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In The World

Daniel  1


{1:1} In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. {2} And 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. {3} Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility-- {4} young 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. {5} The 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. {6} Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. {7} The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. {8} But 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. {9} Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, {10} 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." {11} Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, {12} "Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.

{13} 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." {14} So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. {15} At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. {16} So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. {17} 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. {18} At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. {19} The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's service. {20} 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 his whole kingdom. {21} And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus. -- Daniel 1 (NIV)

One of the great lessons of the mature Christian life is to live in the world, but not like the world lives. As Paul put it to the Corinthians:

{3} For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. {4} The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

-- 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (NIV)

In the World

Daniel understands, clearly, that God has sent this captivity as a punishment for Judah. (This will be much more clearly shown later in the book). He thus has some choices to make. In particular, he must decide two kinds of things:

·        what pressures and choices he will accept, and what choices he will not, and

·        for those he cannot accept, how he will oppose them.

The former question is quite unavoidable. Some of us think that if we could only retreat from the world, all would be wonderful (“if I could just save up enough for the little cabin in the mountains, then I wouldn’t have to......”). A reading of Thomas à Kempis will quickly disabuse us of the notion. The man lived in a monastery all his adult life, and his work teems with problems of just this type. Human beings take their problems with them wherever they go.

We begin by noticing the decision shown here that Daniel accepts: a name change. The Daniel means “God will judge”; Belteshazzar means “Bel protect his life.” When we remember that names are often given in this culture specifically because of their meaning, we might question why Daniel and his comrades made no objection. Discussion point. One key indicator is this: there is no particular command of the Old Testament Law (under which Daniel lived) which prohibits it.

Separation: not of the world

Daniel does, however, draw the line at the diet. We might not see that as important to us, for the Old Testament dietary laws do not apply to us. It is important to see, however, why those laws were given. The primary purpose of giving the law was separation. (See Leviticus 11:43-45) We are to be holy because He is holy and we are his people. Given that Daniel has a clear indication of Scripture, he rejects this food because

·        it has been sacrificed to idols, or

·        it is of a type listed in the Scripture as unclean.

We might view this as somewhat silly in our day, but a very current parallel is available: we are, so to speak, what we eat. Our stomachs consume one type of food; our eyes and ears another. Are you watching what you eat, because you are holy to Him? Daniel shows us a clear path here.

Daniel uses a pair of curious words here, which give us much indication of how we might approach our problems. First, he refuses to be “defiled.” Discussion point: what does this word mean? Does it not carry with it the connotation of something which is

·        originally pure, but

·        now has been ruined for its purpose, and

·        sinfully so?

We, as Christians, are made pure by the blood of Jesus Christ, and we must constantly turn to Him to stay that way. If we don’t, we will be ruined for the purposes for which God has called us.

Next, in verse 8 we see the word “resolved.” The King James uses the exquisite expression “purposed in his heart.” This is not a spur of the moment thing, but an act of will. Kindly note that this is not a knee-jerk reaction of “Oh, I can’t do that” but rather a fixed purpose at work. Staying holy is an act of will, not of emotional reaction.

Next, consider how Daniel delivers this message. Here is no “in your face” resistance. We often see people who are Christians who proclaim their holiness in loud, angry tones. This has two major disadvantages: (discussion point)

·        what does it say to those who are not Christians? Does it show the peace of Christ?

·        and what if you wind up eating your words? How tasty are they?

Daniel shows us one other point. Not only is he polite about this, he shows his complete confidence in God. This is not a theoretical opinion being expressed. Daniel simply says, “let’s try it God’s way for ten days. If not completely satisfied, your money refunded.” Daniel is confident that

·        God is right, and

·        God will honor his devotion.

Daniel serves in his position for some 65 years, both for the Babylonians and their conquerors, the Medes and Persians. Perhaps they saw the fruit of his wisdom. It is a curious thing: if you focus on getting ahead in this world, this world will eventually come to dishonor you. If you focus on the things of God, honor may indeed come. “Latimer, Latimer, beware what you say.”

On wisdom

A look at the last verse will provide useful instruction. God gave Daniel and his companions wisdom. “Wisdom” is a seldom used word today; we favor the word knowledge. They are similar, but not the same. Wisdom is much higher. The key for us is that God gives wisdom - and will give it to us as He gave it to Daniel, if we ask. (see James 1:5)

{6} For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. {7} He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, -- Proverbs 2:6-7 (NIV)

Wisdom is God’s to give. Indeed, wisdom is not some esoteric concept, but a real part of the universe -- the moral law which is just as much a part of reality as the laws of physics.

{19} By wisdom the LORD laid the earth's foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; {20} by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew. -- Proverbs 3:19-20 (NIV)

Should there be any further doubt about it, consider the person of Jesus. He makes it clear that He is wisdom in the flesh, or, as John put it:

{12} When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." -- John 8:12 (NIV)

I propose to you a test: do you have the wisdom that Daniel was given by God? It is yours for the asking. There is even a verse which tells you its results -- a good test of whether or not you have sincerely asked:

{17} But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. -- James 3:17 (NIV)

There you have it: the fruits of wisdom. Are they growing in your life?

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