Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 43. Daniel (1)
Dan 1:8,9 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,
As we now come to Daniel, we come to the third of God’s ‘roving reporters’ of the Exile. Daniel was carried away to Babylon in the first of Nebuchadnezzar’s raids on Jerusalem but unlike Jeremiah and Ezekiel his role was not to speak God’s words to the exiles but was, instead, to speak as God’s mouthpiece to the various kings from Nebuchadnezzar on. The first six chapters of his book are historical, telling how this happened, and chapter 7 to 12 are prophecies or visions he received. Because of this we will take one historical incident for our first study in this book and then one from the prophetic section.
We have chosen verses 8 and 9 above because they are ‘turning point verses’ that impinge on all that follows. They start, as you can see, with a ‘But’ which indicates they flow on from what has gone before, so let’s pick that up first, for it is highly significant in Daniel’s story.
Nebuchadnezzar had carried off King Jehoiakim of Judah (1:1,2) together with members of the royal family and the nobility, young men who clearly had learning (1:3,4a) with the objective that these young men would be taken to Babylon and, for three years, would be taught and trained in the history and ways of Babylon so that eventually the best of them could serve Nebuchadnezzar in his court (1:4b,5). Daniel was one of these young men.
Now part of the perks, or perhaps part of the brain-washing that would transform these brightest of men into good Babylonians, was to provide them with all the rich food and drink that was available in the royal court. Part of the transformation process was to also give each of these young men a Babylonian god-linked name and so Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar which probably means, “Bel protect his life” (Daniel had meant, “God is my judge”) i.e. everything was being done to change these men from being young Israelite noblemen to good Babylonians.
So we come to the point where this rich food is being presented to Daniel and his three friends (v.5) at which point he determines to resist this transformation process. So note the stating point of his actions: “Daniel resolved.” He set him mind on resisting this. However he is basically a slave and not in a good position to say what he will or will not do, so he goes in humility and “he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” Now we come to the God part: “Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel.” Somehow the Lord had spoken into the officials heart and made him feel good towards Daniel, but that isn’t enough to sway him; he would like to help Daniel (perhaps he too was an ‘import’!) but he was afraid of what the king would say if they looked worse than the others (v.10).
At this point Daniel is not put off and perseveres and gets what today we would call ‘a word of wisdom’ and simply asks the guard, who the chief official had put over them, to let them try out for ten days a menu free from rich food and wine, and then see what they are like at the end of that time. He agrees to this. (v.11-14) At the end of the ten days Daniel and his friends look better than any of the other conscripts (v.15) and so the guard allows them to carry on without the rich food and wine (v.16).
We then see the Lord’s blessing on these four young men: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” (1:17) so that “At the end of the time set by the king …. he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (1:18-20) What a testimony!
The lessons of this little incident are clear and powerful. Note first, Daniel is in an alien environment, not one of his choosing. He is powerless in the situation, except he comes from a godly background. Now this is interesting in that the words that came from Jeremiah, and later from Ezekiel, indicate that the spiritual state of Judah and the occupants of Jerusalem was very low – and yet Daniel clearly stands out as one who resolves to remain one of the people of God. So, lesson no.1 – Daniel resolves to hold on to his heritage. When you or I find ourselves in such a situation, can we too resolve NOT to go the way of the rest of the world and remain true to God (how to do that is the problem that follows and is to be addressed). We may need to persevere, but will we do it?
We then saw that the Lord was clearly with Daniel in that He made the chief official favourable towards Daniel. Lesson no.2 – recognize that wherever you are the Lord is with you (Heb 13:5b) and He will be working for you (Rom 8:28). In what follows it is clear that Daniel has the wisdom of the Lord. Lesson no.3 – in such times always turn to the Lord and ask Him for His wisdom to know what to do (Jas 1:5) Simple isn’t it!
We will see further examples of such things in Daniel as the book unfolds. In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which he demands his astrologers and wise men to tell him about, and their failure would mean their death (2:1-13) – which includes Daniel and his friends. When Daniel is told about this, he speaks to the commander of the king’s guard who has been sent to execute them all: “Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact.” (2;14) This opens up the way for him to ask the king for time (2:16) and then he gets his three friends to intercede before the Lord (2:17,18) and the Lord gives him the answer!
As a result of this Nebuchadnezzar, “placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.” (2:48) Amazing! And so it carries on. If you are not familiar with Daniel, you must read how in chapter three his three friends make a further declaration of their commitment to God: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (3:17,18) and there’s more to follow. It is an amazing story, this story of this young prophet who became senior counselor to king after king. And why? What were his characteristics? His faithfulness to God, his resolve, his humility, grace, wisdom and tact and his prayer life, a true child of God whose example is to be followed. Wow! Go for it!