By Jeffery M. Leonard, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biblical & Religious Studies, Samford University
Develop Strong Convictions
Though bookstores sadly seem to be a dying breed, many of us can remember the days of hoary antiquity when we would wander through the aisles, scanning the various titles on the shelves. In some eccentric shops, books seemed hardly to be organized at all. More often, though, sections of bookstores are organized by certain genres.
Interestingly, the narratives in the Bible also fall into certain generic categories. Students of the Scriptures can readily recall a number of stories, for example, about barrenness. We know of Sarah, of course, but there is also Rebekah and Rachel and Hannah and Elizabeth. Other stories are focused on heroic exploits like those of David or Ehud or Samson.
The first half of the book of Daniel offers another sort of story-type, that of young people who find their faith tested in a foreign land. Like Joseph and Esther (and in a somewhat different fashion, Ruth), Daniel finds himself unexpectedly caught up in the intrigues of palace life far away from home. When the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar seized control of Judah, Daniel and many other Judeans were sent into exile in Babylon. It was there that they would face severe challenges to their faith.
The world expects us to conform to its expectations. (3–7)
When the Babylonians conquered Judah, they subdued the population by deporting most of the nation’s leading families to Mesopotamia.
Though separated from their homeland, most of the exiled Judeans managed to live in relative peace in Babylon and continued to practice their religion, albeit without the temple.
The Babylonians had different plans for many young people like Daniel, however. Their goal, it would seem, was to turn these young Judeans into faithful Babylonians. The young men were brought into the royal household. They were taught the Babylonian language and instructed in the country’s ancient texts. They were given new names — the Babylonian Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to replace the Hebrew Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
All of these steps would have served to remove these youths from their own culture and religion and help them blend into the culture and religion of their conquerors.
Draw the line where you will not compromise. (8–13)
Daniel and his three friends were apparently content to serve the royal house of Babylon just as Joseph had once served the royal house of Egypt. Indeed, Daniel would go on to serve Babylonian and then Persian kings even into his old age. But what would these young Judeans do when serving Babylon meant rejecting God? That very issue presented itself when Daniel and his compatriots were served food from the king’s table. Here, the young men drew the line. They insisted they could not eat the king’s food and begged instead to be given a diet of vegetables and water.
Serve and stand for the Lord no matter what the culture does. (17–19)
Daniel’s request for vegetables was not born out of a preference for vegetarianism. It actually reflected the fact that Daniel and his friends were being asked to ignore the Bible’s food laws and eat meat that was not kosher. And so Daniel and his friends refused.
Through God’s providential care, the young men’s request was granted, and their health and character impressed their supervisors and even the king. As later stories like the fiery furnace demonstrate, however, these youths were willing to remain faithful to God even if the king’s response was not a favorable one.