Daniel 1:2 “And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God.”

Observation: Daniel’s beginning sets the stage for some troubling personal reflection. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had besieged Jerusalem (v. 1) capturing King Jehoiakim and some temple articles in the process.

Application: The simple setup of the opening gambit reveals a truth about how God operates that is upon closer reading profoundly disconcerting. It is easy to imagine the imposing, ruthless army of Babylon overwhelming the weaker defenses of Jerusalem and carting both king and booty back home to the acclaim of cheering throngs. “Hail King Nebuchadnezzar!” the people might have chanted. “Your horses, your chariots, your army have brought great might and power against Jerusalem and you have won a great victory!” Indeed, the procession down Main Street would be worthy of Cecil B. DeMille.

But should that really be the focus of my understanding of this passage? Looking more closely at verse 2 it becomes apparent that any adoring Babylonian throngs would be misdirecting credit for Jerusalem’s fall. The Word doesn’t celebrate the enemy’s prowess; instead, it makes clear that God caused the looting of His own temple and the capture of His king. Thus began 70 years in a God-designed exile. Nebuchadnezzar was simply God’s chosen instrument.

This is jarring precisely because it demonstrates anew that I am held accountable for my own action, my own priorities, and my own thought life. Am I not exactly like Jerusalem, made to be His habitation, designed as His favorite? And yet, have I not found myself at times pressed by His disciplines, burned by the purifying fires of His passionate love in order to bring me into greater intimacy with this jealous lover-God? Just as a 70-year exile was tailor-made to drive the Israelites back into His full embrace, so are His disciplines of me intended to deepen intimacy. This God whose love is both profound and unending will do anything required to restore me to Himself.

Desert places. Financial stresses. Relationship loss. Life’s most untenable places may seem for a season that I have a God-designed Nebuchadnezzar trampling roughshod over my heart. But at exile’s end that trampling may turn out to have simply been evidence of God stirring me to greater embrace of Him. I must keep the perspective of the writer of Lamentations 5:21, “Restore (me) to yourself, O Lord, that (I) may return…”

Prayer: Father, I need never fear Your disciplines, nor should I ascribe to my personal Nebuchadnezzars more power than they truly possess. You alone are worthy. You alone have all glory, all majesty, and all power. And You love me. Thank You for this reminder of that most important of truths.