August 16 – Daniel 1:1-17
This week kicks off our six-week series in Daniel. As we’ve progressed through our year-long theme, “Experience the Kingdom,” we’ve looked at the King of the Kingdom (None Like Him), the nature of the Kingdom (Matthew 13), and the character of the Kingdom (SOTM). Now in Daniel we’ll look at the context of the Kingdom, which exists on earth but doesn’t necessarily belong there. Through Daniel’s own experience as an exile we’ll get an idea for what it means to belong to God’s Kingdom while still living in an earthly one.
This tension between two kingdoms will keep coming back up through the series, but we see it plainly here in Daniel 1. Daniel was caught between two kingdoms himself, the Kingdom of Judah, his home country, and the Kingdom of Babylon, which had just ransacked Judah and taken him and about 20,000 other Judeans captive. We get a brief overview of these events in Daniel 1:1-4, but you can read more in 2 Chronicles 36:15-21, where we see just how brutal the takeover of Judah was. The Babylonians killed and pillaged indiscriminately, sealing Judah’s destruction by burning down the Temple, a devastating loss to all Israelites. As plucky as Daniel and his friends seem, we can only imagine they were dealing with the loss of their homeland, the trauma of war, the deaths of friends and family members, becoming the property of a foreign power, having to learn a new language and culture, and trying to get ahead in a cutthroat society.
That’s why Daniel 1 is about so much more than vegetables.
In 1:4 we see that King Nebuchadnezzar was specifically interested in obtaining the educated children of the Judean elite in the hopes that they would become valuable civil servants in his bureaucratic government. He orders his officers to prepare a kind of Babylonian prep school for these kids, providing extensive training that would hopefully assimilate them into Babylonian culture. For Daniel and his friends this curriculum would’ve amounted to a brand new assortment of things, some of which were perfectly acceptable to them, like art and music, and some of which directly opposed their beliefs, like the state sponsored worship of Babylonian deities (we’ll see the worship of false gods come up several times in our series).
So when Daniel and his friends are offered food from the king’s table, food that was definitely not Kosher and had possibly been offered to Babylonian idols, this presents a problem for them. Will they continue to obey their God? Or will they assimilate into their new country at the expense of their faith? Daniel proposes a unique alternative for him and his three friends, who you likely know by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. By suggesting that they only eat vegetables he avoids the non-Kosher meat they were being served (especially pork). By choosing water over wine he withholds himself from the drunken revelry that, at least under King Belshazzar in Daniel 5, seems to be normative for the Babylonian court. They elect to be different, to hold onto their Jewish identity and distinguish themselves from Babylonian culture, if only by their diet. It wasn’t about the vegetables—it was about clinging to the God they served. In just two more chapters the difference will become more publicly visible and more costly, resulting in three of them getting tossed into an incinerator.
But throughout the book of Daniel we see God blessing Daniel’s faithfulness, delivering him through trials again and again. It’s easy to read the book as if Daniel himself is the hero, but it’s God who does the delivering every single time. That’s not to say Daniel’s faithfulness isn’t worthy of celebrating, but alongside that we should look the same direction he was looking, beholding the God who is worthy of faithfulness in the face of destruction.
We too are caught between two kingdoms.
In our case it’s the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God, but much like Daniel in Babylon, the former will present every opportunity for our assimilation, with sometimes mild, sometimes serious consequences for our resistance. But we learn in Daniel that our citizenship in God’s Kingdom can be fully retained even while we live as exiles in the kingdom of this world. We needn’t remove ourselves from the culture around us, or even seek to overthrow it (check out Jeremiah 29:7 if you don’t believe me). Instead we’ll find that we can live in the world but not belong to it, as God’s distinct children who hold fast to Jesus, the one source of our hope and deliverance.
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Daniel 1:1-17 for us?
• Can someone summarize what’s going on here?
• What stands out to you from this story?
• What do you think it was like for Daniel and his friends to be in the king’s court in Babylon?
• Why do you think Daniel wanted to eat different food?
• Why do you think God blessed their efforts in the court?
• How do you think this story relates to us today?