In our changing world the words, ‘In God we trust’ are fading into the mists of time. We’re now living in a brave new world where, in the west, powerful and influential voices believe they can chart a path to a secure future, even though it may mean silencing freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
Such experiences are not new. In the sixth century BC, God’s ancient people found themselves in a world of uncertainty and confusion. In 586BC Nebuchadnezzar had sent his army into Jerusalem; the city was destroyed, and the stones of Solomon’s great temple razed to the ground.
King Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest devastated the Jewish people. Their national pride was in tatters and their religious faith was challenged to the core. For they believed that their God was the one true living God, sovereign over all the gods of the nations. Yet he had allowed this to happen.
An important part of Nebuchadnezzar’s strategy in developing his empire was to take the cream of the Jewish people to Babylon and provide them with a top-rate education and cultural program.
Today, and over the coming Wednesdays, I am touching on key themes we find in the Book of Daniel under the title, ‘A Changing World’.
In Daniel, chapter 1, from verse 5 we read: Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah.
Nebuchadnezzar expected exceptional men like Daniel and his friends to welcome the intellectual and cultural challenges of the three-year program. However, Daniel drew a line when it came to the food menu.
In verses 5 and 8 we read: But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.
The words, Daniel resolved, suggest he was wrestling with his conscience about Nebuchadnezzar’s plan. The result was that he made a personal determination to take a stand on a principle. He said, ‘No’ to the feasting.
Daniel may have stood firm on the matter of food because in diplomatic circles eating a meal with someone usually implied an alliance. As a member of a nation that had food laws prescribed by Yahweh, the Lord, that loyalty came first. And there was probably something else: Daniel was surrounded daily by dozens of temptations to turn away from his walk with the Lord, temptations to which he knew well he might succumb.
If he was to remain true to the Lord, he would need great self discipline. He could not afford to let himself be softened up by the king’s hospitality. There may have been nothing morally wrong with enjoying the delights of the Babylonian royal cuisine, but it symbolized a threat to his own spiritual commitment. Significantly, as Nebuchadnezzar’s program progressed, Daniel’s decision was honored by God.
Reflect. If we are going to live as believers in a changing world where God is dismissed, we need to have the wisdom to identify temptations that could threaten our faith and the courage to be different. Let me encourage you to pray for God’s wisdom and grace in identifying where it would benefit you to make a stand, and at the same time challenge others around you.
You may also find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 1 and Ephesians 4:17-32.
A Prayer. Almighty and eternal God, by whose Spirit your people are governed and sanctified: receive our prayer for the many different members of your people; that every one of us in our life and calling may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
© John G. Mason