Outside the comfort zone
If any teenagers were ever wrenched unwillingly from their comfort zones, it was surely Daniel and his three young friends. They were hauled away from their homes, probably on Nebuchadnezzar's first incursion into Israel. Nebuchadnezzar had wisely learned that it was profitable for him to take some of the young nobles from conquered territories, "Babylonize" them, and use them as surrogates in his government. Daniel and his three friends were among the young Jewish men chosen for this role.
Verse four tells us the kind of men Nebuchadnezzar was looking for: good looking, knowledgeable, wise beyond their years, and quick to learn and understand the ways of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar then laid out his plan for "Babylonizing" these young captives. He would teach them the language and literature of Babylon and accustom them to the benefits of their position by feeding them a daily fare of the king's delicacies. The training was to last for three years.
Nebuchadnezzar also attempted to remove his trainees from any connection with their previous "gods," by giving them new names. He renamed Daniel (birth name, "God is my judge"), Belteshazzar ("Bel protects his life").
At 15, Daniel was suddenly immersed in a totally alien culture. He had to learn a new language, absorb the Babylonian literature, adjust to having been renamed in favor of a pagan god, and completely change his diet. Sounds like an almost impossible task for a mature adult, much less for a teenaged boy. Among all these changes, there was one serious sticking point. It is likely that there were many things on Nebuchadnezzar's menu that violated Old Testament dietary prohibitions. The key verse in this chapter, and to some degree the entire book of Daniel, is verse 8: "Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself." Daniel could accept a new language and vast cultural changes, but he could not in his heart compromise his commitment to Jehovah or his obedience to the commands of scripture.
In this, Daniel faced a dilemma that is not unique to Jews in Babylon. Christians face the same issue every day. It is impossible for us to be totally removed from the influences of the world in which we live. In truth, a Christian walks a narrow line between being "in the world" and yet not "of the world." Daniel's willingness to be different, even at potentially great personal cost, reveals the steel and the grit in his heart. He is already a young man of principle.
In verse 8, however, we see the tenderness and grace in the same heart. When presented with this dilemma, Daniel could have bowed his back, gritted his teeth, and issued a scathing, abject refusal to cooperate. What he did, rather, was to honor the pagan authority under which he served. He graciously "requested" to the chief steward of the eunuchs, providing him with what one Bible teacher called a "creative alternative." He asked that he and his friends not be required to eat the delicacies of the king for a period of time and then be evaluated. The fact that we are by nature different does not require that we be either odd or obnoxious. Being willing to suffer for righteousness' sake is good and commendable. Suffering for being personally obnoxious is just foolish. Trust me on this; I've done both and have several regrets regarding the latter.
Not at all surprisingly, Daniel's suggested experiment worked, and after 10 days, he and his friends looked better than the rest of their counterparts.
When Daniel "purposed in his heart" that he would not defile himself, he probably had little idea that his decision would have such epic consequences. It led to great usefulness and an exalted position in the Babylonian government (2:48), and, almost 70 years later, to an exalted standing in the Persian government (chapter 6). Our situation may not be exactly like Daniel's, but we will from time to time, face the same dilemma that he faced: to be conformed or to be transformed.
As usual, Warren Wiersbe has the final insightful comment: "Transformers don't always have an easy life, but it's an exciting one, and it gives us great delight to know that God is using us to influence others and change the world."
Lord, please give us the grace and grit necessary to walk "the road less traveled." Let us grow as people of the Book. Give us unwavering purpose of heart when principle is at stake. But, Lord, please let us not be proud and personally obnoxious to others, even when we are doing what is right, maybe especially when we are doing what is right. Let deeds of principle and words of grace define our lives. Amen.
Ron McMullan is the pastor at Prineville Bible Church. He can be reached at 541-233-6268.
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