It is very important to make the right decision. Think of the decisions we have made in our lives, good and bad, about a career, employment, marriage, purchasing a house or a car, holiday travel. We all make decisions. Someone unknown wrote, ‘Yes and No are the two most important words that we will ever say. These are the two words that determine our destiny in life and eternity’.
Elijah’s challenge to the people gathered at Mount Carmel still resounds with power in our generation. ‘And Elijah came to all the people, and said, How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him’. But the people answered him not a word’, 1 Kgs. 18. 21. The people, so to speak, were sitting on the fence, reluctant to make any decision. Elijah is demanding that they make a decision because they cannot serve God and Baal. Aneurin Bevan wrote, ‘We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run over’. Simple deduction but true!
Daniel made a fundamental decision when he was a young man. He chose to believe in and live for the living God. Daniel’s belief in God changed his life. It was not a superficial belief. It was not a self-centred belief. Daniel’s commitment to God was without conditions and for his whole life. There was nothing temporary about it. His life was now a God-centred life. Having made a responsible commitment to God when he was very young,
Daniel faced a major crisis during his first days in Babylon. ‘But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself’, Dan. 1. 8. This is not the result of some idiosyncrasy in Daniel. He is not on a special religious diet. Some scholars suggest that Daniel’s request for a simple diet, a decision in keeping with his true commitment to God, is just as important as the decision made by Abraham or Moses to obey God.
Abraham lived in Mesopotamia. Many believe it was the oldest civilization in the history of the human race. This ancient civilization existed and developed within a culture in which fate and destiny reigned supreme. If you were born poor, you would live and die in poverty. That was your destiny. Into that world dominated by fate, God spoke clearly to Abraham, saying, ’Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing’, Gen. 12. 1-2. The Hebrew imperative for the ‘Get out’ powerfully indicates that this was the only way forward. Without any hesitation, ‘Abram departed’. He made a decision which was unquestionably of great importance, he obeyed God and changed the history of the world.
Daniel’s firm decision to live his life in a way that is consistent with God’s character was of great personal importance. His life would shine for God in Babylon’s moral darkness! He would not be absorbed into the pagan environment. His life highlights truth, justice and compassion. He is an example for all of us.
What was the source of the defilement that Daniel and his friends faced? Was it the food itself? Unlikely. The Lord Jesus said, ‘There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him’, Matt. 7. 15. As far as we know on other occasions, Daniel ate good food and drank wine. When he was a very senior citizen and found himself in a serious, perplexing situation, he said, ‘In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth’, Dan. 10. 2-3. Evidently, in normal times, he did enjoy, in moderation, these material blessings. We do not show in our daily lives God’s character by keeping a special diet. Think of all the varied diets of Christians around the world!
Was it then something related to the meal itself that led Daniel to make this decision? This is the most likely reason. The ‘king’s meal’ was first of all dedicated to the Babylonian gods. It was the accepted form for asking the blessing of the gods on the king’s food. Sometimes a portion of the meal would be set aside for the gods represented by the priests. For Daniel to partake of such a meal would indicate, if not open endorsement of the gods, at least acceptance of them.
Paul informs the Corinthians, ‘The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons … or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?’ 1 Cor. 10. 20-22. Paul’s comment has nothing to do with the food itself. Rather, to participate in a meal openly dedicated to false gods (demons) is not consistent with a relationship linking you to the only true God. He states that such actions provoke the Lord to jealousy. ‘What? Do you dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy as Israel did?’
There will be times when, like Daniel and his friends, we must make decisions in relation to what we know about the character of God. These four young men had already, by their commitment to God, experienced spiritual cleansing and forgiveness. They would know the Psalms, ‘With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!’ Ps 119. 10-11. To appease the society that surrounded them by tolerating idolatry in any form would have been the first step these young men would take towards a full accommodation with the Babylonian way of life. Appeasement here would have led inevitably to appeasement in other matters too.
In order to maintain their historical and national identity, in the very best sense, it was imperative that Daniel and his friends say a respectful ‘No’ to the king’s meal and its association with idolatry. When they refused the king’s portion they were expressing visibly a deep inward spiritual commitment of the heart to God. In different times, Joseph also had to say ‘No’. ‘How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ he says as Potiphar’s wife enticed him to do wrong, Gen. 39. 9. Joseph knew that sexual misconduct was wrong and that, above all, it was a sin against God. Joseph’s ‘No’ cost him a great deal personally, yet God blessed him in a most remarkable way!
In recent times we too have experienced the shock of ethical and religious changes in our society of a profound and radical nature. Alternative lifestyles are now part of evening television programmes and films. Abortion, although still a controversial issue, is widely practised in nations with populations far larger than those of the Western world. Euthanasia is a latent, but potentially explosive, problem in our society. The possibility of cloning human beings raises frightening issues that most of us prefer not to think about. While no one has transported us geographically to a different place, social and political influences have forced us into a chilling and shocking world.
The tide of aberrant change is so strong it appears to carry everyone and everything before it, unless one has strong spiritual convictions. Our spiritual beliefs, based on God’s word, do not produce in us an inappropriate fanaticism or a violent backlash against those who disagree with us. There is no place for arrogance, for we were all sinners and only by God’s grace have we now been saved. Instead, in a calm and quiet way we state our convictions. In the case of Daniel and his friends, nothing was done in secret and there was no conspiracy. They simply lived according to their convictions based on their faith in God. They made the right decision and God honoured them.
Daniel made a decision that governed his whole life. He ‘purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself’, Dan. 1. 8. To put it another way, he made up his mind, he determined he would walk in holiness before God. This was an intelligent, responsible, serious, decision. In the apostle Paul’s world, the term ‘heart’ involved all that a human being is: the mind, the emotions and even one’s physical strength. Apart from the profound theological significance of these words there is a very down-to-earth meaning. When you trust God with all your heart, and receive His Son as your Saviour you move into the realm of holiness. In that spiritual environment you have no reason to be ashamed. Daniel was not ashamed to respectfully request the officer in charge for a simple diet.
Believing in the Lord Jesus we make a permanent decision to enter into His realm of holiness and beauty forever. In upstate New York the roads are long and sometimes a little rough. A sign reads, ‘Choose your rut carefully; you’ll be in it for the next ten miles’. In our world, there are so many roads to follow. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction’. Daniel and his companions were on the right train. They had made the right decision. They did not change the direction of their lives when things became difficult.
Once Christians fail to take positive and final decisions to obey the Lord then things go wrong rapidly. Paul was stunned that some of the Christians in Galatia were so easily bewitched. The author of Hebrews recognizes the lack of growth and spiritual discernment among God’s people. It is evident from the apostolic writings that they were deeply concerned at the negative influences penetrating the new churches. The end result of all such influences is always to reduce the calibre of the Christian’s commitment to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Trusting God, Daniel and his friends would continue straight ahead and glorify God in Babylon by their lives and, if necessary, by their deaths. There is nothing lukewarm about such a commitment. We note again that neither is it irrational fanaticism but rather, a steady, calm commitment that nothing can shake. James and John, sons of Zebedee, were disciples of the Lord Jesus and they were so zealous the Lord referred to them as ‘sons of thunder’. Yet, they were key leaders together with Peter in the early church in Jerusalem. James was the first of the group to die as a martyr while John, according to tradition, lived into old age and died of natural causes in Ephesus. They were both true to their decision to follow the Lord Jesus, James for a short life, John for long years in the Christian cause.
Daniel’s outstanding companions served God in the reign of king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and then disappear from the story. We ask many questions about what happened to them. Did they die in the times of Evil- Merodach (561-560 BC), Neriglissar (559-555 BC), or Labashi-Marduk (555 BC)? We have no answers. Like James they are on the scene for a relatively short time. Daniel lived for God over many years during various kingdoms, although there is no mention of his activities during the reigns of the kings just mentioned. He did serve right up to the times of king Darius of Persia when some suggest he celebrated his one hundredth birthday. Whether in ancient kingdoms or in apostolic times, whether for a short time or for an extended period all these individuals purposed in their hearts not to defile themselves with the world and thus to live in holiness before God. They made the right decision!
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