God honors those who honor Him. We need to be resolved to act in faith on this truth because the pressure to compromise, take the easy route, and justify ungodly actions is always present and sometimes very strong. Four Jewish exiles give us a wonderful example in Daniel 1.
I have read that millions of people make New Year’s resolutions as a new year begins. But I have also read that less than 20 percent keep those resolutions for any length of time. Frankly, I think it’s a good idea to make some resolutions. Proverbs 4:26 tells us to consider the path of our feet—to think about where we have been, where we are going, and where we want to be.
Jonathan Edwards, a leader during a great revival in the 1700s, made some resolutions. He wrote seventy in all. Here’s one of them: “Never to do anything, by which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.”
Read the biography of Jonathan Edwards, and you will be challenged to make godly resolutions in following the Lord.
Have you ever thought about the fact that much of the Bible happens to be biography? God evidently loves to teach us principles of truth through personalities. Sometimes people are bad examples, and sometimes they are good examples.
As we arrive today at the book of Daniel, we’re about to be given one of the best biographies in all of Scripture. And Daniel will become known, early on, as a young man who made some godly resolutions.
It all began in the summer of 605 BC. The Babylonian prince Nebuchadnezzar won a decisive victory over the Egyptians and thereby gained control of the land of Judah. Soon after, his father, the king of Babylon, died, and Nebuchadnezzar rushed home to claim his throne. Along the way, he carried off some sacred vessels from the temple of the Lord to place in the temple of his chief god, Marduk. He also selected some Jewish men and brought them with him back to Babylon as recorded here in Daniel chapter 1.
These men were more than likely teenagers at the time, but they were already young men of integrity. The list of qualifications for being selected by Nebuchadnezzar are given to us here in verse 4:
[They were] youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace.
In other words, these young men are the valedictorians of their graduating class; they are the captains of their high school football teams.
We are told in this list that they are of “good appearance.” In other words, they are good looking. But we also read here that they are knowledgeable. Nebuchadnezzar is not interested in good-looking guys who can’t spell their own names, for verse 4 says they are to be taught “the literature and language of the Chaldeans [Babylonians].” He effectively chooses from Judah young men who are the cream of the crop.
Verse 5 informs us that all these young exiles are immediately inducted into high society; they are given the best Babylon can offer—including a free ride through the university system of Babylon. This three-year education is going to prepare them to serve in the administration of King Nebuchadnezzar.
As the biography of Daniel opens, we are introduced to four young men: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. But in an attempt to transform them into Babylonians, one of the king’s officials gives Daniel and his three friends new names derived from the names of Babylonian gods.
- Daniel, which means “God is my judge,” is changed to Belteshazzar, which means “Prince of Bel,” one of Babylon’s chief gods.
- Hananiah, which means “God is gracious,” is changed to Shadrach, which means “commanded by Aku,” the Babylonian moon god.
- Mishael, which means “Who is like God?” is changed to Meshach, which boasts, “Who is like Aku?”
- And Azariah, which means “the Lord is my help,” is changed to Abed-nego, which means “the servant of Nego [or Nebo],” the Babylonian god of fire.
So, their food—the best meat and wine enjoyed by the king himself—their university education, and even their names are designed to make them Babylonians and break down their resolution to follow the true and living God.
I think it’s interesting that they do not argue about their name change or the university courses they have to sit through; rather, it’s this food that creates their first major temptation.
Verse 8 records:
Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
Daniel is speaking here for both himself and his three friends. There is something wrong with this food and wine. We are not told what it is, but it is likely the food included unclean meat, which God’s law prohibited. Honey-baked ham is off limits; and the wine here likely was first offered to false gods before being brought to the dinner buffet.
By the way, verse 15 tells us that all the other young Jewish exiles are going to feast on all of this without any complaint. But these four young men are resolved not to defile themselves.
Now Daniel doesn’t just refuse it all; he wisely offers an alternative here in verse 12: “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink.”
The officer agrees to this test, and after ten days he sees amazing results. Verse 15 tells us, “At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.”
This is miraculous. They are fatter. Let me tell you, if I eat vegetables and drink water for ten days, I’m going to lose weight, not gain weight. And I am also going to have a bad attitude after ten days of salad and water.
Well, clearly here, this is the miraculous intervention of God. God is vindicating the godly resolution of these four young men.
As a result, verse 16 says, “The steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.” And don’t miss this: these boys will eat vegetables and drink water for the duration of their three-year university training.
Better appearance and health are not the only results the Lord gives them. We read here in verse 17:
As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
No doubt they were diligent in their studies, but God is involved here, giving them special knowledge and skill in understanding. And Daniel, in particular, is given understanding of visions and dreams, which will become significant later on in God’s sovereign plan.
Well, after three years, graduation day arrives. And not only are these four men graduating with highest honors, but we are told here in verse 20 that the king “found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”
The stage is set. Nebuchadnezzar thinks he has some young men who are going to represent Babylon with distinction; but God has embedded these young men inside the kingdom of Babylon, where they’re going to represent the Lord with distinction.
So, as this biography opens, let me make two observations here that make the example these four young men worth imitating.
First, resolving to follow God means refusing to allow your culture to rewrite your character. How easily these teenagers could have justified going along with this new Babylonian culture and religion. They are captives in a foreign land. They have left behind their parents and their people, but they have not left behind their character—and their creator God.
Second, resolving to follow the Lord means refusing to make the multitude your model. These four stood alone as they did the right thing.
They made their resolution, and God is going to now open the doors for their government occupation. And instead of being changed by Babylon, they will change the Babylonians—from the king on down—for the glory and honor of God.