When King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army conquered Jerusalem, he carried off into exile some of the nobles of Israel, including Daniel, Hannah, Mishael and Azariah (better known by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago). The brightest and best-looking of the exiles were pressed into the king’s service. Yes, even 600 years before Christ a king wanted to surround himself with beautiful people.
Part of the training for the king’s service included learning the language and customs of the Babylonians. These four outstanding Hebrews excelled in their aptitude for learning. They were young men of deep character and integrity. Eventually they proved themselves to be honorable servants to a pagan king, without compromising their own faith. And that is the issue at hand in the first chapter of the book of Daniel.
Another part of the training for the king’s service involved a state-issued diet of foods and beverages that were not Kosher – they were not on God’s approved list for Jews to eat and drink. This set up a crisis for Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago. Were they to compromise their faith and eat non-Kosher food to serve the King? Or might there be a way to remain faithful to the God of Israel, even in serving the Babylonian king?
But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. (Daniel 1:8 NIV)
Daniel proposed an experiment to the chief steward in charge of training the king’s servants. Feed all the rest of the trainees the royal menu, but feed the four Hebrews only vegetables and water for 10 days. (Kosher does not mean vegan, so it appears a diet of vegetables and water was simply a convenient way to avoid any Babylonian, non-Kosher food.) Then compare the appearance of the four Hebrews and the rest of the trainees, and act accordingly.
The chief steward took Daniel up on his offer, and found that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego appeared to be more healthy than the trainees who were sating themselves with the food and wine of Babylon. So the four Hebrews are allowed to enter service in the royal court and maintain their faithfulness to Yahweh, Israel’s God.
Daniel resolved not to defile himself. He was an exile in a pagan land, and he resolved not to defile himself. I believe we can learn from Daniel’s resolution. What would it look like for followers of Jesus Christ to resolve not to defile ourselves with the customs and practices of a culture that is not only becoming less and less Christian, but even antagonistic toward believers in Jesus? To many in our culture today, Christians are the problem. Any and every other religion is respected. A culture that has been based for 200 years on Judeo-Christian values and morals is rapidly rejecting both in favor of the morality of what works best for one’s self. How are we to be faithful in such a culture?
For me, resolving not to defile myself means remaining faithful in my Christian marriage (which is between one man and one woman). It means not entertaining myself with R-rated movies or straight-up pornography. It means treating the working poor with dignity and respect and love when I interact with them running the cash register at the store or serving our table at a restaurant. It means praying with people in the oddest of circumstances. It means standing up for abused children, unborn children and persons enslaved by human trafficking. It means responding to disrespect with grace and truth. And it means asking God to show me how to vote with a Christian conscience, seeking to elect people who stand for policies that I believe to be compatible with the values of the Kingdom of God.
Just one example of praying with people in odd circumstances. One day I was exiting the parking garage at IU Hospital in Indianapolis. There were cars ahead of me and behind me in the line to the payment booth. When I handed the youngish black woman my parking ticket and asked, “How are you this fine day?” she responded with “I’ve had better days. I have this headache that won’t go away.” The Holy Spirit prompted me to pray for her before I left the toll booth. But there were cars behind me, and I knew I should not hold up the line. So when she handed me my receipt, I just reached out and touched the back of her hand long enough to pray, “Father, please remove the pain and take away the headache from your daughter.” Then I took my receipt and drove home.
I do not know how God ministered to the young woman by my 10-second prayer. But I am confident the one who prompted the prayer used it to minister to an overworked, likely underpaid, hurting woman. The results of our faithfulness are up to God. The faithfulness to act on the prompting of His Spirit is up to us. And each time we act on His prompting, we sow faithfulness into the lives of others who may just be looking for a God to believe in.
What does resolving not to defile yourself look like to you?