Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 4, Daniel Has A Solution

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 4
Daniel Has A Solution

In Tuesday's study we found Daniel rejecting the food and wine from the king's table and we talked about the possible reasons why. Today Daniel offers his captors a solution for the dilemma that faces him. We are told that he "asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way".

The official is a friend of Daniel's but he isn't willing to risk his life in order to comply with Daniel's dietary requirements. The king has ordered specific food and wine to be brought to these young men and the official knows what a violent man King Nebuchadnezzar can be when he doesn't get his way. "Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, 'I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.'" (Daniel 1:9-10) 

Living in a land of plenty and affluence, when Babylon was at its height of power, naturally the official believes the food the king eats is the best for health and prosperity. As far as he is concerned, the richer the food is, the better. The more gravy it has on it, the better. The more sugar and starch in it, the better. The more animal fat on the platter, the better. In our day, of course, we know this type of eating is bad for the body. The food from Nebuchadnezzar's table was probably the most artery-clogging food in the kingdom. And even though Daniel couldn't have known the science behind this, he somehow knew that sharing the king's food would tempt him in ways that nothing else had so far. He could see how easy it would be to give in to this worldly culture, to eat like a king every day, and to lay aside his heritage and religion and become thoroughly Babylonian.

Daniel doesn't argue with the official. Perhaps he sees the fear in this man's eyes when he speaks of the king and decides not to distress him with any more pleas for help. Instead he goes to a subordinate of the official, the man who actually serves the meals to Daniel and his friends. "Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 'Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.' So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days." (Daniel 1:11-14) This particular guard was assigned to these four men. The official to whom Daniel previously presented his request liked Daniel but probably had less interaction with him than the guard. The Lord gave Daniel grace in the eyes of this guard, this man who witnessed Daniel's sincere faith and manner of living. I don't know how the guard accomplished switching the food, but he would have had some measure of privacy while serving the food to the men in their living quarters. He was risking losing his head if Nebuchadnezzar found out, as the official stated. But something about Daniel, about his faith, and about his God compelled this man to take the risk.

We note Daniel didn't go on a hunger strike. He didn't pitch a fit or launch a protest or refuse to eat a bite. He knows he must eat in order to live and it's not God's will for him to starve to death in a foreign land or have his own head lopped off by Nebuchadnezzar for rebellion. As Daniel put it earlier in our study, he and his friends were "chosen" to go to Babylon. There is missionary work for them to do there. They are to be witnesses of Almighty God in a pagan nation. At all times they must display godly character, showing respect for the king and his officials, behaving as gentlemen. Daniel knew it would be difficult to convince the guard to go against the king so he offers a compromise: a ten-day test. If, at the end of ten days, Daniel and his friends actually do look worse than the other men, then Daniel is evidently willing to accept the king's orders. But if, at the end of ten days, he and his friends look better, the guard will continue to serve them only the vegetables and water.

"At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead." (Daniel 1:15-16) Convinced by the proof that was right in front of his eyes, the guard keeps his end of the bargain. He doesn't bring the meats and wine into their presence anymore. And if the official over him ever asked any questions, I suppose the guard showed him how much better Daniel and his companions looked than the other young men, and that would have been the end of the discussion. After all, King Nebuchadnezzar wasn't going to come in person to check on the men or supervise their diet, so he was never going to know if they were eating from everything available on the menu or not. I don't even know that we can accuse anyone of true disobedience in this matter. The men in charge of the captives offered all the food that Nebuchadnezzar provided; it's simply that some of the men refused part of the items on the menu. And as for Daniel and his three friends, they were obeying a higher authority than the king of Babylon. As the apostles said in the book of Acts, "We must obey God rather than man." (Acts 5:29)

As we discussed yesterday, the rich food was a snare to Daniel in a way the new name, new clothes, and new education were not. Something about eating from the king's table was a temptation to him. To other Hebrew captives from Judah, this particular thing may not have enticed them into sin. But Daniel is smart enough to recognize his weaknesses and therefore he is being obedient to God in abstaining from certain items the king sent to him. He is a godly influence on his companions, who join him in abstaining from certain foods. And the Lord blesses the four for their obedience. "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." (Daniel 1:17) The Lord gifts them with abilities they will need to gain entrance to high positions in the nation. If they had not been obedient to their consciences in the matter of the food, I don't believe God would have blessed them this way. He has work for them in Babylon but they cannot accomplish it unless they are completely sold out to the Lord.

"At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and 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 the whole kingdom. And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus." (Daniel 1:18-21) The three years of their schooling are up and now the king quizzes them in every area of their education, finding these four young men superior to the others brought in from Judah and even superior to the Babylonian wise men. As a result, these four work the most closely with the king. This puts them exactly where God wants them. They are going to hold very high positions in the land, higher even than many native Babylonians, and when the population wonders why these four are so special, they will be compelled to conclude it is because God is with them. Everybody in the kingdom will know who these four men are and that they are Hebrews and that they serve the God of Israel. Everybody will witness their godly character and their faith. Daniel's personality and accomplishments and godly wisdom are such that he held his position in the kingdom through the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and through the co-reign of Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar. Even when wicked men are on the throne (and Belshazzar was exceedingly wicked) Daniel earns their respect for his integrity. He will continue his administrative duties until Babylon falls to the Persians.

In the Parable Of The Sower, the Lord Jesus stated this principle about the nature of godly wisdom, "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them." (Matthew 13:12) Daniel and his companions prove this principle. They possessed a desire to live godly lives and to continually learn more about the Lord. Because He knew their hearts, the Lord gave them wisdom. But of the other young Hebrew men taken to Babylon, we hear nothing more. It is believed by many scholars that they renounced their former lives and fully gave themselves to the new culture, becoming exactly like the Babylonians in thoughts and deeds, not retaining their allegiance to the God of Israel. 

When we sincerely want more of the Lord and desire to understand Him better, He blesses us. He says, "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance." But to those who have no heart for Him, He says, "What little wisdom you have will be lost. As King David, a man after My own heart, once said, only a fool believes there is no God." The Apostle Paul would later say of such an attitude, "For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." (Romans 1:21) 

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah loved the Lord, so He kept adding wisdom and understanding to their faith. The other young men taken captive, who are not named, did not achieve the same success as the other four because in a foreign land they did not continue to glorify God and give thanks to Him. Therefore their thinking became futile. They were not wise enough to be brought into the palace of the king. We don't know what work they were given in Babylon, but they were not blessed with the positions and prestige with which the Lord blessed Daniel and his close friends. He rewards these four for their faith by helping them fulfill their destinies. He invites them to do His kingdom work in the kingdom of a pagan ruler. This could never have been accomplished without their faith and strength of character. The Lord rewards true faith and obedience. 

What wonderful plans might God have for us if only we hold as strongly to our convictions as Daniel did?

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