During the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar Judah went under Babylonian authority. On the outside not many noticed a huge change, however, behind the scenes things were quite different. Jewish families were deeply affected. A number of gifted young men from the families of the Jewish nobility were taken from their homes to a new land. They were thrust into a new lifestyle. Every effort was made to break down their former convictions. They had to make a difficult choice. Would they hold to their faith and to a life of obedience to the Lord God, or would they flow into the new culture around them? It was a time of crisis for these men of faith, including Daniel.
It is precisely here that all of us can identify with Daniel. Regardless of how sheltered our existence has been as children or how often we go to church, there comes times that we have to make tough decisions in a pagan world. We are confronted by our friends, colleagues, and a society that lives a lifestyle that is radically different than that which is taught us in the Bible. Will we obey God regardless of the consequences or will we succumb to the surrounding culture?
Daniel and his friends were torn from their land and taken to Babylon as young men. They were probably only twelve to fourteen years of age. In Babylon they were placed in a three-year training programme to prepare them to oversee Jewish affairs in the Babylonian Empire. A crisis of conscience occurred when the first meal was served. Let’s take a look at the scripture to see how this story unfolds and what we can take from it for our own personal lives.
Daniel 1.1-2: The author of Daniel shows us that God is in control that happens. He tells us directly that the Lord delivered Jehoiakim the king of Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Jerusalem was besieged by Babylon and Judah was given into their hands. God orchestrates what happens even when we may not understand why. In 605 B.C. the Jews had been treated fairly well. A few young men (including Daniel) from the leading families were taken as hostages, yet the nation of Judah was left relatively undisturbed. In 597 B.C. the treatment was harsher. More people were deported to Babylon, including the king, Jehoiachin, and Ezekiel. Finally, in 586 B.C. the Babylonian patience was exhausted. The temple of God was burned, the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, and the people were virtually all killed or deported to Babylon. This period of seventy years was the captivity that was prophesied years before it had occurred. Cyrus, the Persian ruler allowed the Jews to return to Judah. Daniel’s ministry in Babylon extended through the entire seventy years and on into the reign of the Persians.
During the beginning of the captivity, the young men that were chosen to be integrated into the Babylonian orientation were chosen on several different criteria. Daniel 1. 3-7 tells us that the Israelites had to be from the royal family, young, healthy, handsome, intelligent, wise, well informed, and qualified to serve. They were trained for three years and given Babylonian names in place of their Hebrew names. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. In today’s world, we tend to look for the same things when it comes to deciding who is “best.” Christians today face the same pressures: trying to look our best by getting rid of any wrinkles, having the best clothing, being the perfect size, have the best physique. The younger generation is having to study harder only to find themselves still chancing to get into university, it seems to never be enough even having A* grades. Everyone wants to fit in. We all desire to be liked, appreciated and accepted. Some will do anything they can to gain that approval.
The young men in our story didn’t care as much about all the criteria that the Babylonians wanted, they may have fit the bill on being chosen to be trained, however, they stood their ground when it came to their crisis moment of faith.
Daniel 1.8-10. All four young lads were devout Jews. They had grown up within the Jewish customs and believed that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was their God as well. It may seem to us that it was a trivial matter to not eat the meat and drink the wine that the rest of the young men that were training did. However, being devout Jews they did not want to desecrate their bodies before the Lord. Surely the meat that was being served was not Kosher and did not fit into the Jewish laws of cleanliness. Therefore, they followed what God wanted them to do and asked to not eat the meat nor drink the wine. I personally do not think they are making a big issue out of this. They knew what God had said and was determined to follow His commands.
There are a lot of areas in our society today that may seem good on the outside but really destroys us on the inside. What criteria do you set upon yourselves to decide what activities to engage in or not? For our family, these are some of the criteria that we follow. When it comes to deciding to watch a movie or not, we look to see how much foul language is involved, if we start watching it and there are more than 4 curse words or taking the Lord’s name in vain, we turn it off. As a general rule we do not watch anything rated 15 or above. We don’t read books of sorcery nor do we read anything that we would think that Jesus would not approve of. We don’t listen to music that has dirty language or lyrics in it. There are other criteria that we follow for other things as well, but these are just a few examples that we live by.
Daniel provides a creative alternative to the king’s plan to eat the specified food. Read Daniel 1.11-14. Daniel asked the guard to test them for ten days on the vegetable and water diet and compare them to the other trainees at the end. The guard agrees to this request. Of course, because the young lads followed God’s dietary requirements, they were rewarded by being healthier, and better nourished then the rest of the guys. Not only did God bless them with health, He gave them ability to understand dreams, knowledge and wisdom. They were found ten times better than any magician and enchanter within the kingdom.
We can learn so much by the boys’ example. Remember they were only about 12 to 14 years of age. They obeyed God’s commands even when everyone else around them did what they normally did. Even though it was just a minor detail of food, the boys still followed God’s law. The world is infiltrating the church with so many things, such as love of money, tolerance of certain sins, and may I dare to say, especially sexual sins, and position. We need to stand firm on our faith and follow God’s Word despite what others and the world says. The best way is to do the same thing as Daniel requested, test the fruits. There are many who declare that they love Jesus and they are Christians but outside or maybe even within the church, there is no evidence of fruit. Are we doing what God wants or we compromising our standards to fit in?
Daniel displayed several factors that produced the exceptional abilities. Faith, obedience, perseverance, and stick-to-it-ness all can teach us how to live for the Lord. Jesus said that even the faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain to the sea. Daniel and his friends obeyed God even in the minor details of life. They persevered even when those around them may have not understood or even could have made fun of them. They stuck to what they were doing, never giving up despite what everyone else did. How can we do the same in our lives?
Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego all had faith to do what God desired of them. Oh that we would have that faith. God rewarded the lads for their obedience and faith. Surely if we do follow God’s commands even in the minor things, He will bless us in return. However, I must add that we should not just obey to get something out of God, like children who do things to be rewarded with money, etc. God should be obeyed no matter what because He is sovereign and we should desire to follow Him.
In closing, some questions to think about. 1. What are some pressures of the world that are pressing upon us? 2. What criteria do we or could we use to determine what activities that we engage in or don’t? 3. What attitude or actions do we need to work on to follow God’s commands despite what the world says? 4. And finally, how can we follow Daniel’s example in our own lives?