“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” — Daniel 1:8
Taking a stand for righteousness is more than a spur-of-the-moment whim; it requires making a purposeful decision before God to turn away from sinful behavior in whatever form it presents itself, and then relying on God to help us maintain that commitment.
An eighteenth-century preacher, Jonathan Edwards, was one who had that type of purpose. As a pastor’s son, Edwards grew up in an atmosphere of Puritan piety, affection, and learning. In his late teens, a single verse of Scripture brought him to an understanding of his guilt before God, and he responded with acute remorse and contrition. His resulting conversion experience became the foundation of his relationship with his Creator.
Edwards was a young man with many talents and perhaps an equal number of opportunities in life. After a rigorous schooling at home, he entered Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut, at the age of thirteen. He graduated in 1720, well prepared for a future in the halls of academia if he had so chosen. He had an affinity for science and likely could have made a name for himself in that field. However, he chose to study divinity, and while still in his teens, he became a pastor. Before he turned twenty, he found himself far from his native home, living away from family and friends in New York City, New York, and attempting to pastor a group of church-goers who had split off from a Presbyterian congregation.
In this new and uncertain environment, young Edwards realized that he needed both a fixed purpose to stand and a compass for spiritual direction. So he took to writing, setting down on paper a series of thoughts and practices to help cultivate his spiritual growth and stability. Edwards then re-read this list, which he came to call his “Resolutions,” at least once a week to keep his mind focused and renewed. Among his seventy resolutions were the following:
“Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God.
“Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.
“Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour before I should hear the last trump. . . .”
Edwards stayed true to his resolutions, and ultimately became a key figure in the religious revival known as the “Great Awakening,” which occurred in the American colonies from about 1727 through the 1740s.
It is not hard to imagine that young Daniel, in our text today, might have written words similar to those of Jonathan Edwards. Perhaps one of his resolutions would have read, “Resolved, that as God has allowed me to be placed here in Babylon, I will continue to honor Him and refrain from defiling myself with idolatrous practices, whatever consequences I may face.” With unshakable conviction and holy boldness, Daniel, along with three companions, took his stand because he had a deep-rooted purpose to be faithful to God.
To be able to stand firm and uphold Biblical principles no matter what our environment is a purpose each one of us should have. The enemy of our souls will strive to cause us to doubt, waver, and ultimately abandon our spiritual foundation. However, like Jonathan Edwards and the four Hebrew youth, we can remain true to God in spite of the ungodliness around us and every attempt of Satan to overthrow us. God enabled these young men to do so, and He will help us as well if our heartfelt desire is to ensure that every aspect of our lives honors Him.
The first six chapters of the Book of Daniel are historical in nature; the remainder of the book is considered prophetic. Chapter 1 relates the account of Daniel’s exile into Babylon, which took place about 605 B.C. Verses 1-2 describe Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest, verses 3-16 relate the testing of four of the Hebrew captives’ character and their determination to remain true to God, and verses 17-21 recount how their integrity was vindicated.
Historians note that Nebuchadnezzar commonly chose the brightest and most talented youth from conquered nations and placed them into a program educating them in the language and culture of Babylon, thus equipping them to be of benefit to his realm. The phrase “to stand in the king’s palace” in verse 4 indicates that these conscripts, who were probably between thirteen to seventeen years of age, were trained to serve rather than to simply enjoy a life of ease at court.
Verses 6-7 introduce four young captives of Judah. As part of their cultural indoctrination, all four were given new Chaldean names honoring the four leading gods of Babylon — the chief god, Bel, and the gods of the sun, earth, and fire. The Hebrew name Daniel, meaning “God is my judge,” was changed to Belteshazzar, which meant “Bel’s prince.” The name of Hananiah, meaning “whom Jehovah favors,” was changed to Shadrach, a name inspired by a root word that referenced the Babylonian sun god. Mishael’s name, meaning “who is God?” became Meshach, replacing El (Hebrew for God) with the name of the Babylonian goddess Sheshach (goddess of the earth). Azariah’s name, meaning “whom Jehovah helps,” was changed to Abednego, meaning “servant of the shining fire.”
As part of the integration program, the captives were to be given a specialized diet that included “a daily provision of the king’s meat” (verse 5). Daniel and his three companions purposed that they would not defile themselves by eating of this meat (verse 8), likely because it had been offered to idols and as such was unlawful for an observant Jew to eat. In addition, the Babylonians ate animals that were ceremonially unclean, and had not been slaughtered or prepared according to the requirements of Mosaic Law.
Daniel requested a menu adjustment of the “prince of the eunuchs,” Ashpenaz, who was in charge of the young captives. God had given Daniel “favor and tender love” with this butler/steward (verse 9). These terms, translated from the Hebrew words hesed and racham, refer to “loving kindness” and “tender compassion” like that of a parent to a child. However, if the steward were to disobey the command regarding the captives’ diet, his disobedience could incur severe punishment, so he declined the request.
As a solution, Daniel then proposed to Melzar, the under-steward directly in charge of the four Hebrews, that the four be given pulse and water for a ten-day trial instead of the rich food and wine the king had prescribed. “Pulse” was a variety of dried legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, or beans, possibly offered in porridge form. This was agreed to, and at the end of the test period, Daniel and his three friends appeared “fairer and fatter in flesh” than the other candidates (verse 15). This clearly was the hand of God at work, for there was no physiological reason why a vegetarian diet would make a discernible difference in such a brief period.
As a result, the steward agreed to Daniel’s request for the dietary modification to continue throughout the remainder of the three-year program. In the end, God honored the Hebrew youths’ purpose to remain undefiled, and gave the four knowledge, skill, and wisdom far exceeding their counterparts in the training program. Additionally, He entrusted Daniel with prophetic understanding of dreams and visions — a divine bestowment Daniel would use on behalf of Nebuchadnezzar in the following chapter.
I. The personal history of Daniel (1:1-21)
A. The deportation of Daniel (1:1-7)
1. The deportation of the vessels (1:1-2)
2. The deportation of the youths (1:3-7)
a. Their selection (1:3-4)
b. Their diet (1:5)
c. Their names (1:6-7)
B. The decision of Daniel (1:8-16)
1. The request (1:8)
2. The response (1:9-14)
3. The result (1:15-16)
C. The delight of Nebuchadnezzar (1:17-20)
D. The duration of Nebuchadnezzar (1:21)
Like Daniel and his friends, we want to “purpose in our hearts” to maintain spiritual integrity in spite of the ungodly influences in our environment.