Once upon a time, there was a man named John, who worked for a building company. They made those massive I-beams that support bridges. He was a very important man, because he signed off after the inspection of these I-beams, so that they could be sent to the construction companies that needed them. If he didn’t sign the papers, then the building company could not sell the I-beams to the construction company. One time, there was an especially large shipment of I-beams about to go out, and John discovered an inherent weakness in the manufacture of this shipment. So, he refused to sign the papers. He was a Christian. The building company came to him and looked at the cost-benefit num-bers of the analysis, and came to the decision that these I-beams would have to be approved, or the company would lose money. So they told John to sign the papers. John refused. Then the board of the company got involved and said to John that if he still refused to sign the papers, he would lose his job. It was the only job he had, and the money was sorely needed by him. What should he do? What would you do? I’m sure that something of the same dilemma faced Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, as they were exiled away from their home, and sent off to Babylon. In many ways, their situation is similar to ours, for we are Christians, and members of a heavenly kingdom, ad are currently exiled away from where our citizenship is. How do we relate to the world? How do we relate to the pressures of culture? What do we do when the world tells us that we must look and behave a certain way, or else face the consequences? And what motivates us to do the things we ought to do in such a situation?
The historical situation is this: Nebuchadnezzar had just finished his siege of Jerusalem and taken Jehoiakim captive, along with the religious booty of the instruments of the Lord’s temple. This is not a small thing, since what Nebuchadnezzar was saying as he put those instruments in the house of his god was that his gods had conquered the God of Israel. He had won, and so had his god. So, a very real question for the Jews was this: had God been defeated? Had God been unfaithful? The answer is in the first part of verse 2. Nebuchadnezzar had a different idea of what had happened than Daniel himself had. Daniel’s evaluation of the exile was that the Lord had given Jehoiakim into the hand of Nebuchad-nezzar. The Lord was faithful indeed! But He was faithful in judging the people of God for abandoning their trust in God for trust in Egypt, or Assyria, or their own military might, or whatever else they want-ed to trust. As they abandoned God, God gave them over to their enemies. God is faithful!
Nebuchadnezzar was wise in the ways of the world. He knew that the best way to rule Judea was to brainwash the best and brightest of their young people, so that Babylonian ways, and language, and thought patterns would be characteristic of Jewish people. So, he found four of the best and bright-est of all the Jews, and had them educated (or could we say brain-washed?) in Babylonian language and literature. Furthermore, he wanted them to forget about their powerless God (hadn’t he defeated their God), so he changed their names. The names of the four friends originally had something to say about God. Daniel’s name means “God is my judge.” Hananiah means “The Lord is gracious.” Mishael means “Who is like God?” and Azariah means “the Lord has helped.” Instead, Nebuchadnezzar gave them Babylonian names. Belteshazzar means “may Bel protect him” (Bel is the name of one of the Babylonian gods). Shadrach means “the command of Aku” (another god). Meshach means “Who is like Aku?” And Abednego means “servant of Nebo” (yet another god). Lastly, and most importantly, he wanted to switch their allegiance from their homeland and their own God over to him. That is the significance of eating from the king’s table. The issue is not unclean food, since wine is not unclean, according to the Old Testament. Rather, in eating the king’s food, they would be admitting that they were dependent on the king, and they would be acknowledging that the king gave them all blessing and honor. That would defile Daniel, since it would be idolatry. It would be putting money and position over God, much like John was tempted to do, in our story about the I-beams. Nevertheless, the temp-tation would be quite strong. It would be easy to rationalize the decision, too, since Daniel could have thought to himself, “Well, I am only outwardly eating this food. I am not inwardly serving Nebuchad-nezzar as a god.” The problem with that kind of thinking is that the very eating of this food was an acknowledgment of Nebuchadnezzar as god, whether one intended this or not. So Daniel resolved not to eat of this food. It is very instructive to notice here that Daniel’s resolve in this comparatively small issue is foundational for Daniel to be able to resist temptation in the future. I’m sure that many of us have noticed that if we fall to temptation, it is much easier to fall into temptation again. Fortunately for us, the reverse is also true: if we resist temptation, it can become easier to resist temptation more.
Notice also Daniel’s tact. He didn’t want to trumpet the fact that he was rejecting this ultimate allegiance. He did not intentionally seek to be martyred. He did not intentionally seek to be weird. He intentionally sought to be faithful to his God. So he proposes this test to eat only vegetables, which would not be part of the richness of the king’s table. Vegetables by themselves would not normally be the thing that would be expected to make someone look better. The official does not like the plan, since his own head will be on the chopping block if the experiment fails.
The fact that Daniel and his friends do look better after ten days is proof that the Lord stepped in and worked miraculously to honor Daniel’s commitment to Himself. Remember our friend, John? Well, he decided not to sign the papers, and the company fired him for it. However, that is not the end of the story. As a result of his not signing the papers, the I-beams were not delivered to the construction company on time. The construction company investigated the reason for that. When they found out that John had protected their interests even at the cost of his own job, they hired him on the spot, and with a pay increase. Daniel and his friends not only looked better than the other young men their own age, but the Lord gave them high positions in Nebuchadnezzar’s cabinet. The Lord exalts those who worship Him, but those who do not worship the Lord, the Lord humbles. This we will see in the later story of Nebuchadnezzar.
In the meantime, let us remember that our Lord went through something very similar to Daniel. It is called temptation. Satan tempted Jesus to conform to the world’s way of doing things. It is only a small thing, Satan would say. But Christ would not yield to temptation. Eventually, Satan saw to it that Jesus was killed for that, a sort of revenge. Satan thought that he had conquered Jesus, just as Nebu-chadnezzar thought he had conquered not only Judah, but also Judah’s God. However, just as God handed Israel over to Nebuchadnezzar, so also did the Father hand over Jesus to death. Peter tells us this in Acts 2, where he says that Jesus was handed over to death “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” It was God’s plan all along! Thus did Satan find out that he had been tricked. On Easter Sunday morning, when the tomb was empty, only then did Satan realize that he had been beaten, rather than conquering Jesus himself.
So, if something is trying to undermine our allegiance to our King, we must resist. If someone tells us that we should overlook one of the Ten Commandments, because it is not practical, we should resist. If someone tells us to be dishonest, then we must resist. If someone tells us that holiness doesn’t pay, and that it is old-fashioned, and useless, we must not listen.
Our relationship to culture is not one of withdrawal. Daniel and his friends learned the Baby-lonian language and literature. That wasn’t a problem. Our relationship to culture is also not one of assimilation. This is our great problem in the church today: the church looks just like the world. We dress the same, act the same, divorce the same, steal the same, and in every other way, there is hardly a dime’s difference between the church and the world. Rather, we are to be salt and light, in the world but not of the world.
In order to do this, we must remind ourselves of our home. We must remind ourselves of heaven. And we must do that constantly. We must sing the songs of Zion, even if we are exiled current-ly from our homeland. North Dakota is not really our homeland. Heaven is our home. Our name is Christian. Remember that God is sovereign. The world may think that they have the church on the run. But God will show the true nature of things at the Final Judgment, and even though it may be difficult for us to see this now, rest assured that God will overturn the world, and that God is sovereign.