“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank…at the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food.” [From Daniel Chapter One.]
Accepted thinking is that Daniel and his friends didn’t want to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols, nor did they want to eat food that was otherwise unclean, that is, in violation of the dietary statutes in the Law of Moses. While the text says that the result of their decision was that they enjoyed better bodily health than their fellow students in what might be styled “the king’s academy”; this foundational decision also placed them on a trajectory so that when others were worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s image or were obeying Darius’s injunction not to pray, Daniel and his friends were steadfast in their worship of the true and living God. The decision to only partake of food that was lawful for sons of Israel to eat gave them clarity of thought and insight which their contemporaries did not enjoy – it was, of course, not in the food that they found insight and clarify of thought (though diet does influence our wellbeing), but rather in the heart-attitude and purpose of will that led to eating only lawful food.
Consider the pressures under which Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego lived their lives. They were a minority among the other Jews in the king’s academy (more on this below); they were a minority among the king’s counsellors – both in the Babylonian and Persian empires; they were a minority among the culture at-large; their homeland had not just been defeated, but laid waste by the Babylonians; Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed. And yet, they maintained a peace of mind and a wisdom and a non-negotiable worship of Yahweh throughout palace intrigues, mercurial kings, the rise and fall of empires, and attempted murder.
Each time these men ate they were testifying to their unwavering faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Each time they ate they were saying, “Our nation may be destroyed, our capital city in ruins, our glorious Temple may be no more, but we will worship Yahweh, whether in Judah or in Babylon or in Persia, we will worship the true and living God.” Daily obedience results in a life of dedication; obedience in small things (there are really no small things) results in obedience when issues of life and death are at hand.
And what of the other young men in Judah who were enrolled in the king’s academy? We read that the young men who were selected for the academy were, “…youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence…with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court…” What of the other young men selected for training along with Daniel and his friends?
Only Daniel and his three friends are singled out as approaching the “headmaster” to request exemption from eating the king’s food. It would have been safer and easier to just go along with the program and eat what was provided – after all, it was the king’s food. After all, they had been selected for high-paying and conspicuous positions in government; after all, who could blame them for compromising under the circumstances. Surely God would understand.
We don’t read about the other Jewish students in the king’s academy; we don’t read about the majority who presumably compromised, but we do read about the minority who were faithful.
What food are you and I choosing to eat today? What is it that our hearts and minds and souls are eating and drinking?