Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 3, The King's Table

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 3
The King's Table

Yesterday we learned when and how Daniel and his friends came to be taken to Babylon. These young men could not do anything to prevent their situation, but they knew they had control over how they responded to their situation. They were determined to live for the Lord even in captivity. We don't know anything about the parents of these young men but they did a good job in bringing up their children in the fear of the Lord. As King Solomon once said, "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are older they will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) It's believed that Daniel was likely in his early teens when he was taken to Babylon, but because of the religious training he had received at home and the faithful lives he saw his parents living, he had a firm foundation upon which to stand when he was thrown into very difficult circumstances. This young man, and the others like him, were being thrust into a pagan culture and forced to learn a new language and new customs. They were given new names and new wardrobes. And today we find them being offered new food, food to which Daniel strongly objects.

"Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego." (Daniel 1:6-7) Daniel's Hebrew name meant "God is my judge". His new name involves the false deity Bel and means something like "keeper of the hidden treasures of Bel" or "may Bel keep him". Hananiah meant "God has been gracious" and his new name Shadrach includes part of the name of the Akkadian moon god Aku, meaning something like "under the command of Aku". The meaning of Mishael was "who is like God?" and the meaning of his new name is not entirely clear but is thought to also reference the Akkadian god Aku and may mean "who is what Aku is?" If so, we see a deliberate play on words here. The one whose name formerly meant "Who is like God?" (the God of Israel, Jehovah) is now called "Who is like Aku?" Azariah's Hebrew name meant "Jehovah has helped" and now he is called "the servant of Nebo", Nebo (or Nabu) was the Babylonian god of writing, literature, and wisdom. 

Nebuchadnezzar sought to erase the national and religious identities of the young men he brought into his service. We stated yesterday that they were hostages, and so they were, but he also had bigger plans for them. He intended to train these men as ambassadors and dignitaries to deal with his vassal Judah. It was not Nebuchadnezzar's original intention to destroy the nation of Judah. He was in the business of nation building by adding territories and provinces to his own holdings. A burned and decimated country with most of its citizens dead in battle was of no use to him. He intended for Judah to continue on under his authority, paying heavy tributes of silver and gold to him every year. Believing he had solved the problem of Judah's rebellion in his first military campaign, Nebuchadnezzar foresaw many profitable years ahead of him, with men like Daniel and his friends acting as mediators between Babylon and Judah. 

As we now know, looking back through history, things did not work out as Nebuchadnezzar planned. He ended up having to launch two more campaigns against Judah, eventually razing the city of Jerusalem and the temple to the ground in order to establish his sovereignty. He took tens of thousands of citizens captive, leaving behind only the poorest and most unskilled laborers. The subjugation of Judah did not profit Nebuchadnezzar in the way he hoped, but he took all he could in the end and had to be satisfied with that.

Daniel has not objected to the new name or the new wardrobe. (We know these young men were dressed in the manner of the Babylonians because the wardrobe of Daniel's friends will be described later on in the book.) He has not objected to his new education. But he has a problem with the new food he is offered. "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." (Daniel 1:8)

The food supplied to these young men was the same food the king himself ate. It was of higher quality than that which he supplied to his officials and palace staff. It was of higher quality than the rest of the citizens ate. It was, in the original language, "rich food" or "delicacies". Nebuchadnezzar was giving Daniel the opportunity to eat like a king. He was sending him heavy trays overflowing with food the likes of which Daniel had never seen in Judah. The king expected Daniel's mouth to start watering at the smell of it and for him to reach eagerly and hungrily for this new experience but instead, for the first time since crossing the border into Babylon, Daniel draws back in horror and rejects what is offered to him.

Scholars have debated Daniel's reaction for centuries. One theory is that Daniel rejected the food because it contained items that were unclean to the Hebrews. This theory makes sense but there is a problem with it because all the food in Babylon was ritually unclean to a Hebrew. The citizens there did not keep kosher kitchens. The pot that holds chicken or vegetables today probably held pork yesterday. Clean and unclean foods were mingled together, cooked in the same kitchen, cooked in the same pots. There is absolutely no way Daniel could have kept ritually clean in Babylon unless he chose to starve to death. And I don't believe that was God's will for him. Jesus scolded the self-righteous religious men of His time for criticizing His disciples for failing to observe ritual washings before eating, and He denounced the attitude of those who found fault with Him healing (working) on the Sabbath. He firmly stated that it's not what goes into a man's mouth that defiles him but what comes out of his heart that defiles him, and He declared that the Sabbath was created for man and not man for the Sabbath. God did not ask or expect Daniel to go on a hunger strike and die in a foreign land. God asked and expected Daniel to live and to be an example of faith in a foreign land

Another theory is that some of the meat from the king's table had been offered to idols before being served. The people of Judah also made meat offerings to God and the nations around them made meat offerings to their various gods. There is little doubt that some of the meat from the king's table had been offered to idols, but so had some of the grain and vegetables and fruits. Like the people of Judah, the people of Babylon made offerings from their harvests. In insisting upon a vegetarian diet, as we will later see Daniel doing, he still could not prevent being served items that had been offered to idols, 

The third most popular theory is that in eating of the same food as the king, Daniel was in essence breaking bread with him in friendship. Some scholars believe Daniel felt this would indicate he was pledging his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, to Babylon, and to the gods of Babylon. Ancient kings were often considered the ambassadors of the gods and in some cultures kings were thought to be gods themselves. In eating of the food from the king's table, Daniel may have felt he was joining with Nebuchadnezzar in sin and idolatry. I don't see any problem with this third theory and I like it equally as well as the fourth and final theory we will consider today.

The fourth, and perhaps most likely theory in my own opinion, is that something about the food was a breaking point for Daniel. He withstood the changing of his name, having such fine character that he never forgot who he was in the Lord. He was able to exchange the robes of Judah for the tunics and pants of Babylon without forgetting his heritage and customs. He had the ability to study another language and religion and culture without converting to the gods of Babylon or changing who he was on the inside. But this rich and lavish food, so succulent and juicy on the tray, so tempting and forbidden, was a snare to him. It tempted him to sin in a way nothing else had. When faced with these sumptuous delicacies he heard the siren song of doom and I think he knew if he gave in on this particular point he was lost. He would assimilate into the culture. He would give in to the luxury and prestige and carnal pleasures that could be his. And he would lose what meant most to him: his relationship with the Lord.

One of the most intelligent things we can do is be aware of our weaknesses. What tempts me to sin may not be what tempts you, and vice versa. There are some temptations the devil could throw at me all day long and I could shrug them off and immediately forget about them. But there are others that stop me in my tracks for a minute as I consider whether or not I could or should do these things. You know what I mean. We each have weaknesses that make us muse in our minds whether we can do particular things and get away with them, that make us wonder what the consequences would be, that cause us to ponder whether the consequences might actually be worth the risk. As the Bible tells us, sin is pleasurable for a season. (Hebrews 11:25) Perhaps Daniel's weakness was gluttony or covetousness or the pride of wanting recognition or the desire to posses riches and to experience worldly pleasures. We don't know for certain, but Daniel knew. And he was smart enough to say no. May we all possess this quality. Lord, help us to recognize temptations and have the strength to say no to them. May we never value anything more than we value our relationship with You. 

No comments:

Post a Comment