We’re going through a series on Bible heroes at the moment on Sundays. Yesterday’s focus was on Daniel. If we were going to look for longevity in consistent wisdom in the Bible, I’d probably want to make a case for Daniel. Lots of other guys started out well and finished badly. Or they had a very chequered past and came through at the end. But Daniel had the kind of testimony sometimes people underplay – they feel they have to leave the church maybe and get into drugs or something so they come back having made good, then they’ll really have a testimony. I often counsel teens in church – YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT! You can have a story that says, “God has been faithful to me all my life, and he’s helped me live faithfully too.” That is a powerful story!
He was just a human being like us, but Daniel’s exemplary character leave him as one of very few people in the Bible who gets 5 stars all the way through his life, one of a very small number we read nothing negative about. Over more than 70 years he lived the life God wanted him to and he left a legacy stretching over the reign of 3 kings in two of the greatest empires of ancient history. What was it that made him wise? Consistently wise? So he stands above the rest?
When the Babylonians invaded and took over Israel, Daniel was one of just a few young guys carried off back to Babylon to go through a kind of brainwashing (like The Manchurian Candidate if you ever saw the film?), taken to a foreign country to become part of that new culture, then when other Jews were brought in successive waves over the years the job of Daniel and co would be to help them become not good Jews, but good Babylonian citizens.
Download the talk from our church website if it helps, but one of the key points I highlighted as we read Daniel’s story was that Daniel and his friends – even though they were young, had a great love for God, lived out their faith publicly, and as long as he stayed intimately close to God, Daniel was blessed with skills and favour and courage and wisdom. The culture changed their names – replaced their Hebrew names and gave them all names that reflected Babylonian gods: Daniel became Belteshazzar, and his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah became – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
We know how Daniel ended up – prime minister, prophet, powerful and influential beyond belief. But remember how Daniel got started. A captive. A stranger in a foreign land. Powerless. His homeland was in ruins, he’d have to spend the whole of his life in exile from it. The king says, “You have to have your name changed, speak our language, learn our ways. Eat what we tell you. Forget what your god told you to do. Drink what we tell you. Forget what your God said to do… How do you handle that?
There were some things in the culture they ended up going along with – but other things they wouldn’t stand for (or bow down to!). They didn’t just assimilate. They could have given way to self pity having lost everything – parents, homeland, heritage, but when they met together, this little group, they’d tell each other – ‘Don’t forget who you really are! Don’t forget who the real God is! They can change our names – but they’ll never change our hearts.’
It all started with a decision Daniel made. When the prevailing culture tried to fill his plate, he resolved to do without – in order to do what God wanted him to do.
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… “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.”
At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 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.
The King James version says they looked ‘fatter’ than the rest – but I didn’t play that one up too much! I’m thrilled that many people stood to say they’ll join us in this ten day fast too, really going for God, going public with our faith, going together with others and going against the flow of our culture – praying each day for our city while fasting from rich food – eating fruit, vegetables and water. Today is day one!
Daniel’s wisdom in the big, public arena, came from the small, disciplined, victories won in private. Jesus said he expected his disciples to fast (he said, ‘When- not ‘if’ you fast.) Fasting is a private discipline that if you practice it you’ll win public victories. What’s your experience of fasting been? Daniel fasting is a great way to start.