Resolving and Thriving (Daniel 1:8-21)
Daniel and his friends were shipped off to Babylon and forced to attend Babylon University. Last time we talked about the importance of recognizing that Babylon’s secular worldview is everywhere — in the very air we breath. When Babylon educated Daniel and his friends, their goal was indoctrination, not free education. Everything they learned was contained with in a Babylonian story that centered on Babylonian gods and Babylon’s triumph for Babylon’s glory.
When the state educates us today, we must recognize that their Babylonian, Western, American, and especially Darwinian worldview is off. They tell a different story about how the world began, why it is here, why we are here, what went wrong, how that can be fixed, and where all history is headed. This flawed story effects both what is taught and how everything is taught — from science to literature, economics, social studies, psychology, and health. Evolutionary philosopher and scientist Daniel Dennett writes that Darwinism is a “universal acid”: “It eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized worldview, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.” Welcome to the minds of the researchers inspiring today’s textbooks. Control the water supply and you control what people drink; control what goes in textbooks, and you control how people think and live in the world. There are good teachers and administrators doing genuine good, but there are also puppeteers running the whole thing and often giving life to Satan’s warping of the truth. And so, we must recognize that, as Jeff Wilson says, “It’s always Babylon out there.”
But how did Daniel and his friends respond to this situation? And how did God help them? We will consider two things Daniel and his friends did and three things God gave to help them thrive.
1. They resolved to not defile themselves without being obnoxious jerks.
Daniel and his friends were put through a lot. They were ripped form their homeland and families, they were given new names that extolled Babylonian gods, and they received an education they largely didn’t agree with. They were even likely made eunuchs — the person in charge of them was called the “chief of the eunuchs” and even Isaiah told Hezekiah that “your own sons shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” And yet, we don’t get the sense that at any point they stamped their feet or whined about how their God-given freedoms were being taken away. They accepted what they could accept.
But, when the king assigned them a daily portion of food and wine from his table, Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with it. Maybe it the meat was unclean. Maybe it had been offered to Babylonian gods (though, the vegetables may have been too). Maybe he is establishing distance between himself and the king. Whatever the reason, it would have defiled him, and he resolved not to allow that.
It is no small thing to turn down the king’s food. This is the best food in the land. To refuse the king’s diet could be perceived as insulting the king. Everyone else is eating. No one but his friends are watching — Mom and Dad aren’t there. “Why go through the trouble? After all, it’s what’s in your heart that matters. I don’t want them to put me in this box thinking food’s the only thing that I or God care about. My heart is right. God wouldn’t judge me for eating — but Nebuchadnezzar sure might if I don’t eat. How am I supposed to be a light anyway if I can’t even eat the same food at the same table?”
And yet, no excuse: he resolved and he spoke with the chief of eunuchs. Notice that we don’t get any sense of arrogance or rudeness from Daniel. He doesn’t make this about personal liberty either — a note we need to be aware of. Coercing someone to sin against God is not problematic because it removes personal liberties. The Bible isn’t about the triumph of liberty and happiness but about the reign of God over the creation. Besides, if it’s about personal freedoms, refuse becoming a eunuch and eat the king’s food!
And so, Daniel asks for vegetables and water. But the chief doesn’t want to lose his head, so he declines. But, notice, Daniel doesn’t stop. “Well, I tried to do the right thing once — it didn’t work. God will understand.” He persists and talks to the steward next. And note Daniel’s reasonableness — “just test us for ten days and you can observe us and decide what you see is best.” This doesn’t have to become a big deal unless the Babylonians make it that. Daniel kindly, peacefully, persistently resolved to do what was right without being a jerk.
There will be times in university, school, school-trips, work, work-trips and more where we have to resolve to not defile ourselves. They will invite us to social functions and bars where we shouldn’t be. They will hand us a drink that we need to turn down. We’ll be invited to movies we have no business seeing. They’ll wear clothes we shouldn’t wear. They’ll spend money in greedy, idolatrous ways that we will not keep up with. And must be ready to draw a line in the sand — to resolve. But know that you can do that kindly and quietly. You don’t need to make a big stink about it.
Regardless, it will carry risks. We may not advance in school or in the company. We may not be asked about that big decision. We may be passed over for the promotion. They don’t always care what you know, sometimes it’s who you know and whether you were part of that conversation over drinks at the bar. Sometimes its whether you rolled over when they gave the unethical order.
But, in this situation, notice how God gave them what they needed to thrive.
God gave them favor and compassion in the eyes of those in charge of them. In the cruel Babylonian empire, it’s rather shocking how amiable the chief and the steward are. We aren’t guaranteed this — Jews would later die at the hands of Antiochus Epiphanes IV for the same request. We are called to be faithful no matter what, but we may just find God gives favor in compassion in the sight of those over us. This is what I was blessed to experience when I worked at Sonic and Applebees in high school and college. I was determined to be at Bible class and worship on Sundays and Wednesdays — which is no easy thing in the restaurant business. They pushed back, but I kindly insisted. “I will work any time. Call me in and I’ll have your back. I’ll work hard. But not at those times.” I had to keep reminding them of my limits from time to time, but God gave me favor in their eyes.
God gave them good appearance. Based on depictions of wisemen at that time it is probable that Babylonians liked their wisemen to be on the chubby side. Don’t underestimate the importance of the right look in Babylon. This is one thing I noticed in China. The airline stewardesses usually had a uniform look and hairdo. Men in military were also very similar. Daniel and his friends likely needed to be chubby, yet they were going to eat vegetables and drink water?! Yet, verse 15: God causes them to somehow be both better in appearance and fatter in flesh than everyone else who was stuffing themselves with the king’s food and wine!
Faithfulness to God may seem like career suicide. “You’d better be willing to fudge the numbers for this boss, sign that paper and stop asking questions, lie a little here or there, eat and drink what’s put before you — or you don’t know what might happen.” And it may be the case that we will suffer. But don’t count out God. Whether it relates to our commitments to this community here, to Biblical ethics, the truth, or to personal purity, we have to do what’s right and give room for God to work. He may glorify his name through our faithfulness in career suicide or by causing us to thrive in unlikely situations.
2. God helped them excel without being co-opted.
We don’t know what happened in the classroom. I feel confident that there were likely points where they took opportunities to respectfully offer different perspectives. However, I don’t get the sense that they bucked and protested at every turn. They went to school and God gave them learning and skill and wisdom in Babylonian literature and learning.
There’s a time to speak up and there’s a time to sit down, take notes, and disagree while circling the answer the teacher wants to hear. It’s not cowardice, it’s recognizing you’re living in Babylon, not heaven. They could have slouched and sighed and said this was all dumb. But they worked hard and learned and God made them excel. Col. 3:23–24 ESV, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
To those in school-aged years: God has given you your mind and he wants you to use it for his glory. Excel. Work hard. Learn about the world God has made. Learn how to live in it with God’s wisdom. Receive from those who have more training than you. To those working a job and to those being mothers at home: God has given you your hands, feet, lungs, heart, and mind to do good work for God’s glory. Be fruitful and multiply and exercise your God-given dominion in God’s good world.
But recognize the fallenness of the world around us and of the learning institutions and companies around us. Receiving their training and graduating suma cum laude at Babylon University did not mean Daniel and his friends bought into their worldview — not for one second. If you remember that, God will give you opportunities to make the truth known as he did with these friends. Nebuchadnezzar was impressed with them beyond all the others. And, he thought his training made them into who they were, but he soon found out after some bad dreams that no education, only the Spirit of God, was able to ready Daniel for what came next. They worked hard and waited on God and he used them as vessels for his glory. God used their success and faithfulness to eventually bring a pagan kings to their knees praising the true God as the King over all other kings.
Sometimes faithfulness leads us to thrive in Babylon, sometimes to die. But we must resolve to work hard and refuse to be co-opted and wait to see what God does. We could be imprisoned like Paul and embolden the brothers and sisters to speak more boldly of Christ as we testify to those in prison with us. Or God could put us at the top of the establishment to testify to kings and CEOs of his glory through the wisdom and power he gives us. The choice to thrive, be marginalized, or to die is not ours, but God’s. Let’s trust him to do what he wills to do with our lives.