Scripture Text: Daniel 1:8-16
What would you do if tomorrow your world was turned upside down? We got a taste of that this weekend with Hurricane Matthew. When things go awry, it puts us in a bad way. When a large storm comes through and knocks the power out, we sometimes do not know what to do. We become so comfortable to how things “should be”, at least how we think they should be, that when things do not go according to our plans, our world gets turned upside down. Where would your faith and trust in God be if tomorrow you lost everything — your home, your car, your job, your family, and your friends? What would you do if tomorrow you found yourself living in a place run by a ruthless government that was hostile to your faith? Would you remain committed to Jesus Christ? Would you stay true to your convictions? Many people follow Jesus, for a while. Many people are a part of His church, for a while. But, when something unexpected happens, or it becomes inconvenient, or worse, it becomes too costly for them to follow Christ, then their commitment is hard to find. When the unexpected happens, what will you do?
Like Daniel, this world is not our home. We are aliens and foreigners in a strange land. The church, to some extent, has forgotten that. Somehow, Christians have come to believe that this world is our home. An important lesson Daniel can teach us is how to live as faithful followers of Christ in a world that is hostile to our faith. Our world is fallen and as such, there is and will be much suffering until Jesus comes back. While this may be our Father’s world, it is not His children’s home. We are sojourners in a strange land waiting for our eternal home to come. We should not forget, though, that God is sovereign in the affairs of this world. God is not absent from our lives or a mere spectator to history. He is steering the course of human history to fulfill His plan. Things may seem to be out of control at times, but they are not. It is just a matter of who is in control. Are we in control? Are other people in control? Is our government in control? Is God in control? The message of Daniel is that God is sovereign…always.
Israel had rebelled against God, so God punished them. It was not like God had not warned them. Like a parent who warns his child of the consequences for disobedience, so had God warned Israel. However, they had refused to heed His warnings, through the Law of Moses and through the words of the prophets. Therefore, God used King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to punish His rebellious people. When Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem, he sought to bring the people of Israel into submission. Therefore, he destroyed their city. He destroyed the temple of God. He also plundered the temple and took many of God’s stuff from the temple to be used in his own temples for pagan worship. Nebuchadnezzar also took many of the people in Judah and exiled them to Babylon. When he brought them to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar tried to assimilate the exiles into Babylonian culture by wiping out their religious and cultural identity and creating dependence upon his royal court. For this reason, the exiles were given new Babylonian names that were linked to pagan gods, in place of their Israelite names linked with the one, true God. As you can see, Daniel’s world was turned upside down.
Resolve to Be Faithful
We learned last week that an important lesson the book of Daniel teaches us is how to live faithfully for Jesus Christ in a world that is hostile to our faith. Daniel remained faithful to God in the hostile environments of several foreign governments and most likely remained in exile until his death. When you face a challenge to your faith, what do you do? Do you stand firm and boldly declare your allegiance to the one, true God? Do you retreat into a safe place where your faith is not so easily tested? For some, it may depend on the level of challenge they face. Some find it difficult to show their faith in Christ in even the most simple of ways. Others would do fine until their very lives are challenged and the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Daniel had one of those challenges to his faith, and it was one that could have been fatal for him and his friends. We see in this passage the first recorded challenge to Daniel’s faith while he was in exile, and we also see that Daniel remained committed to God through it.
Daniel 1:8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
Throughout the history of the Israelites, being true to the Law of Moses in matters concerning diet was a challenge when they lived in foreign lands. Now the four Hebrew youths were confronted with such a dilemma. Daniel’s request may seem simple enough. What was so special about asking to eat different food? There are a number of reasons why Daniel’s request was a courageous act: (1) To refuse the royal diet could have been taken as an insult to the king and as an act of direct disobedience to Nebuchadnezzar’s orders; (2) Pressure from Daniel’s peers most certainly made the decision difficult. Everyone else was doing it, so why should they not also. By choosing this course of action, Daniel and his friends were setting themselves apart from the others. They were different or strange; (3) Such unorthodox behavior could have jeopardized their chances for advancement. If they wanted to have any kind of good life in exile, this was probably not the way to do it; (4) The quality of food would have been attractive, as it was the best in the land. Who would refuse the king’s food?
Daniel and his friends resisted Nebuchadnezzar’s attempt to assimilate them into Babylonian culture. They resolved, or set their heart, to not defile themselves with the king’s food and wine. It is not clear why they would have defiled themselves with the king’s diet. There are several reasons why Jews would have been reluctant to eat the king’s food. Many of the foods eaten in Babylon would have been unclean according to the Law of Moses either inherently, such as pork, or because they were not prepared properly. For example, the blood might not have been drained from the meat. To eat such foods would have been a sin for an Israelite. Also, the meat and wine might have been undesirable because a portion of it was (at least on occasions) first offered to the Babylonian gods before being sent to the king. This would have been seen as an indirect act of worshiping the Babylonian gods. It could also be that Daniel’s aversion to eating and drinking the king’s food was due to a vow to God. Whatever the reason, Daniel’s desired to be faithful to God and God rewarded his faithfulness.
Daniel 1:9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs,
Earlier, Daniel wrote that God “gave” the king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. This showed that the terrible events that had happened did not happen by chance, or by any human power or decision. God was in control. Here again in this passage, we see that God is still in control and moving things in the direction He desires. Ashpenaz, the chief of the eunuchs and an official in Nebuchadnezzar’s court, was not a follower of God, but he was impressed with Daniel. God caused Ashpenaz to have a favorable attitude toward Daniel, which again emphasized God’s sovereignty in this situation. God is able to direct even the hearts of Daniel’s captors to accomplish His sovereign will. When you face a challenging situation, know that nothing is beyond God’s control.
Respond with Grace and Trust
If you were challenged to violate your faith or convictions, how would you respond? It may depend on what that challenge is. For each of us, there are things we are a little passionate in defending and there are things we are very passionate about defending. Just read the posts on Facebook during this election season and you will see all sorts passionate and sometimes very unChrist-like statements. What if we show the same level of interest and intensity in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ as we do about politics or sports? God is not glorified with some dialogue, even if it is the truth. We might know the truth, and we might be bold enough to declare the truth, but if we do not share it with grace and love, the truth will not be communicated. We can disagree with the beliefs of other people, but we should follow Daniel’s example in disagreeing in an agreeable way. In order to avoid defilement, Daniel asked the chief official if he and his friends might have a substitute diet. He did not demand it. Daniel was polite and tactful. The chief official, however, was not immediately persuaded to grant the request.
Daniel 1:10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.”
The chief of the eunuchs, Nebuchadnezzar’s court official, was afraid to grant Daniel’s request. Ashpenaz told Daniel that if he allowed Daniel to have his own diet and his condition turned out to be worse than the other youths, it could be fatal for him. The official’s fears were probably well founded. Nebuchadnezzar’s harshness and rash decisions are demonstrated in other occasions throughout the book (Daniel 2:5, 12; 3:13). How would you respond to this? What would you do? Here is what Daniel did — he responded with a compromise, by suggesting a test. Look at the next few verses.
Daniel 1:11–13 11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.”
Daniel responded by suggesting a test. He suggested that he and his friends be given only vegetables and water for ten days and then compare their appearance to that of the others who were eating the king’s assigned diet. This was particularly risky as we might think a royal diet would be much better than the meager diet Daniel suggested. Daniel was willing to have his faith tested. There is another possible reason why Daniel and his friends suggested this diet. They may have wanted to avoid the luxurious diet of the king’s table as a way of protecting themselves from the temptations of Babylonian culture. In essence, they could have used their distinctive diet of vegetables and water as a way of retaining their distinctive identity as Jewish men, a way of avoiding complete assimilation into Babylonian culture. With their restricted diet, they could continually remind themselves that they were the people of God in a foreign land and they were not dependent for their food, and indeed for their very lives, upon King Nebuchadnezzar, but rather, they depended upon God, their Creator.
Receive the Blessings of God
In politely asking Aspenaz to not defile himself by eating the king’s food, Daniel had an opportunity to share his faith with him. Daniel was a witness for God throughout his life and probably had great influence in spreading the knowledge of God throughout the Babylonian. But, it is one thing to ask for an alternate diet from the king’s official. It is also one thing to suggest a test to compare one’s diet to the king’s diet, expecting it would be better. It is another thing to receive positive results from such a test. Maybe a lesson for us is to stand by our convictions and what God has told us to do, respond to challenges to our faith with grace, and then trust God with the results. For Daniel and his friends, they received the rewards of being faithful to God. Look at the following.
Daniel 1:14–16 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
The one who was assigned to Daniel and his friends listened to them and allowed them to eat their proposed diet of vegetables and water. Daniel allowed his faith in God to be tested. Our faith is a lot like our muscles. It is not much use unless it is nourished, exercised, and tested. God blessed their faithfulness and “gave” them a better appearance than the other youths who were eating the king’s diet. Interestingly, their appearance was “fatter” than the others. How many want to be on a diet that results in you getting fatter? Is that the kind of diet you want? The fact that Daniel and his friends looked better and healthier is not a biblical command for vegetarianism, as God allowed meat to be eaten. Rather, God in His sovereignty and providence made them healthy and strong. This does not mean things will always go well, however, or you will change your opponents mind, or you will somehow physically or materially prosper by being faithful and obeying God. It does mean that God will reward your faithfulness, though.
Daniel acted faithfully, and God rewarded him with many blessings. God provided the protection and provision necessary for such righteousness. God gave him favor from the chief of the eunuchs. God also gave better health to the four young men who did not eat the better food. Such care reminds us to act righteously and let God take care of the rest that is needed for his purposes to be fulfilled. Daniel may have been tempted to be unfaithful and to not follow his convictions. After all, he was nine hundred miles away from his parents and friends. Assuming they were faithful people of God, they would have never known about Daniel’s actions. Yet, Daniel and his friends knew one very important fact. Other people might not know their actions, but God would know, and someday all of us will give an account of ourselves to Him. Daniel was safer as a captive in a foreign land but within God’s will than he would have been in Jerusalem outside of God’s will. His fear of the Lord motivated him from fearing the king, which is a key to resisting temptation. It is safer and more rewarding to be in God’s will than to not be. Where are you? Are you safely in God’s will? Are you resolved to follow Him?
Are You Resolved?
In closing, what circumstances might happen in your life where you are not as resolved as you should be to remain faithful to God? What if someone asks you to do something that violates your conscience, or worse, goes against something God’s Word says? What will you do? Imagine you work for the clerk of court and are asked to sign a document that will give a teenager the right to have an abortion without her mother’s consent. Would you do it? Imagine you own a business and are asked to bake a cake for a couple getting married that violates your conscience. What would you do? Imagine you are told to never openly declare something God has said in scripture because it offends people. Imagine you are told to not tell others about Jesus Christ or you will be fined or jailed. Imagine you are told to renounce your faith in Jesus Christ, or you will be executed. What will you do? Daniel made up his mind to follow God. He was determined to follow God no matter what. Are you so resolved? Will you assimilate into a secular, ungodly culture, or will you retain your Christ-given identity through your exile in this world? Our world is in a mess. There will be much suffering until Jesus comes back. We are sojourners in a strange land traveling to our eternal home in heaven. Therefore, continue in faithfulness and reap the rewards of a godly life. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.