Not What We’d Expect

He was young and good looking. Smart. Well educated. He was trained to be a leader. He was acquainted with the king. Perhaps he was the heir apparent to the throne. But then he was taken captive by the enemy. He and a group of other young men of nobility were led to a distant country to serve at the pleasure of the enemy king. Their lives changed in a moment. Their city had been overrun by an army that destroyed their temple. This temple built by King Solomon had stood for three hundred years. It was a magnificent piece of architecture. And it was plundered. Not only were the sacred temple items stolen, but so were the royal citizens who lived in the palace. The sworn enemy took the best of the best in this invasion. Of course. This enemy king took the young men who were already familiar with palace living.

“Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon. ” Daniel 1:4

Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were now captives in a foreign land. They were no longer their own. Scripture tells us that the prophet Isaiah had warned King Hezekiah that family members would be taken captive to Babylon and these young men would be made into eunuchs. So based on that Scripture, we know that Daniel and his friends would not marry and have families. These young men were emasculated. They were subjects of the king. But not one word is written that they complained or fought against this evil act performed on their bodies. This single act robbed them of the ability to father children. They would have been opposed to such barbaric acts, but they knew that God was in control. They chose to stand strong in their faith in God with each trial and testing placed in their path. They would not surrender their faith, even if it meant death or mutilation of their bodies.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to this message from the Lord : The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord . Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.” 2 Kings 20:16-18

King Nebuchadnezzar had made sure that these young men who were from families of prestige and wealth were rendered helpless. When it came to the next generation, perhaps one of one of these four men was the heir apparent to the Judean throne. We don’t know if Hezekiah was the father of any of these young men or if their fathers worked in the royal courts. But we do know that these young men knew what royal life was all about. They had been trained in royal living. They knew the palatial lifestyle, the wealth, and the opulence of living under a successful king. They were surrounded with delicious food, beauty at its finest and endless luxury. Anything they wanted was at their disposal. They were accustomed to an opulent lifestyle, but now they found themselves living in the palace of their enemy. And oh. How the tables have turned. They were not the ones to give commands or issue decrees. They were the ones who were being told what to do. When. Where. And how. They were told what their names would be. They were told what kind of food they had to eat. They were forced into a three year re-education program.

This king was trying to undo all their Jewish knowledge and ways and beliefs. I’m sure there may have been other young exiles who were happy to shed their Jewish customs. Because after all, they were in this mess because their nation had forsaken God. Their nation, as a whole, had rejected God’s commands. So the land of Judah was being punished. And yes, God had warned many times over the years that this exile would occur. They just didn’t know the timing of it.

In this invasion, young men of varying degrees of loyalty to their Jewish faith were most likely taken. So perhaps not every one of these young men held firmly to the Jewish customs, traditions, and observances. Perhaps they were eager to mix with the Babylonians. Didn’t they realize the price for mixing with the enemy? Perhaps they were glad they didn’t have to pray certain times of the day or eat a restricted diet. Perhaps they were glad they didn’t have to offer sacrifices for their sins. I’m speculating here, but we know that the land of Judah had forsaken God. It’s likely that not all of the Jewish exiles held to their Jewish faith. As the nation goes, so goes the people.

But these four young men were determined not to lose the heritage of their faith. They were determined to be faithful to their God, the only God. They knew the ways of God. And they knew the words of God. They were spiritually prepared to fight the battles ahead of them. But there were changes they had to contend with during this challenging time. They agreed to change their names. They agreed to attend this three year re-education program. In the three years that they were being indoctrinated with the Babylonian ways, customs, and traditions, they were able to learn the heart and mind of the king. They learned to live as Babylonians without becoming Babylonians. Impossible? Not if God is with you.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. John 17:15-16

But when they were offered the diet of a lifetime, the opportunity to eat the king’s food, they put their foot down. They said no. We cannot eat that food. Now there are a few different reasons why they chose not to eat the king’s food. It could be because they were Jewish. After all, Jews eat kosher and the Babylonian diet was not kosher. The Babylonians ate a rich diet and they were proud of it. And so when this rich plate of food was placed in front of them, they were appalled. Their refusal to partake could have been because these foods were off limits to people of the Jewish faith. They could have said no to the food because it had been sacrificed to idols, which was inappropriate in their faith tradition. The third reason could be that this was the king’s food. And even though they were now subject to him, it didn’t mean that they agreed with everything he did and said. And they perhaps knew that by eating his food meant that they were in agreement with him. And they were not. So they refused. We don’t know for sure what the reason was that they refused this food, but we know that they stood firm in their faith and said no.

And when Daniel approached the chief of staff to ask for a different plate of food, the man was afraid for his own life. He knew that by allowing these young exiles to reject the king’s food, the king could demand his head. So Daniel asked for a trial run on his requested diet. And the chief of staff agreed, because God had given him both respect and favor for Daniel. The gauntlet had been thrown. If these four young men looked unhealthy by the end of the week, they would eat the king’s forbidden food. Otherwise, they would remain on their Jewish diet. And at the end of that week, those four young men were sharper and healthier than any of the other young men. They were allowed to continue with their diet.

What we know is that eating the king’s food would have defiled their relationship with God. Their refusal to eat it kept their faith with God in good standing. And that was their ultimate goal. Nothing else mattered. They stood strong in their faith, and they complied with the king’s orders when doing so wouldn’t compromise their faith. Changing their name and attending the three-year indoctrination program didn’t weaken their faith, so they agreed to those demands.

When the three years of training had been completed, the king tested each young man. God had given these four particular young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. He also gave Daniel the ability to interpret the meaning of visions and dreams. No one impressed the king more than these four young men. They had been given favor by God and won a place in the king’s service.

When we compare our lives to this time in Daniel’s life, it’s easy to wonder how this story of Daniel and his three friends applies to our lives today.

Considering everything that’s happening in our culture today, we see so many false ideologies being taught in schools for children to bow down to. We see the evil that world leaders are pursuing. We see the casual way lies are spoken as truth, the cover ups, the destruction of lives and livelihoods, of families being torn apart, of wars and rumors of wars. As believers in Jesus Christ, we need to stand strong in our faith. We need to know where to draw the line on what will defile our relationship with God. And that is where we say no. We need to know where to draw the line so we don’t compromise our faith. For each of us, it may be a different place. It may be a different social scenario or work expectation where we realize we can’t cross the line. We may not know today what that line is. But we better know it when it comes at us.

Just as these young men had been raised to know the Jewish faith and how God had delivered his people many times, and how he had provided for them many times, so too, we believers must know biblical truths. Because it is from those biblical truths where we will draw our strength when we are forced to take a stand. Daniel and his friends knew God’s faithfulness in their previous lives. And they knew God would be faithful in their new life, as long as they were faithful to Him. We too must draw on God’s faithfulness in our times of testing.

These four young men chose to stand strong in their faith in God regardless of what happened to them. So today, let’s let that be the lesson for us that we can stand strong in our faith when others are mandating certain behaviors from us. When we know that a certain act or word will defile our faith, let’s say no to it. Let’s stand strong in the Word of God. But that means that we need to know the Word of God. We need to read and study the Word of God. We must spend time daily in prayer. We need to be faithful in building our relationship with God and making sure that it is strong so that it will stand the test of time. No matter the test we’re facing, with God all things are possible.

Perhaps in our time of testing and maneuvering through the potholes in today’s culture, we will be found faithful and excellent in our service. Perhaps we need to trust God to show us mercy and favor as we live for him in situations where living for God isn’t popular or desired. We must stand ready to engage in today’s culture and customs, even when they are in direct opposition to the Word of God. If we don’t know today’s culture, how can we actively engage to share the love of God?

We can’t live in our own spiritual vacuum and win the world to Jesus. We can’t retreat and hide from the world. We can’t shelter in place. How will we learn to be in the world if we don’t live in it? We can’t hide away and live in our own personal exile. We can’t retreat when we haven’t even fought for our faith. We must stand and be accountable for our convictions. Let’s not even consider compromising, if it would cost us our faith. Eternity lasts forever.

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