The stories of the early chapters of Daniel are captivating in plot, character, action, and scope. Lovers of God over the centuries have taken encouragement from the example set by Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In my recent reading I observed six tests put to these Hebrew youth that proved they were true and blameless followers of the one true God. In this blog I will outline these tests, and in Part 2 will consider applications to our time of testing related to the health crisis we are experiencing around the world.
Daniel and his three friends were among those exiled to Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar seized control of Jerusalem. They had been members of the Israelite royal court, the cream of the crop, “young men without any physical defect, good-looking, suitable for instruction in all wisdom, knowledgeable, perceptive, and capable of serving in the king’s palace” (1:4). Upon arrival in this strange new land they were trained for three years in all aspects of Babylonian language and culture to prepare them for service. What no one realized at that point was that the God they served was about to guide them through several significant tests. Their responses to these tests under severe pressure and persecution would confirm their qualification to be more than mere bureaucrats in Nebuchadnezzar’s empire. They were refined like pure gold, fit for the noblest uses in the kingdom of Almighty God. These are the tests:
- Purity. Nebuchadnezzar expected the Hebrew immigrants to conform to his “exalted” Babylonian culture, included their diet. But Daniel, in his heart,“determined that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine he drank” (1:8). After ten days of consuming a plainer diet of vegetables and water, the king’s servants found no noticeable difference in the boys’ health in comparison with those who ate the king’s food. In fact, Daniel and his friends looked hearty enough after ten days to be granted permission to keep to this regimen. The text doesn’t reveal the reason for their self-imposed dietary restrictions, so we can’t know exactly. But we do know that Daniel believed that this was essential to protect him from defilement, and that is enough. He trusted that God would help him to maintain his purity, and he did.
- Spiritual knowledge. King Nebuchadnezzar had a complex dream he wanted interpreted. He demanded that the magicians and wise men not only interpret the dream, but tell the dream itself, which they deemed impossible. When Nebuchadnezzar didn’t get his way, he got very angry, threatening to starting killing his advisors if they couldn’t give him an answer. Daniel heard of this, and implored his three friends to pray with him, asking “the God of the heavens for mercy concerning this mystery” (2:18) so their lives would be spared. Daniel received revelation of both the dream and its interpretation. Daniel passed the test, trusting Almighty God to give the knowledge and understanding necessary to accomplish an “impossible” assignment.
- Worship. The king set up a gargantuan likeness of himself and commanded that whenever music was heard in the land, all citizens must bow down and worship the statue. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego adamantly refused. Their civil disobedience got them thrown into a furnace so hot that it burned up the soldiers throwing them in. Strangely, they were completely unharmed. They passed the test of rejecting idolatry and worshipping only Almighty God, and their devotion was rewarded.
- Speaking truth. Nebuchadnezzar had another troubling dream, and this time he knew to call Daniel immediately. To Daniel’s dismay, the interpretation God gave him was extremely unfavorable to the king, prophesying his losing his mind and wandering in the wilderness like a beast. This tyrant was known to kill servants for any reason or no reason. Daniel could have left things out or watered it down. But with respect and humility, Daniel shared God’s revelation fully and clearly. Daniel passed the test of the prophet, at the risk of his life. Daniel’s words came true precisely, and once Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity was restored, he too praised Almighty God.
- Integrity. Belshazzar was in some ways more perverse and despicable than his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar. He was drunkenly feasting when a disembodied hand appeared and wrote an indecipherable message on the palace wall. He called Daniel and spoke flattering words, promising that he would be “clothed in purple, have a gold chain around his neck, and have the third highest position in the kingdom” (5:7) if Daniel could read the message. Daniel again spoke truth to power and declined the king’s gifts, saying, “You may keep your gifts and give your rewards to someone else” (5:17). Daniel passed the test, the temptation to seek wealth, power, or fame at the cost of his integrity. A person speaking for God must not have a price.
- Discipline. Daniel kept the holy habit of praying to God three times a day. Knowing this, jealous rivals on the king’s staff convinced the king to forbid prayer to anyone but himself. The consequence for disobeying this order was to be thrown to the lions. Daniel, hearing this, went to his room and prayed as usual. When he was thrown into the lions’ den, they did him no harm. He testified, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths; and they haven’t harmed me, for I was found innocent before him” (6:22). Daniel passed the test, keeping his spiritual disciplines in place even under threat of death.
If you’ve made it this far, perhaps you’ve already begun applying these stories and the truths in them to your own life. Part 2 is coming soon. In the meantime, please share your thoughts.