When we Can't Compromise
13th September 2019
We saw last time that Daniel and his three friends had been transported to Babylon, along with the rest of the Judean aristocracy, and had been chosen as among the best candidates to be students, training for the Babylonian civil service. They were given Babylonian names, and would be instructed in Babylonian language and literature. The names they were given were pagan, and the literature they would learn was contrary to the Bible and in parts quite demonic. The Babylonians believed that areas like astrology and divination were sciences.
Like many young Christians today entering university, Daniel and his friends were hit by a culture shock. The Babylonian idea of wisdom was very different from the Bible, and the culture in modern universities is also very different from the Bible. Many young Christians lose their faith – or, at least, mislay it for some years - because their universities teach them secular values. They're told that believing in the God of the Bible is stupid, and no teenager wants to be considered stupid. They're told that Biblical ideas about the nature of mankind and Biblical morality, respected for centuries, are immoral and bigoted.
Worryingly, this is now also happening in schools, so young children are told to believe unbiblical ideas, and some are punished for refusing to repeat politically correct falsehoods. And after school and university, when young Christians enter the workforce, they will again be subjected to some degree of temptation to conform to their environment and deny Biblical truth, by their thoughts or their actions.
As well as Babylonian names, language and literature, they were given the best Babylonian food. Their masters wanted to assimilate them into the Babylonian way of life as much as possible. Nebuchadnezzar didn't believe in multi-culturalism. He wanted conformity. And increasingly in our country, the establishment - which preaches multi-culturalism and diversity - demands that we conform to their ideas.
Daniel and his friends had to accept that they were living in an ungodly society. They accepted Babylonian education and Babylonian names, but sometimes we cannot do what an ungodly society requires of us, and they were not willing to eat the king's food.
Some of the meat they would have been given would have been pork and horseflesh, both forbidden by the law of Moses. Some of it would have been served with some of the blood still in it. Some of the food and wine would have been dedicated to Babylonian false gods. Daniel and his friends were willing to serve the king who had conquered Judah. They were willing to integrate as far as they could into the alien society in which God had placed them. But they were not willing to break God's holy law, and nor should we be.
Christians are free to eat any food – including pork and blood, because Jesus declared all foods, even those offered to idols, clean for us. As Romans 14:20 says, "All food is clean". But for the Old Testament people of Israel, eating meat that the Law of Moses had forbidden was a serious matter. Daniel and his friends lived under the Old Covenant, and were determined to keep the Old Covenant law, because they loved and respected God.
The Babylonians wouldn't have understood why Bible-believing Judeans wouldn't happily eat the king's food, any more than much of modern British society understands why Christians don't generally lie to the tax man, kill our unborn children or abandon our wives. Sometimes, we have to excuse ourselves from the behaviour around us, and that means identifying ourselves as different and - to them - weird.
Daniel spoke to Ashpenaz, the chief court official, explaining that the king's food would defile him, and asking for permission to eat a different diet. This was a very courageous thing to do. Daniel's request might have been perceived as an insult to the king, even as an act of disobedience to him. And you really didn't disobey Nebuchadnezzar if you wanted to live. And it seems that the other captives who had been enrolled into the training programme, including some Judeans, were willing to eat the king's food. To refuse it would be to stand out from the crowd, inviting ridicule and possible persecution, and risking damage to their careers.
Also, the king's food was probably very nice to eat. They could have been tempted. And they could have persuaded themselves that God had let them down. He hadn't saved them from captivity. Why should they serve Him faithfully if, as they might have thought, He had not been faithful to them?
And today, in some universities, government jobs and private companies, Christians face the same sort of temptations. If your tutor or your fellow students want you to deny the Bible, if your manager wants to involve you in some fixing of expenses, or dishonest behaviour towards a rival, you might put your job or, at least, your next promotion, at risk by refusing. If everybody else is doing it, and perhaps even some other Christians do it, you will stand out as different from them by choosing to obey your conscience. The extra money would be nice. And perhaps you feel like God has not helped you in the way you think He should, and be tempted to disobey him this one time? You could persuade yourself that, since God gave you this job for this manager, you should obey the manager, even when it involves disobeying God. We can fool ourselves if we want to.
If you're a nurse, asked to help at an abortion, if you're a baker, asked to decorate a cake with a message you believe to be false or harmful, if you're a teacher, asked to address a boy as "she" or a girl as "he", if you're a musician asked to perform a song that promotes sexual sin or a false god, what do you do?
First, remember that God is for you, 24 hours of every day, in every situation. He'd placed Daniel in Babylon, for His own divine purposes, and God had caused the official to show favour and compassion to Daniel. If a godly Christian needs somebody's help and support, then God will make that person favourably disposed towards him.
Secondly , be courteous. Daniel co-operated with God by behaving well. God doesn't make our neighbours and employers favourable and compassionate towards us if we're horrible, or if we're always complaining and moaning. Be nice. Be respectful. Speak gently, even to those who are instructing you to do something sinful.
Daniel didn't demand his rights. He didn't talk about religious toleration or freedom of speech. He didn't criticise Ashpenaz. He asked for Ashpenaz's permission. I wonder how much better Christians would fare if we always spoke humbly and gently to those in authority over us.
We never read about Jesus going on protest marches.
Ashpenaz wanted to help Daniel, but he was too afraid to do so. He thought the change of diet would make Daniel less healthy, and the king would be so angry that he'd have Ashpenaz executed. This shows you the sort of environment Daniel was living in, and how courageous he must have been to make the request.
Daniel didn't give up. Having failed to persuade Ashpenaz to help him by changing his diet, Daniel went next to his guard (perhaps a better translation would be "tutor" or "overseer"). Again, he asked for a change of diet, but he'd thought of a way to reduce the danger of anybody being punished. He suggested a test for 10 days. Not much harm can come from a vegetarian diet for just 10 days (I'm told the word translated "vegetables" means "coming from the grain" so Daniel and his friends could have also eaten bread and probably fruit).
See how Daniel asked wisely, and humbly, and appealed to the guard's reasonableness. Again, how much better would Christians fare if we were less confrontational and more diplomatic?
Even in church, or in the family, if we speak with gentleness of tone, and moderate words, we are far more persuasive than if we attack or criticise others, if we get angry or accusatory. How much more so at work, and in politics!
When the 10 days were up, Daniel and his friends were healthier than the other students, which makes you wonder what the king's food was really like. Or perhaps God blessed them with supernatural good health despite their restricted diet. Or perhaps the other students ate and drank too much and made themselves unwell. Whatever the explanation, the guard/tutor/overseer saw the improvement in their health, and let them stay on the vegetarian diet.
It was probably rather boring, but they stayed faithful to the Law of God. And, as we will see next time, God blessed them for it.