In the opening chapter of the book of Daniel we find Daniel and his three companions in Babylon in the midst of a pagan culture with pagan religion and pagan practices. So what is a devout Hebrew to do in this situation? We can learn from Daniel here, because we live in a similar situation. Let’s see what Daniel chose to do and what the results were of his decision. We will see that Daniel had a strategy in mind and the LORD also was going to use Daniel and his three friends to work a great work in the life of Nebuchadnezzar.
“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine that he drank.” – Daniel 1:8
When Daniel comes to Babylon, he is brought into the court of the king of Babylon, to King Nebuchadnezzar. He has been brought into the highest court in Babylon because he had no defect, he was good-looking, was intelligent and had understanding and knowledge. The Hebrew youths with these qualities were hand-picked for an indoctrination program so that they could be taught the literature and the language of the Chaldeans. The program almost certainly involved introducing the Hebrew youths to the pagan gods of the Chaldeans as well. Another part of this program was eating the choicest of the king’s food and the best of the king’s wine. Nebuchadnezzar planned to make these Hebrews into good Chaldeans to serve him in his court as prizes of his conquests. He would have the best and the brightest of the Hebrews in his service and he would gradually turn them into Chaldeans, with Chaldean thinking and with Chaldean gods.
It would be good to pause here and see that this is exactly what the world would have the follower of Jesus become. The world tries constantly to press us into its mold and to have us eat the choice food of this world. The world would have us lose all those things that make us distinct and set apart to the LORD and would have us instead compromise and blend in with the rest of the perishing. The believer must vigorously resist compromise and resist losing the distinctives that make us holy to the LORD, while at the same time we need to maintain our platform for witness and not be so distinct from the world that we lose touch with the world we are trying to reach with the gospel. It is this balancing act that Daniel performs brilliantly. Let’s see how Daniel does this.
Daniel and his friends are Hebrews, just like all the other hand-picked youths from Jerusalem, but they are not just ethnically Hebrew. They are true followers of the LORD and they intend to live as followers of Yahweh no matter where geographically they live. But also I believe that Daniel and his friends were aware that their lives were being ordained by the LORD and that ultimately it was Yahweh who had sent these young men to Babylon for His purposes. (See 1:2 – “The LORD gave Jehoiakim . . .”) Again offering my opinion, I believe that the LORD intended to make Nebuchadnezzar into one of His followers and He was going to use Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael to do it. These men had been sent to Babylon by the LORD as His ambassadors and, as wise ambassadors, it was their duty to determine how to make the wishes and the glory of their King known to the nation into which they were sent. So while Nebuchadnezzar had hand-picked these fine Hebrew youths for his service, the LORD had long before selected these young men for His service and for the service of His kingdom.
Once again it would be a good idea to pause here and consider what is going on. For just as these Hebrew youths were selected by Yahweh to be His ambassadors in this pagan place of Babylon, even so today He has selected you and me as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ to be His ambassadors in the places where He sends us. And as Daniel and his friends considered how they could be effective ambassadors in pagan Babylon, so we need to seriously consider how we can be effective ambassadors in our own Babylon. Your workplace is one of your Babylons, for the LORD has placed you there to be His light in that dark place (Matthew 5:16). How can you be an effective ambassador there? Maybe your school is a place where you are maligned and maybe even persecuted for being a Christian. Take courage and begin to see your situation as your assignment as an ambassador. What is my strategic plan for reaching this school for Jesus or at least for reaching a few of the people in this school for Jesus? Begin to think strategically as an ambassador. “How do I begin in this place? How can I make sure that these people know that I am not just a nice guy/girl, but that I am a follower of Jesus? And once they know that, how can I use that as a platform for telling them about Jesus?” How can we make it clear that we are a Jesus-follower without making them think that we are some out-of-touch religious weirdo? And once we have raised the awareness that we are distinct because we follow Jesus, how do we then use that as an opportunity for the gospel? What we will see with Daniel is that he established the fact that he was not just a Hebrew, but he was a worshipper of Yahweh, and then, when the LORD acted in a mighty way (Daniel 2, 3, 6), Daniel could give all the glory to the Lord.
So what does Daniel do first? He politely asks the commander of the officials if he can be excluded from the king’s choice food and from the wine the king drank. Why does he do this? Daniel does this so that he can make it very obvious to those who are watching that he is serious about obeying the God of the Hebrews. This does several things. First, it makes it relatively easy for Daniel and his friends, when the time comes, to declare that they must obey the LORD and cannot bow down to other gods (Daniel 3). The Chaldeans may object, but they should not be surprised. It also makes clear that not all ethnic Hebrews are true followers of Yahweh. Just because you dress like a Hebrew and talk like a Hebrew does not mean you are a true Hebrew. A true Hebrew is one who is holy and set apart to Yahweh. Thirdly and most importantly, it brings the LORD into the conversation, because it is the LORD that determines what Daniel and his friends will and won’t do. Because Daniel has established that he is a follower of the God of heaven, it is only natural that he is going to talk about that God.
Daniel and his friends, then, accomplish a lot just by refusing to eat the king’s food. The LORD sees to it that they remain healthy and so they are promoted to the personal service of King Nebuchadnezzar. Thus they have direct and personal access to the man they are seeking to win to Yahweh. They have established that they are serious about their service to their God and that they will not compromise and worship the Chaldean gods. This, however, is done in such a way that there is no offense given to the Chaldeans or to the king. Thus Daniel and his friends are in the royal palace as worshippers of the Hebrew God, but they are respected and accepted. They have laid the foundation for their evangelistic ministry to Nebuchadnezzar and have also opened the door wide for the LORD to move in this situation.
THE LESSON TO US: We also need to take this kind of a strategic approach. How can we raise the flag and make clear that I am a Jesus-follower without creating a wall between me and those I am trying to reach? One thing that we must do is live a holy and a righteous life before those who are watching, and we must be careful to do this all the time. We must establish that we are not just nice people, but that we are followers of Jesus and it is Him that we worship. Jesus is the one that changes lives. And once we have established the beach-head (so to speak) of our own personal holiness, we must then consider how the Lord will use this to further the gospel in our world. By following the strategy of Daniel and his three friends in their captivity in Babylon, we can be effective ambassadors for Jesus in our situation. SDG rmb 3/31/2016