“Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.” <Dan.1:3-7 (NIV)>
Excellent young men were required to fill the positions being offered; as it is today, many career opportunities require a specific level of expertise and excellence. Showing aptitude for every kind of learning: if a worker wishes to advance in his/her career there must be continual learning and adaptation to function at the required level of competence; he/she must also be well informed in related information to their profession. As is always the situation, one must be quick to understand when and how to act in accordance to change; and above all individuals must be qualified to serve. Such were the requirements given by king Nebuchadnezzar to Ashpenaz his chief court official; the chosen individuals were to be trained for three years before entering the king’s service.
All young people today who are entering college or university for training in higher education for their chosen profession are faced with similar challenges, and sometimes have to make difficult decisions when faced with ideologies that conflict with what they have been taught by their parents. This is even more difficult for those that have come from a Christian family, for most ideologies that they will face are not based on Christian or Biblical foundations, and will be in great conflict to their beliefs. This was the situation for the four Israelites that were chosen to serve the king.
These four men originated from the royal family and the respectability of the kingdom of Judah, accustomed to the Jewish way of life, and were carried off in captivity and exile to Babylon. The Babylonians worshiped at least seven different gods, believed numerous myths, had multitudes of shrines, epic tales, and proverbs. Some forms of their worship closely resembled the Jewish customs but did not have the same meaning, and all were in conflict with Jewish teaching; and for these Jewish young men who were now exposed to the Babylonian way of life, customs and beliefs; major decisions had to be made.
The first difficulty facing them was the food that was served to them: “The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table.” <Dan.1:5 (NIV)> Here we see how the Devil works to test our faith in the One God of the universe, he begins by getting us to fall into his trap using the simple and necessary things in life, in this situation it is the food that was needed to survive. The kings food was first offered to the gods of Babylon; their meat was “ceremonially unclean” to the Jews because it most certainly came from animals that the Jews were ordered, by the Law of God, not to consume; or were slaughtered contrary to the regulations of God’s Law <cf Deut.14:3-21; Lev.11:47; 17:7; 12>; and there was very little that Daniel and his friends could do to identify whether or not this food was ceremonially clean. So, we see Daniel making a decision that demonstrated the courage of his convictions: “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine” <Dan.1:8 (NIV)>. Such a decision could have been interpreted as a rebellion against the king, but Daniel gave Ashpenaz an alternative: “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food” <Dan.1 :12-13 (NIV)>; and at the end of the ten days they were found to be healthier and better nourished than the others that ate of the king’s food. There was nothing that would indicate that their diet was any healthier than the other men, but we can conclude that God had honoured Daniel’s courage and faithfulness. Further help given by God materialized in their knowledge and understanding of all the Babylonian literature and culture <Dan.1:17>, so complete in their knowledge that the king “found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah” <Dan.1:9 (NIV)>, they were ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in the whole kingdom <Dan.1:20>.
This one incident set the course for Daniel and his three friends for the rest of their exile and lives. The Devil did not succeed in tempting them here, nor did he succeed later on when Daniel was called upon to fall down in worship the king rather than his God – The God of Heaven. The Devil will continue with this approach, always attempting to make us substitute our worship of God with something that resembles or imitates what our true worship of God should be, so we must be on our guard and test each suggestion by what is written in God’s Word <cf 1 Jn.4:1-3; 2 Jn.7-11>.
“Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and …. all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den….Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” <Dan.6:5-10 (NIV)>
Here again we see Daniel’s courage and convictions coming to the forefront, he did what he knew was expected of him in his worship habits, he worshiped and prayed to his God – the God of Heaven. What would your beliefs cause you to do in such a situation?
It would appear that in today’s social order there are very few firm convictions; everyone just “goes with the flow”; and unfortunately, this attitude seems to trickle into the Church. Programs are adjusted so as to “attract” outsiders; we do not want to offend them by what is written in God’s Word so our doctrine and preaching is diluted with what is appealing to them. In an attempt to appeal to the intellect, we limit or disallow the Holy Spirit to do His work in the lives of unbelievers <cf Jn.16:7-11>.
IN CONCLUSION, the lesson to be learned here is that we should never let our convictions and beliefs in God be affected, controlled, or changed by ideologies that are foreign to what we are taught in scripture; we must stand by our beliefs at all times and cost.
In all professional life today, workplaces, universities, schools, politics and anywhere else that one can think of, ideologies and beliefs are acceptable and practiced, unless such beliefs are biblical based. Christians – true followers of Christ – are not allowed to live by their beliefs, and the Devil ensures this as he suppresses the senses of unbelievers to the gospel message and society silences the messengers. Is this real freedom of choice, as opposed to the freedom that is allowed for all other ideologies?
How should we as followers of Christ respond to this so-called freedom of choice and expression? Our voices of disapproval may never be heard, but we must be like Daniel and resolve that we will never be defiled by ungodly ideologies. This will no doubt be very difficult but we must be resolved to live by the principles of scripture, our beliefs and convictions; even when we may be silenced by those that block their ears to the warnings of the scriptures.
“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” < Isa.7:9b; cf Ex.14:13; 1 Cor.16:13; 2 Thess.2:15>.