Trusting God Despite Captivity, Circumstance, and Culture
Read Daniel 1:1-7
The opening of the Book of Daniel described the circumstances that brought a man from his homeland to serve God in captivity in a pagan country. Daniel was from a prominent Jewish family and when Babylon took over Jerusalem, Nebuchaddnezzar instructed that all the best talent train in the way of the literature and language of the Chaldeans (Babylonians). On first read this looks like a good deal for the teenagers, Daniel and his buddies. They may be in captivity, but at least they are livin’ large.
They were probably all in the homecoming court at Jerusalem high. Their parents probably bought them sweet rides for high school and they were being set up to be prominent leaders in the next generation. Then the Lord set in motion a plan that disrupted everything they thought might be their future. The girl that Daniel had his eye on, the role of leadership, the family that he may have thought he would raise. Gone in a moment.
Daniel and his crew go to Babylon and their initiation is…uh…well…it’s…castration.
Now scholars argue about this. Some say that the word “sardis” which literally means eunuchs also is used for court officials. Potiphar in Genesis is referred to as a “sardis,” but he had a wife (a deviant wife, but a wife nevertheless). Others contend that the word “sardis” refers to literal Eunuchs in the king’s court. This to me seems more likely as one of Daniel’s contemporaries, Isaiah, wrote a powerful prophecy concerning the life of a eunuch. He wrote,
Isaiah 56:3-5 Let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
Isaiah wrote before the exile, but this part of his prophey is post-exhilic dealing with those returning from Babylon. So why focus an entire piece of prophecy on eunuchs. God’s law forbade making men eunuchs. In fact, eunuchs were not allowed to enter the temple courts. This prohibited the Israelites and Jews from being like other countries and surrounding themselves with eunuchs to guard their harems.
So why did Isaiah write about it at all? Well there was a large contingent of eunuchs returning from Babylon who had been made Eunuchs and were therefore in need of hope. Not to mention all of these guys may have been fairly prominent family members in Jerusalem. God saw past their outward brokenness to the heart of who they were and gave them hope of restoration them despite their defects.
In Mark 11:17 while Jesus is cleansing the temple he taught,
“Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
Jesus quoted first from Isaiah 56 and then from Jeremiah 7:11. In Isaiah 56, God included the foreigners and the eunuch into his kingdom. Jesus is not looking solely at the outward appearance (circumcision and no defects—not castrated), but at who will trust in the covenant with the God of the universe.
While some might take this initiation as abuse and proof that God doesn’t love them or care about them, Daniel took the pain and then used the position that God gave him to leverage the trust that the king had in him, to show who the one true God of the universe was and is. God would show up in some incredible ways. Daniel would have to trust God when everything for his life looked bleak—like when his life was threatened by a moody king and conniving colleagues.
So today, will you trust in God despite what circumstances God may have put you in and/or the culture that is trying to conform you to its empty promises?