“I don’t want to bring kids into this evil culture” is something I have heard more than once. Well-meaning Christians have long questioned the wisdom of bringing children into a fallen world. And while this hesitation might seem prudent, God doesn’t hesitate to command husband and wife, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28; 9:1). The earth is no longer a utopian Eden but a post-Eden wilderness, what the New Testament calls Babylon (1 Peter 5:13–14; Rev. 17:5). This Babylonian context isn’t foreign to children raised in covenant homes. The historical nation of Babylon was where the Jewish exiles were sent. Of those exiles, most notable were four Jewish “youths . . . Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah,” otherwise known by their Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego (Dan. 1:1–7).
From these four youths, we find an unexpected parenting lesson: a lesson made more significant since these “youths” arrived in Babylon not as boys, six, eight, maybe ten years old but (according to the majority opinion among scholars) in their late teens or early twenties. In any, the text explicitly says they were “youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, and endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace” (Dan. 1:4).
The point is this, when these four Jewish youth entered Babylon, they entered equipped with a rigorous Hebrew education and biblical worldview that enabled them to take their stand against the secular ideologies of Babylonian paganism (Dan. 1:8–21; 3:8–30; 6). Babylon, then as now, is not neutral; it seeks to indoctrinate. These young exiles were ordered to “defile” themselves but “resolved” to abstain (Dan.1:8–21). When threatened with a fiery furnace for not bowing to idols, they refused to turn from Yahweh (Dan. 3:8–30). When commanded not to pray or else die in the lions’ jaws, they opened the curtains and kept praying (Dan. 6). Our children may never face these state-enforced punishments, but we would be naive not to expect modern versions to appear. Many concerned parents want to know what’s needed to prepare our children, and while it is tempting to want a few easy parenting tips that require little effort, moral resolve to stand in Babylon is not created that way. Scripture is clear (for Israel’s young exiles and ours) that preparing for Babylon requires a certain teaching in a certain context.
The context of preparation for Babylonian exile is significant. Providentially, these four youths entered Babylon in 605 BC, having been exiled from Judah after the reforms of King Josiah. These young men were not trained under the long list of apostate kings of Israel “who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 8–17) but under Josiah, who arguably surpassed David in kingly righteousness since he had no public scandals (2 Sam. 11), as Scripture states: “Before [Josiah] there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart . . . according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him” (2 Kings 23:25). Only time would reveal the massive impact Josiah and his reforms would have on the lives of these four Jewish exiles directly and indirectly by way of their parents who were with them. They were raised going up “to the house of the Lord . . . with all the people, both small and great” to hear Josiah “read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 23:2). As young boys, they would have watched the twenty-six-year-old king make “a covenant before the Lord” to obey God’s Word and have “all the people joined in the covenant” (2 Kings 23:3). There was no dead orthodoxy in their view of religion but only theological seriousness. What was read from Scripture was immediately obeyed (2 Chron. 34:30–33). Especially notable was King Josiah’s zeal to remove idolatry and syncretism in Israel (2 Kings 23), no doubt influencing those bold words later spoken by these youths to the king of Babylon: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:16–18). What believing parent wouldn’t be proud if their young adult displayed such steadfast and unyielding faith? Without doubt, their faithfulness to Yahweh was evidence of God’s grace working through their covenant community before entering Babylon.
Preparedness to enter Babylon never happens accidently. Scripture commands explicitly, “You shall teach them diligently” (Deut. 6:7) and “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). While parents must “discipline” (Prov. 13:24) and play defense, there’s also a strong offensive aspect to parenting. The psalmist calls covenant children (the children of believers) “arrows in the hand of a warrior” (Ps. 127:4), and wise parents sharpen arrows to be shot out into a hostile culture. Man-centered parenting philosophies never strategize like this. Christian parents are either preparing children for war in Babylon or preparing for surrender to it. However, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:3–5). The war our children must learn to fight is a war for truth. These four young Hebrews entered Babylon “skillful in all wisdom, and endowed with knowledge, understanding learning” (Dan 1:4).
The teaching needed is what is most often called “wisdom” (from the Hebrew word hokmah). Many compromises will occur in Babylon without this wisdom. In the covenantal framework of Proverbs, wisdom means skill in godly living. In Proverbs, that often-neglected parenting book, the “father” repeatedly call his “son” to “find wisdom” (Prov. 3:13) because children aren’t born possessing it; rather, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child” (and yes, “the rod of discipline” is needed to remove it; 22:15). No, a foolish teenager doesn’t just “grow out of it”; wisdom must be given and received. Our children’s lives depend on it. “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death” (Prov. 13:14). It’s the way a young man avoids “the forbidden woman” (Prov. 5, 7), for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). Moreover, since these youths had wisdom when entering Babylon (Dan. 1:4), they were able to acquire more. “He gives wisdom to the wise” (Dan. 2:21, emphasis added). A wisdom that humbly admits “not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living” (Dan. 2:30) is true wisdom. There is no greater aim to have as parents than to give wisdom to our children, especially when we realize that Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24, 30)—the “manifold wisdom of God . . . made known . . . through the church” (Eph. 3:10). What higher calling can we have as parents than to prepare exiles for Babylon (1 Peter 5:13)?
Parenting isn’t finally about us or our children; it’s about God’s glory. In God’s wisdom, He used four Jewish exiles to make an international missionary of Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar, who declared “to all peoples, nations, and languages” that “[God’s] kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (Dan. 4:1, 3). He even personally professed to Babylon, “I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever” (Dan. 4:34). God used a few God-fearing exiles from Judah to make His glory known to the Persian King Darius, such that “King Darius wrote to all the peoples, and nations, and languages . . . I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever” (Dan. 6:25–26). We should not underestimate what God will do with wise children equipped with a biblical worldview in a covenant context. And we should not fear bringing them into the world, for God’s aim and desire is to use them to get glory for Himself in Babylon.