The picture above is titled, “Daniel and his three friends refusing the king’s food.”
1873 from The story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
The Overall Theme of the Book of Daniel
At first glance, Daniel seems to be too ancient of a book to convey a message to the 21st Century readers. Not so, because people in developing countries in the 21st Century often turn to Daniel and Revelation for guidance and comfort. Tremper Longman gives us the key purpose in the book of Daniel:
“The book of Daniel was written in large measure for the express purpose of being a guide to God’s people who live in the midst of a troubled world, particularly one that is toxic to our faith.” [Longman, T. How to Read Daniel, p. 145.]
Does this sound familiar? Troubled world? We live in a hyper-troubled world! Toxic to a believer’s Faith? If we follow the desires and aims of the dominant worldview in our day, it will destroy our Faith!
Let’s trust God who is able to rescue us from pagan onslaughts in our world! God is the One who gives us hope.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Let’s dig into Daniel 1:3-7; 8a and see some principles believers can use as they serve in a hostile society.
Vs. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility…
I. Service to a government hostile to their faith may be required of believers. vs. 3
The use of the word “eunuch” in the Bible. The Hebrew word is saris which refers to a man in some sort of official service to a ruler, but “neutering” isn’t always a part of the office. Compare Pharaoh’s Potiphar who is a saris (eunuch; compare Genesis 39:1) and who was definitely married (Gen. 39:7ff). It is doubtful whether the term always or usually refers specifically to a [neutered male] rather than to a palace official in general.” [see Christianity Today Wiki site.]
Compare Isaiah 39:7—”And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” So, Daniel and the youths from Judea may not necessarily have been neutered. They may have been trained to be workers at court for the Babylonian government. Daniel chapters 1-7 tell us as believers how to live faithfully in the midst of Neo-pagans and atheists. Believers can serve, but there are limits to their service as we will see later.
Note Jeremiah 29:1; 4-7
1 These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. … 4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 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.
Image of Jeremiah mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem (Wikimedia in the Public domain).
Jeremiah sent this letter from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon, who had been exiled from their homeland. (1) They are not to engage in clandestine guerilla warfare against the land of the exile. (2) Neither, does he command them to confine themselves to “a Jewish ghetto.” He says they are to engage in regular activities that lead to prosperity of their new land. (We will see the limitations on believers’ service later.)
Picture of Ashpenaz making his selections from the youths of Judea.
Image is from Wikimedia and has a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license
4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
II. A pagan nation with its worldview always seeks to capture the youth for its service vs. 4.
Daniel and the Other Three Youths in Daniel—The KJV calls all four “Hebrew Children.” The Hebrew word is yeled [Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon of Hebrew]. They are “young men possibly in their early teens at the time of their deportation.” [Rushdoony, R. J. (2001) Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation.]
I don’t know about the other exiles, but these four young men were old enough to follow God in the Babylonian court. We might not be deported to another country in exile from our own country; however, we are in a similar situation.
We are “exiled at home” today if we are true Christians. The Neo-pagan worldview has overtaken the public square in our country. How did this happen? It happens still at the secular universities and colleges. I urge parents who are sending their young people to college to read Michael Kruger’s book, Surviving Religion 101. Book cover below.
“Writing in the form of a letter to his college-age daughter, Michael Kruger’s Surviving Religion 101 takes a topical approach to examining some of the toughest questions Christian students encounter at secular universities.”
Personal Experience Teaching in a secular Community College
For more than 15 years, I taught at a Community College. I first taught transitional studies (sounds better than developmental courses).
After 5 years, I was invited to join the Humanities Faculty and teach REL-103 (similar to REL-101 Kruger addresses in his book). It was called “Comparative Religion.” No one lost his faith in my classes. I even taught one Hindu student from India. I had to help her understand Judaism and Christianity since she had no knowledge of them.
Sadly, I heard of other instructors teaching things harmful to the Christian Faith. I did not teach anything but what was in the textbook. As lead instructor of REL-103, I chose the textbook.
5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food 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.
8a But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank… .
III. Care must be exercised in taking delicacies from the world. vs. 5
Daniel decided he did not want to defile himself (gāal) 1:8. The means of the defilement was the delicacies (path-bag) from the King’s table—of Persian origin; a dainty; portion of meat. Those who ate delicacies would be seduced into further compromises with Babylonian ways. Babylonian wine was undiluted, no doubt.
Jews are not by nature abstainers from alcohol. However, pagan feasting would lead to excess of alcohol. Jews normally diluted wine with water. The least was 4:1 water to wine. In places where water was not safe, wine helped to purify water so it would be drinkable.
Image of the chief Babylonian god, Marduk. from Wikimedia Commons; public domain.
I have already dealt with this matter of delicacies that deceive in a previous post I did on Romans 15. See the post “It’s Better not to Look Back! At least, in that Way.” So, 1st Century Jewish Christians in Rome thought they should abstain, as Daniel and his three friends had done. This makes good sense of Jewish Christians “not drinking Roman wine” in Romans 14. We remember Rome had at this stage already gotten the cryptic-name “Babylon” (cf. I Peter 5:13). Jewish Christian believers did not want to be seduced by Rome’s delicacies.
6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
IV. Once one is drawn in by the delicacies, a change in character follows. vs. 6-7.
The Significance of a Name Change in the Bible. “All their Hebrew names had something of the God in them; but to make them forget the God of their fathers, the Guide of their youth, the heathen gave them names that savored of idolatry. It is painful to reflect how often public education tends to corrupt the principles and morals.” [Matthew Henry] (Note a public school in England is fact a private exclusive school for the elites of the land e.g. Eton, Harrow, Winchester College, Wells Cathedral School, Ampleforth (the Roman Catholic “Eton”), Westminster School, and Benenden School (all girls).
Daniel and his three friends objected to delicacies of the King. However, they did not reject the Babylonian name with reference to pagan deities, neither did they reject the Babylonian training. (I’m going out on a limb here, but I’ll bet they used their old names in private conversation with one another. And, they prayed to the God of their fathers.)