Assimilation vs Transformation

I’ve begun preaching a series of sermons on the book of Daniel. While I was studying Daniel 1, I thought about Nebuchadnezzar’s policy of bringing captives back, especially in the case of the nobility and royalty, like Daniel (1:3).

The Babylonians certainly had a variety of motivations for this policy.

  1. The young nobles could serve as far-off hostages.
  2. The taking of captives would demotivate the people.
  3. Jerusalem would be left with a future leadership void, a brain-drain.
  4. Babylon could prepare future puppet kings who would both be accepted and loyal to the Babylonians.

Of course, in the story, we get the idea that this is the hand of God, not just some crafty old king.

When Nebuchadnezzar takes these guys, he goes to great lengths to work on these young men.

He first separates them from their families, by way of a 1,500 mile road trip. This isolates them from anyone like-minded. There wouldn’t have been many Hebrew-speaking, Yahweh-worshipping, Kosher-eating guys in the headquarters of Babylonian idolatry. Then he obligates them to loyalty—giving them gifts, training, and promises of a great future. These gifts introduce a quid-pro-quo relationship with their Babylonian captor/patrons. Indoctrination comes next as they are taught the “literature and language” of the Chaldeans. Instead of telling the old stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they’re schooled in divination, sorcery, and idolatry. Finally, they are given new identification. Their old, God-honoring names are stripped away, and they are given names loaded with pagan meanings.

The purpose of these steps (separation, isolation, obligation, indoctrination, and identification) was simple: assimilation.

Nebuchadnezzar wanted these young men to be Hebrews in name only. He wanted conformists to his way of doing things.

If you’re familiar with the story of Daniel and his three friends, you already know that’s the very thing they were unwilling to do.

It strikes me that today we face similar pressure. Our busy lives tend to separate us from those who share our like and precious faith. We’re isolated when we face temptation. The world tries to drive us into trusting it, being enslaved by career, hobby, mortgage…anything that can ensnare us. Our sitcoms and talk shows pipe out indoctrination 24/7. “Live the American dream.” “Have it your way.” “You deserve it!” We become more identified by our jobs, our hobbies, and our families than by our savior.

And before long, we’ve been assimilated. We’re just one more traveler down a broad and easy path…a path that Jesus said leads to destruction.

Let’s be aware of what’s going on. Let’s act intentionally to do something different. Let’s try what Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2)

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Derision of Heaven

Daniel is, without question, one of the most difficult books of the Bible. Michael’s decision to move it to the top of the list of his companion guides to scripture will be a great relief to many Bible students who are struggling with the existing material on the book.

The book is like its predecessor: Epic of God. It isn’t a commentary or a quarterly. It’s a companion to help you as you work through the book. It excels in “keeping the main thing the main thing.” He deals with the familiar, tried-and-true Vacation Bible School stories in a way that is fresh. He encourages you to dig beyond the surface. In the latter sections of the book, Whitworth helps us approach apocalyptic literature with the sanity that’s so often missing from treatments of the text.

Derision is highly readable but not “light.” It’s heavily foot-noted and well-sourced. Whitworth interacts with a great number of scholars and shares some of their best pearls of wisdom. He is especially timely in his treatment of responding to persecution or times of God’s perceived silence. In difficult interpretive spots, Whitworth offers several options and suggests the most plausible. He reminds readers not to be unnecessarily dogmatic and to make sure that the forest doesn’t get lost in the trees.

I can absolutely recommend Derision to you as a high-quality guide to Daniel. I hope that it causes a much-neglected book to recapture a place in pulpits, classrooms, and homes. Thank you, Michael!