No word better describes the prophet Daniel. Believers have long marveled at his willingness to boldly endure a night in the presence of hungry lions—knowing that death was a likely outcome—because he esteemed God over man.
There is a simple moral in Daniel’s story: stand for God, no matter the consequences.
And the application seems obvious. Have the same courage as the prophet. Don’t compromise your convictions, even if death is the result. Of course, following Daniel’s example isn’t always as simple. That kind of conviction can be costly, and oftentimes dangerous. Daniel-like courage can come at the price of life itself, and who is willing to pay that?
To understand why Daniel had such courage—and how we can as well—we need to understand that the fuel for Daniel’s courage was not his convictions. It was the God he served.
Obviously, Daniel was a man of conviction. However, he didn’t build those convictions himself. Instead, he saw the will and work of God in him and all around him.
True and experiential knowledge of who God is and what He’s doing transformed Daniel.
Our pagan society—our modern-day Babylon—is not all that different than the society of Daniel’s day. Twenty-first century believers have much in common with the people of God in the ancient world. We too are aliens in a foreign, pagan land. We too are asked to compromise our beliefs, pledge allegiance to men over God, and forsake our devotion to our Heavenly King. And if we are to share Daniel’s resolve, we must draw our courage from the same source he did. The stories we tell about this great man of God are less about the man and more about his God. Though the call to be courageous and faithful can be difficult, it is not impossible because it is not dependent on our strength. Our courage can be the same as Daniel’s because our God is his God.
In this article, I will share three encouragements for a courageous life that can anchor our gospel courage not in ourselves, but in the gracious and generous God who grants deep-rooted convictions and life-long faithfulness.
God Establishes Where We are Planted
The book of Daniel begins by describing the tragic fall of the Jewish people into the hands of the Babylonians (606-605 BC). The narrative describes a complete takeover by a king, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who believes he defeated Yahweh Himself when he transported “vessels of the house of God… to the house of his god, and the vessels into the treasury of his god” (Dan. 1:2).
Having seemingly stripped the Jewish people of their God, Nebuchadnezzar then asks and demands whatever he wants of them. He drafts the sons of Israel into his personal service (Dan. 1:3-5), and he educates these Hebrew boys in the customs and systems of Babylon. He even administers name changes that disassociate these men from their heritage and instead assimilate them into a new, pagan culture. Given those circumstances, Daniel would have had every reason to be broken, distressed, or indignant. But that is not the case because Daniel recognizes God’s providence in his life. Daniel 1:2 holds the key to Daniel’s courage in a hostile environment. It says the chaos, the loss of a home, the dominance of a foreign power, the need to assimilate to a new culture were ordained by God Himself. “The Lord handed Jehoiakim king of Judah over to him” (Dan. 1:2). What Nebuchadnezzar never imagined was that his conquest of God’s people fit perfectly into the will and purposes designed by God for His people.
The world did not slip out of God’s grasp in Daniel’s day. Neither has it today. In God’s wisdom, he always plants his people in fertile soil where they can live and minster with courage. What good is courage if it is unnecessary? When the world seems most against God’s people, His servants have the greatest opportunity to show that they are people of conviction and supernatural boldness. While the nations rage, the King of heaven laughs and scoffs (Ps. 2:1-4). Thus, God’s people neither tremble nor fear. If God has brought us here, He will see us through.
The present age has grown increasingly tumultuous, and at times, it can be tempting to think the church’s future is bleak.
But before losing heart or becoming desperate, remember that even today belongs God. He has given it to us so that we might boldly prove to be His.
God Encourages Those Who Risk it All
As a young man in a foreign land, Daniel accepted much in his new way of life. He endured three years of re-education, learned a new language, and even embraced a name change. But he could not adopt everything that came with this life makeover. When offered the delicacies of the king’s table, “Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself with the king’s choice foods or the wine which he drank” (Dan. 1:8).
In part, Daniel’s stand had to do with food devoted to pagan idols. Partaking would equate with acknowledging the gods of Babylon. It is also likely that the food from the king’s table would have veered away from Jewish dietary restrictions (Lev. 11). Certainly, Daniel did not want to break God’s law. But even more so, he wanted to show the world where his allegiance was. His plan to go vegan (kidding) instead of enjoying the king’s buffet was a declaration of his dependence on God rather than the self-proclaimed god of Babylon.
The beauty of this story is that God honors Daniel’s resolve.
The young man committed himself to the Lord, and for that, he and his friends became stronger and better in appearance than the king’s other servants (Dan. 1:14-16). Despite his rebellious request, he found favor in the sight of those meant to rule over him. God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the hearts of his enemies (Dan. 1:9).
Our faith is tempted daily in this modern-day Babylon. The people of God are still enticed to dine in the world’s luxurious market rather than the Lord’s generous table. But only those resolved to honor God are honored in the end.
This world’s goods are going to expire. The Lord’s bread lasts forever.
Daniel was bold because he did not fear death. We can be bold because true and eternal life awaits. We, like that great prophet, must live committed to what the Savior preached: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25).
Those who fear God have no need to fear anything else. And those who walk in the fear of the Lord walk in the path of God’s favor, one that chiefly promises life everlasting (Prov. 8:32-36). The world can neither tamper with nor thwart what God has promised His people. Because eternal life is ours, we can boldly stand in our convictions.
God Enables His People for a Lifetime
It is worth noting how the first chapter of Daniel ends. After the young man was taken from his home, placed into captivity where his life was at stake, and thereafter rewarded along with his friends for his allegiance to the Lord, the text says, “And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king” (Dan. 1:21). God’s provision was not a one-time event. He enabled Daniel to serve him faithfully over a long period of time, and under multiple kings.
Cyrus was not king at the beginning of this story. He would not enter the scene until 539 BC when his forces conquered the Babylonians. When King Cyrus arrived in that land, he found an old Jewish sage who, for almost 70 years, continued to faithfully devote Himself to his God in a foreign, pagan land.
So often believers live as though they will need courage “one of these days.” We look and perceive that the battle is far off, so our guards are down and our training for war fades. But the courage needed on the day of combat will not be there if we do not deepen our convictions right now.
The message in Daniel is that we cannot wait and see if we will have courage when it is most needed. A faithful life develops one day at a time.
If we are to stand for God one day, we must deepen our relationship and devotion to Him today. The one who faithfully commits himself to the Lord, frequently basking and worshipping God for His character and testimony, will be ready to withstand the world’s pressure whenever it comes. Daniel was found faithful in the end because he was dependent from the beginning. Those who depend greatly are built up to endure the test of time (Matt. 24:13).
Courage for Today
The courage that sustained Daniel is still offered to God's people today. Over the last several years, it has been a joy and privilege to benefit firsthand from the preaching and pastoral care of Pastor John MacArthur. I often wonder how he does it, and how he keeps doing it. Fifty-four years of faithful ministry, week-after-week, Sunday-after-Sunday, verse-by-verse, preaching the Word of God and equipping godly men with the tools needed to unearth the treasures in Scripture. And he does all this in a world that has grown increasingly hostile, dismissive, and ambivalent toward the gospel of Christ.
Repeatedly during this unique season, I think of two words that Pastor John has often said when thinking through the reason he can stand so boldly for Christ and His church:
Those we admire as courageous derive their boldness from assurance. Surety breeds confidence. If we are to be encouraged to stand for truth in the fullness of conviction until our dying breath, let us gaze, wonder, and worship the God who is true and whose promises are sure.
[Editor's note: This post was originally posted in September, 2021 and has been updated.]