In the Court of a Pagan King

In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom” (v. 20).

- Daniel 1:8–21

Biblical narratives give us more than models to follow, but we err if we do not consider how the men and women in Scripture are real examples of godliness. Given that Daniel and his friends lived in an ungodly culture opposed to the one true Lord of Israel, we would be foolish not to consider how they help us learn how to live in our own depraved society.

Daniel and his friends were in the world but not of the world (John 15:19; 17:15). Few Jews had as many reasons to embrace Babylonian ways as they did. These were the cream of the crop, the elite chosen to learn the “literature and the language of the Chaldeans” (Dan. 1:4). They were exposed to the wisdom and great achievements of Babylon like no other Judahites. Moreover, this instruction came from King Nebuchadnezzar’s court, where the four men enjoyed the privileges of the royal food and wine (v. 5). Additionally, Daniel and his three friends also received new legal names that reflected the worldview Babylon wanted them to adopt. For example, in Hebrew the name Daniel means “God is my judge,” but Belteshazzar means “may a god protect his life” or “Goddess, protect the king” (vv. 6–7).

Babylon stacked the deck against these four men’s ability to maintain a distinct witness to the Lord. However, by the grace of God, they withstood the cultural pressures of Babylon. At the beginning of their service to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel asked his supervisor to allow the four Jewish men to abstain from the king’s food and wine. The men ate vegetables, refusing only savory meats and other delicacies (vv. 8–13). Commentators disagree on the reasons for this refusal. The suggestion that the men declined the richer foods to maintain Jewish dietary laws cannot be right because wine is a clean food, and there were surely clean meats such as beef in the royal diet (see Lev. 11). Others say the four young men rejected the food and wine because they had been offered to the Babylonian gods. But we must reject this argument, for the vegetables the men ate would also have been offered to idols.

It appears Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego rejected the rich food to demonstrate God’s power. No Babylonian would have expected vegetarians to become highly skilled and show great wisdom. In fact, because the four men refused a robust diet of meat and wine, their skill astonished the court (Dan. 1:14–21). Babylon was forced to see a difference between these young men and their non-Jewish counterparts. Over the course of Daniel’s ministry, Babylon would see that this difference was due to the work of the Lord.

Coram Deo

Each of us faces unique circumstances that make it hard for us at times to know how we can best witness to Christ as we live in this world. However, the example of Daniel and his friends shows us that discovering how to serve God best is not an impossible feat. While there are many things from the culture that we can accept and enjoy, there is always a line to be drawn somewhere. Let us seek to live wisely in the world according to God’s Word that we might not be of the world.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 19
1 John 2:15

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