Fifteen hundred years into their existence as a nation, the children of Israel were enslaved once again. No, this time it wasn’t to the Egyptians, this time they were slaves of the Babylonians. They were taken from their homes and land, and the brightest of the young men were taken into the palace to serve the king. After many years of enjoying their freedom, they were once again slaves in a land that was not their own.
In Psalm 137 God’s people tell the story of how their captors wanted to hear the former music that they sang in the land of Israel. “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” they said. “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” they responded. Sometimes singing in a foreign land is a hard thing to do.
Sometimes it seems that we are living in a foreign land too. Sometimes it seems that the country that we once knew isn’t what it once was. Because of the things that are happening around us we can feel that we are held captive by the prevailing beliefs of the day, persecuted by the rulers who are over us, marginalized in the very place that we call our home, hindered as we attempt to live out our faith, and put in quite a bind as we make difficult decisions about our faith and our allegiances. Even in our own country we can feel like strangers in a foreign land.
And yet there were some young people in that land who vowed that they would not do anything against their God even if it meant that they had to suffer for it. As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, faced a burning fiery furnace, they defied the king and said with one accord, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter … Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand … But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18
The Book of Daniel shows how the Lord protected, preserved, and blessed them as they faced the threats of fiery furnaces, lion pits, and being cut up into pieces. Only the devil claims that we win when we compromise.
Consider Daniel who was wrongfully accused. He had done nothing wrong and yet the governors of that land were jealous because the king made him head of the rest of them. They spied out his life in order to find something that they could accuse him of. And yet they said as is recorded in Daniel chapter 6, “We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” Knowing that Daniel lifted his eyes up each day to his homeland of Jerusalem and prayed to the Lord whose temple was there, they convinced the king to make a law that for thirty days no one could pray! Imagine a government banning prayer, and yet the government, even more, said that anyone who prayed for thirty days would be sentenced to death! Daniel, when he heard about these things, went to his window that day as he always did. And though the king was exceedingly sorry when he found out what the other governors had successfully plotted, the law could not be undone, and Daniel was thrown into the pit of lions.
The king arose very early in the morning and went to the lion’s den. “Daniel,” the king said, “has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Daniel responded and said, “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.” Daniel 6:20, 22
In a great reversal Daniel was freed, and all those who plotted against his life, including their wives and children, were thrown into the pit. The Scripture says that not one of their bodies touched the ground before all their bones were broken.
While it may be more obvious now than it used to be, as Christians we have always been strangers in a foreign land. Our home isn’t here as we are pilgrims and sojourners in this land. (1 Peter 2:11) Our destiny and hope are not in the things of this life. Our citizenship is in heaven. (Philippians 3:20) In spite of being enslaved, we have always been and always will be a free people before our God. As Daniel came out of the lion’s den alive, and as Jesus rose from the tomb, so in the end we know that our cause is in God’s hand. Whether we live or die, let it be known that as those men said, “We will not serve the gods of this age, and neither will we bow down to them.” (Daniel 3:18, paraphrase)
Whether we are thrown to lions, offered to furnaces, or threatened with the sword, let us vow as these young faithful people did to continue steadfast and immovable until the day that the Lord returns. (1 Corinthians 15:58) May we always be faithful citizens of the land, and yet may the world in examining our lives and conduct, find no accusation of sin or wrongdoing against us, “only in reference to our God.”