Finding favor in the light of His presence
For by their own sword they did not possess the land;
And their own arm did not save them;
But Thy right hand, and Thine arm, and the light of Thy presence,
For Thou didst favor them. (Psalm 44:3)
Like many people, Daniel’s life took a sudden and very surprising turn. Daniel was a Jew and possibly the member of the royal family under Jehoiakim, king of Judah, or a son of one of the nobles of the court. We know little about him before he came face-to-face with his destiny except that he loved God, and followed His commandments and precepts.
Then, in the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched on Jerusalem and besieged it, and conquered Judah. Nebuchadnezzar took what he saw as valuable back to his kingdom in the land of Shinar: some of the golden vessels of the house of God, and some of the sons of Israel. The plunder of the vessels was understandable, because they would enrich his treasury, but the reason for the capture of the youths of Israel was not so intuitive.
He told the chief of his officials to choose only those young men who had no apparent defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence, discerning knowledge, and who had the ability to serve in the king’s court. While one would think that Nebuchadnezzar could have looked in his own backyard for such examples of perfect manhood, apparently he had done so, and wanted to cull an untapped gene pool. King Nebuchadnezzar was trying to build an empire of perfection and glory (his glory, not God’s) and would later find himself relegated to eating grass until he got his priorities straight. But that’s another story.
Among the sons of Israel taken into custody were Daniel, and his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Once in the palace, nearly all of the sons of Israel thought they’d just hit the jackpot, because they were given choice food from the king’s table, and the same wine that he drank. This kind of preferential treatment would prevail for three years, while they were educated in the literature and language of the Chaldeans (another name for the Babylonians). At the end of this time, they were to enter the king’s personal service.
The Chaldeans were known for their mythology and a very convoluted religion that was a melting pot of various cults and archaic mystical writings:
The essence of Hellenistic civilization was the fusion of a Hellenic core of religious belief and social organization with Persian-Babylonian (“Chaldean“), Israelite and Egyptian cultures, including their mysterious and enthusiastic cults and wisdom-traditions. Hellenistic thinkers philosophized the mythology and cults, as well as foreign oracular utterances and initiatory lore. Philosophy originating from these two areas, or simply attributed to them, was regarded as possessing knowledge transmitted from the most ancient wisdom traditions.[i]
Included in this bizarre belief system was astrology, magic, sorcery, incantations, enchantments and witchcraft. Therefore, the sons of Israel were expected to become the Harry Potters of Nebuchadnezzar’s court.
Daniel knew that astrology and every other black art were considered detestable in the eyes of God. He was also Jewish and had strict dietary requirements per God’s laws, so he chose to honor God by doing the only thing he had the power to do: he would not eat the food or drink from the king’s table. But he would not be disrespectful; he went humbly to the commander of the officials and sought permission that he might not defile himself.
Surely God smiled when He saw Daniel’s devotion to Him, considering that nearly every young man on the face of the planet would find the king’s table of delicacies nearly impossible to resist. God’s response to Daniel was one we can depend on if we exhibit the same kind of devotion to Him and His word:
Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials, and the commander of the officials said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.” (Daniel 1:9-10)
Daniel’s request was diametrically opposed to the orders given the commander. He was responsible for fattening up the young men, not making them anorexic. This would be similar to putting someone in charge of the king’s stables: those horses had better look healthy, without the trace of a rib showing, and have smooth, shiny, glossy coats, or the stable manager would lose his own coat, and his head as well.
Yet Daniel’s full request was even more death-defying. Daniel not only wanted to abstain from the king’s table, but he preferred to eat only vegetables and drink only water. This was a recipe for disaster. And, to add more grey to the commander’s crown, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah also added their names to the petition.
We’ll continue in Chapter 6 in the next installment.
[i] Chaldean Oracles, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaldean_Oracles