We begin our study of Daniel with an introduction to the man. As a young man, Daniel and his promising compatriots were invited to Mesopotamia on a cultural exchange. These men were the future leaders of Judah, so they were chosen by the Babylonian government for cross-cultural training.
A brief survey of Chapter One provides the Babylonians’ comprehensive plan to transform the worldview of these young men of Judah. They moved to a new place, learned a different language, read different literature and were introduced to a new diet. They were given new names which contained the names of Babylonian deities, rather than their given names which bore Hebrew Yah and El within them.
A Commitment Expressed (8–10)
“Daniel determined that he would not defile himself” (v. 8). He was a stranger in a strange land, but he had deep convictions that affected his behavior, no matter where he was. As far as he was concerned, the king’s meat and wine were off-limits to him. Was it pork or some other flesh forbidden in Leviticus 11? Had it been sacrificed to idols? Had the wine been used in libation offerings by the king? The passage does not explain why Daniel abstained from the royal menu, only that he was committed to this abstinence.
Christians today often compromise convictions, saying things like “when in Rome …” or “what happens in Vegas …” or “it’s easier to ask forgiveness …” We may say that we believe something to be right or wrong, but then we allow circumstances to determine how we behave. We are often reactive, rather than proactive. Daniel decided in advance that his beliefs and his behavior would align. He chose to live what he believed.
A Test Passed (11–16)
The chief steward was concerned about their appearance, as well as his own status. What if the Jewish young men began to lose weight? He was responsible for their welfare. Disappointing the king could lead to banishment or death, so Daniel was asking the steward to trust him, but that might prove to be disastrous.
Daniel proposed a test. He and his compatriots would abstain from meat and wine. Instead, they would eat only vegetables and drink water. After the ten-day trial run, everyone agreed that Judah’s young men looked healthier than the other young men in training. Their faith and their food made others notice.
A Recognized Difference (17–21)
This final passage speaks of knowledge, understanding and wisdom — among other concepts. Knowledge is the retention of information. Understanding is the ability to apply that knowledge. Wisdom is borne out of understanding applied and passed on to others. Though they were young men with only three years of diplomatic training, God gave them advanced skills in knowledge, understanding and wisdom, so even King Nebuchadnezzar took notice of them. In addition, Daniel was gifted with prophetic abilities to discern the meaning of visions and dreams. This supernatural gifting would make Daniel a valuable asset to the king, his successors and the Persians who would conquer Babylon.
Rare is the young believer whose commitment to God and spiritual convictions is so firm that they are not compromised throughout his or her life. In our present age, they often die young, compromise themselves sexually, redefine the clear teachings of Scripture or become complete apostates who publicly deny the Christ they once proclaimed.
May God raise up a generation of men and women who know who they are, who know the God who made them, who know the Christ who died for them and who know the Word that serves as their authority for belief and behavior. May God call them out to know who they believe, what they believe and why they believe. May God grant them the conviction to live out their faith no matter what threats they encounter along the way. And may God allow us to live long enough to see this generation arise!
By Douglas K. Wilson, Ph.D.
Wilson is dean of Christian Studies at University of Mobile in Alabama.