We all want to fit in, to find a place in this world where we are accepted and loved. No one wants to feel like an outcast or a stranger in a strange land. As long as humans have drawn breath, we have found a way or reasons to be divided. We clump together in our groups with “our people” who look, think, and behave similarly. We join cliques, clubs, associations, groups, etc. That’s not always a bad thing, but sometimes if you want to be a part of one of these groups then you have to conform to “fit in”. You may have to change the way you look, how you think, behave, and maybe even have to change your name.
Fortunately for those who live in a free society, we can choose whom we want to “hang” out with and what types of activities we want to engage in. But Daniel and the rest of the Israelites didn’t have a choice, as slaves in Babylon they either conformed, got with the program, or else. They didn’t have the luxury of making their own decisions. They were forced to assimilate and conform, to become Babylonians in every way. Obviously, if they resisted, they would be punished or killed. For some adapting to this new culture wouldn’t be a life or death situation necessarily, but what if confirmation meant abandoning everything that you believed in?
Babylonians and other cultures during that period worshipped many gods heavily influenced by myths and mysticism. Kings were often deified and worshipped as living gods above all others, which presents a problem for the Israelites and Daniel. According to Mosaic Law, the Law given to Moses by God on Mt Sinai, which included the 10 commandments, God said, “You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me.” (Exodus 20:3) This was the #1 commandment, so if the Israelites bowed down to or worshipped any other gods or kings, they would be violating God’s law and therefore subject to God’s judgment. They weren’t the 10 suggestions. If you’ve read the Old Testament, God didn’t react very well to disobedience, and the Israelites had experienced God’s wrath before. Plus, there were other Babylonian customs that would, if practiced by the Jews, violate God’s law. For the Jews that wanted to be faithful and obedient to God, the cost would be high.
In spite of these obstacles, Daniel and a few others that are mentioned in the book of Daniel remain faithful and obedient to God. Because of their faithfulness, God pours His favor and protection on them. As we’ll see, they not only survive, but also thrive in this hostile environment. Instead of conforming, they end up transforming the culture around them. It didn’t come without challenges, but they refused to give in or bow down. They displayed incredible faith and courage as they navigated their difficult circumstances.
Okay, let’s jump in.
“1In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.” Daniel 1:1-2 NIV
Not only were they conquered, but also the Babylonians took the “articles from the temple of God”, which included the Ark of the Covenant and the actual stone tablets that the Ten Commandments were written on by God himself. Not only were they taken but also they were placed or stored in the “treasure house” of Nebuchadnezzar’s god, in a temple of a false God. As if their defeat and enslavement wasn’t enough, the Jews also lost the right to worship God where they wanted. Of course the Israelites didn’t worship the “articles from the temple of God” but they were important parts of their worship experience or representations of their spiritual story and relationship with God. They could still worship God without them, but it must have seemed like God had been conquered and defiled as well. Moving on.
“3Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. 6Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.” Daniel 1:3-7 NIV
For the Babylonians it would take some time to convert or assimilate the Jews into Babylonian culture. Where is the best place to start the assimilation process? By re-educating, indoctrinating, or brainwashing young children or youth, just like Hitler did in Germany with the Hitler Youth. So Nebuchadnezzar orders his officials to bring young Israelite men into his service, teenagers basically. They were instructed to pick from the cream of the crop. Prospects had to come from nobility and royalty. They had to be handsome, smart, and capable. These young men would be indoctrinated or trained in the language and literature of the Babylonians for three years. They would also have to eat the same food, wear the same clothes. It was a total makeover. These young men would be slowly and methodically reprogrammed to conform and fit into Babylonian culture. They would become Babylonian, and cease to be Hebrew in every way. Their names are even changed from Hebrew to Babylonian. Failure to comply was not an option.
Okay, that’s the introduction. Now we get to the most important verse and possibly the theme of the entire book and this study.
“8But 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 NIV
To be resolved means to be firmly determined to do something. According to this verse, Daniel was determined to stand his ground. However, he doesn’t take an aggressive defensive posture or launch a preemptive strike to escape the situation. He doesn’t paint his face blue and cry “FREEDOM” like Mel Gibson from the movie “Brave heart”. Instead, he simply asks for permission “not to defile himself this way”. He’s polite. Of course, being polite doesn’t guarantee anything. The officials could have just laughed at him, and said, “Look buddy, you either do this or else”.
Fortunately for Daniel, the Lord was looking out for him. Verse 9 says that God had “caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel”. It could have easily gone the other way of course, but Daniel’s faithfulness to God pays off, and as we’ll see next week the art of diplomacy can have an impact on even the most hostile opposition. Daniel doesn’t just talk his way out of the situation. He offers an alternative solution that turns confirmation into transformation.
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC