Surviving in enemy territory

He was far from home and routine, free from restraint and supervision, subject to intense pressure from authorities and peers, exposed to immense opportunities to leave behind all he’d known, and move ahead in a new culture. But as we read the story of this young man, Daniel, we discover that rather than society making an impact on him, he made an impact on society for the glory of God.

It’s not too farfetched to say that the temptations Daniel faced are similar in many ways to the temptations you may face today in school, work or university life. And it is also not too farfetched to say that it is possible for you to come through these temptations as Daniel did, with your testimony intact, and your life bringing glory to God and blessing to others.

In this first chapter of Daniel we are introduced to a clash of purposes. There is first of all Nebuchadnezzar’s purpose, vv. 4-7, and there is Daniel’s purpose, v. 8 (note, the word ‘gave’ is the same Hebrew word as ‘purposed’, v. 8).

Nebuchadnezzar wanted to take the best young people from Judah, those who would have advanced the Name and fame of Jehovah, and he wanted to use them for the advance of his kingdom. There is a mighty ruler today, ‘the god of this world’, who has the same purpose – he wants to ensnare young believers, whose lives could bring so much glory to God and blessing to others, and get them to invest their resources and waste their lives for this present, passing world.

Note how Nebuchadnezzar went about fulfilling his purpose. He sought to change four things:

  1. Their thinking (v. 4 – the learning … of the Chaldeans)
  2. Their language (v. 4 – the tongue of the Chaldeans)
  3. Their diet (v. 5 – the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat)
  4. Their names (v. 7 – Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names)

These four areas have applications to us. The world seeks to change our thinking – for example, from early days through media, entertainment, and possibly even in schools, children are taught a redefined version of ‘tolerance’, which doesn’t mean what tolerance classically and properly means (i.e., you graciously put up with, and value people with whom you disagree), but ‘tolerance’ today is said to mean that you approve and affirm everyone’s point of view. You can find this worked out in people being afraid to express their convictions about moral and religious issues, for fear of being labelled intolerant or judgemental. There are many other areas in which the world’s attitude and thinking is totally out of line with a biblical worldview. How important to make sure we are not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of our minds, Rom. 12. 1-2.

There is pressure on us to change our language: words like sin, repentance, hell and judgement are seen by many as being ‘Victorian’ and ‘out-of-date’. The reality is, they are far older than Victorian, but are bang up-to-date, and should be graciously and lovingly maintained in our vocabulary!

The devil seeks to alter our diet, and get us feeding on his junk food, rather than on the ‘wholesome words’ of scripture. There is something in the strange saying, ‘You are what you eat’ at least in terms of what you allow your mind to feed on! What you take into your mind shapes your character and is worked out in your life. Watch what you eat!

In what way would the devil seek to change our names? Well, those names that the Hebrews had were Jewish names that contained the names of God in them, so their names linked them with the Lord and with the Land. Those names were a continual reminder that they didn’t belong to Babylon, but they belonged to another land and another Lord. We belong to the Lord, 1 Cor. 6. 19-20, and we belong to another land, Phil. 3. 20, and the devil would love to make us forget that!

Then we have Daniel’s purpose, v. 8, ‘But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat’.

But – It is astounding to see this word here! Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man alive – when he wanted something there was never a ‘but’ about it! And here we see an insignificant Jewish captive prepared to stand for God – one man and God is a majority!

Daniel – Remember that the book of Daniel was written by Daniel, and so, although Nebuchadnezzar had given him another name, Daniel still called himself Daniel! He would not forget his true identity; he would remember whose he was, and whom he served, Acts 27. 23. Daniel’s name means ‘God is my Judge’, and remembering that enabled and inspired him to be true to God, and it will do the same for us – ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ’, 2 Cor. 5. 10. Daniel had friends who shared his purpose, but the point in verse 8 is that even if no one else shared his convictions and took a stand, Daniel was going to do it. ‘Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone’.

Purposed in his heart – This was a matter of deliberate determination. I can tell you from the Bible, but also from bitter experience, if you do not deliberately set boundaries in your life, and determine before God not to cross those boundaries, then when the temptation comes, or the pressure is applied, you will cave in and collapse. If you merely hope the temptation won’t come, or that you’ll do the right thing, then you will crumble and take the path of least resistance. Get to your knees and vow before God that, come what may, no matter what, you will not do this, or go there. If you drift through the Christian life you will drift away, that’s the direction the current will take you. Also, without being too technical, the verb is in the imperfect tense, which indicates that this wasn’t a once-for-all thing, Daniel continually purposed this – he would renew his vows daily. Can I encourage you to do the same – the fires of devotion need continual attention.

He would not defile himself – Many might have said to Daniel, ‘We’re miles from Jerusalem, and centuries from the giving of the law, what would it hurt just to take the meat? But Daniel saw it for what it was – defiling! How easily we can justify our actions and excuse our sin, but when we are honest with ourselves, and when we come before God, we have to acknowledge that our sin is defiling.

Therefore he requested – Daniel still had to do something – God didn’t remove the problem, and very often we would like God to remove the temptation, but God doesn’t promise to do that, however, He does promise to give us the strength to stand under it and escape from it, 1 Cor. 10. 12-13. Notice as well it doesn’t say, ‘Therefore he demanded’! Daniel wasn’t rude, brash, self-righteous or pompous – he was courteous and respectful to those in authority over him. How important for us to learn that lesson! When the office party comes around, or when the boss asks you to do something dishonest, don’t be condescending or aggressive, be firm but courteous and gracious.

The chapter ends with these words, ‘And Daniel continued …’. The vast majority of the Jewish captives drifted along in the current of Babylonian culture, and perhaps had an easy and enjoyable time – but they made no impact for God, and we know nothing about them. In stark contrast, the life of Daniel was a life that brought lasting blessing and was of eternal worth – aim for that in your life, ‘The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever’, 1 John 2. 17.