What starts with the kidnapping of a Jewish boy from his homeland by the largest empire the world had ever seen is one of the most remarkable stories in the scriptures. For Jesus-followers today, living in a tense, polarized, anti-God world, Daniel’s remarkable courage and integrity navigating his life as chattel in the court of the enemy is a vivid example of living in a world that is not our home.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and besieged it. 2The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand… 3The king spoke to Ashpenaz the chief of his eunuchs, that he should bring some of the children of Israel, both from the royal seed and from the nobility, 4youths in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, and skillful in all wisdom, and endowed with knowledge, and quick to understand, and such as had ability to stand in the king’s palace; and that he should teach them the language and literature of the Chaldeans.Daniel 1:1-2a, 3-4
In one abrupt scene, the boy Daniel was torn from his family and country of origin, kidnapped, and taken to an empire far larger, far more powerful, and far grander than little Jerusalem: Babylon. A city consumed with idolatry, Babylon was at the time the largest city in the world—and the military exploits of Nebuchadnezzar supplied her with a constant stream of foreigners. There, Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were captive slaves, vanquished foreigners.
Babylon’s myriad, massive temples and wonders dedicated to their deities made foreign captives’ gods seem small in comparison. Daniel and his friends could have been tempted to wonder: Did God fail us? Is it true that He isn’t as strong as Babylon’s gods? Is He even real?
Praise be to God for His Word. He had already prepared Daniel and his friends to face these questions.
But if you will not listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you this day… 36…Yahweh will bring you and your king whom you will set over you to a nation that you have not known, you nor your fathers, and there you will serve other gods, wood and stone.Deuteronomy 28:25a, 36
God’s covenant with Israel stipulated that were His people to reject Him, they would be conquered and taken captive by pagans. Isn’t it ironic? Daniel and his friends came from just one of the nations conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, but they were perhaps the only captives whose God had told them this would happen.
And in God’s remarkable graciousness, He also told His loyal followers what to do in Babylon:
This is what Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captivity whom I have caused to be carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon:Jeremiah 29:4
7 “…Seek the welfare of the city to which I have caused you to be carried away as captives, and pray to Yahweh for it, for in its welfare you will have your welfare.”Jeremiah 29:7
God had allowed Daniel to be taken into captivity, but Daniel could sleep at night knowing God had not abandoned His people—not only had He predicted these circumstances, He gave the captives a plan of action.
Like with Daniel, God in His kindness has warned us to expect difficulties in our day and time, too. In 2 Timothy, Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write,
And indeed, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…2 Timothy 3:12
In the same way Daniel knew from the covenant of the Mosaic Law and from the prophets who had warned his people, we know today that persecution is a natural consequence of following Jesus. Just like Daniel’s captivity did not lead him to reject God, Christian persecution need not lead us to question God, either.
For Daniel, “seeking the welfare of the city” meant succeeding in his studies; it meant applying himself to another language, mastering literature, history, and science, and succeeding in a culture that was antithetical to his own. Further, it meant building functional relationships with those around him in the city, as we see multiple times in the Book of Daniel. In fact, within the first ten verses comes the young man’s first conflict with pagan idolatry:
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food, nor with the wine that he drank; so he asked permission of the captain of the eunuchs not to defile himself.Daniel 1:8
Daniel couldn’t eat the king’s food. It is worth noting that the text probably mentions food and wine because both were offered to Nebuchadnezzar’s gods. And in the Old Testament tradition of defying idols, Daniel had quite a few options: he could staunchly refuse the food, trying to violently overcome his oppressors; he could starve himself in defiance of the king’s laws; he could confront the king about his idolatry; he could run away. But instead, it seems that Daniel chose the most peaceful course. He politely approached his boss in private.
Who would even think to do that? Serving the Almighty God, standing in the historical tradition of army-defying, nation-mastering, miraculous Israel, Daniel eschewed the brute-force method in favor of politely and patiently working with the people around him.
God asks something similar of us:
Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, 16yet do it with meekness and respect, having a good conscience, so that in a case when you are spoken against, those who revile your good way of life in Christ will be put to shame.1 Peter 3:15b-16
Peter was writing to Christ-followers who were oppressed by their government and opposed by their fellow citizens, but God inspired Peter to instruct these followers of Jesus not only to be prepared for when others ask us about our hope, but also to communicate with meekness and respect. And Daniel’s witness—kindly working with his pagan overseer to follow the commands of his God—speaks through the centuries to us as an example.
Daniel’s handling of this whole situation embodies James’ description of wisdom:
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, reasonable, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruit, without prejudice, without hypocrisy. 18And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.James 3:17-18
As Christ followers, we are captives in a foreign land—just like Daniel. But like Daniel, we have been forewarned of the struggles we can expect. Knowing that God is with us, we can live empowered to face our circumstances with integrity and kindness, sowing and reaping a harvest of peace.
 John Lennox, Against the Flow, p. 25