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

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