Earlier last year, when I was asked to lead a short devotional at teacher training I had two thoughts: 1) I hate speaking to small rooms of people more than I hate speaking to seas of people, especially when I know them, and I’m going to get serious stage fright (and I did) and, 2) time to whip out an epistle!
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the epistles, but one of my friends challenged me to think outside of my fallback New Testament passages and to dig a little deeper: “After all, don’t you teach ancient times?”
It’s true. In fifth grade, we start around the Babylonian empire and move deep into New Testament times. Sometimes, it’s good for me to step back into Old Testament passages and remind myself that the same God was active “way back then.” And I flipped right open to Daniel.
Finding Ourselves in Daniel
I didn’t jump into end times prophecies. I stayed safely in Daniel 1, with the story of four young Israelites who found themselves in Babylonian captivity and shone as amazing examples of faithfulness and principle in their exile.
The story of Daniel is ever near to homeschoolers and private schoolers alike, as naysayers often use it to contest the sheltered nature of a Christian education: See? These guys were educated in the real world and they survived as great examples!
Our students do have some things in common with Daniel and his companions. As young believers, they, too, are living in exile: this world is not their home (1 Peter 2:11). Because of their Christian education, their environment is a religious training ground. Daniel and his friends lived in a theocracy. And, of course, the same God who Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego served, the God of Israel, and the triune God expressed on earth in the person and work of Christ Jesus, are one and the same (1 Peter 2:4-8; Hebrews 13:8).
Who Daniel Wasn’t and Who He Was
We have to be sure to look at Daniel 1 with the right filter. Daniel isn’t the story of four elementary-age students taking on the world. These men were young adults by the time they went to Babylon. Nor is Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s story merely the story of magic trick in a fiery furnace, or intelligence shown for intelligence’s sake.
Daniel 1 is the story of four youths who had been taught diligently enough to stand before a king (Daniel 1:4). It’s the story of four youths whose faith sustained them enough to be different (Daniel 1:8). It’s the story of four youths whose faithfulness was rewarded by God (this story, the fiery furnace, and the lion’s den) and sustained them to an old age (Daniel’s faithfulness till the end of his life).
What Daniel Means for Us
It would be easy to walk away from Daniel 1 with the wrong idea as educators. Daniel doesn’t mean that if we just teach kids the right thing, they will filter all of their intelligence through their conviction. This can only come from having the very mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2). It doesn’t mean that if we teach kids the right thing, they will face opposition humbly and winsomely (Daniel 1:12). This can only come from having the humility of Christ (Philippians 2). And it doesn’t mean that if we teach kids the right thing, they will be all-around good people. This can only come from the goodness of Christ on their behalf (Ephesians 1).
So is there hope there at all?
Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are often the end goal in my mind as I purpose to be faithful in educating the students the Lord has given me. Those four men are what it looks like when faithful education grows up and encounters trials.
Their story reminds us that education is a means of affirming Christ’s Lordship in a dark and dying world, and a powerful tool to make capable, well-educated young servants of the Most High powerful and effective in their exile. When a Godward education goes hand in hand with the work of the Spirit in a young person’s life, something beautiful happens. Read Daniel 1 today and remind yourself that we are so blessed to be part of that here.