In the World but not of the World

Daniel 1:14-20

The title of this post comes from the Gospel of John. The phrase is taken from several verses in the Gospel. (1) John 15:19 — If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (2) John 17:15 — I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. (3) John 17:18 — As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (ESV; emphasis mine)

How did the Hebrew youths know when to give into Babylonian customs and when to resist? They had Daniel to help them walk the razor’s edge of obedience to God and complaisance to their captors.

Daniel is a mentor and example for the other Judean teenagers. God honored Daniel by giving him favor in the eyes of the Chief of the Servants. The word “give” (Hebrew = nathan) is used in verse 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand… .” Daniel 1:9—9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs… .”

What God seems to say in the final verses of Daniel 1 is that God Himself is completely sovereign and in control, so that He can give people into their enemy’s hand to be a punisher of their sins; and at the same time, once-exiled, God can preserve His people by giving (Hebrew = nathan) them favor in the eyes of their captors.

Dr. Wm. Lane, Mentor

Bill_Lane_1Bill Lane expressed, “When God gives a gift, he wraps it in a person.” Bill Lane was God’s gift to Michael Card, but he is also now God’s gift to me through Card’s experience [in the book The Walk].”

To the left is a photo of Dr. Bill Lane (Th. D. from Harvard Divinity School from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

Bill Lane was diagnosed with cancer, and eventually passed from this life to the next; but before this happened, he gave Michael Card what Card described as the “greatest compliment of his life.”

Lane had said to Michael Card, “I taught you how a Christian lives. I moved here to teach you how a Christian dies.” —adapted from a review of Card’s book The Walk.

Daniel is God’s “gift-wrapped prophet” for His people. He acts as a mentor, but he did not assume this on his own. Daniel was set apart by the special gifts and graces God gave him. I mention this because he was prepared to honor God above all.

Sinclair Ferguson says this about the four Hebrew youths—

It is not who you are or where you are that ultimately matters in the kingdom of God. It is what you are. Faithfulness, not reputation or situation, is what counts in God’s kingdom. [The Preacher’s CommentaryVol. 21: Daniel emphasis mine.]

I. God’s people undergo tests by pagans as God leads them into trial. vs.14.  

vs. 14 So [the steward] listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days.

“The sovereignty of God means there is not a random molecule loose in the universe” (R. C. Sproul in class). God controls all things. Yet He does not make anyone do evil. How does this work? God alone knows.

I wonder how often we realize some of our unpleasant experiences might be for another person’s benefit! The four Hebrew youths would know where their help came from—God Almighty. Also, the steward of their household would know it, too, although the Steward might not be willing to tell the King. The other Judeans would know this, as well.

vs. 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.

II. Where God guides His people, He provides special gifts for His people to succeed. vs.17

vs. 17 As for these four youths, God gave (nathan in Hebrew) them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. ESV

Here are the gifts God gives to his servants under great distress — (1) knowledge; (2) skill in all learning; and (3) wisdom.

All of God’s servants can get these gifts if God so chooses to bestow them. Daniel is set apart from the rest by one additional gift — understanding in all visions and dreams.

New Argument from the First Amendment to Protect Religion (indirectly)

God gives people insight into the Constitution and the Judges on the Bench to permit religion in publicJay Sekulow places. ( The first case Jay Sekulow argued before the Supreme Court involved the LAX airport ban on Jews for Jesus handing out leaflets to people as they entered the airport.

Jay Sekulow’s argument began — “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court, local governments have important responsibilities concerning their efficient operation of airports under their control; however, the record in this case is clear — there is no justification for a sweeping ban on First Amendment activities which would subordinate cherished First Amendment freedoms.”

Jay Sekulow made what, at the time, was a unique argument in defense of religious liberties. He literally changed constitutional law. Instead of merely arguing that this ordinance violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, Jay Sekulow argued that the ordinance in fact violated the Jews for Jesus members’ free speech rights. (Board of Airport Commissioners v. Jews for Jesus, 482 U.S. 569 1987)

The Court also agreed with Jay Sekulow’s argument that “there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect.”

God gives us today our right to be heard in the public arena by a backdoor argument! This is wisdom of God that saves the day. Daniel had it and we can have access to God’s wisdom as we read His Word and pray. (

III. In trial, God makes His servants standout from the crowd. vs. 18-20

vs. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore, they stood before the king.

I like the fact that Daniel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses their Hebrew names, and not those pagan names given to them by the chief ruler of the household. All glory is God’s, not pagan Kings!

They passed the test! They knew it was God’s gifts to them that enabled them to perform so ably. The reverting to their Hebrew names says to us that they were not changed in their essential character by studying Chaldean culture and literature.

vs. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

These are good odds. Daniel and the other 3 were worth 10 times the normal Babylonian students at the end of their initial trial period.

Cyrus the Great is said, in the Bible, to have liberated the Hebrew captives in Babylon to resettle and rebuild Jerusalem, earning him an honored place in Judaism. Cyrus the Great, 559 BC-530 BC from Wikipedia

IV. God can sustain His servants down to old age even if empires fall around them. vs. 21

vs. 21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Verses 1 & 20 place Daniel in the exact times he lived.

He went to Babylon (by Nebuchadnezzar’s public transportation) “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah.” (ca. 606 BC)

He lived until “The first year of Cyrus (538 BC) would be nearly 70 years after the date of Daniel’s captivity (Daniel 1:1), so that he would then be quite an aged man. (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Daniel).

God sustained Daniel until the first year of Cyrus. (It doesn’t say when he died.) “This year is specified on account of its importance to the Jewish people as the year of their deliverance.” (Ellicott)

Cyrus the Persian reversed Imperial policy. Under the Babylonians, conquered people were taken out of their lands and brought to Babylon. People from other conquered land were resettled there. (This explains the Samaritan Jews in the New Testament era.) Persia left them in their own land.

Look at the following film as an Introduction to the Whole book of Daniel (9 minutes). It’s a little longer than I ordinarily put in my blogs. However, this site on YouTube has similar films on all books of the Bible.

Where God’s People Draw the Line

Image above by James Tissot at the John Rylands Library; after James Tissot
Jewish Museum New York. Public Domain

Note: Daniel is set apart from the other three in appearance.

Daniel 1:8-13

Activism is the favorite sport of the masses in our world today. People think taking to the streets and shouting slogans is the way to change things for the better. 

Is this the only way? 

Protest in Russia in 1918

Image from Smithsonian Magazine; Bolshevik 1917 revolution. public domain image

Believers need to stand back from mass protests and avoid the anarchy and vandalism. Note the advice to Titus in 2:7-10 ESV—

7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Bondservants…are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

In the Book of Daniel, we see God’s people deported from their homeland and placed in the midst of a hostile culture. As our situation parallels the Hebrew youths in Daniel, its lessons become more and more applicable. 

I Corinthians 10:11, speaking of judgments that fell on ancient Israel in the past, gives us application from those judgments—

11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

God singled out the behavior of the captives for our imitation. Daniel was the one who stood out from the others. Yet, he is not the subject of the Book that bears his name. God is the subject of the book! Daniel is gone long ago, but God remains ever the same! 

“Here Daniel shows his endurance of what he could neither cast off nor escape; but meanwhile he took care that he did not depart from the fear of God, nor become a stranger to his race, but he always retains the remembrance of his origin, and remains a pure, and unspotted, and sincere worshipper of God.” (Calvin) 

Daniel and the other Hebrew youths did not take an activist attitude toward the Babylonian government. They had a more important agenda. 

Robert Louis Stevenson 

Robert_Louis_Stevenson_at_the_age_of_twenty-nineWhen the noted writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, was a boy, he was sitting in his room one night watching a lamplighter light the streetlamps below. His mother came in and asked him what he was doing. He replied: “I’m watching a man punch holes in the darkness.” (From the Word Made Flash website)

Image left is of Stevenson age 21. From Wikimedia Commons. 

The four Hebrew youths could not picket or raise a stink to change Babylon. They did bring light into darkness wherever they could. God’s people are in this world to punch holes in the darkness wherever God has placed them. Let the light of God’s word be injected into the public conversation, whether people hear or not. This is our mission. 


The Hebrew youths had accepted a lot of change in their exile. They were taken from their homeland to Babylon. They were taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. They were given new names that included the deities of Babylon, instead of references to The God of Israel as their old names did. They were assigned a portion of the King’s food from his table. They drew the line at eating some of the things from the King’s table. 

Image right from Wikimedia Commons in the public Domain. 

How they went about refusing the food is something we could learn today. 

vs. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food (Hebrew pat-bag) that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 

We dealt in the last post with the subject of food. Nothing of the King’s table was bad in and of itself. Outward credit for their success would go to the King of Babylon whether they ate the delicacies or not. I agree with Longman that one reason for the restriction of their diet was to avoid defilement. Another reason was the exiled youths would know God was behind their success. 

Banquet Table

Food for a Special Event from Pinterest

Calvin says, patbag means “to be nourished as to be intoxicated with delicacies.” The Babylonian king wanted to soften the Hebrew youths’ obstinate hearts with luxuries. Luxurious living leads to forgetting their own ways and God and embrace everything Babylonian. 

The theme of this section is—

God is behind the success of His people in times of trouble, and He alone must receive the glory for it.

I. God’s people go about their resistance to pagan authority in a wise manner. vs. 8

vs. 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.

group-prayingMatthew 10 states—

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 

Jeremiah 29—

7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

The King’s motive for supplying rations to the youths was to capture their allegiance. The King’s wine would have been the most excellent available. The meats would have been cooked to perfection.

Daniel was given wisdom from God to lead his companions to shun the delicacies of the King’s table so they would not be tempted to live a life of ease and enjoyment. They had to be ready at the Lord’s command to stand firm in trial. They could not afford to be lured into a life influenced by Babylon. 

II. God gives His people a leader to guide them into obedience to God in a pagan society. vs. 8

LeadershipSome may ask why Daniel takes the lead in this matter. All people are on the same ground before God, yet God sets apart certain people for His service and gives them a combination of natural gifts and graces they will need to perform their service. 

Quotation on the right is from Pinterest. 

The sin of democracy is envy. People want a life like the rich live. In the end democracy can only make people equal by wealth distribution. God does make some people capable of leadership by exalting them over others. All are on level ground when it comes to equality before God. 

Abraham Kuyper on Equality and Inequality

Abraham_KuyperIf the [Reformed view] places our entire human life immediately before God, then it follows that all men or women, rich or poor, weak or strong, dull or talented, as creatures of God, and as lost sinners, have no claim whatsoever to lord over one another, and that we stand as equals before God, and consequently equal as man to man.

Hence, we cannot recognize any distinction among men, save such as has been imposed by God Himself, in that He gave one authority over the other, or enriched one with more talents than the other, in order that the man of more talents should serve the man with less, and in him serve his God. Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition. (pp. 16-17)

I cannot relate to you adequately how this passage from Kuyper has helped me to understand how God has dealt with me in my ministerial life! When we see leaders who are graced with talents and gifts from God, we cease all striving for our own advancement and follow God’s leader. We do not try to undermine God’s leaders who are faithful to Him. They serve us as they serve God. (See the Kuyper quotation above.) 

III. God’s people can meet pagan demands in an alternative way other than compromising their faith. vs. 9-10

vs. 9 And God gave† Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 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.”

† Note: “gave” nathan in Hebrew, meaning to make persons objects of compassion before (in the eyes of) another. (see BDB Lexicon on BibleHub.) This is the same word used in Daniel 1:2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God.

“How did we get here?” an exiled person might ask. Daniel 1:2 says God gave us over to our enemies. Note carefully the same God that gave the Jews into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands gave Daniel favor in the eyes of his enemies. 

The youths would choose out of the delicacies what food that would not compromise their faith. The chief supervisor of the youths was not worried for their safety. He was worried about his own fate should the King notice they were weak from the food they took. In the end, he was serving himself since he would have more of the dainties to feed on. He just wanted to ensure his own position and life from danger. 

“This is a special act of God’s favor to his afflicted people, to give them any favor in the eyes of them that do afflict them.” (Matthew Poole’s Commentary) 


IV. God’s people will always come out on top when tested by following God’s instruction. vs. 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.”

Note that there is a two-tier leadership over the Hebrew Youths— (1) The Chief over the Imperial household eunuch in the ESV (We discussed this in an earlier post); (2) The steward placed over the Hebrew Youths. 

Rather than defying a greater authority, the Reformers urge an appeal to lessor authorities. Daniel did not go to Nebuchadnezzar directly. He appealed to the Chief over the Household and to the Steward who took care of them.  

Steward is meltsar Hebrew meaning a lesser official in charge of others. This also implies separate quarters for the Hebrews away from others. 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Son

Lighted LampsWe saw earlier that Robert Louis Stevenson drew a lesson from a lamplighter. Let’s end with one from Charles Haddon Spurgeon [CHS] and one of his sons. 

One day Spurgeon and one of his sons were walking home when CHS saw a lamplighter ahead of them. He was lighting the lamps along the way. After a while, the lamplighter passed from their view when he disappeared over a hill.

CHS commented to his son, “That’s the way I want to live my life. Illuminating the darkness preaching the word of God. And then, disappear over the hill to heaven.” (Skinner, Lamplighter and Son). Image from Pinterest) 

I really do believe this ought to be our mission. We are not called to a physical war. (cf. II Corinthians 10—

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds