Since the appearance of COVID-19, life in America has become more like living in exile; in a strange and foreign state of uncertainty; at a distance from church, family, and friends, without the pleasure of satisfactory in-person fellowship. Even the youngest children know something is radically different, and some are crying for the return of normalcy. Although we’ve seen a response of technological creativity and innovation and we’re doing our best to hold our part of the planet together, we’ve now reached the time to begin thinking of how to thrive in this virus-imposed exile.
Exile is the state of being expelled, banned, or barred from one’s home, native country, or normal way of life, typically because of religious, political, medical, or punitive reasons. Exile can be self-imposed, initiated by God, enacted by a religious congregation, or enforced by a government. Exile is frequently the work of people who love darkness more than light. Therefore, God’s children of light must decide how to live and thrive in ungodly environments in the world, while not of it. Living in strange, foreign situations is easier preached than practiced, and Daniel 1:1-20 shows us an important way in which we can successfully survive without losing our integrity, identity, and faith in Jesus Christ.
Very early, the Promised Land became symbolic of a strong, vibrant relationship with God for Israel. Separation from it was going into exile, indicating the breaking of their covenant with God. In the Promised Land, the children of Israel reached their peak of prosperity under King David and his son Solomon. Thereafter, the 12 tribes, plagued with wars against one another, separated into two kingdoms called Israel and Judah. On their own, the two kingdoms had their ups and downs, often falling into sin and idolatry, until they were punished by God, who allowed them to be taken into exile.
The Three Exiles
There are three major exiles in the biblical history of ancient Israel, which, after many wars, split into the two nations known as Israel, the northern kingdom of 10 tribes, and Judah, a kingdom of only two but strong tribes. The first major exile took place in two parts in the northern kingdom: the Assyrians, under Tiglath-Pileser III (2 Kings 15:29) in 734 b.c.; and under Shalmaneser V and Sargon II in 722 b.c. This destruction is the history behind the oft referred to 10 lost tribes of Israel.
The second major exile involved the destruction of the revered city of Jerusalem and the entire southern kingdom of Judah by king Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 52:28-30). That was the most terrible of all the exiles because Solomon’s temple was destroyed, and the dynasty of David came to an end.
The third major exile was under Roman rule (a.d. 70), but it’s to the second exile I want to draw your attention, because the experience of Daniel unfolded in that period. At that time, about 557 b.c., God demonstrated that He’d had enough of the increased idolatry, immorality, and abuse of Sabbaths in Judah. So He allowed the Babylonians, under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar, to attack Judah. The marvelous city of Jerusalem and the great temple were leveled, the people were crushed, and most of them were taken as captives to Babylon. And, like America, Babylon was a prosperous country. Its Hanging Gardens were among the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was a center of learning, a hub of technology, and the epicenter of a religion with its own Creation myths, temple-towers called ziggurats, and astrologers and sorcerers providing wisdom and direction. Like many immigrants today, the exiled Jews found themselves in a strange and foreign culture where, in addition to the pain of being removed from the Promised Land, they suffered severe culture shock.
Soon after they arrived in Babylon, “the king appointed” (Dan. 1:5),* a phrase used only five other times in the entire Bible and always with “Almighty God” as the subject. Daniel figured that the king wanted them to eat from his table to indicate that he, not their God Yahweh, now provided their sustenance. Daniel politely sought permission to have meals of vegetables and water (Dan. 1:12) instead of the royal bounties.
The phrase “vegetables to eat and water to drink” is not a sign or affirmation that Daniel was a vegetarian. Rather, it signals the choice of the true God in that chapter of the great controversy initiated by the pagan king to conquer and usurp the place of Almighty God in their life. The secret of their thriving in exile was to choose God and God alone. Like Daniel and his friends, let us too stand for holiness, righteousness, godliness, and Jesus Christ, whose name we bear!
Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.
*Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.