Living a High-Profile Faith in a Pluralistic Society
Daniel 1:8 – 21
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Daniel in Babylon
As we have started looking at the life of Daniel, we have picked up on several common themes that Daniel dealt with in Babylon that are visible in our culture today. First up, Daniel and his young friends were at the mercy of the state-run school system in Babylon. The Babylonian system was not interested in teaching anything that a good Jewish boy would normally need to learn back home in Jerusalem. Babylonian schools had a very different worldview and as such, a wholly different curriculum.
Secondly, Daniel and his friends now work in a high performance-based governmental system. In Babylon, it is intellectual prowess that is the key to moving up. But it is intellectual prowess in those things that are important to the government of Babylon. Who really cares, from a Babylonian perspective, about anything dealing with Jewish culture, laws, religion or morals. There is a whole pantheon of gods in Babylon to learn about, as well as all the stories connected with these gods.
Daniel and his friends will be immersed into aspects of science which they have never encountered before. Astronomy is big in Babylon, much bigger than they ever knew about back home in Judah. They are going to be trained in things that they would have never dreamt they would need to learn. This is Babylon. All of this is required in order to conduct day to day normal business in the court of Babylon, not Jerusalem. In order to be successful, they must become experts in all of it and quickly.
Stop and consider the new demands being placed on them daily. There will be new standards of conduct to learn, new food to get used to, and new language skills which must be mastered just to conduct business. This is the strange new world of Babylon. For Daniel and his friends, shock and awe has become the new normal. They are not in Jerusalem anymore.
Consider this, these teenage boys have already gone through the shock treatment of being torn away, exiled from anything and anyone that would have been familiar to them. Against their will, they have been surgically altered; they were made eunuchs and they are still recovering from that shock as well. Obviously, there is no going back to their old life. Literally, it has been cut off from them. They are going to have to make some important decisions in the very near future. What is important versus what isn’t. Where do you draw the line and take a stand, or do you do so at all? How much further will they allow the culture to mold them?
Lies We Believe
The one major takeaway we see up to this point is shocking; there is much more we have in common today with Daniel than we would even like to consider. The plight of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah is not that much different than what we daily encounter in our culture. They suddenly found themselves thrust into a pluralistic culture. Contrast that to the fact that our culture has been pluralistic for so long that there are at least two generations who have been born into it. Many of the cultural lies connected with it have already been accepted as truth by the younger generations growing up in it.
Our state-run schools are not interested in teaching anything religious. Efforts are under way to make even the mention of anything connected with the Bible, illegal. At the same time, there is full acceptance of the worldview found in eastern thought and religion. This foreign worldview is taught without objection in our state-run schools. Meanwhile, a Judeo-Christian worldview is denigrated as being backwards and racist.
Science has been elevated above the social sciences and the arts almost to the level of religion. The culture of the day is amoral, areligious, and results oriented. Ethics are situationally driven and there are no absolutes. Truth is no longer objective but is subjective and personal. My truth may not necessarily be your truth. Everything is subject to interpretation, which can change from one observer to another depending upon the definition of sin in their worldview. The idea today is to become materialistic, engaging, as needed, with the gods and having them serve you in your goals and aspirations. In reality, not a whole lot different than Babylon.
Every day we all confront the same challenge. The challenge comes from the world as they want us to conform to the culture that they dictate. For the believer who holds to a Biblical worldview, the challenge to conform with the culture is pointed, personal and daily. We are told that our faith in Jesus Christ is not to be relied upon, referenced or even demonstrated in the workplace, the schools and in the culture in general. We are not to allow our faith to be part of who we are, visibly, to anyone.
Francis Schaeffer was thinking of this problem when he wrote “Christ is Lord of all—over every aspect of life. It is no use saying He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the Lord of all things, if He is not the Lord of my whole unified intellectual life.” (Schaeffer, Escape from Reason 1982, 263) Jesus is Lord of all and is to be part of everything that we do today. All of us as believers in Jesus Christ work hard daily to be in the world but not of it. Today that isn’t even satisfactory since we live in a culture that has gone rogue. We are all living in Babylon today. As Christians living on planet earth, we are in exile as this is not our real home.
Jesus knew about this issue. As He was preparing to go to the cross, He prayed for us. “They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:16–21, NLT) He did not ask the Father to remove us from the world, but to make us holy, to sanctify us in the truth of His word.
It’s All About Our Worldview
Every day at work the culture says to give just a little bit more to the culture. Our worldview is being challenged head on. The question is proposed to us, “Why not compromise in this? Is it really that important to remain ethical in your business dealings, just if, at the end of the day, you win, and your firm wins?” “How bad do we want that next promotion? Simply start a rumor about your rival and undercut them, after all, they are doing the same to you.” And on, and on. Get with it if you want to get ahead.
In school, if we are truly serious about the study of science, we will soon recognize that there will be demands made of us there as well. These demands require us to align with the current conventional wisdom about the physical world and how it was formed. After all, the physical can be observed, measured, and experimented with. Done correctly, we can repeat experiments to see if we get the same results as others did. “The early scientists believed in the uniformity of natural causes. What they did not believe in was the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system. That little phrase makes all the difference in the world. It makes the difference between natural science and a science that is rooted in naturalistic philosophy.” (Schaeffer, Escape from Reason 1982, 229)
The problem with naturalistic philosophy taking over science though is the new conventional wisdom; the new conventional wisdom over origins is based on theories. These theories have never been adequately tested to move from simply being theory. Yet we are asked to assume they are law based solely on the non-verified guesses of outside observers who have approached the issue with less than an objective open mind. This can lead to highly questionable results in experimentation when something is deemed by someone to be a constant, but it may not be so. We forget that the inventor of Calculus was a devout Christian who considered the spiritual just as important as the physical. “This shift did not come because of newly discovered facts, but because of a shift in their presuppositions—a shift to the world-view of materialism or naturalism.” (Schaeffer, Escape from Reason 1982, 230)
What Battle Should We Fight?
In both examples we just looked at, we find ourselves asking if this is really the battle we need to be fighting? Do we take on the big fight now or are there small skirmishes that we can be engaged in successfully as we stand for the Lord? Meanwhile, we quietly avoid compromise and agreement with the world. As we do so, do we find ourselves waiting for the moment when we really will have to take a stand and fight the bigger battle. Just like Daniel and his friends had to do.
There is a constant pull from the culture to get with it and stop being those weird people who openly follow Jesus. This is becoming more and more of an issue and is now discussed openly.
At a conference at the Salk Institute of Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California, in November 1994, Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg suggested ominously that the best contribution that scientists could make in this generation was the complete elimination of religion. (Lennox 2015, 2)
Do you believe Jesus is the only way to heaven? Extremist. Prayed for someone you don’t know? Extremist. Believe marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman? Extremist. Would you give up a good-paying job to do mission work? Extremist. Do you believe Christians have a responsibility to talk about Jesus with nonbelievers, even with strangers? Extremist. (Kinnaman and Lyons 2016, 11)
We really need to be aware of just how much the Bible, this 2500-year-old book, speaks about our situation today. “Wherever it touches upon anything, it does so with true truth, but not with exhaustive truth. That is, where it speaks of the cosmos, science, what it says is true. Likewise, where it touches history, it speaks with what I call true truth—that is, propositional, objective truth.” (Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time 1982, 52)
A Letter from Home
Shortly after the second group of exiles left for Babylon, this is the group that included Ezekiel, the prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to them. Daniel will later reference the seventy years of exile that are stated in this letter.
“These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD. For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Because you have said, ‘The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’”” (ESV)
Daniel and his friends were in the very first group taken into exile. They had already been living in Babylon for 8 years when the second group was taken there. This letter from Jeremiah was written after that.
Trust God? Really? Here?
When taken captive a decade earlier, I am sure, initially, Daniel and his friends did not see this as YAHWEH protecting them from what was to come, nor did they think, at the time, and agree with Jeremiah, that YAHWEH had plans for good for them. What were their thoughts one year after arriving in Babylon? I mean, they were all eunuchs at this point. No one would blame them for chucking it all and going with the flow in Babylon. Who would ever know? After all, that is what most of the group from the first exiled batch were doing. Remember, we are only told about four young men who made a stand.
These young men had their lives uprooted. They were completely cut off from their families, their people and were placed into the Babylonian educational system. This was done intentionally to alienate them from home and force them into the mold of Babylon. This was done to prepare them for a life in the service of the Babylonian court. As we arrive here in Daniel 1:8, we see four young teenagers struggling with all that was being thrown at them by those who were skilled at compromising others to their way of life.
As we go through the book of Daniel though, we will find out that YAHWEH did indeed have a plan for them. With the decision they made shortly after arrival, this group of young men demonstrated that they chose their battles carefully. As they did so, each new battle was an exercise of stepping out in faith to be faithfully loyal to YAHWEH even though it looked outwardly, that YAHWEH had abandoned them.
Here in chapter 1, they were going to step out into what is really a minor deal. But by doing so, they learned that He was indeed looking out for them, He indeed had plans for them, plans for their good and not for evil (Jeremiah 29:11.) YAHWEH was intending to use them to make crystal clear to Judah that there will indeed be prophets raised up in Babylon, even in the court of the King.
A Step of Faith
But they had to take the first, albeit minor step. They had to find out if God was still with them. So, they stepped out in order to see if that was the case. As we see this we need to remember, God has individual plans for each of us as well. For us, we have the same challenge in front of us to take a step out and see if God is still with us as well.
“The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” (ESV)
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (ESV)
God has a master plan for your life, and that plan does not change. It is a plan designed specifically for you. It is a plan that God intends for you to live out fully, beginning at the moment of your birth and continuing until the moment of your death. God’s plan for you has a purpose, a blueprint for your particular life, a character-development plan, a communication plan, a call to service, a guidance plan, and a blessing plan.… Your destiny is to be the person God has created you to be. (Stanley 2004, 8)
God had a plan for Daniel and his friends. Daniel and his friends, after seeing the expectations they were being held to, assessed their overall situation. They found that there was still a small avenue they could take and possibly make a difference for YAHWEH in this new environment. It did not entail full on rebellion, as those back home would want, but it was really a small simple thing that involved personal integrity. This is a battle they could fight. They decide to take a stand. No, it is not over the curriculum, it is not over the religions they must learn nor over the new clothing styles, music and living conditions; it is over being kosher. With everything that they are being asked to learn, Daniel and his friends start off a life of faith with a very low risk and simple request. This man, who would later confront lions, started off with what for him was the next step…the issue of diet.
“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.” (NASB95)
How many other teenage boys were there in the group? We are not told in the scriptures; we only know about the four who remained faithful in those areas where they could remain faithful. “Their dedicated Hebrew parents, who loved God and their children, had laid a spiritual foundation that did not collapse in the pagan culture of Babylon.” (Simpson 2000, 12)
Daniel decided, a decision that the Hebrew says was made in his inner self, one that in spite of everything going on and the pressure of his peers and the king – he would stay pure. Even though no one would really care about their diet, they did because they held YAHWEH in such esteem that they wanted to remain faithfully loyal in at least this area that they could still possibly control. We lose track of something it says here in the text, Daniel asked permission to do so.
The story of Daniel and his friends is a clarion call to our generation to be courageous; not to lose our nerve and allow the expression of our faith to be diluted and squeezed out of the public space and thus rendered spineless and ineffective. Their story will also tell us that this objective is not likely to be achieved without cost. (Lennox 2015, 2)
The word translated as defile is גָּאַל (gā·ʾǎl) meaning “unclean, defiled, i.e., pertaining to being in a ceremonially unclean state and so not acceptable as covenantal behavior; defile, i.e., cause to become ceremonially unclean; unclean, defiled; defile himself; stained, i.e., pertaining to a discoloration on an object such as clothing or body, which is not warranted or on purpose, and so be in a dirty or spotted condition.” (Swanson 1997)
Daniel and his friends have decided to decide to make a big deal about a little thing – food. This is the battle they have chosen to fight.
Why This Fight?
Douglas Simpson tells us that perhaps three different kinds of defilement would have taken place if Daniel and his three friends had yielded to this one temptation.
First, the meat prepared for them to eat would have already been sacrificially offered to a Babylonian god. Eating the meat, then, would have been equivalent to recognizing and honoring these Babylonian gods, while at the same time, for all practical purposes, denying the claims that Jehovah made.
Second, the meat may have included portions from animals that Jews were forbidden to eat. The Jewish regulations about eating certain types of animals and not eating other kinds applied to the Jewish believer whether he was in Jerusalem or in Babylon.
Third, the Babylonian chefs were obviously not preparing food in keeping with the regulations that God had given to the Hebrew people. To eat improperly prepared food was as wrong for a Jew as it was for him to eat forbidden meats. (Simpson 2000, 13)
The Fight for Staying Kosher
The bottom line, out of all they could no longer control, what they ate was still possibly controllable. If they gave in and ate the really good food put in front of them, they would not be kosher any longer. There was one and only one opportunity for them to make a stand on this. If they prevail, it will make all the difference for them for the future. They would still be faithfully loyal to YAHWEH at least in this one little thing.
Daniel and his three friends that we know about, took to heart the theme of Leviticus. I am sure there were other friends who were also there with them in the same situation, but they had decided to eat what was presented to them. No one would know. What difference would it make anyway? Who would know? YAHWEH would know.
Daniel and his friends decided to exercise integrity. They knew what it was that YAHWEH expected of them and that became the issue. Daniel and his friends decided this was a battle with the culture worth taking on, so they engaged.
Remember, the King they grew up under was Josiah. Josiah also was a King who began revival in the land. The revival of King Josiah began as the result of the reading and taking seriously the words of Torah. That would have included Leviticus and the theme that runs throughout it…holiness. This is made seriously clear in Leviticus 19:2 “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” (ESV)
“You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” (ESV)
Faithful in Little Things
They decided that they would try to remain faithful, at least in relation to diet in the light of everything else around them. This was not a politically correct move. It was move which could wind up being a serious impediment to their ongoing employment continuation program much less be a threat to their lives. Was this decision the result of their training as young men years prior to be taken captive? Is it possible the Lord provided them a view of some items from the Temple being taken into the temple of Marduk? Thanks to Ezra, we know how many items were there and it could have been a poignant reminder to them of the need to remain kosher if nothing else.
“all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.” (ESV)
Not eating the food also may have been the only act of faithfulness left to them. Tobit made a similar decision when he was taken into exile by Assyria along with others from the tribe of Naphtali in the northern kingdom of Israel.
“After I was carried away captive to Assyria and came as a captive to Nineveh, everyone of my kindred and my people ate the food of the Gentiles, but I kept myself from eating the food of the Gentiles. Because I was mindful of God with all my heart, the Most High gave me favor and good standing with Shalmaneser, and I used to buy everything he needed.” (NRSV)
This was not going to be the last time that a decision regarding remaining kosher would have to be crossed by those wishing to remain faithful to YAHWEH. After Antiochus Epiphanes violated the Temple in Jerusalem and made practicing Judaism illegal, many had to decide.
1 Maccabees 1:62–63
“But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Very great wrath came upon Israel.” (NRSV)
Even the pseudepigraphal book of Jubilees carried the reminder to remain kosher.
Jubilees 22:16 – 17
And do thou, my son Jacob, remember my words, And observe the commandments of Abraham, thy father: Separate thyself from the nations, And eat not with them: And do not according to their works, And become not their associate; For their works are unclean, And all their ways are a pollution and an abomination and uncleanness. They offer their sacrifices to the dead And they worship evil spirits, And they eat over the graves, And all their works are vanity and nothingness. (Charles 1913, 46)
The University of Babylon?
Daniel and his friends are undergraduates at the University of Babylon in Babylon. Babylon was the center of worship for their pantheon of various gods.
It was a commercial and intellectual hub as well. Many of its temples had substantial libraries; and there were centres devoted to the study of law, astronomy and astrology, architecture, engineering, medicine, and art. In modern terms, it was a thriving university city. (Lennox 2015, 31)
They are in the equivalent of a university in a university town and they are complaining about the food. So what is so new about that?
But this was 5-star food. The cafeteria at the University of Babylon was probably on every foodies list of a must visit location in and around Babylon. It had the best of everything.
Daniel knew what the definition of holiness was. He knew the need to remain, in the center of all that is pagan, holy to YAHWEH and faithful to Him. He knew he would need to remain, or at least try to remain…kosher.
The commonality between Babylon and our culture of today is quite striking. Babylon was a pluralistic society. There was a heavy bias towards going with the flow, especially if it was mandated by the King. In Babylon, it was politically correct to worship any of the gods of the Babylonian pantheon.
Students were encouraged to read the Enuma Elish and to participate in the activities at the seven-story ziggurat in town, Etemenanki.
But to move out of step with the culture and not fall into the thinking of the majority, well that would bring unwanted attention to yourself and possibly bring up the issue of re-education, or worse, execution.
In contemporary, secular England most colleges in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge still have a Latin grace said at meals by a scholar or fellow of the college. It would surely be almost incredible if the University of Babylon, permeated as it was with idolatry, did not have pagan rituals at meal times. (Lennox 2015, 62)
When Daniel and his friends said they would like a different diet, they were going against the flow. They were not conforming to the more liberal theology of the day. After all, most everyone from Jerusalem who had been placed into the program were conforming and keeping a low profile. But Daniel and his friends did as many in a university setting do, they decided to protest about the food. “Daniel’s protest was in essence a protest against the idolatrous world-view of the Babylonians: a world-view that formed the background paradigm for their educational system. He was determined not to defile himself with it.” (Lennox 2015, 63)
Daniel was rebellious, but he was courteous. He was not out walking the quad at the University of Babylon with signs saying, “down with pork.” Because he was courteous, he was heard by his elders.
“Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials, and the commander of the officials said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.” But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days.” (NASB95)
Daniel and his friends decided to stand for something and remain loyal to YAHWEH. YAHWEH remained loyal to them and gave them favor.
Trial by Vegetable
Daniel and his friends had been trained in a specific world view, a Jewish world view. Now they had thrust into a world that was totally alien to theirs. This new world started off with different presuppositions which led to a totally different world view. Daniel and his friends decided they wanted to remain grounded in what they had learned.
Trial by vegetable it is.
The struggle they were now encountering in the University is not that much different than students encounter today as they go to University. They encounter worldviews diametrically opposed to theirs and decisions have to be made about what to keep, what to take on, and what to reject. Francis Schaffer talked a bit about this in his book, How Should We Then Live?
People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world-view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.
“As a man thinketh, so is he,” is really most profound. An individual is not just the product of the forces around him. He has a mind, an inner world. Then, having thought, a person can bring forth actions into the external world and thus influence it. People are apt to look at the outer theater of action, forgetting the actor who “lives in the mind” and who therefore is the true actor in the external world. The inner thought-world determines the outward action.
Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realize that their presuppositions should be chosen after a careful consideration of what world-view is true. When all is done, when all the alternatives have been explored, “not many men are in the room”—that is, although world-views have many variations, there are not many basic world-views or basic presuppositions. These basic options will become obvious as we look at the flow of the past. (Schaeffer, How Then Should We Live? 1982, 83-84)
For Daniel and his friends, their presuppositions included the scripture that they memorized growing up. By doing that simple thing, the new challenges being presented to them were being measured against the truth that they had tucked away inside.
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (ESV)
How dangerous could this be? I mean we are just talking about food, right? Look at it in the eyes of the culture. The food was from the king. In Babylonian culture, to share a meal was to commit to friendship, or put in other terms, they would be aligning themselves with the king and being loyal to him.
The reluctance of the sympathetic chief of the eunuchs to comply with the request is all the more understandable if Daniel’s motive was to remain free from commitment to the will of the king. Nebuchadrezzar would certainly have interpreted the motive as treasonable and have held Ashpenaz guilty of complicity. But God gave Daniel favour and compassion. (Baldwin 1978, 92)
Politics or Faith?
So possibly there was political reasons behind this, but I think the decision was more motivated by the desire of these young men to remain faithful to YAHWEH. When Solomon dedicated the Temple in 1 Kings, he prayed prophetically about this situation, and we are seeing it fulfilled here. YAHWEH is answering Solomon’s prayer.
1 Kings 8:48–50
“if they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who have taken them captive, and pray to You toward their land which You have given to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name; then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against You, and make them objects of compassion before those who have taken them captive, that they may have compassion on them” (NASB95)
Solomon asked that YAHWEH would maintain their cause. Perhaps Daniel was aware of this prayer. He was relying on something that only YAHWEH could do. The psalmist also spoke about this.
“Nevertheless He looked upon their distress When He heard their cry; And He remembered His covenant for their sake, And relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness. He also made them objects of compassion In the presence of all their captors.” (NASB95)
Standing Out for the Right Reasons
Daniel’s act—whether one of obedience, prudence, political sagacity, or simply symbol—had the effect of setting him and his companions apart from the common run of aliens and other students in the Babylonian academy of wisdom. The refusal set out their individual identity in sharp relief, and because of their victory in the trial by vegetables, they became a distinct and special group. (Towner 1984, 26)
The scant diet of Daniel and his three friends serves one purpose and only one, and that is to bring into even sharper relief the interior action of God in their preparation. Because of this divine intervention Ashpenaz was spared embarrassment, perhaps even worse (v. 10), and the four young Jews were assured that their God was with them. In refusing what would appear to have been more nourishing food Daniel demonstrated that he was prepared to take the risk that God would undergird his efforts. If the ten days’ test proved satisfactory there could be little doubt that, given the strength of their cause and the power of their divine guarantor, they would all handsomely survive. (Anderson 1984, 6-7)
At the end of the trial by vegetable, they were healthier than the others.
“At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food. So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables. As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams. Then at the end of the days which the king had specified for presenting them, the commander of the officials presented them before Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s personal service. As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm. And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king.” (NASB95)
Some folks use this as a proof text for being vegans. That is a misuse of scripture. There is a spiritual component involved here as these young men are declaring their faithfulness to YAHWEH in this simple manner. YAHWEH remained faithful to them.
Taken another way, Daniel and his friends have remained faithful to Torah. Because of that, they obtain something else, wisdom.
God Rewards Faithfulness Even in Little Things
It is written of these four young men that “God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” In this he reminds us very much of Joseph, who also entered into the secrets of the Lord, and who was first characterized by fidelity to God; so that God’s smile, God’s approbation, meant more, was more to him than the smile or the friendship and approval of any human being. And just as it was with Daniel, who came “into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs,” so Joseph, exhibiting the godliness of his life and the transparency of his nature, came into favor with the keeper of the prison; and, to crown it all, we find God opening his understanding, giving him wisdom in the interpretation of dreams and visions, as here with Daniel. (Ironside 1953, 21-22)
Is there any surprise then that at the final exam, which was conducted by the king himself, that those who had remained faithful to YAHWEH wound up ahead of their peers?
After the expiry of the period of three years the youths were brought before the king. They were examined by him, and these four were found more intelligent and discriminating than all the others that had been educated along with them (מִכֻּלָּם, “than all,” refers to the other Israelitish youths, v. 3, that had been brought to Babylon along with Daniel and his friends), and were then appointed to his service. (Keil and Delitzsch 1996, 541-542)
Obedience to the message of Jeremiah did not mean having to forget Jerusalem and all that it stood for. Inevitably, many from Judah ended up doing just that; but Daniel and his friends did not forget their national and spiritual identity. They sought the wellbeing of Babylon by living in that city as salt and light for God. (Lennox 2015, 72)
As believers living today, do we do the same?
What is the language of protest that we use?
2 Corinthians 10:3–6
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For 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, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (ESV)
1 Peter 3:14–17
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (ESV)
ἀπολογία – a speech of defense, defense, reply written defense, the act of making a defense, defense. (Arndt, et al. 2000, 117)
We get the term apology from this as well as the term apologetics. It means a reasoned defense of the word.
Everywhere the early Christian apostles went they reasoned with the people. In the synagogues, the market places and, if they got a chance, in the academic lecture rooms of the world, they entered into dialogue (see Acts 17: 2,17; 18: 4; 19: 9– 10). (Lennox 2015, 73)
Faithfulness in Real Time
Daniel and his friends are acting this out in real time. They are demonstrating what it means to be a follower of YAHWEH, even under pressure. They studied, they worked hard.
God helped Daniel and his three companions to gain an intelligent understanding of the literature, history, and religious beliefs that they studied. The explanation for this seems to be that the child of God is better prepared to do the will of God if he understands the cultural ramifications of the society in which he lives.
Naturally, Daniel and his friends had to have clear and definite standards of truth and error and had to be able to distinguish truth from error in that which they studied while they were in Nebuchadnezzar’s preparatory school. (Simpson 2000, 15)
Anderson, Robert A. 1984. Signs and Wonders: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd Edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Baldwin, Joyce G. 1978. Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Vol. 23. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Charles, Robert Henry, ed. 1913. Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament. Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Ironside, Henry Allan. 1953. Lectures on Daniel the Prophet. 2d Edition. New York, NY: Loizeaux Bros.
Keil, Carl Friedrich, and Franz Delitzsch. 1996. Commentary on the Old Testament. Vol. 9. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
Kinnaman, David, and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme. Ebook Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Lennox, John C. 2015. Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism. Kindle Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books.
Schaeffer, Francis A. 1982. Escape from Reason. Vol. 1, in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, by Francis A. Schaeffer. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
Schaeffer, Francis A. 1982. Genesis in Space and Time. Vol. 2, in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, by Francis A. Schaeffer. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
Schaeffer, Francis A. 1982. “How Then Should We Live?” In The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, by Francis A. Schaeffer. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
Simpson, Douglas J. 2000. The Book of Daniel, Clear Study Series. Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications.
Stanley, Charles F. 2004. God’s Way Day to Day. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Swanson, James. 1997. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Towner, W. Sibley. 1984. Daniel, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press.