Daniel and his three Hebrew friends, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael are far from home. From childhood they had been exposed the Scriptures, the Temple and all of the great ceremonies which were part of their faith. But now they are in Babylon. They are under the power and control of Nebuchadnezzar. At times they may have felt that death was coming at any time. But now suddenly and unexpectedly they have been given an opportunity to live and make a career for themselves in the city and land of their captivity.
From their confinement they have been given a place in Nebuchadnezzar’s college. He wants to train the finest brains amongst his slaves so that they can be numbered among his advisors. So Daniel and his friends go to the University of Babylon.
He wanted to take these four young men and so immerse them into Babylonish culture that all signs of their Jewish faith and identity would be lost. Away from the scrutiny of their parents, who were probably dead, away from the temple and its priests, who were facing ruin and extinction, away from the city of their birth the emotional and psychological pressure that was placed on these young men to conform was intense. It would be here at the University of Babylon that the faith of these 4 young men would be tested as to its genuineness.
If our convictions are only with us when are at church – then they are shallow and worthless. Do we carry the God whom we sing about in Church into our homes and beyond our homes into our schools, colleges and places of work?
You profess faith in Christ? But how real is that faith in school and when you are in University how real will be there. Away from the Church, away from your parents are you true to your convictions? For faith to be faith it must be tested. Every Christian must face Babylon and Babylon represents the world. And in the world, you will be pressurised to conform to the worldly mindset.
And when you leave home, pack your bags, go off on university or go to work far away – there will be a test. In many ways that is where the reality of your faith will be tested and tried.
With his new clothes and his new name Daniel quickly discovered in a very different language what was expected of him in the University of Babylon.
Part of the remit of the Prince of Eunuchs under whose tutelage Daniel studied, was to ensure that all these young slaves were fed the finest of the King’s food in order that they might put on weight and be well nourished. The food of Babylon, however, was not the strict Hebrew diet that Daniel was accustomed to.
There were certain meats that the Jew could not eat. Also, the meat that the Jew ate, had to come from an animal that was killed in a certain way. The throat was cut and the blood was pumped out of the creature by the beating heart.
And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.
And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.
But this was the not the only problem with Nebuchadnezzar’s feasts.
There was the wine also.
Old Testament scholars refer us to the practice among all these pagan nations of using their feasts as acts of worship. The food and the wine were dedicated to the gods of Babylon. Therefore, instead of saying grace before eating they would dedicate a portion of their food to the pagan god.
Therefore Daniel, when he realised what was involved; “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself”.
The reason for his conviction was the Word of God. He knew what was contained in the law. He was aware of the dietary requirements; what was allowed and what was forbidden. He knew the contents of the law and the first commandment especially, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Therefore, Daniel was determined that he would not partake of this food.
The pressure was on to capitulate and compromise. Who would see? Who would know? He was risking his life to refuse what Nebuchadnezzar required. He could have argued that God in his sovereignty had given him this position then he should at least swallow the royal food or he would not fulfil his potential in the palace. He could have reasoned that this was a small matter, not worth trifling about. There were bigger issues at stake.
But no – Daniel refused all this false logic. This practise was outlawed by Scripture, therefore he purposed in his heart.
He would never have been able to stand alone in this regard had he not purposed in his heart.
Convictions are a matter of the heart and they must be grounded upon the Word of God. Convictions are not merely about slavishly following a set of rules out of formality. This is not conviction – this is tradition. Conviction is about understanding something is wrong because God decrees it to be wrong.
Conviction rests upon our instinctive knowledge of God’s Word. Reading God’s Word, studying Scripture and hearing truth instils within us conviction which enables us to make the correct decisions when challenged.
Therefore, I will appeal to all young people – know the word of God and live out its principles at all time. Someday like Daniel you will be away from home, but you will continue to have your Bible – let this book be your teacher and your mentor and you never ever will go wrong.
Daniel was determined that there were certain things he could not do. There are practices we can debate and there is room for Christian liberty of conscience within the Church. But there are lines drawn so definitely in Scripture that we cannot cross over, that we dare not cross over.
Daniel would not drink the King’s wine. There is an obvious application here in relation to alcohol. One of the blessings of the 19th Century temperance movement, which grew out of the great revivals, was an awareness of the dangers of alcohol. The Bible does teach that wine is a mocker and strong drink is raging and the person deceived is not wise. The temptation to take alcohol is very strong today. The teetotaller is in the minority. So much social life and business life too at times, revolves around what we simply call “drink”. While the image of the laughs, the fun and the company in the public house or by the hotel bar is very inviting there is a different side to the coin, a darker side. There are the drunks being turned out on the street at closing time, there are the cries of a family who have lost a loved one to a drunken driver, there are those who sit alone at home drinking bottle after bottle, there is the effect upon the liver. The damage caused by alcohol, is immense. Happy is that young man or young woman who never touches the “demon drink”.
The resolve to refuse this King’s supply came from Daniel. It was he alone who purposed in his heart. His three friends followed his example. Sometimes we must be prepared to stand alone even among our peers, being a leader in what is right rather than being a follower.
Ultimately Daniel, was interested in holiness. He did not want to be contaminated by Babylon. He would live in Babylon; he would work in Babylon, but he would never spiritually conform to Babylon.
Likewise we are called to live in this ungodly society – but we need to be uncompromising in our refusal to be contaminated with the wicked spirit that exists in the world.
Daniel was a young man, a teenager. But he developed principles and standards in these years. He did not argue that the food and wine was a small matter. No matter is too small or without consequence if God says no.
To our young people I plead – have convictions, be true to them, take your leading from Scripture and never be afraid to say no when God says no.
Daniel is described by some commentators as being a perfect gentleman in which he conducted himself.
He was incredibly honest. He approached Melzar, the Prince of the Eunuchs, and requested that he be permitted not to eat the King’s food. There was affirm politeness in the way in which he conducted himself. He expressed his convictions and he explained why he could not act in the way that was expected of him.
We always need to understand why we do not do certain things or why we behave in a particular manner. Daniel was able to articulate his views.
We must learn to do this. Arguing the case for Christianity in a coherent logical fashion is becoming more important in these days of scepticism and unbelief. But acquiring a sufficient understanding in order to achieve this demanding. We need an interest in spiritual matters. We should apply ourselves to reading and study. We should not be content merely with what we learn from others, there should be hunger and thirst to discover truth for ourselves. Whenever our faith is tested, we must stand ourselves and explain our views articulating what is on our hearts.
It is not Christian to belittle our opponents. When we have opportunity, we need to expose them to truth in a sensible fashion.
God, however, did something marvellous for Daniel. There such an attractiveness about his personality and character that Melzar grew to love him. This love was something that God had put into Melzar’s heart. Throughout Daniel’s life God caused people to be drawn to him, like Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. Like Joseph, God made his ways smooth in a difficult environment.
When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
This situation put Melzar in a predicament. He was afraid that if some of his slaves refused the King’s food, they would not put on weight and Nebuchadnezzar would quickly surmise that he was not doing his job. This was the kind of thing a man could lose his life for when working for a tyrant.
Daniel, however, has a suggestion. He was not afraid to put God to the test. He asked Melzar if he could be fed on pulses – grains, vegetables and fruit – for ten days. At the end of this comparatively brief Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah looked as healthy as the other slaves who were feeding from the King’s richer and more fattening food. This persuaded Melzar to give Daniel only the food that he requested.
Not only did God honour Daniel’s commitment in this way but he gave these four young men great skill and knowledge in all the studies that they were exposed to. While I am sure they were intelligent and worked hard throughout these four years of study God blessed all their work and their endeavour.
The basic lesson is clear for all of us, but I want to especially encourage young people.
There may be times you be called to take a lonely stand. There might be a social event that you are alone in not attending. Others consider you a bit odd. But because of the nature of the event, the music, the dance the alcohol your conscience does not allow you to attend. That is only one example, but you will be tested in other areas whether it will be in employment, school, university or other secular organisations. I remember taking a training course at an hotel in Coventry, England. Every night the guys went to the bar to drink and I went to my room. They asked me why and I told them I was a teetotaller and was uncomfortable with the atmosphere. They totally respected that but asked me to sit with them one evening in the foyer of the hotel because they wanted to find out more about me as a person. I had the most remarkable opportunity to witness to those men and share my faith. If had compromised and been like the others I would not have had a faith to share.
The lesson I have learned and the lesson that you will learn too; if you put God first, He will always bless you. He will never fail to bless you.