Lessons from Daniel’s Childhood in Raising Up Champions

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The northern Kingdom of Israel had been captured and exiled by the Assyrians (capital: Nineveh) in 722BC (“the 10 lost tribes.”)  The southern kingdom was saved for over a hundred years by the repentance of good King Hezekiah (2 Kings 19).

Good King Josiah, Hezekiah’s great grandson, comes to power in Judah in 641BC, at the age of 8 years old.   Jeremiah starts prophesying in 626 BC, and around 622BC, under Josiah, Judah has its greatest spiritual revival ever, once the Torah is rediscovered in the temple.  

After several decades of not celebrating the Passover, King Josiah reinstates Passover in epic proportions:

“Then Josiah provided 30,000 lambs and young goats for the people’s Passover offerings, along with 3,000 cattle, all from the king’s own flocks and herds.  The king’s officials also made willing contributions to the people, priests, and Levites. Hilkiah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, the administrators of God’s Temple, gave the priests 2,600 lambs and young goats and 300 cattle as Passover offerings.  The Levite leaders—Conaniah and his brothers Shemaiah and Nethanel, as well as Hashabiah, Jeiel, and Jozabad—gave 5,000 lambs and young goats and 500 cattle to the Levites for their Passover offerings …. The entire ceremony for the LORD’s Passover was completed that day. All the burnt offerings were sacrificed on the altar of the LORD, as King Josiah had commanded.  All the Israelites present in Jerusalem celebrated Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days.” (Chronicles 35:7-17)

Daniel was born, in Jerusalem, into wealth and nobility, shortly after this Passover. He was born in the greatest spiritual revival ever seen in Judah. He had a great childhood education – and great spiritual formation.  He was at the heart of revival – at Ground Zero, in Jerusalem.   Undoubtedly as a child he saw King Josiah, Jeremiah, and the prophet Zephaniah first hand.  Probably his family dined with all of them.   What is notable about these prophets is their significant world concern.[1]  Daniel’s childhood was filled with stories and prophecies speaking of various world powers and rulers.  The prophet Habakkuk arrived later in the scene, around 612BC.

Probably the penultimate event of Daniel’s childhood was the fall of Nineveh in 612BC.  Assyria had been one of Judah’s greatest enemies for over a century.  In today’s terms, Daniel was in his later elementary years, perhaps in our “5th grade,” when he sees the results of nation-wide repentance and revival: – good triumphing over evil – all prophesied in advanced by prophets that he personally had heard.

It would not be much of a stretch to say, in today’s terms, that Daniel had a thoroughly spiritual / religious (Christian) upbringing in his elementary years.  But somewhere in late middle or high school, the bottom fell out.

After failing to follow the advice of Jeremiah, King Josiah is killed by the Egyptians in 605BC.  Daniel is now 11-15 years old.  The two kings who follow are both evil.  Jeremiah is abused by the false prophets, and weeps tears without end. Habakkuk and Zephaniah implore a nation to repentance, all to no avail. 
Under evil kings once more, Israel returns to the idolatry, carousing, and occultist behaviors that sunk Israel a hundred years earlier.  Daniel observes all of this firsthand.  He’s at the heart of it, in Jerusalem, watching his beloved nation come to ruin.

Four years after Josiah died, Nebuchadnezzar and his armies come, attack Jerusalem, and win.[2]  Note how Isaiah prophetically described those days:

The Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    called you on that day
to weep and to wail,
    to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth.
But see, there is joy and revelry,
    slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep,
    eating of meat and drinking of wine!
“Let us eat and drink,” you say,
    “for tomorrow we die!”[3]

From the heights of faithfulness to God in 612BC Judah sinks to the very depths just seven years later.  Jerusalem itself falls. Daniel is careful to mention – twice – that sacred objects from the temple were taken into the temple of the false gods of Babylon. This apparently was devastating to godly Daniel.

Daniel has several months to ponder it all, traveling to Babylon over 500 miles away.   Soon he learns of Jeremiah’s prophesy that there will be no return from his exile for 70 long years.   

Take a moment to imagine the emotions of that – walk 500 miles in young Daniel’s moccasins.  

The Hebrew word often translated “eunuch” is unclear[4], but there is a good chance Daniel was castrated.  The Babylonian name he was given meant “Lady protect the King.[5]”  His first challenge was to study, for three long years, the occultist practices of the Chaldeans – the very same practices that he watched, firsthand, ruin Judah:

The Hebrew youths were trained in the wisdom of Babylon.  This involved being acquainted with polytheistic writings and occult practices, astrology, divination, and magic – knowledge forbidden in Israel.  It was spiritual patbag, [sic] the educational equivalent to Nebuchadnezzar’s rich food.  The youths became experts in the occult, learned in the lore of Babylon.  Their education was intended to alienate them from their Israelite culture.[6] 

On top of that, Daniel’s next challenge was to abstain from food offered to idols – at the peril of his life.  Through all of it, serving under a heathen egomaniac[7] and at least two other ethically-challenged tyrant kings, Daniel stayed steady and true to his faith.

How did he do it?

Daniel was flesh and blood like all of us.  Studying his childhood and teenage years, it is more understandable why he would not give up his faith in Yahweh.  We should use the lessons of his childhood and teenage years to raiseup kids for an uncertain future.

Daniel observed and experienced the death, destruction and lies of the ungodly first hand.  He didn’t read about it in a book.  It was no intellectual exercise to him.  It was life and death – perhaps even the life of his parents.  For Daniel, it was as real as it gets. 

As we think about how we train kids in secondary education, a few years away from the “real” world, what we are talking about here is much, much, more than apologetics.  Our kids need to experience God, and to understand, at a gut, visceral, emotional level – the real consequences of evil. 

That process can begin with a book or a video, but ultimately it ends with a person – a teacher, a mentor, or an inspirational speaker.

CRITICALLY, we need to have our high school kids study and learn at a heart level what happens when godless people with money and power really mess things up – when individual lives, families, peoples, companies, and entire nations come to ruin without a belief in God.  We need to do this high school, with a Christian worldview critique, as did Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk in Daniels’ time.  We need to make it as real as we possibly can.

A very practical application of all of this is how to deal with Pastors and other idealistic Christians who believe that the best thing they can do for their high school kids is to put them in public high schools, to “experience the world.”

Sure, we can let our kids experience their peers being stupid – drinking, smoking, carousing, etc. But to really mess things up takes power and money.  And that’s what Daniel observed first hand– people with power and money ruining an entire nation.

It wasn’t Daniel’s peers who were the problem:,it was the people in charge.

I’m amazed at all the people connections flowing around Christian schools.  We can find articulate Christians who experienced godless people really messing things up.  They can share their experiences with our students in class or in assemblies. 

Recent history provides all kinds of opportunities to accomplish what I’m describing, with living Christians who experienced, firsthand, the consequences of evil.

(1) POWs from Vietnam are still available, and many of these are Christians. 

(2) Iceland is about 4% evangelical Christian, Greece, less than 1%.  Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, describes how Iceland got into national debt several hundred times their gross domestic product in his funny book, Boomerang.   If I could wave a magic wand, this book would be read and discussed (with supplemental information) by every Christian high schooler in the country.  Inside Job is a nice documentary on this, but there are many.  We can study the economics of it, and then talk about the real impact of evil at the highest levels of government and business.  (Perhaps we can even encourage a few Christians to consider economics as a career).)

(3) Albania is in ruins after decades of being an atheistic country.  Our Christian high schoolers need to study why.  There are over 100,000 Albanians in the United States, concentrated in our largest cities.   (Japan is another possibility.)

(4) Made right here in the good old USA, Enron’s collapse cost shareholders $94 billion.  Jeffrey Skilling’s views of evolution were applied to staffing decisions;, the consequence was that every year, 10% of every department (“the weaklings”) had to be laid off -mandatory.  Hence, the corporate culture of Enron became one where dissent was not tolerated.  (Read: The Smartest Guys in the Room)There are many former Enron employees and stockholders around the country who could speak to our students.

(5) The Hindu system of India has systematically abused lower classes for three millennia, to this very day.  Our high schoolers should know why, and see what a difference Christianity has made in Northeast India.  Missionaries and immigrants alike could speak to our students about the horrors of the caste system.

(6) We can find many Christians who converted later in life, and carry with them heart-ache and pain of their pre-Christian legacy.  I was surprised to learn that a key secretary to a major mega church pastor in Colorado Springs had been married four times – three times as an unbeliever.  Some of these will talk to our students.  Former drug addicts and alcoholics, now Christian, can speak to our kids.  Ditto exfelons.[8]

(7) There are Romanians in the US who experienced firsthand the evils of Nicolae Ceausescu.  Any totalitarian country will have Christian immigrants who would be available to speak to your students.

(8) I have run into many people in my travels who participated in one way or another with the mortgage bubble.  One conversation I vividly remember was a woman who told me that her husband did NOT go to jail, although many of his colleagues and competitors did.  There are many Christians who can talk to our students about the abject greed in the run-up to the 2008 crisis.These are just ideas to stimulate your own creativity.  

As I think this through, it seems more impactful for real Christian people to talk to our students about their experiences when ungodly people have power and money, and lead corporations, peoples, countries, marriages, and their own lives to ruin. That’s what it was like for Daniel. Of course the character lessons must begin in primary and continue in the secondary, along with college prep academics.

We can talk about sexually transmitted diseases in the abstract, but over 30 years ago I knew a Christian man with late stage, incurable syphilis.  My somewhat incoherent conversations with him made an indelible impression on me.  We can talk about communism in the abstract, or we can have Chinese Christians talk to our kids about real persecution for their Christian faith.   

Daniel stayed faithful in the worse imaginable circumstances. We hope the same for our students.  If we were to follow Daniel’s example, the safety gloves need to come off in high school.  Through our watchful Christian tutelage, our kids need to see, first hand, how people who have power, people who have money, people who can write and speak or think, can really, really mess things up – nations, companies, peoples, families, and their own lives.

I know people who can share like this are available, because I meet them all the time. They need to speak to our students from the heart.  Homeschoolers can always watch a video, but we have enough students in a Christian school to bring in LIVE speakers – frequently. 

And we must – a lot – because meaningful, important activities like this – which are hard to do for public / charter / home school – becomes a key differentiating factor … a key factor for parents to choose our school over the competition.  Of course, all of it can complement your students’ academic studies.  And these activities profoundly prepare your students for the uncertain future they face.

We need to think like that – who do we know from India?  Who lost their life savings to Enron?  Who recently lived in Iceland, Greece or Albania? What about missionaries? Who was involved in the banking / mortgages and saw firsthand the greed and devastation? Do we know someone in the entertainment industry?  Who around here has served hard time?  Who knows a Christian unwed mother who is struggling to finish college?   Our students need to hear from them, first hand.  If these speakers engender righteous anger – or tears are shed – so much the better.

Keep in mind, by doing this, now pastor has a compelling reason to keep the kids in our high school, and not go public with his kids.  We are accomplishing his or her objective in a much more sincere and effective way.

The temptation here will be to bring in the YouTube videos, DVDs and books.  There is a place for this. BUT …. Homeschoolers can do that, too.  Pastors can do that with his publicschooled child at home.  Charters can bring in a sanitized version. 

Importantly, multi-media won’t have the same emotional impact on our kids as live flesh and blood.  Our students need to hear first hand from broken, forgiven, restored people – sharing from the heart.  As real as we can make it.

(c) 2016 Dan Krause, GraceWorks Ministries, All Rights Reserved

[1] Which we need to develop in our children, but that idea seemed out of the scope of this message.
[3] Isaiah 22:12-13.
[4] It could merely mean “servant of the court.”
[5] Walvoord, p. 42.
[6] Schwab, p. 29.
[7] Three quarters of the individual bricks now found from his era have King Nebuchadnezzar’s name etched in them.
[8] E.g. Gary Skinner, Plain Vanilla Wrapper.

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