An Important Choice
Scripture reading: Daniel chapter one.
The book of Daniel is, as we all recognize, one of superlative importance in the Bible. It is important, both for its revelation of the program of God through the ages, and for its outstanding examples of courageous and conquering faith. It reveals God’s sovereignity, both in the affairs of men generally and in their experience particularly.
Having in view the importance of the events outlined in Daniel, we may wonder why the first chapter narrates such a seemingly trivial event. Why, at the beginning of such an important book, should we find the relation of such a comparatively unimportant happening as this, when we find some young men refusing to eat certain things? Actually, this event is not so trivial as it may seem at first glance. In this incident we find a definite choice made; a definite course embarked upon, which resulted in the chain of events which followed. Had the choice which Daniel made in chapter one not been made, the book of Daniel would never have been written. Let us consider what was involved and what the circumstances were.
In the first place, let us note that God was in need of a man through whom He could work. He wanted a man through whom He might reveal to the king the course of the ages, as we see in chapter two. He wanted a man through whom He might make known His own sovereign Deity, as we see in chapter three.(Daniel’s name is not mentioned in this chapter but, as we shall see, we are justified in concluding that his influence was behind what happened then.). He wanted a man through whom He might warn the king, and so again witness to Himself, as we see in chapter four. He wanted a man through whom He might rebuke the ungodly, as we see in chapter five. He wanted a man through whom He might again witness to His power to save, as we see in chapter six. He wanted a man to whom He might reveal His purposes in visions, so making known His secrets to others, as we see in chapters seven and eight. And He wanted a man who would intercede for his nation, as we see in chapter nine.
Now Daniel himself knew nothing of that which became known only much later. But he made a choice at the beginning: a choice which enabled God to find in him the man whom He was seeking. So today, God is seeking men and women for work which He has in hand: to reveal His mind to men who do not know Him, and to make known His power in their lives. We may not know at the first His purposes for us. But everything will depend, whether we realize it or not, upon the choice which we make at the beginning, upon the course we embark upon at the first.
The other day we started out from Union City headed for Kearny. We aimed for Route 3, but we missed the fork of the road. Before we realized it, we were on the Jersey Turnpike, with no turning back, and we finally came out, not in Kearny where we wanted to go, but down in Newark. We missed the road, and how many Christian young men and women miss God’s road for them, and come out at a place far different from that which was in His purpose for them!
Second, note the circumstances in which Daniel and his friends found themselves at the time. One could hardly imagine circumstances less conducive to faithfulness to God. Yet it was in those most uncongenial circumstances that Daniel and his compatriots resolved to remain faithful to their God.
There was nothing conducive to piety in Daniel’s nation at the time. They had long since drifted into idolatry, and had stubbornly persisted in that course even though God sent prophet after prophet to them to warn them of the inevitable result of their infidelity. Even in Babylon we find, when the chastisement of removal and captivity had at last come upon them, that the people were still as a whole unchanged in heart concerning their conduct. Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah continued to warn them while they were away from their own land, but they had not learned their lesson. Later on in this book, when Nebuchadnezzar sets up his image for worship, only the three young men are spoken of as refusing to bow down to the image. We are justified, I think, in concluding that they, almost alone of their people, resisted the king’s decree. Their faithfulness was not the product of a national faithfulness among their own people. None of their own people would have judged them for being unfaithful.
Not only so, but they found themselves in a particularly uncongenial atmosphere in Babylon. There was not even a tacit acceptance of the worship of Jehovah there. His name was not even recognized. In Jerusalem there had been the form of godliness, even though the power was denied. But here there was not even the form. On the other hand, they were surrounded on every side by the practices of idolatry. Daniel’s own name we find was changed to that of “Belteshazzar,” and Nebuchadnezzar himself says that it was “After the name of my god”(4:8). In the very atmosphere of ungodliness, what would their choice be? And when you find yourself in such an atmosphere (for instance, when you are called up for military service) what will your choice be, what will be the course which you set yourself from the very first?
And then again, note their discouraging position physically. They had been uprooted from their own land. We get some idea of the resulting homesickness, the longing for their own country, in Psalm 137, for example. All sacred associations were gone; they were in a strange land. But there was more. We find that these men were victims of that barbarous custom which then maintained (and perhaps still maintains) in some eastern countries, whereby they were forever deprived of the hope of family life and posterity. You may note that in verse 3, when you see in whose care they were placed. Family life means much to us, it meant even more to the Jew. Their whole attitude in their dreary captivity might have been one of hopelessness—one of “what is the use, anyway?”
Even so, Daniel chose. He purposed in his heart not to defile himself. For the food eaten in Babylon (at least the meat and the wine) would be unclean. It would be unclean in that it would consist of things which God in His law had forbidden. And, it would be unclean in that it had been offered to idols. And so Daniel’s choice was that of a whole-hearted devotion to and obedience to his God, let others do what they might, and, let circumstances be what they might. “He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.” God is still looking for men and women like that and not finding too many!
First, he and his companions were made wise by the God Whom they honoured (1:17). They were taught of God. God’s purpose is that all His people shall be taught of Him, and this is realized in His bringing them to Himself. But He also desires to impart to them wisdom, in conforming them to His will, and in revealing to them His secrets. This He can do only in the case of those who, like Daniel, devote themselves to Him and to His pleasure. Only those who put God first can be admitted to His counsels.
Second, he became a help to others. Note that it was Daniel who purposed in his heart, but there were three others who associated themselves with him. That is undoubtedly why the events of chapter three are related as they are in this book. As we have noted, his name is not mentioned in that chapter. But behind it we can assuredly trace his influence. What a tragedy it would have been had Daniel chosen differently in chapter one! What a tragedy had the three young men followed a different example! Not only would Daniel have lost much, but he would have caused others also to lose. What do men get from our example, profit or loss?
Third, he became a man whom God could use according to His purposes. He was able to do with Daniel what He wanted, because Daniel set out on the right track in the beginning. What a contrast with many today, who, in much more congenial surroundings and with increased knowledge (giving increased responsibility) live for themselves, and are of no use to God or man!
Fourth, he became a man greatly beloved of God (9:23; 10:11, 19). God loves all His own, it is true. But there are some whom He loves in a special way. These are they who are willingly conformed to His will, and who enter into His mind. So the Lord loved His own (John 13:1) but even so, John was “the beloved disciple” beyond the others, for he loved his Lord with a special devotion and entered into His thoughts beyond the others, as we see in the Gospel which he later wrote. This is a thing we may well covet, to be “greatly beloved” by God in this special intimacy.
Lastly, we may note that Daniel gained for himself an everlasting name. And wherever the Scriptures go, in all lands and all languages, the name of Daniel is honoured, and has become a synonym for devotion and resolve. Nor is this without meaning for Daniel himself, for he has gained a fame which shall never die among the redeemed and before the face of his God. It is not wrong for us to desire place before our God. What is wrong is to seek place in a wrong way and with a wrong motive. God Himself desires that we may win the crown of honour, and an everlasting fame for our exploits with Him.
Who can estimate the loss and tragedy had Daniel taken the wrong path at the beginning!