God’s Greater Than Your Trials
When I first moved to Hawaii 12 years ago, I’d never surfed. I started out learning by borrowing my buddy’s 9 foot longboard on bunny waves here at white plains. Then one day in November a guy who grew up on the North Shore asked me if I surf. At this point, I considered myself a surfer, so I said yes. So we rolled up to north shore before the sun came up one morning and we got to the beach and he said this is off the wall, which is a right break directly next to pipeline, and he hands me a 5’8” board. I wanted to say, “what the heck is this?” but just grabbed it and acted like I knew what I was doing. We paddled out in like totally flat conditions and we were sitting there talking when this mountain starts to move at me. Now, I freaked out and swam toward it so that it wouldn’t break on me, but I turned around and watched as my buddy caught it, rode it beautifully, throwing his arms up and letting out a cheer, and it looked so, so easy. Now they were about 8 foot faces that day and I didn’t know any different, I just thought well that looked easy so I’m going for the next one. And when I went for it, I had no idea how to position my body on the board, or position myself on the wave, I just paddled aimlessly, and the wave picked me up and slammed me on the reef. I came up bleeding from both shoulders, my hip, my foot, like everywhere.
That’s kinda like the story of Daniel. Because God’s sovereignty over your life, that’s his control over everything in life, it’s kind of like an unstoppable wave. It’s coming, it’s powerful, I can’t do anything to change it, But I can position myself in such a way where I can ride that wave and enjoy it. A lot of times we try to fight it or we just ignore that it’s coming, but when we fight it or ignore it, we end up getting crushed by it. God wants you to ride the wave of his sovereign control of your life, he doesn’t want you to be crushed by it. He wants you to know how to position yourself so that whatever comes, however big or ominous or terrifying, you’re in the right position to ride it and have joy in the midst of it. That’s exactly what we find Daniel doing all throughout this book.
So let’s pray that God would show us how to ride the wave of his sovereign control over all the events in our lives.
Let’s jump into the story in verse 1: “In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it.” So the book opens with the problem: a foreign army is attacking Jerusalem. And guys we see this over and over in life; no matter how hard we try, TRIALS ALWAYS FIND US. We try to protect ourselves financially, and housing or stock market crashes. We’re just minding our business and driving to work and we get in a wreck or the car breaks down. Just walking through Target, and someone comes up and says they want to fight you (which happened to me not long ago!). There are all kinds of trials that just find us. And then there’re some that we bring into our lives. We overextend ourselves financially, we give more time to work than our family, we decide to eat McDonalds everyday and never work out. There are some trials that we’ve brought on ourselves. And that was Israel’s case. They tried to fight against God’s wave, and here it’s gonna crush them.
So in verse 2: “The Lord handed King Jehoiakim of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God. Nebuchadnezzar carried them to the land of Babylon, to the house of his god, and put the vessels in the treasury of his god.” They get crushed man. But did you notice the wording at the beginning of verse 2: The Lord handed them over. God was behind it, in control of it. Everyone in Babylon thought that their victory was proof that their gods were greater than Israel’s God, but Israel’s God was in control the whole time of even the destruction of Jerusalem. See even if they seem so terrible that God couldn’t have any part of them, GOD IS IN CONTROL OF YOUR TRIALS. Even if you brought them on yourself like Israel did, God is still in control and can redeem or make right your bad decisions. Sometimes he allows us to be out of alignment with what he’s doing and we get crushed, but that always serves to point us back to him. It’s why one pastor said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” He recognized that when we get crushed by life’s trials, we’re being crushed SO THAT we run to God. So he was thankful for that wave.
But we’re gonna be tempted to hate the wave, and turn away from it. Look at verse 3: “The king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the Israelites from the royal family and from the nobility — young men without any physical defect, good-looking, suitable for instruction in all wisdom, knowledgeable, perceptive, and capable of serving in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the Chaldean language and literature. The king assigned them daily provisions from the royal food and from the wine that he drank. They were to be trained for three years, and at the end of that time they were to attend the king. Among them, from the Judahites, were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The chief eunuch gave them names; he gave the name Belteshazzar to Daniel, Shadrach to Hananiah, Meshach to Mishael, and Abednego to Azariah.” King Nebuchadnezzar knows exactly what he’s doing with these Israelite kids. He’s grooming them, indoctrinating them to grow up to be in love with Babylon. He isolates them from their family, makes them learn the language of Babylon and read it’s literature, which at this point is like going to it’s movies or playing it’s video games, and then he wants them to eat the best food in Babylon. And then he renames them, stripping them of their Hebrew names that talk about God, and giving them names that talk about the false gods of Babylon. This is a guy who knows how to conquer the world; just win these guys over with extravagance! This is why Thanos won’t win, he just came in and destroyed people’s lives, he didn’t butter up Tony Stark and give him some good food. But guys what we see is that IN TRIALS, WE’LL BE TEMPTED TO TURN AWAY FROM GOD. I mean, how many people would REALLY blame these kids if they decided to pursue an easy life after what they’ve been through? Why not just reject God and embrace Babylon? Why don’t we, when trials come, just reject God and his ways and just try to find some comfort in life?
But still Daniel makes a conscious decision to catch the wave God’s sending him. Look at verse 8: “Daniel determined that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine he drank. So he asked permission from the chief eunuch not to defile himself. God had granted Daniel kindness and compassion from the chief eunuch.” Now, scholars can’t really agree on what the problem was with this food. It didn’t really violate the Israelite culinary laws, there was nothing wrong with wine. It’s possible that the food had been offered to Babylonian idols or something like that, but many scholars don’t think that was the case. So why’s Daniel taking a stand on the food? Why not the name? Or learning the language? I think it was because Daniel just wisely saw that if he fell in love with the food of Babylon, he could easily fall in love with LIFE IN Babylon. I think Daniel knew his own heart, and he knew that the pleasures of this world really did distract him from trusting God. So he makes a decision not to indulge in them. That means he’s going to miss out on a lot of good stuff. He’ll miss out on some epic meals. Miss out on some parties. But what he’ll gain is far, far greater. And look what it says: God had granted Daniel kindness and compassion from the chief eunuch. Even in the middle of this crazy trial, God gives Daniel grace. And that’s always true. GOD ALWAYS GIVES US GRACE IN THE MIDST OF TRIALS. Sometimes we don’t see it. Sometimes we don’t look for it. But he’s always giving us his grace. He’s giving you grace right now in the middle of whatever’s going on in your life.
But, verse 10, yet he said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and drink. What if he sees your faces looking thinner than the other young men your age? You would endanger my life with the king.” So Daniel said to the guard whom the chief eunuch had assigned to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then examine our appearance and the appearance of the young men who are eating the king’s food, and deal with your servants based on what you see.” He agreed with them about this and tested them for ten days.” Now, I have no idea where this plan came from. There’s no command in the Bible that Daniel would have known about about what to do when you’re in exile and trying to still follow God. We don’t read that God appeared to Daniel in a dream and told him to do this. We really just don’t know where this came from, but it’s clear that GOD GIVES WISDOM IN OUR TRIALS. This is incredibly wise of Daniel. He’s not ignoring God’s control, he’s not fighting against it, he’s submitting to it in a way that honors God. He’s respectful, polite, winsome, and comes with an idea instead of just saying that I’m not eating your stinking food. God gives incredible wisdom in the middle of our trials.
And in verse 15: “At the end of ten days they looked better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food. So the guard continued to remove their food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables. God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind.” God just continues to give these guys grace. They were healthier than everyone else, and now God’s pouring out knowledge and understanding on these guys, even the ability to understand people’s dreams! That’s an incredible gift of God!
So in verse 18: “At the end of the time that the king had said to present them, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king interviewed them, and among all of them, no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they began to attend the king. In every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king consulted them about, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and mediums in his entire kingdom. Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.” God makes them the top of their class in everything, 10 times better than everyone else! And that number can’t be a coincidence. Daniel asked the chief eunuch for 10 days to prove God’s goodness, and now God proves his goodness by making them 10 times greater than everyone else. So they were given high positions and Daniel it says remained until the first year of King Cyrus. That’s like 60 more years Daniel lived in Babylon, able to show people what it looked like to trust God. Daniel rode the wave of God’s sovereignty and goodness, and God ended up using Daniel’s trials to bless others. That’s exactly what he wants to do with you. You may be going through a raging sea of trials right now, but God has them in your life so that you can bless other people for the rest of your life.
Later in this book there’s gonna be a fiery furnace. Later there’s gonna be a lions den. Right now, Daniel was just faithful with food, something much smaller. Guys current faith in small trials will lead to heroic faith in future trials.
What trials does God have in your life right now?
Maybe you’re going through financial trials, or trials in your marriage. I’m sure you’re going through trials if you’re a parent. Maybe there are some trials within your immediate or extended family. Maybe you’re dating someone you know you shouldn’t be dating. You’ve taken a new job, uprooted your family, and now you think you’ve made a mistake. What waves are coming at you? Maybe you’ve been ignoring them, hoping they just won’t break on you, or you’ve been fighting against trusting God in them.
Maybe you feel the same way the psalmist did in when he penned the exile Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung up our lyres on the poplar trees, for our captors there asked us for songs, and our tormentors, for rejoicing: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?” Aren’t our trials too much for us to be able to sing?
Because we see our trials as terrifyingly high waves, ready to crush us at any second. But God sees our trials so differently. He sees them as the exact things that are gonna propel us forward to joy and life if we’ll just trust him and ride the wave.
The key is seeing His grace in the midst of our trials. Because Daniel 1 is full of God’s grace.
3 ways that we can see God’s grace in our trials.
- EMBRACE DISCIPLINE – If you’ve put yourself in a place in life where things are difficult and full of trials, embrace that difficulty. Because guys even the judgement of God on Jerusalem by having Babylon come and lay siege to them is an evidence of God’s grace. Because God disciplines people who he loves. Hebrews 12 says: “My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or lose heart when you are reproved by him, for the Lord disciplines the one he loves and punishes every son he receives.” Just like a good parent would correct and discipline their child, God employs discipline to turn us back to him. Maybe you know that you’re being disciplined by God for ways that you’ve ignored him or run away from him. Embrace that. Confess the ways you’ve sinned. Let God teach you, guide you, and restore you.
- LEAN INTO RELATIONSHIPS – Daniel saw God’s grace in giving him a good relationship with the chief eunuch. We don’t read that that guy feared God or had faith, he just liked Daniel. And it says that God granted that this guy liked Daniel. His kindness was a gift of God. Daniel definitely leaned into his relationship with the other 3 Hebrew kids who were in this with him, there names are always mentioned together. Daniel had this band of brothers who were supporting each other, praying for each other. It’s a beautiful picture of what Paul says in Galatians 6 that we should: “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Call that friend that you know is going to point you to Jesus. Ask that person that you’re just getting to know if you can hang out with them, because they just have so much joy in following Jesus. Spend time with that person who loves God’s Word and pick their brain about how your love for God’s Word can grow. Lean into the relationships that God has given you.
- REJOICE IN GOD’S GIFTS – All throughout this passage, Daniel receives massive blessings from God, even in the middle of huge trials. It would have been super easy for Daniel to miss those blessings, just like it is for us. We tend to fixate on what’s wrong, the problem in every trial of life. But God is always being gracious to us. John Piper said once that God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of 3 of them. Paul was in prison, God was making sure that prison guards heard the gospel. Joseph was sold into slavery, falsely accused of sexual assault, and forgotten in a prison cell, and God was preparing him to rule a nation and save thousands of lives. You may lose your husband and sons, be left desolate in a foreign land, and God is preparing you to be the ancestor of a King like Ruth was. No matter what’s happening in your life, God loves you, he is on your side, he is coming after you, and he is relentless. And we know this because of gift of what Jesus did for us. Because of his death in our place, God forgives our sins, embraces us has his kids, loves us fiercely, and has promised to keep us in his family forever. That’s the best gift that you can rejoice in no matter what’s going on in your life.