The Revenge of the Vegetarians – Daniel 1

Today we begin a new book in our series with the first of seven selections among the 12 chapters of Daniel. We also with the first of these two readings (today and tomorrow) anticipate the related sermon in the series, rather than reading related passages after the Sunday message.

Daniel picks up with events just a couple of decades after the life of Habakkuk. This is the fulfillment of what that prophet had received from the Lord – that the Babylonians would be the instrument of judgment God used upon Judah.

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.

In history, we are talking about the year 605 BC (again – check the chart in the historical background page listed above). This is the beginning of the Babylonian Captivity – this exile being the reference for prophets being pre-exilic or post-exilic, etc. The northern 10 tribes of Israel had been taken captive by Assyria 117 years before in 722 BC. Every king in the north was evil. The southern kingdom of Judah had at least some good and godly kings – not a majority – but at least a few. So they were preserved by God for a longer time, though finally also falling under His judgment for their disobedience and idolatry.

Jehoiakim was taken to Babylon, though allowed to return later and rule under Babylonian authority. Jeremiah had prophesied to him that he should obey … that this was God’s will. But he rebelled, and after a total of 11 years he was again defeated and replaced.

3 Then 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— 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 those who were chosen 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.

A method of subjugation of conquered peoples that was used by the Babylonians was to take away some of the cream of the crop of young nobility and those with royal family connections in order to train them at Babylonia State University. The goal was to get them when young, acculturate and educate them in the systems, language, and religion of Babylon, and thus have leadership that would be submissive and productive for the goals of the Empire. Daniel and his three friends in this story were among those selected from Judah for this three-year course of the Harvard / Princeton education of that day.

The process can be seen even by their names. Each of them had a name that was a compound of the name of God, but each was given a new name that was a compound of the gods of the Babylonians.

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.

This choice food and drink would have been ceremonially unclean according to Jewish dietary law. Daniel understood this and desired, with his friends, to maintain this truth value from their heritage and faith. It was a bold move, based upon conviction and a desire to obey and please God above all else.

9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion 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.”

This last phrase in verse 10 is probably my favorite selection of all time as written in the New American Standard Version – the main text I used in my college and seminary years, where it says, “Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.”  OK, I give up, you win, I forfeit – here’s my head.

So, Ashpenaz – the resident advisor in charge of these preppy undergrads – was simply afraid that he would get in trouble if the four Hebrews did not feast on the best food in the school cafeteria, and rather ate only from the salad bar.

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.

So Daniel strikes a deal with the official for a 10-day trial on nothing but veggies and water. And God blesses this in every way.

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 into his service, 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.

Not only did God bless Daniel and the three friends physically, he prospered them in all that they did. They were beyond their peers, with Daniel also having a unique skill that was not something derived from the occult-like practices of the “wise men” of Babylon, but was rather by God’s divine enablement. His government service extended to King Cyrus – that is the first king of the next empire! That would be like someone working in the administration for FDR, and then all the way through to Obama.

It was certainly not Daniel’s first choice to live through a time of history where his nation was subject to a pagan empire. It was certainly unpleasant in certain ways to have been likely separated from family and homeland. But the point is this: His personal success did not rise and fall on the outer circumstance of his life or because of his connection with the prevailing culture of the day. Rather, his success came because he ultimately lived to obey and please God rather than men. And that is what we call a “timeless truth” that extends to us today.