Jeremiah 29 instructed the Israelites in exile in Babylon to live and work for the good of the pagan society in which they were immersed. The first six chapters of the book of Daniel give pictures of Israelites who tried to do just that, including both their successes and their challenges. The Babylonian (and later Persian) bureaucracy in which they worked was hostile to their faith, but it was not hostile to their work, and their good work was their currency, the means by which they gained a voice with the powerful.
One man above all others epitomized Jeremiah’s ideal, Daniel. The Babylonian and Persian empires did not embrace the worship of God and obedience to his law, but Daniel lived out those principles and in so doing was a blessing to the pagan empires for which he worked. Precisely because of his faithfulness Daniel rose to a position as one of the most powerful civil servants in the kingdom. In Daniel 6 he was about to rise even further:
“It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” (Daniel 6:1–3, ESV)
Success begets envy in others, though, and Daniel soon found himself hemmed in, though he had done no wrong, forced to choose between his faith and his life. He chose faith, and God delivered him.
Without being moralistic, we must note that the Bible does give us moral examples, and Daniel is quite clearly an example to be followed, a picture of what it would look like to live faithfully in a religiously hostile world. It is entirely appropriate to say “Be like Daniel” insofar as Daniel, himself was acting like Christ. After all, the Apostle Paul says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
How do I live for God in the midst of my society?