THE DANIEL DIFFERENCE
Scripture Daniel 1
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
The story of Daniel starts long before Daniel was born. It starts in the beginning. Let me begin the story of Daniel.
There was nothing - but one God. And God choose to create the stars, the sun, the moon, the earth, and on the earth he made oceans and land, plants, fish, animals, and finally Adam and Eve, who had children, who had children, etc. etc. The world quickly started filling up with many people most of whom did not worship the Creator God. So God choose for himself one family, (ask children) Jacob's family to be his chosen people. And he promised to them that if they would be different, if they would worship only God, the one true God, God would give them their own land, their own homes, God would make them happy in every way.
They became the nation of Israel with the kings Saul, David and Solomon. They saw the promises of God come true. They had a beautiful country, safe homes and happy families. But the promises of God had another side: if Israel did not remain different, if Israel did not just worship the one true God, but went after worshiping other false gods, they would be cursed, their homes would be taken away, their lives would be made absolutely miserable. Israel did turn to other gods and God's promises started coming true. First their nation became divided - Judah to the south, Israel to the north. Israel had 19 different kings and non of them worshiped the one true God. Judah to the south had 18 different kings, some of them worshiped God, not all. Eventually, A foreign enemy, the Assyrians led by a king called Nebuchadnezzar came. First Nebuchadnezzar took all of Israel to the north, then they attacked Jerusalem and Judah to the south. With each battle and each siege of Jerusalem, they took more captives. Jehoiakim, the evil king of Judah who choose not to be different but worshipped other gods, choose to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar, but his rebellion was futile. Again, more people were taken into captivity. Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, were among them. This time Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Assyria also took treasures out of the temple in Jersualem, some of Solomon's gold, some of the holy articles of the temple (see II Kings 23,24). He didn't do it because he just wanted to rob the temple, Nebuchadnezzar did it to show that his god was more powerful than the God of the Israelites. He took these articles to the temple of his own god in the city of Babylon. There in that temple, these articles would have to bow in submission to the god of Babylon, the God of Israel had been destroyed.
Daniel was different. He knew, even as he walked toward Babylon in chains that the God of Israel would never be defeated. He had learned from when he was a young boy that there was one God and that there was no other true god beside him. He knew that God was in control, that God was letting this happen to Israel because they had sinned against God. God was just keeping his promises.
Even though Daniel knew this all, it didn't change what happened. When Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, there was terror in Daniel's family. Daniel was from a well educated rich noble family Jerusalem, and they knew that when war came, it was the rich and the nobles that were in the greatest danger. We do not know what came of Daniel's family. They may have been killed in battle by soldiers. Or they could have been carried away as captive slaves. We know that Daniel was one of these slaves. At first they put him in irons and forced him to walk a great distance to Babylon. There they cut off some parts of Daniel's body so that he could never have children. (II Kings 20:18). Daniel became a eunuch serving the kingdom of Babylon.
Daniel was doing hard dirty work from Sunrise till sunset. What he got to eat was hardly worth eating. He became skinny, muscle and bone. Then one day, a man named Ashpenaz came on a chariot with soldier escorts. He was obviously important. He stopped where Daniel and some others were working. He looked at Daniel's lean body, from head to feet, with grunts of satisfaction. He looked on a scroll that his assistant carried, he found Daniel's name and ordered the soldiers to take Daniel in a second chariot. Daniel didn't know where too.
Where do you think Ashpenaz was going to take him?
Too school. The King had ordered that he, along with others, including some of his good friends from Jerusalem would have to learn the Babylonian language at Babylon High School and there learn to serve king Nebuchadnezzar. At school, he saw for the first time Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah again. Their student Identity was different. Daniel's name was changed to Belteshazzar, Hannaniah's name was changed to Shadrach, Mishael's name was changed to Meshach and Azariah was changed to Abednego. The school did this for a reason. At Babylon High, every student was to understand that the God they had grown up with was finished, destroyed, done with, history. Since these Jewish names reminded Daniel and his friends of the God of Israel, their new names pointed to the gods of Babylon, Aku and Nego. Elohim and Jehovah were taken out of their names.
"God is my judge" _> Belteshazzar
At school, the best food was placed before them. Almost all of the new students grabbed what they could. Some of them had never seen or tasted food this good in their whole lives. As a slave, you took whatever you could. You had to survive. What an opportunity they had received! A chance to learn. A chance to become one of the kings servants. And all the food they could eat. Almost all of the slaves at Babylon High would take this opportunity and run with it.
Except for Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. It seemed Belteshazzar was the leader of this stubborn small group of slaves. They didn't want to eat the kings food. The wine was not for them. The meat, the best cuts of pork in the land, the tasty leftovers from the meals in Nego's temple, these young men would have nothing to do with it.
(Why do you think they refused to eat this food?)
Daniel and his friends were Israelites. In the Old Testament, God gave commands about what foods they could not eat. They were not allowed to eat pork or ham, they were not allowed to eat food once offered to idols. Daniel, (Belteshazzar) still believed that their God was alive and so they choose to obey the things he commanded them.
Principal Ashpenaz wanted to become angry with these students who just were not adapting very well to their new school setting. But they had asked him politely if they could avoid these foods, and they seemed to demonstrate exceptional promise as students. So he went and talked to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego.
"His Majesty King Nebuchadnezzar has commanded that you eat his royal food!"
"But sir," Daniel responded. "We very much appreciate the Kings generosity. But we have been taught that there is a God greater than Nebuchadnezzar, a God greater than Nego or Aku, our God, who tells us not to eat these foods as generous as the king is."
"I don't care if you keep your weakling God. What matters is that food will fatten you up, it will make you healthy and strong. If the King sees that you are weak, or underfed, he will come back on me because he commanded me to make you ready for service. It could cost me my head. Eat the kings food! Show that you have become the healthy servants of the gods of Babylon!"
Belteshazzar and his friends left the principal's office dejected. They were different. They knew there was one true God, only one God worth obeying. And they were determined to obey him. So they went and talked to the guard that was responsible for taking care of them. "Please test us for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare how we look with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see." The guard, who had little to loose was persuaded.
"OK - 10 days then." He knew that their diet wouldn't make much difference in 10 days. And he would have plenty of time in three years to fatten them up properly after that.
But to his surprise, after 10 days, Belteshazzar and his friends looked healthier and better fed then all the rest of the students who ate the king's best food, even Nego's leftovers. He couldn't believe his eyes. When the guard told principal Ashpenaz what had happened, the decision was instantly made. All the Jewish students would get was vegetables and water. They would be allowed to be different because in the end what mattered was that they would have to look good for the king and Ashpenaz would do whatever it took to get that done.
So Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah continued to go to school. They learned the history of the Babylonian people. They learned to speak Assyrian. They learned all about the government of Assyria. Already in school, it became clear that Daniel was able to interpret dreams, a very important skill in that time, it was a gift that he had from God.
After 3 years of at Babylon High School, they faced their final examination. They had to go before the king and demonstrate how much they knew. And to the kings surprise, for every question he asked, these four men, Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. were the best in the class, infact they were so good that they were better than their teacher, 10 times better, 10 times wiser then the men who taught them wisdom.
Where do you think that kind of wisdom came from?
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Daniel was different. He was different because his God was the one true God. He was different because he believed and obeyed the one true God. That is how Daniel came to be in Nebuchadnezzar's service.
The Scripture passage upon which this story is based: Daniel 1 (NIV)
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility-- young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service. Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. 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.
9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you."
11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, "Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see." So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.