6: Daniel 1

Change, Choices and Consequences

Choices can change our lives profoundly. The choice to mend a broken relationship, to say “Yes” to a difficult assignment, to lay aside some important work to play with a child, to visit some forgotten person — these small choices may affect many lives eternally.1

Now please read Daniel 1.

This story of the “Faithful Four” is relevant to the rest of this Book of Daniel. This is the secret of their personal success. Looking down the years with the eyes of a prophet, Daniel is showing how those who face that future can succeed.

What is the main point of this incident? Is it cause and effect? Diet? Health? Influence? Loyalty to God? Parental influence? Principle? Religion? Values? The victory of Judaism over paganism? I believe that all of these are involved.

The immediate issue is one of diet. The context is that of religion. The decision was based on principle, not appetite. The immediate result was superior health, both physically and mentally.

The occasion
And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god (Daniel 1:2)

These articles now were part of the worship of the Babylonian god Marduk (or, “Merodach” as he is called in Jeremiah 50:2, KJV)

But Nebuchadnezzar was also interested in treasure of another kind — human treasures.

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility … They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service (Daniel 1:3-5)

The best of the Israelites were chosen to serve the king. Would they, like the treasures from Solomon’s temple, be absorbed into the Babylonian system? Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (Daniel 1:6-7). Their Hebrew names had meanings. “Daniel” means “God is my judge.” “Hananiah” means “Yahweh is gracious.” “Mishael” means “Who belongs to God?” “Azariah” means “Yahweh helps.”

Then insult is added to exile!
How disorienting to have your name changed, to have to answer to another name!

The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego (Daniel 1:6-7).

I depend on the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978) for the explanations.

How galling to know that “Belteshazzar” meant “Bel protect his [the king’s] life.”

It appears that neither “Shadrach” nor “Meshach” are Babylonian names. So, were these silly-sounding nicknames, Chaldean corruptions of their real names, intended to belittle their Jewish identity, and bring them to heel?

It is generally agreed that “Abednego” stands for Ebed-Nebo, “servant of [the god] Nabu.”

The “faithful four” might well be asking, “Is God my judge now? Is God really gracious? Who belongs to God now? Does Yahweh really help?”

Their names might have been changed but in their hearts they knew who they were. There is an old principle recorded in the First Book of Samuel the Prophet. “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).”

For Daniel and his three friends, was their clothing their concern? How about their income? No. They were concerned about their hearts. What mattered most was their character, their integrity, their God-given identity.

So, regardless of social pressures, whether Babylonian or Jewish, regardless of the attraction of fame and fortune, they courageously requested permission to retain the diet that they had been used to.

You know the rest of the story.

Contemplate the sad outcome if they had not had the courage of their convictions.

A poignant illustration from the world of nature
In the August 1989 National Geographic Katharine Payne reported that in the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, generations of elephants had lived, surviving by trekking from waterhole to waterhole. When the water was not visible, they would dig for it. Mature adults guided their offspring which absorbed this knowledge and consequently passed it on.

“The experience of many generations is what leads these elephants over gravel plains and rocky mountains, across dunes and down dry river beds to the few sources of life-giving water in a vast and hostile desert.

“If the Skeleton Coast lineage dies out, it seems unlikely that other elephants lacking this heritage could ever repopulate the area. I suspect, rather, that the present elephant tracks and their wells would be filled with windblown sand, and that would be that.

“Thus it is terrible to learn that in the past two decades the desert elephant population has declined from several hundred to a few dozen, badly reduced by ivory poachers. …

“By the time the tusks reached their final destinations, all the experience of the living elephants had gone with them — the dust and the musth, the smells and sounds of fighting and mating, the long, urgent songs of fertile females, and the stillness of the night as elephants froze in their tracks to listen.

“Gone, too, the long dry treks over dunes and gravel plains, guided by matriarchs with generations of memory in their heads. Gone the finding, the digging, the drinking from their own fresh wells. …

“All of this vanished with several hundred desert elephants. Nothing is left of them but little white carvings in ladies’ jewel boxes, smelling faintly of French perfume.”

How important it is that vital knowledge is never lost. Among the elephant herds of the Skeleton Coast were animals that knew the way to the water through the desert. How tragic that these individuals might die out before they passed on this information to other generations. Their survival means the survival of the herds.

Although surrounded by a world of paganism, the Jewish people had been given vital information by God — indeed a treasured heritage.

This situation that the Jews found themselves in is described by St. Paul.

Theirs [Israel’s] is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen (Romans 9:4-5).

Even so, Judaism was being slowly strangled to death. How tragic for the covenant people of God if no one valued their heritage enough to practise it. How could they, or succeeding generations, ever enjoy their promised future?

Where would we gentiles be today without that decision made so long ago by Daniel and his young friends? May I suggest, to use a Pauline phrase, “without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12).” In other words, lost in a moral desert!

Were those four young people narrow-minded? Some might have thought so at the time. But time has told. And their guiding voices are still heard, calling to us over the years, “We valued what God gave us. We chose to practise it. We gained what God promised us. And we have passed on to you an example. Follow it, and see what God will do for you.”

Choices can change our lives profoundly. … These small choices may affect many lives eternally.

They have. And don’t we thank God that they did!

DECISION VISION, quoted in Gloria Gaither’s “A Woman’s Walk with God” (Siloam, AR: DaySpring Cards), March 7.

© 2010, Angus McPhee