Key Texts: Dan. 1-12; Isa. 9:5-7; Da. 2:44; Matt. 24:14, 15; Gen. 41.
This week, the lesson is about the missionary effect of those ancient Israelites who were carried off in one of the Babylonian invasions that took place in the time of Ezekiel and Daniel. We learn quite a lot about them from the Book of Daniel and also from Isaiah 39:5-7.
Knowing a little about the history of that time is helpful in understanding this lesson. When Israel came out of Egypt, God made a covenant with them the record of which is found in Deuteronomy chapters 28-32. When you read that record, you will notice that one of the major features of the covenant is a list of blessings and curses. The blessings were to accrue if Israel was faithful to God while the curses were to accrue if they went off into idolatry. Interestingly, the final curse is that Israel would be returned to Egypt, their place of bondage, where they would offer themselves as slaves and no one would buy them. Were this curse to be fulfilled, it would represent the complete nullification of God’s calling of Abraham and blessing him and his descendants.
With the provisions of the covenant in mind, it is alarming to read the various predictions of the prophets that Israel was about to be over-run by the Babylonians who, at that time, were the chief enemy of Israel. History shows the Babylonians came three times, first to take the princes and leaders, second to take the artisans and craftsman, and a third time to decimate everything and drive all the people out of the land. Daniel was one of those caught up in the first invasion. His story as a captive in Babylon is quite familiar.
Think of the various stories in the book of Daniel – chapter 1 with the showdown over food, chapter 2 with the showdown over the vision Nebuchadnezzar had that he could not remember, chapter 3 with the amazing face off on the Plain of Dura where the young Hebrew men feared not even to embarrass the King. And don’t forget Daniel 6 with the story of Daniel being thrown into the lion’s den. Below are some questions that could help lead the discussion of what learning might be had from these stories:
- What do you think put the steel in Daniel and his friend’s backs that they could withstand the kind of pressure they felt in Babylon?
- Notice the reversals of fortune that followed the willingness of the young men to stand unflinchingly for what they believed to be right. Do you have that kind of stuff in you?
- What was the effect of the refusal of the captives to bend? Do you think their witness would have been anywhere near as grand had they succumbed to the circumstance in hopes of finding a more subtle way to reveal their beliefs?
- By the time we get to Daniel 6, there is a new empire and a new king yet Daniel is still in a very high position. What qualities do you think caused such durability?
- The fact that the king went to the lion’s den the morning after Daniel had been thrown in is remarkable. Why do you think he went given the fact that the lions were kept in a hungry state in order to dispatch any people thrown in with them immediately?
- What would you say about Daniel’s decision to continue to pray in his window in spite of the new law? Was there really need for that?
- Take a few minutes to reflect on the grand sweep of history that emerges from the story in Daniel 2. Notice that the chapter almost self-interprets. Can you from memory make a list of the great kingdoms that appear sequentially in this chapter? How far do you think we are from the day when the kingdom of stone will appear?
This lesson invites us also to look at other exiles whose witness turned out to be significant. Two in particular are Nehemiah in Babylon, and Esther in Persia. Notice how different the approaches of Daniel and Esther were. Can you list some differences?
- Reflect on the opportunity that came for God to act even dramatically when his followers were willing to stand up even in the face of great adversity.
- Why do you think there was a sense of urgency in those young men to “stand for the right though the heavens fall” while so many today are much more inclined to be accommodationists? What can be done to turn that around?