Brothers and Sisters, it is my joy to have the privilege of opening God’s Word with you again. Just a year after the way I was with you for last year’s Reformation Conference in Manila. So much has changed in our world hasn’t it since we fellowshipped in person last October. And we thank God for the assurance that He is sovereign over his whole universe, over this broken sin-stained earth, over his church, and over our own lives and our families. In this time of sobering pandemic in the world. In his wise and kind providence, through the brilliant labors of people who know him, and people who don’t know him, the God of glory has provided for us the internet, so we can enjoy fellowship in his truth even across these thousands of miles.
Now as you know the themes of our 2020 Reformed Conference, one of the themes is Christ, Kingdom and Culture. We’re exploring the truth that Jesus Christ, the Son of God claims ownership over every square inch of his creation, and every square inch of his redeemed people’s thoughts and affections and actions. So we’re considering how the truth, that truth of Christ’s supreme authority works out in various aspects of our daily lives, and relationships specifically in the State. Dr. VanDrunen. In Education, this is my talk, and then Dr. Horton’s work on Christ in the marketplace. So my subject is “Christ and Education”.
Education actually is one of the most important responsibilities that every generation of human beings and especially every generation of Christians has. In its widest sense education is one generation imparting to the next generation the information and the wisdom and the skills that the next generation is going to need in order to survive and thrive; among the challenges of life in a world that is full of dangers and full of problems and full of misleading alternatives that promise happiness but deliver misery. How effectively every generation fulfills this responsibility is going to have results, not just in the future decades, but even in the future centuries;
And as Christians, we especially know that our children need more than just the basic abilities which we once called in America, at least the three r’s: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic. They need more than scientific training; they need more than interpersonal insights or job skills; they need more than what they will need to earn a living and to stay on a budget. since they will live in God’s world, in a conflict of cultures and worldviews that wages war over their very souls, we need to educate our children to approach every subject in school, everything they read everything they hear and see in the media through the lens and the filter of the Lordship of Christ over all. So equipping them with the education they will need to live as Jesus’ disciples their whole lives long in everything they do in every relationship they have requires more than people often have in mind when they think of educational systems.
I’m reminded of a public broadcasting service TV documentary that my wife and I saw a few years ago on the subject of Education in Northern Canada. It profiled the Educational systems by which some parents were preparing their offspring for life above the arctic circle that’s cold. The method was largely homeschooling as you might imagine with field trips as students matured. Now the parents the teachers were gear falcons arctic wolves and snowy owls, which means that their students were their chicks, and their cubs arctic hares and lemmings served as lab assistants. Well actually, they were more like prey to be hunted but they were assisting in the process of the little ones learning how to go after food. The content of the Educational system folks focused on really two skills how to get food, and how to avoid becoming somebody else’s food. That’s a pretty narrow range of subjects admittedly, but it was very practical for those birds and wolves it was a matter of life and death;
And as we watched, we realized that our children and grandchildren who are unique creatures made in the very image of God need a much more comprehensive, much more robust education than one that focuses only on surviving their place in the food chain. So what does God’s word say about education for people that one creature on the face of this earth that bears the very image of our Creator?
Education In Creation
We’ll look at Education in Eden where Adam and Eve at the very beginning were created; put into covenant with God, and then we’re learning at least initially to be and to bear the image of God. When we turn to the first two chapters of Genesis, we meet this different kind of creature the one whose calling in life demands this more complex Educational system because they were Adam and Eve – the capstone of God’s creative work week the human race made in the very image of God.
And we know that God blessed that first human couple commanding them to fill the earth with children who would likewise bear his own image; and authorizing them to rule over the animal kingdom (Genesis 1:28). Their dominion obviously entailed working working in the pristine garden in which they were placed; and protecting its sanctity from an invader who wanted to destroy; and defile it. That’s what behind the instruction to Adam in Genesis 2:15: to work or serve the garden, and to keep it that is to guard it. We’re not told all that their work involved at least it included tilling the soil as we read in chapter 2 verse 5, the soil from which Adam had been formed. But from the start they were to exert effort, to take hold of the gifts that God had provided to nourish them.
So even before sin and all the sorrows that came in its wake entered the picture, they were called to work; and that implies that they would need to teach their children to work; and their dominion also required that they use language. Adam needed to use language to identify and categorize to name the animals (Genesis 2:19-20). Just as the Creator whose image Adam bore had set off light from darkness, sky from earth, land from sea by giving names to each of these spheres in his created kingdom, so now Adam is to make sense of the various animals that Adam and Eve are to exercise lordship over by naming them by using language. So Adam and Eve would need to teach their children to speak, and to listen, to observe and to analyze, to use their minds and the creator’s gift of language to make sense of this world (you see there’s education going on here). Their assignment is also going to require them to work together.
We read in Genesis 2 when only the man was there, only the male no woman; that it was not good for the man to be alone. So God made him an appropriate helper one who fit him perfectly; and that was not just for making babies; that was for the every aspect of cultivating the fruitfulness of the kingdom over which God had appointed them. They would need to teach their children then also to cooperate to work with each other in community.
So for Adam and Eve standing innocent before their creator at the dawn of human history, Education was about more than just getting a meal or avoiding being somebody else’s meal – that wasn’t an issue before sin entered the picture; it was about exploring the beauties of God’s creation, administering its resources, developing its potential in obedience to his mandate.
Preeminently, Education would have been how to, about how to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Edmund Clowney, one of my professors who taught at Westminster Seminary both Philadelphia and California, has written that the church’s ministry, the church’s ministry of nurture, Christian Education in its widest sense, has to aim for three goals: 1) To know the Lord; 2) To do the Lord’s will; and 3) To be or become like the Lord.
Now Dr. Clowney was speaking in his book on the church about the covenantal nurture that the church needs to do in a post-fall context where sin is in the picture. But still I think we can expose, we can suppose that if sin had not happened, if the fall had not occurred still Education would have involved these three areas knowing the Lord: 1) Discovering how his creatures also reflect his glory; 2) Developing skills to do his will in labor and in service for others; and then being like the Lord, 3) Maturing in character to reflect God’s perfections.
Adam and Eve were innocent, sinless but their innocence was untested so presumably there would be an opportunity for them through this test to mature into proven integrity if the rebellion hadn’t happened. But you know the rebellion happened so we need to think about Education outside Eden; we need to realize that still the damaged divided sin-stained image bearers of God, our human race (that’s us) still learn, but it’s harder now.
The aspects of our calling: knowing, doing, being, comprehension we might say, and competency and character would have been easy to pass on from generation to generation if sinless parents were teaching innocent children in an unsullied environment; but of course that’s not what happened.
Genesis 3 records our first parents rebellion and folly; they’re spurning of God’s truth and their swallowing of Satan’s lie. Instantly, they began to use plants to cover their shame trees to hide from their Maker; words to shade and evade the truth, painful toil, infected childbearing, and soil tilling. Human community was fractured, first by that verbal blame shifting where Adam shifted the blame to his wife and ultimately tried to shift it to God; and then it would be shattered soon by envy and even murder as their son their older son Cain killed their younger son Abel [in] Genesis 4. What a what a mess!
This is the world in which we now educate each new generation. It’s a world infected by sin inhabited by people who still think, and still observe, and still speak, and labor, and produce, and reproduce, and interact with other people, but each of our actions, in each of our capacities is now distorted, and turned away from the creator’s original good design.
And yet still as you know, Genesis 3 contains, not only a kind of a requiem for paradise lost, but also a whisper of hope the promise of a seed, and offspring of the woman who will come in time to destroy Satan the destroyer; and even before Jesus that ultimate seed offspring of the woman comes, even before he entered history to crush the serpent’s head God started to intervene already in mercy, calling people from Adam’s rebel race out of the domain and control of the devil, and bringing them into a Covenant of Grace.
Education in Common Grace
So from Genesis on Biblical History illustrates for us a division of the human race into two spiritual camps; there is the camp of the seed of the serpent those who stay enslaved to the lie, but there’s also a seed and offspring of the woman who are rescued by God’s mercy, and who are looking forward in hope to the ultimate seed of the woman their champion Jesus Christ.
Generation by generation, we see that division seed of the serpent: Cain hostile toward his brother Abel envious of God’s favor toward Abel’s sacrifice and he murders his brother; later on we see Ishmael’s mockery of Isaac; Esau’s rage against Jacob and on and on and on it goes. Members of both camps are still human beings they still bear the image of God, although sin has tarnished and twisted that image now, so they engage in cultivating the land, and in speaking and listening, and observing and analyzing, in interpreting and explaining, and building communities. They engage in craftsmanship and in the Arts.
In fact, Genesis 4 describes a lot of those activities in the line of Cain, the seed of the serpent but beautiful wonderful cultural activities there; and each newborn generation is enculturated, educated into these human activities, which is to say education is going on, not only among the seed of the woman, but also among the seed of Satan.
And yet this division which slices the human race into these two camps does have profound implications for education: for the content that’s communicated for the goals that are pursued; for the methods that are used in teaching; and the criteria that are applied to discern what’s being learned.
So the sharp spiritual antithesis that cuts through the human race has to be taken into account when we consider how to educate our children in 2020. And how we educate our children not only in the saving truth revealed in the bible, but also in every other aspect of reality that confronts us in God’s General Revelation, the way the heavens declare the glory of God, the way the things that God has made reveal his truth, and his glory, and his divine majesty. We need to keep that contrast that sharp division that antithesis in mind as we think about education.
In 1898, Princeton Seminary invited Abraham Kuyper (whose name you know I’m sure) to give the Stone Lectures. Kuyper spoke of the the sharp conflict of principles between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. (He said) He called it the conflict of principles between (as he said) those who cling to the confession of the Triune God and his word, and those who seek the solution to the world problem in Deism, Pantheism, and Naturalism. Adherence to these two conflicting worldviews said Kuyper “…are not relative opponents walking together halfway and further on peaceably suffering one another to choose different paths but they’re both in earnest disputing with one another the whole domain of life…“. Kuyper went on to say that “…the non-Christian worldview and the Christian worldview are two absolutely different starting points which have nothing in common in their origin parallel lines never intersect you have to choose either one or the other.”
So should we conclude then from the reality of this great spiritual divide that the way Christians learn to live and labor in God’s world and the way non-Christians learn to live in God’s world will never intersect at any point. That’s what it sounds like when Kuyper says it that way. After all since those who deny the living God begin their thinking on the wrong foot. Shouldn’t we simply dismiss non-Christian so-called insights into reading, or arithmetic, or the arts, or the sciences or business, or agriculture as inevitably thoroughly 100 percent wrong?
Interestingly, maybe surprisingly, our reformed forefathers did not conclude that the cultural and intellectual activities of non-Christians were all just lies and garbage. They did not think that Christians have nothing to learn from non-Christians as wrong as non-Christians core commitment and starting point are. John Calvin for example wrote in the Institutes about ancient pagan culture. He said:
“…whenever we come upon these matters…” (he’s talking about the arts both liberal arts and manual arts whenever we come upon these manners in secular writers) “…let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the fountain of truth, the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we condemn and reproach the Spirit himself. What then shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation, and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who develop medicine devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of all the mathematical sciences should we consider them the ravings of mad men? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are.” (That’s our father John Calvin).
The Canons of Dort, which as you know, announced so clearly the totality of human depravity, and our utter dependence upon sovereign grace also state: “There is to be sure a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue, and for good outward behavior (That’s the Canons’ Article 34.4)”. Of course, the Canons go on to make clear that this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God, and to affirm that left to ourselves we do not use God’s general revelation rightly even in matters of nature and society, but they don’t deny the reality of this light of nature shining into even unregenerate human hearts and minds.
And interestingly, Abraham Kuyper himself, in the very same lecture in which he traced that antithesis between faith and unbelief (that we saw above), Kuyper himself lavished praise on the intellectual and cultural work of unbelievers. [He said this] He says, “Sin places before us a riddle which in itself is insoluble – a riddle that we cannot solve. If you view sin as a deadly poison enmity against God as leading to everlasting condemnation, and if you represent the sinner as being [and he quotes now from a source] holy and capable of doing any good and prone to all evil [one of our reformed confessions] then it seems as if of necessity all unbelievers and unregenerate persons ought to be wicked and repulsive men; but this is far from being our experience in actual life. On the contrary, the unbelieving world excels in many things precious treasures have come down to us from the old heathen civilization. In Plato, you find pages which you devour. Cicero fascinates you and bears you along by his noble tone and stirs up in you holy sentiments; how much more there is which attracts you with which you sympathize in which you admire?”.
In a similar vein, Kuyper’s colleague, Herman Bavinck commented: “…sometimes a remarkable sagacity, (that’s wisdom) – a remarkable sagacity – is given to unregenerate men whereby they are not only able to learn certain things but also to make important inventions and discoveries and to put these to practical use in life.” (I’m inclined to think praise God for Common Grace and the product of the Internet as we meet together across these thousands of miles).
Now since Calvin, and Kuyper, and Bavinck, all had Liberal Arts educations they might seem to speak kind of sentimentally from their own Humanistic Educational background someone might be tempted to dismiss their opinions as a kind of a naïve nostalgia, as inconsistent with their sound or theological convictions about total depravity, but they have the Bible itself on their side the apostle.
Paul quoted pagan philosophers and affirmed that they had spoken truth about humanity’s unique relationship to God in Acts 17 to the philosophers in Athens. He said that their own philosophers had rightly said we are indeed his offspring. In his letter to Titus, he quoted a pagan commentator from Crete who said Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons, and then he affirmed the validity of that Cretan unbelievers self-critique. He said this testimony is true. Cretans may always lie but this guy didn’t right now. He spoke the sober sad truth about the tendency of people living on the island of Crete he spoke truth.
And of course, the Bible’s not embarrassed to record that pagans recognized and admired the wisdom of God’s servants. The Egyptian pharaoh saw good sense in Joseph’s advice about how to prepare for a coming famine that had been previewed in Pharaoh’s dreams which joseph interpreted. The fame of King Solomon’s wisdom attracted distinguished sages from all over the Ancient Near East. We read in 1 Kings 4 and again in 1 Kings 10, and as we’ll see in a few moments, a Babylonian ruler gave the highest marks for educational achievement to four young Jewish exiles who would not compromise their allegiance to the Lord.
So there seems to be a lot of overlap in the Bible between the Lord’s definition of wisdom and what pagan rulers deemed to be wise; and so as as Kuyper said we face a riddle it seems to be insoluble. On the one hand, we cannot deny what the bible teaches about humanity’s total depravity, and we know that’s going to have an influence on how people teach and how people learn. We can’t deny our inborn proneness to suppress the Creation’s testimony to its creator. We can’t deny our desperate need for the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and yet on the other hand, we cannot dismiss the evidence, not just of our experience but of Scripture itself, that people who are dead in sin, in fact sometimes do good and love others, and discern truth to some degree at least and in some respects at least.
[And] so we need an answer to Kuyper’s riddle, and the way our forefathers and the reformed tradition has answered it is in terms of this doctrine of Common Grace that God only not only extends saving grace to his elect to bring us out of death and into life, but he exerts a kind of grace better than anyone deserves toward the unregenerate, toward the non-elect, toward the reprobate, to keep them from acting out consistently all the consequences of their rebellion against God. In God’s word itself, we see the foundation of this doctrine. In such places as Jesus words in the Sermon on the mount, where he says that “…God sends his rain and causes his sun to shine on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).“;
[That] our Father expresses undeserved kindness, not only to his children whom he is rescued through Christ, but also on people who remain his enemies who are still under his wrath, and who will ultimately receive that wrath unless his Spirit draws them to repentance and faith. And God’s mercy to people still dead in their sins is expressed not only in external ways like rainfall and sunshine, but also in internal ways God restrains the destructive propensities of human evil through the convicting voice of conscience, and the civil order of the State.
And the damaged but not destroyed capacity to perceive the patterns that he’s woven into the fabric of the universe: there’s knowledge, there’s understanding, there’s study; In his Common Grace, God keeps rebels from thinking and behaving in ways completely consistent with their rebellion; so when non-Christians think about the world they are not as consistently wrong as they deserve to be (and we can thank God for that).
Of course to complicate matters further, as we all know too well the life giving touch of the Holy Spirit on the hearts and minds of God’s elect doesn’t instantaneously make us believers perfect interpreters of the Bible; or the created universe. We’re inconsistent with our new identity in Christ, and we’re limited in our understanding of the Creation, just as non-Christians are inconsistent with their old identity in Adam. We don’t always think straight either. So sometimes what non-Christians see in the world can actually straighten out how Christians see the world.
Education for Christians
Common grace is a good gift but then it complicates our educational process right? In this spiritually confused confusing situation, how should Christians educate their children? How should they entrust to the next generation what wisdom, and knowledge, and skills our children need, not just to survive, but to thrive in God’s world; and not just to survive and thrive financially or relationally with other human beings, but spiritually in covenant relation with our God. What does the bible say?
Well, first it’s helpful to draw a distinction between Education in response to God’s Special Revelation in the Bible. The special revelation that shows God’s grace as Redeemer in Christ; and Education in response to God’s General Revelation throughout the universe which displays God’s wisdom and power as Creator.
Ultimately of course, Christians can’t disconnect God’s self-revelation as Creator in the universe from his self-revelation as Redeemer in the Scriptures, but we can at least distinguish the two, and it’s helpful to do so when we think about who’s in charge of what basically?; Who is called to do what kind of education?
So let’s think first about Education [in] God’s written Word, in the Redemptive Word that brings us into fellowship with God through the atoning work of Christ. Christ the King entrusts spiritual and covenantal nurture to covenant the covenant community the church, and also to the family. Education in the written Word; the message of God’s saving grace through Christ’s redemptive mission is the task and privilege of the church and its leaders, but the Bible also charges parents to convey the Word to their children and to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Let’s look first at the family’s role in spiritual nurture then we’ll come back briefly to the church’s rule. Parents are responsible to oversee their children’s spiritual and covenantal education (Genesis 18:19). We learn that one purpose for which God chose Abraham was quote that “…he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord”. And of course, we know in Deuteronomy 6, after Moses delivered the “Shema (Hear) O Israel…” that confining, that defining confession of Israel “…the Lord is one”;
[And] Moses called Israel to love their God with everything in them. He then commanded them first to inscribe God’s Word on their own hearts then to teach it diligently day and night to their children; and of course, Moses was assuming that sons would be working alongside their fathers in the fields, and daughters working alongside their mothers in homes and gardens, and his point was that children as children learned the General Revelation’s survival skills they would also hear and see the Lord’s Word embedded in their parents’ lives as we say now 24/ 7, around-the-clock, at-dawn-noon-dusk-bedtime, when-you-get-up-when-you-lie-down. That’s why the first instruction [before] they teach their children is let God’s Word be on your own heart, then the instruction of children comes: teach them diligently to their children what your children hear from your lips, they have to have seen in your lives.
And Deuteronomy 6 also shows that parents are not alone in their responsibility to nurture their children in God’s truth, in God’s word. The command: “Do this day and night…every day inside…outside…” implies a family setting obviously, but the command is given to the whole community (Hear O Israel). So Scripture honors the family unit, but the Bible doesn’t isolate the family unit from the wider support of the covenant community. It’s to the church the King Jesus has entrusted the stewardship of the means of grace: instruction in the word of God, administration of the sacraments, exercise of spiritual discipline.
Balancing the complementary role of church and home in the spiritual nurture of covenant children isn’t easy, but it’s very necessary. It’s spiritually dangerous for children when parents abdicate their discipling responsibility, giving it all over to the church and its ministries, and neglect God’s call to parents to live and speak his word in the home day by day, but it’s also dangerous for parents to hold the church at arm’s length depriving their children of the shepherding and modeling and mentoring of the rest of the body of Christ including its shepherds: its pastors, its elders, and other leaders such as deacons. The two go together now.
What about Education in what we might call “General Revelation” – the way God displays his glory in all of his created order, in God’s world under the creational kingship of Christ. The comprehensive wisdom that our children need begins obviously in the “Fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 9:10), but then it reaches out to embrace all of life. So wisdom biblically defined is not restricted to a narrow religious sphere;
Think of King Solomon, his vast learning and wisdom encompassed literature, and song, botany, zoology insight into human motives and relationships; all of that is in 1 Kings 4:29-34 (Look at that later and following). It’s no wonder that the intellectuals of the Ancient Near East flocked to Solomon’s court to hear him address jurisprudence, law, economics, finance, business, and many other issues. The apostle Paul writes to the Colossians that “…in all things Christ must be preeminent (Colossians 1:18)”. Because Christ is the divine agent of creation “…through and for whom all things were created and in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:16)”. Christ is the one “…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3)”.
So everything in the universe has a direct dependent connection to Christ the Creator and so today, Educational preparation that equips our students our children to live wise integrated lives as followers of the king to glorify God in families, and churches, and workplaces, and communities; that has to entail not just spiritual nurture in the Written Word, but also nurture in knowledge of God’s world, and the skills required to function as prudent productive stewards in the realm that he rules as Creator to that end. Parents have to be proactive and intentional to equip our children for all their callings – spiritually, intellectually, vocationally.
Now when we wrestle with the concrete questions about how, and where, and from whom Christian children are to learn general revelation subjects such as Math or Tagalog (Filipino) Grammar, or Chemistry or Political Science, the Bible is much less specific than it is when it’s telling us about who’s to teach the bible who’s to teach redemptive truths to children.
The Bible clearly charges the family in the church to teach the saving truth revealed in the Bible, but Scripture actually says little about who may teach God’s people occupational skills, whether carpentry, or farming, or accounting, or medical research, or astronomy, or business, or whatever it might be the Bible doesn’t say who teaches; that now one reason I think is (that as I mentioned) in ancient Israel, the assumption is normally sons will learn their trade their father’s trade alongside watching their father’s faith, and daughters likewise would learn the spiritual character and practical skills of being a wife and mother as they helped and watched their mothers.
By the way on that point remember that Proverbs 31 shows that the Education of the excellent Israelite wife would prepare her not only in sewing and food preparation, but also in commercial negotiations, and real estate investments, farming, philanthropy, financial planning, counseling, not just the little narrow group of skills that once upon a time Americans assumed “the housewife did”. These women are amazingly competent in an amazing number of areas, and Scripture commends it.
Well, Scriptures do though provide a couple of examples when God’s servants received formal education outside the covenantal home of their parents, and in fact they did so in instructional contexts that were saturated with pagan world views, and I think these examples are especially helpful to Christians today. Moses, the adopted son of pharaoh’s daughter, raised to wield power in Egypt. Jewish tradition reported that the young Moses was tutored in Mathematics, and Music, and Hieroglyphics, and Astrology, not only by Egypt’s intellectual elite but also by experts imported from Greece and from Mesopotamia in the East. Now we might be inclined to take that tradition with a grain of salt to think that it’s only hero worship, but that’s actually confirmed by testimony from the Word of God. In Acts 7:22, the soon to be martyred Stephen says Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and his deeds, and far from condemning Moses pagan education as though it were evil, Stephen is approving of Moses’ intellectual engagement with pagan wisdom; and Luke the inspired author of Acts agrees with Stephen (this was a good thing).
Much later, think of Daniel and his friends (I mentioned them briefly earlier). This is the second example, and we get more detail on this example, the time of the exile of the Southern Kingdom Judah into Babylon 6th century B.C. in Daniel 1, we read that these young Jewish men were taken captive by their Babylonian conquerors, and they were inducted into an Educational program designed to prepare them for positions of authority and leadership within the Babylonian governmental system.
This is what we read in Daniel 1 beginning at verse 3: “Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family, and of the nobility, youths without blemish of good appearance, and skillful in all wisdom endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. They were to be educated for three years at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach and Azariah he called Abednego”.
Then in verse 17, we read, “…as for these four years God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all wisdom in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar, and the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel Hananiah Mishael and Azariah, and in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom” (That’s impressive!).
Notice a few points here: First notice the stress on God’s sovereignty throughout this account. Just before where I started to read the narrative started with the statement that the Lord gave Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and then we heard that throughout their Babylonian education, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom. The Lord God of Israel was orchestrating events that brought his servants into this pagan educational system, and he enabled his servants to excel in their mastery of Babylonian literature and learning.
Now, Second notice that Babylon illustrates that no educational system is neutral. No educational system is spiritually neutral. The Education that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah received from Babylon was designed not merely to inform them for their role as government bureaucrats; it was designed to conform them, and conformed their world view to Chaldean paganism and civil religion. This agenda to reconfigure their whole perspective on reality, really to refine their identity is illustrated in their being given new names, names that take the name of the Lord out of their own names, and inject into their identity the names of one of the pagan gods of Babylon. So Daniel whose name in Hebrew means “God is judge” is now going to be known as Belteshazzar and Bel is the chief Babylonian idolatrous god. His name becomes a little prayer, “O Queen of Bel, Protect the king!” Hananiah meaning “Yahweh the Lord his Covenant name is Gracious” becomes Shadrach, (I fear) Aku who is the moon god of the Babylonians. Mishael, “Who is what God is” that’s his Hebrew name now in Babylonian Meshach who is what Aku the moon god is and then Azariah which means “Yahweh the Lord helps”, he’s relabeled Abednego servant of Nego or Nebo the god that symbolizes shining wisdom. (That actually is that name is mentioned over in Isaiah 46:1 as the pagan god of the Babylonians).
So they’re being not so subtly told to conform to a Babylonian view of the polytheistic worldview the antithesis between the allegiance to the Lord and compromise with powerful paganism could not be sharper than it was in Nebuchadnezzar’s court and his school for government officials, and yet God gave Daniel and his friends understanding to master the language and the literature of Babylon without being seduced by the system’s attempt to redefine their correlate allegiance to the Lord. So it’s not a neutral Educational system but God gave them integrity.
And here’s the third point: we see in these young men a remarkable blend of discernment and integrity which enables them to engage in their Educational system and their educators persuasively but without compromise (persuasively but without compromise). Their refusal to compromise is illustrated in the first chapter when in the fact that Daniel humbly but firmly refuses to defile himself with the king’s food and drink. No doubt it violated some of the laws of the Torah of the law that God had given through Moses or perhaps it even been offered to idols and Daniel’s conscience wouldn’t allow him to take it.
So we see that refusal to compromise, we see it in the third chapter when Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, now described by their their Babylonian names in government service, refused to worship before this towering statue that represents the king and his kingdom. They calmly confess that their God is able to deliver them from the fiery furnace, but they’re ready to die if he chooses not to. They will not renounce their loyalty to the Lord. We see it again in chapter six, when Daniel keeps his regular pattern of prayer despite a law forbidding anyone asking anything or any one other than the king. Daniel is willing to face the threat of death in the den of lions. Where did those deep convictions come from? Where did that confidence in the Lord come from for whom they would risk their very lives?
Obviously, the decisive factor is the sovereign grace of God working in their hearts, but God works through creaturely means; and even though the account of these men these young men begins after they’ve been taken into exile, I think there can really be no other explanation for their faith than their parents faithful covenant nurture.
Even in the midst of Judah’s national life spiraling into apostasy and captivity, these parents (these young men’s parents) took Deuteronomy 6 seriously. So they were uncompromising but they were also engaged; and that’s the tension that we in most of our Educational systems in our various countries, I suspect it may be true for you in the Philippines as well that we face.
We’re in a a hostile environment spiritually to some extent. We face intense pressures to conform thought and behavior to the unbelief around us, yet those faithful Jewish exiles also illustrated that even in Babylon’s premier academy it was possible by the grace of God not only to survive spiritually, but also to bear the King’s name the True King’s name with integrity and excellence so that Jesus’ reputation was enhanced. In a crucible like that Christ shows himself faithful and strong to hold on to his own, making us, as Paul says to the Philippians, shine like stars in the universe in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation.
So at the dawn of this third millennium, Christians are an increasingly marginalized majority in so many parts of the world; and we know that minority communities that are surrounded by an unsympathetic dominant culture tend either to withdraw through isolation or to surrender to the mainstream through assimilation. We know that assimilation to the unbelieving world is spiritually danger so we might think that isolating ourselves is the spiritually safe course of action, but it’s really not an option for the church of Christ because God has called us to be dispersed as light among the nations, to bring the news of his salvation to the ends of the earth so here’s the question, (do we have a question): Is there another alternative between isolation and assimilation? and it is I think what we see in Daniel and his friends: Engagement without Compromise.
Exiles far from our homeland forcibly removed from a setting influenced by the Word of God, but remembering who we really are. (You) see the New Testament says, we Christians are in exile far from home; we are strangers in a strange land, and in our exile experience as the church we are like Daniel and his friends. The apostle Peter calls us elect exiles of this dispersion (1 Peter 1:1), and we are that because our inheritance is in heaven (1 Peter 1:4), or as Paul says in Philippians 3, “…our citizenship is in heaven from it we await his savior the lord Jesus Christ”.
Now Daniel and his friends were called to study and lead with excellence for the welfare of Babylon, never forgetting that their true identity and ultimate allegiance lay elsewhere in Jerusalem where God’s house had once stood. We are called to live in the world as sojourners and exiles dispersed from our heavenly homeland. That’s what Peter says in 1 Peter 2:11, and at the same time to bring honor to his name by acting honorably among our neighbors respecting civil leaders rendering excellent labor to masters. This is what Peter goes on to say in 1 Peter 2:12-18 so let me conclude with a few observations.
The Bible speaks exclusively and explicitly to the responsibilities of parents in the church to convey the saving content of God’s Special Revelation in Scripture. This is not the job of State Schools; it’s not the job of the government; it’s the calling of the church and the parents of covenant homes. It’s important to apply biblical reasons to questions about where, and from whom, and with whom covenant children learn General Revelation subjects: to read and write, to add subtract, to analyze scientific data and historical records, and generally to explore the wide spectrum of God’s General Revelation in the created universe.
No school setting we know is spiritually neutral. It may be out of conviction or necessity that parents will choose for our children school settings that do more to challenge our children’s faith than to build their faith; and if that’s your only or best alternative then you need to invest extra time and energy to help your children process what they are hearing and seeing in the classroom in the light of God’s truth and in the light of God’s holiness.
It is primarily to Christian parents aided by biblical advice from the church and its leaders that God has entrusted the responsibility of discerning the appropriate means and venue for their children’s education: where it’s who who is to teach, and where they are to be taught, but we need to make choices about the means of Education in view of the Biblical aims of Education as the Bible defines them: to help our children know in grow in knowing the Lord, in doing the Lord’s will, and that involves all kinds of skills that they can learn in a lot of different ways but remembering to do it for his glory, and in becoming more like the Lord in character.
Despite Adam’s rebellion, the psalmist is still correct in Psalm 24 when he says: “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell within it”. So our Education as subjects of king Jesus in this fallen world, which is still our father’s world, must marshal the resources that he’s provided by his redemptive grace, and his creative wisdom so we equip ourselves and our children to love him with all, that we are to love others as we love ourselves, to steward his creation with skill and faithfulness, and to engage our culture without compromise. We can do this in the confidence that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in the Christ whom we trust.
Let me lead us in prayer as we close: “Our God and our Father, we thank you for your mercy and grace to us in Christ in whom you created this vast universe, and in whom you redeemed your people as he became flesh obeyed perfectly suffered for our sin on the cross rose from the dead, ascended to your right hand with all authority in heaven and on earth. Father, we need much wisdom from Christ in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge to entrust to our children, the knowledge, the wisdom, the love that they will need to follow Christ faithfully in their generation not just to survive, but to thrive as fruitful bearers of your image; and as fruitful witnesses to your saving grace so Father give us that wisdom and may your blessing rest upon us, and our children and their children, through the generations. We praise you for your covenant faithfulness; we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”