Dare to be a Daniel!
One reason why God gives us pictures of characters like Joseph, David and Daniel is to inspire and motivate young Christians. The way we determine to live as young believers – our resolve, our self-discipline, our clear and definite choices – will have huge consequences for the future. But even if we are not so young it is never too late to face up to these matters. What do I believe? How shall I live? We must come to clear answers to these questions as soon as we can, and then stay with them for life.
Pressure to conform
Daniel was about 14 when his whole world was turned upside-down, almost overnight. King Nebuchadnezzar wanted to transform Daniel and his friends from Israelites into Babylonians, indeed into Babylonian rulers of the future. His aim was for these young men to be completely assimilated into that culture. The same pressure has to be faced by Christians in today’s culture, today’s worldly environment. Do we ‘go with the flow’, which is easy but ultimately dangerous? Or do we swim against the tide, which is much harder but ultimately safer? Daniel determined to take a clear and bold stand for his God, the one true God, in the face of all the pressure to be like everyone else. We need the same resolution, and we also need the understanding and wisdom to know what to do so as to please God and to ‘do exploits’, like Daniel, in a world which opposes Christians and the gospel.
Right at the beginning of the book of Daniel we read about how he was given the wisdom to select just one specific aspect of his new life which he was going to contend, in which he was going to make a stand.
There is no doubt that Daniel could have objected to a great many things in Babylon. There were actually three particular features of his life that had now changed and seemed to be fixed: his education, his food and his change of name. He could have protested about any of these. He could have gone to the chief official with a great long list of grievances which he and his friends had. ‘All this Babylonian stuff just sucks!’
Choose your battles
But if he had done this, he might have been viewed as a stroppy, complaining teenager and he would have got nothing at all. So instead Daniel decided to focus on just one area, and to pursue it wholeheartedly. We should always choose our battles carefully. We should give a great deal of thought and prayer to the particular ‘line in the sand’ that we choose to draw as we seek to live as Christians in a world that will be hostile to us. Daniel decided that he would not eat the food or drink the wine that was given to him and to his three companions.
Why did Daniel focus on this area of food? It certainly wasn’t a matter of nutrition! Daniel chose the area of food and drink because here was one key area where he and his friends could attempt to withstand Babylonian assimilation. These four young men chose to abstain from the king’s food so that they could retain their separate identity as God’s people, a people set apart from the world. The Lord’s people are not of the world – they never have been; they should always remember that they are called upon to come out from the world and touch no unclean thing. How does this work in practice? In our own unbelieving world we should draw certain lines in the sand. What should they be? It depends on the circumstances in which we are found. There are some battles we need not fight but in other areas we would be liable to become compromised. It will not always be food and drink, but it might be. It will certainly be the language we use and do not use, the work we do, the activities we choose to enjoy, or to avoid; the way we keep the Lord’s day.
A real gent
But it is just as important for us to see that Daniel’s conduct was courteous, pleasant and peaceable. Daniel asked, he did not insist. Certainly Daniel was persistent in his request. When his approach to the senior official failed, Daniel asked the guard who was set over him and his friends. It is quite true that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But it is equally true that you are more likely to get something you want if you ask nicely! Daniel had resolved in his own mind but that did not mean that he became argumentative or confrontational.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Aesop’s Fable about the wind and the sun having a competition to try and blow a man’s cloak off him. The wind blew as hard as it could, but the man just pulled his cloak tighter and tighter around him. Then the sun shone pleasantly and before long the man took off his cloak and carried it. The moral of the story, of course, is that kindness will usually achieve more than mere brute force. Daniel’s conduct throughout this episode and indeed all future episodes is exemplary in terms of his courtesy and humility.
There are many occasions in church life where we need to show this peaceable wisdom. One obvious area is church meetings. We talk about the ‘business’ of the church and ‘business meetings’ and rightly so, but we should not fail to remember that it is the Lord’s business, to be carried on in the Lord’s way. We have no right to bring an argumentative spirit into church meetings.
Blessed by God
God blessed Daniel and his friends on account of their attitude and actions, by giving them great skill and wisdom. Jesus said in Luke 19:26. ‘To everyone who has, more will be given’. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah had kept God’s word and honoured him in this initial test, and because of this God blessed them more and more. What was this blessing? In verse 17 we read that ‘to these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.’ These four young men did not suffer because their names had been changed; neither was their godly testimony compromised by their learning the language and literature of the Chaldeans.
Three years went by, and these four young men were brought before the king, and their wisdom and understanding far exceeded the greatest men of Babylon. They were the Lord’s people but in time they became leaders in the alien empire of Babylon. From this we should certainly learn that God’s people today have nothing to fear from engaging in the world of politics, or indeed of business, law or any other great field where they could wield influence. The fiery furnace and lions’ dens of later years show that they did so without compromising the God-given truths and principles which they began to contend for when they were youths.
So then, dare to be a Daniel – or perhaps a Danielle!
Paul Yeulett is the pastor of Shrewsbury Evangelical Church.