Living Under Siege

by Matt Richardson

Daniel 1:1–2

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.

I need a t-shirt that reads “I survived the Great Toilet Paper Famine of 2020.” The year 2020 was a time of trial and challenge for the world. As nations reeled from the threat of pandemic, people struggled to adjust to rapid changes in everyday life. You may recall as the impact of COVID-19 began to be felt across the land people began to buy out and even hoard food and other supplies.

In America, at least, people crowded grocery stores to buy out medicine, cleaning supplies, food and even more curious items. Yeast and flour disappeared overnight as the homebound suddenly began a bread baking craze.

Backyard grilling seemed to become a daily event as locked down laborers lay waste to stocks of hamburger and steaks. My wife reported stocks of tofu were even plundered in a baffling run on health food that seemed to provide some hope that America’s junk food culture was not completely lost.

The biggest driver was toilet paper. As the newly sessile, Netflix-streaming, bread-making public considered the increased traffic to the privy it was clear a crisis of personal hygiene loomed. Stores sold out of toilet paper within minutes of receiving shipments and more than once my wife had me stopping to scout unfamiliar markets in search of an unclaimed roll of this quilted, two-ply gold.

In the seriousness of a deadly pandemic it was not hard to enjoy the absurd humor of a comfortable society dealing with a rare period of want for luxury items that most of the world­—and most people throughout history—could not begin to imagine.

The book of Daniel begins with a siege. The siege and fall of God’s own city, Jerusalem. In a few short verses the narrative simply states that “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.” [Vs. 1b] These words are simple and descriptive but seem to hardly capture the cataclysmic event that leads to the account of the life of one of the bible’s most noted prophets.

A siege is a protracted battle and not a pleasant event. It is a calamity that results in the upheaval of a society. If a siege battle claims the lives of soldiers, the siege itself claims the lives of the innocent, where young and old, rich and poor, women and children suffer alike. If a modern western culture struggles over a few months’ shortage of toilet paper, it has no idea how terrible a deadly siege may be.

There may be none better than William Shakespeare in describing the upheaval and life-threatening nature of a siege. Here, in the play Henry V, the English king Henry has laid siege of the French city of Harfleur and offers one last appeal for surrender, lest he lose control of his battle-maddened soldiers:

Therefore, you men of Harfleur,
Take pity of your town and of your people,
Whiles yet my soldiers are in my command;
Whiles yet the cool and temperate wind of grace
O'erblows the filthy and contagious clouds
Of heady murder, spoil and villany.
If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash'd to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds…

— Henry V, Act 3, scene 3

This then is what young Daniel faced as the city of Jerusalem fell to the invaders. There is no doubt that the cries of broken-hearted mothers did seem to “break the clouds.” Daniel had enjoyed a good and prosperous life surrounded by friends and family. Now, all that he knew was laid waste: his home, his traditions and even his identity:

Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans. — Daniel 1:3–4

As Daniel began a new life in a strange land it may have seemed that God was far from him, but as we learn in Daniel that this was not the case. Ripped from his family, his home, his culture and even given the new name of Belteshazzar, God had not forgotten him.

Do you feel that God has forgotten you? The year 2020 brought more hardship than a crisis of paper products. It brought death from pandemic, loss of jobs and hard-won businesses. A chaotic American election sent shockwaves around the world and it is difficult to believe that a new year will be better. It may not get better. Life in this world is indeed a life of disruption—a life under siege. As you read the book of Daniel you will see a portrait of someone not unlike yourself who suddenly found himself facing a world of fear, pain and tumultuous change.

Stripped of all else, Daniel clung to his God, perhaps remembering the words of the Psalmist:

9If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.

Psalm 139:9–10

This is your hope in a life under siege: that you are never alone, never forsaken. If anything this year, these events and the earthquake of change has shown that this world is indeed a different kingdom than your eternal home. Find strength where Daniel sought his and hold the right hand of He who will lead you home.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.