Our story begins with the destruction of the sacred city of Jerusalem during a series of great battles that started in 605 BC, just over 2,600 years ago. The greatest empire of the ancient world, Babylon, attacked and plundered the nation of Judah, taking many of the people captive.
Among the captives were four gifted young Jewish men, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They were brought into the luxurious palace of King Nebuchadnezzar, where they were to serve at the king’s whim.
Now, this wasn’t a bad outcome, when you consider that these war hostages could have been sent to a hard and slow death laboring in the silver mines. But life in the palace brought huge challenges.
Immediately, their Babylonian masters changed their Hebrew names to Babylonian ones. And each one of their new names was linked to one of the many gods the Babylonians served.
All this was done as part of a subtle plan to rid these young men of their religious heritage, their Godly values and principles, and re-educate them in the ways of Babylon and the king’s palace.
The whole idea was to reprogram these young men, and give them a totally new world view – one based on the values and principles of Babylon. Before long the young captives faced a test. And it arose over the issue of food.
You see, although they were captives, they were being treated like royalty. They could even eat the king’s special food and sit at his table, but to do so meant to be disobedient to the God of heaven. God had given instruction regarding what food was best for people to eat.
These young men had been taught about the importance of eating the right food that was best for them and avoiding food that was harmful to their health. But now they were faced with a real dilemma.
To fail to eat at the king’s table meant to be disobedient to the king of Babylon who was treating them so favourably. They had to make a difficult decision. Who would they obey – God or the king? Well, Daniel and his friends didn’t hesitate in making a decision, an important decision. We read about it in Daniel 1:8.
“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank.”
There was no question in Daniel’s mind. Loyalty to God was more important than loyalty to the king. He resolved that he would be faithful to the Lord of heaven and earth. He would honor his God in all of the details of life – even in what he ate and drank. Yes, he would live and eat simply.
So, Daniel went to the Babylonian official in charge of them and asked if he and his friends could have a new menu. The Bible says that they asked for a plant-based diet of vegetables and water to drink.
Now, apparently the King was interested in the welfare of these young men, and the official worried about what would happen if their diet negatively impacted how they looked and performed. “You would endanger my head before the king,” he said to them.
But Daniel asked, basically: Look, just give us a ten-day test, and at the end of that time, you can see for yourself and decide. The official agreed
and, for ten days, while the others ate whatever “delicacies” were on the king’s table, Daniel and his friends ate their simple, natural diet. When the time was over, what happened? Well, here’s what the Bible says in Daniel 1:15.
“Their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies.”
Their diet didn’t make them look worse. On the contrary, it made them look and feel better. And not only that, but these four young men, when later examined by the King himself, were, well, the cream of the crop — smarter and wiser than all the other officials in the court. Here’s what the Bible says in Daniel 1:20.
“And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm.”
So, begins the book of Daniel, which right away sets a theme that will be found throughout the entire book – obedience to God versus obedience to man. And it presents us with a challenge.
Do we do what is right, and what we believe is right, or do we go with the majority, to be popular, to be liked, and maybe even to advance our careers? Like Daniel, God’s people in the end time will not hesitate to choose obedience to God over obedience to man.
It’s important to note the implications that these tests have for the rest of the book of Daniel. The tests described in Chapter 1 seem very mild in comparison to the much greater tests to come later in the book. But the lesson of Chapter 1 is that only those who pass minor tests will ever pass the major tests.
You see, if we cannot remain loyal to God when the test is easy, we will not be loyal when the test is difficult. Today we live in a time of prosperity, when it is relatively easy to serve God. If we cannot be obedient in this time, we will never be obedient when real trouble comes. How important, then, that we be faithful to God at all times.
Yes, Daniel was written millennia ago, in an entirely different world. But the principles shared remain fully relevant, even today.