“Stranger in a Strange Land” is a 1961 science fiction novel by American author Robert A. Heinlein. It tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians. I’ve never read it, The title “Stranger in a Strange Land” is a direct quotation from the King James Bible taken from Exodus 2:22, which is part of the account of Moses’ birth and early life. If you don’t know the story of Moses, I’ll give you a brief recap.
When Moses was born, a Hebrew, the Israelites were in captivity or enslaved by the Egyptians. Israelite midwives were told by the king of Egypt to kill all male babies immediately after they were born. 22Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” (Exodus 1:22 NIV) However, the midwives feared the Lord, and didn’t do what the king had told them. They let the little boys live. When asked by the king why they had allowed them to live the midwives told the king “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” (Exodus 1:19 NIV) Their excuse or explanation must have worked because many Israelite baby boys were born in Egypt. Exodus says that the people, Israelites, increased and became even more numerous.
Hebrew women had to hide their male offspring from the Egyptians. Moses’ mother, Jochebed, hid him for three months, but couldn’t hide him any longer. She decided to put him in a basket that would float, and placed him among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. She sent Moses’ sister to watch to see what would happen. Exodus tells us that Pharaohs daughter went to bathe in the Nile and found Moses. Moses would eventually become her son, so Moses ends up being raised in the kings Palace and becomes a “prince of Egypt”.
As Moses grew older, it says that He “went out to where is own people were” and watched the Hebrews doing hard labor. While He is watching, he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He steps in and kills the Egyptian, then buries him in the sand. Eventually word gets out and Pharaoh hears that Moses has killed an Egyptian, so he tries to kill Moses, but Moses flees to Midian where he becomes “a stranger in a strange land”. Later, of course, Moses would return to Egypt and lead his people out of slavery.
This was the first recorded enslavement of the Israelites in the Bible, but it wouldn’t be the last. Hebrew enslavement usually was the result of their disobedience to God. The Lord would send prophets to warn them of coming judgment. However, the Israelites remained free from the time of Moses in the 13th century until around 720 BC when Israel, the northern kingdom, was crushed and exiled by the Assyrians. Then in around 586 BC the Babylonians conquered them, and most of the Israelites were exiled and taken back to Babylon, which is modern day Iraq.
Among those taken back to Babylon was a young man named Daniel, probably in his teens at the time. It’s hard to imagine being taken or dragged away from your home, country, and culture at the point of a sword or a gun and enslaved. Daniel, like Moses, had become a “stranger in a strange land”.
I’ve been on several mission trips outside of the continental United States: Trinidad, Jamaica, and Mexico. While there were cultural differences, at least in Trinidad and Jamaica most people spoke English. The accent was obviously different, but it was still English, so communication, which is so important, wasn’t a huge problem. However, when I went to Mexico it was a different story. Yes, some people spoke English, but not many. We had interpreters everywhere we went. Since we were there to “communicate” or share the gospel, it was very challenging. I really felt like a fish out of water. It was beautiful in Oaxaca, where we went, and the people were polite, but I was literally a “stranger in a strange land”. Of course I was there of my own free will and could leave anytime I wanted. Christianity was prevalent, and we were in no real danger.
Daniel, on the other hand, was a slave. His life was no longer his own. He would be subjected to an entirely new culture, religion, language, and more. To say that his new surroundings were “foreign” would have been an understatement. As a Hebrew, one of God’s chosen people, Daniel’s faithfulness to God would be put to the ultimate test over and over again. The Babylonians had a polytheistic faith or the worship of more than one God. Many of their customs, including food, would violate God’s law. So, would Daniel remain faithful to God? Would he compromise his faith to stay alive?
When I was younger I listened to Keith Green, a contemporary Christian music artist. His second album was called “No Compromise”, and the album cover was an illustration (above) of what appears to be Daniel standing while others around him are bowing as the Babylonian king is being carried past the crowd. There is a soldier on horseback pointing at Daniel and probably telling him to bow down to the king or else. When I think of Daniel, this image always comes to mind.
Daniel is best known for being thrown in the lion’s den, but there is a lot more packed into this small book in the Old Testament. Daniel was one of the “major” prophets along with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. But, it’s not all about Daniel. There are three other teenagers who shake things up in Babylon, and the book of Daniel also includes some major end time’s prophecies or eschatology. I would say from an eschatological perspective it’s probably second only to the book of Revelation. We might look at that a little bit, but my primary purpose in this series of devotions will be focusing on the extraordinary faith of Daniel and his buddies, their ability to remain faithful to God in an extremely hostile environment, and above all the faithfulness of God in times of trouble.
Religious persecution is still alive and well around the world, and it is estimated by the “World Watch List” that around 4,700 Christians around the world were martyred or killed for their faith in 2021. While persecution in this country may seem mild or non-existent by comparison, our culture is becoming increasingly more hostile and antagonistic towards Christianity even in the last couple of years. Christianity is no longer the predominant or majority belief system in America, and foundational biblical teaching is being deconstructed, criticized, and even attacked on a larger scale than ever before.
This is why I think the book of Daniel is so applicable and helpful as we navigate our current cultural climate. While it may not be life threatening to follow Jesus in our country, we are still under pressure to compromise what we believe and go with the flow of popular opinion. So how do we keep our spiritual wits about us, stay alert, and remain faithful to God during difficult times and in an increasingly more secular society? Will Christians in America eventually become “strangers in a strange land”? Let’s take a closer look over the next few weeks. For next week, read the first two chapters of Daniel.
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC