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In the early sixth century b.c., four Hebrew boys, probably teenagers at the time, were forcibly deported from the tiny state of Judah in Israel to live out their lives in service to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. It would have been easy for Daniel and his three friends to forget the history of their people and the God who had revealed himself to them through it, and to adopt instead the pagan worldview of this vast, spectacular city, the greatest city in the world at the time.
But they didn't do that. Nor did they constrain their worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to their own private, subjectivized sphere for the sake of public amicableness. Instead, they lived out a tactful but unapologetic witness in a pluralistic culture that grew increasingly hostile to their faith.
Their world was in many ways much like ours, says Oxford scientist John Lennox in his book Against the Flow. And therefore we can learn much from Daniel's record of the extraordinary events that took place in ancient Babylon. Lennox expounds some of the things the biblical Book of Daniel reveals:
The reality of the supernatural. Although the Babylonians were superficially religious (the city had more than a thousand temples), their prevailing origin narrative held that the gods had emerged out of some primeval combination of material substances. In this sense the Babylonian worldview parallels the materialism of our day. Their philosophical meta-narrative, however, fell far short of the Hebrew boys' monotheistic faith, which knew God as the transcendent, self-existing Being who created all matter and energy. As events in Babylon played out, though, it became apparent to Babylonian kings and peasants alike that Daniel's God was a Being of a whole different order from anything in Babylon's pantheon. Daniel's God communicated through dreams and divine actions. And through such interventions he revealed profound realities that no ordinary human being could have ascertained on his own.
The absolute supremacy of God. Also, like the rulers of the secular states of our day, Babylon's rulers were wont to demand homage that should only be rendered to God. But while Daniel and his friends served King Nebuchadnezzar with integrity and faithfulness, when they were pressed to worship him or his idol, they refused, even on pain of death. On at least three such occasions, God manifested his supremacy directly to Babylon's king, revealing that he, and he alone, was worthy of worship.
The sovereignty of God behind world history. In his final six chapters, Daniel relates several great and sweeping prophetic visions he was granted concerning future events on the world stage, much of which he did not fully understand. Some of the visions are still yet to be fulfilled, but others were subsequently fulfilled in such precise detail that skeptics have asserted that the book of Daniel must have been written centuries later by someone other than Daniel (a view that Lennox argues persuasively against).
Lennox describes Against the Flow as an "apologetic exposition"—a work designed to show how Scripture engages with the big worldview questions people are asking today. He has accomplished that goal with both profound depth and remarkable ease of readability.
"The story of Daniel and his friends is a clarion call to our generation to be courageous; not to lose our nerve and allow the expression of our faith to be diluted and squeezed out of the public space and thus rendered spineless and ineffective," he writes. It's an objective, he concedes, that may not be achieved without cost. But as the life of Daniel attests, it's an objective worth living for at any cost, even death. •
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