensations that spiritual things “are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). God does not commonly impart His secrets to careless men, but to those who are devoted to His interests. He may, in His sovereignty, use even a Balaam or a Caiaphas to utter divine truth, but such cases are extraordinary. The rule is that “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him” (Psalm 25:14).

It is of serious importance that we bear this principle in mind in these lukewarm Laodicean times. We live in days when everything that once was deemed important is perceived as a matter of indifference. The truth for which many martyrs shed their blood is considered hardly worth being contended for. These are days when the claims of God as set forth in His faithful Word are openly set aside even by those who profess to owe everything to the cross on which the Lord Jesus died. Latitudinarianism is the prevailing order, and few ask with intention to obey, “What saith the scripture?” (Romans 4:3) Is it any wonder that a host of false teachings is coming in like a flood, and thousands on every hand are being swept away from their moorings?

Once good conscience—that is, a conscience controlled by the Word of God in all things—is put away, shipwreck of the faith is almost certain to follow. It is not a question of shipwreck of faith in Christ; but by putting away a good conscience people make shipwreck of the faith. The term the faith means “the faith of God’s elect” (Titus 1:1), the truth He has revealed. Concerning this Paul wrote, “Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9). It is the same as that spoken of by Jude, who wrote exhorting believers to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

It is an axiom proven by experience and supported by Scripture that the only way we can advance in the truth is by maintaining a good conscience. Allow one unjudged thing—that which you know is contrary to the Word of God or is not in line with God’s will for you—to exist in your life and you will soon find your spiritual eyes become darkened; your spiritual susceptibilities will become deadened. No real progress will be made in your soul, but rather a steady decline. Instead there needs to be faithfulness in separation from that which is opposed to the mind of God. When His Word is allowed to sit in judgment on all your ways, you will learn that “the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18). The Word will illumine each step before you as you take the one already pointed out.

It is written of these four young men that “God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (1:17). This reminds us of Joseph, who also entered into the secrets of the Lord and who was first characterized by fidelity to God; God’s smile, God’s approbation, meant more to him than the approval of any human being. Just as Daniel came “into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs” (9) so Joseph, exhibiting the godliness of his life and the transparency of his nature, came into favor with the keeper of the prison. To crown it all, we find God opening his understanding and giving him wisdom in the interpretation of dreams and visions, as here with Daniel.

What a lesson for us—that purity of heart and faithfulness to God come before enlightenment in divine mysteries! If you attempt to reverse these things, you need not be surprised if you fall into all kinds of error. If you try to put knowledge before heart-purity; if you try to put a grasp of scripture truth before conscientious living in the presence of God, you are almost certain to have a fearful fall awaiting you. The many who have failed in this area should be a warning to us.

Thus on the threshold of this book of types and prophecies we are given a serious reminder of the necessity of holiness. It reminds us that if we want to learn all that God has revealed in subsequent chapters of the book of Daniel we need first to stop and ask ourselves, “Am I personally right with God? Am I seeking to live so as to honor Him in all my ways?” I want to emphasize these solemn questions at the close of this chapter.

If you are out of Christ, I would affectionately remind you of the danger in which you stand. Later we will address the woes and sorrows that await this poor earth. Is it in this world that you have your all? You are building your hopes for happiness in a wasting scene! Many prophecies in this book of Daniel have now become history; many other portions will soon be fulfilled. Dear unsaved one, if you continue in your sins until “the time of the end,”—without God and without hope—your sorrows, your anguish, your bitter woes will be more than tongue can tell. Think of what it will mean for the unsaved to live in this world after the Holy Ghost has been withdrawn; when Christendom has become completely apostate; when the Word of God is no longer preached; when the saints of God have been called home to Heaven; when antichrist’s power will be supreme; and when there will be a famine, not for bread or for water, but for the hearing of the words of the Lord! All this awaits you, and you may soon experience it, if you do not get right with God.

What if the Lord should not come in your day, and His judgments on this guilty world are in His grace deferred for awhile? You must still pass from this life and stand before His righteous throne and your own evil record; then it will be forever too late to find a Savior. Flee now to Him who invites the sinful, the weary, the thirsty, and the lost to find cleansing, rest, refreshment and salvation in Himself. He appeared once “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” and He will soon “appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:26-28).

In view of all this, may we who are redeemed by His precious blood ever remember this word: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). Thus we will stand, like Daniel and his friends, apart from the world’s defiling ways.