Meeting Cultural Challenges

Biblical Truth: God’s people can be involved in and helpful to their society, but they must draw the line when it comes to allowing themselves to be dominated by their culture.

Expectation of Cultural Assimilation:  Daniel 1:3-5.

[3]  Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, [4]  youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. [5]  The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service.   [NASU]

Introduction.  It has been written that the book of Daniel gives the meaning of history more clearly than any other portion of the Bible and it tells us how to live for God in ungodly times – like our own. Consider these facts: (1) Daniel was a godly man sent to live in ungodly Babylon at a time when God’s blessing upon the Jewish nation seemed to have been withdrawn or postponed. This means that his position was much like that of believers trying to live in secular society today. (2) The Babylon of Daniel’s day was a type of all kingdoms that do not acknowledge God or think they can dispense with Him. This is an apt description of most of the world in our time, including so-called “Christian” America. (3) Daniel was under tremendous pressure to conform. That is, his religion was tolerated, even respected, as long as he did not allow it to intrude into public life. That is our situation also. We can practice our religion so long as it is not in the schools, at work, or in any public place. (4) The world seemed to be winning. Nebuchadnezzar (and after him Belshazzar) reigned. Nebuchadnezzar believed himself to be above having to answer to anybody. (5) Nevertheless, in spite of these things, God told Daniel that it is He, God, who is in control of history and that His purposes are being accomplished, even in the overthrow and captivity of His people. Moreover, in the end God will establish a kingdom that will endure forever. The destiny of the people of God is wrapped up in that eternal kingdom. In Daniel we have a stirring and helpful example of one who not only lived through secular and materialistic times and survived them but who actually triumphed in them and excelled in public life to the glory of God. Daniel did not compromise. He did not bow to this world’s idols. He was hated and plotted against. But he triumphed because he knew God and trusted Him to do with his life whatever was best.

[3-5]  It was Nebuchadnezzar’s intention to choose young Jewish men who would be easily molded by the worldly environment that existed in Babylon. He sought to do this by educating them into the Chaldean culture and by changing their names. The Hebrew names of these young men were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. They were changed to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. It should be immediately evident that the Jewish names of these men each contains a name of God and has a spiritual meaning. Daniel and Mishael both contain the syllable ‘el’, which means “God” and is the basis of the frequently appearing name “Elohim”. Daniel means “God is my Judge.” Mishael means “Who is like God?” The other two names, Hananiah and Azariah, both contain a shortened form of the name Jehovah. Hananiah means “Jehovah is gracious.” Azariah means “Jehovah is my helper.” The very names of these men were reminders of their heritage and a challenge to them to remain faithful to the Lord. But now, deported into a strange, pagan land, their names are changed. And the names they are given all contain a reference to one of the false gods of the ancient Babylonians, Aku and Nego. It was a way of saying that these who had been servants of the Jewish God were now servants and worshipers of the gods of the pagan pantheon. Yet the change accomplished nothing. Nebuchadnezzar changed the men’s names, but he could not change their hearts. They remained faithful to the true God of Israel, as the story shows.

Drawing the Line: Daniel 1:8-15.

[8]  But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. [9]  Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials, [10]  and the commander of the officials said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.” [11]  But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, [12]  “Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. [13]  Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.” [14]  So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. [15]  At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food.  [NASU]

[8]  Daniel here shows both his steadfast devotion to principle and his courteous common sense. To have partaken of the king’s food and wine would, in Daniel’s thinking, have involved self-defilement. The reason for this was that the king’s food was forbidden by the law; not so much because the food was not prepared according to the Levitical ordinance or consisted of the flesh of animals which to the Israelites were unclean. Because this does not explain why they also refused to drink the wine. But the reason for their rejection was that the heathen at their feasts offered up in sacrifice to their gods a part of the food and the drink and thus consecrated their meals by a religious rite. Therefore the one who participated in such a meal also participated in the worship of idols. To accomplish his purpose, Daniel displays no fanaticism or rudeness, but candidly states his purpose to the chief official and asks for his help. Daniel never yields in devotion to principle, but he does not permit devotion to principle to serve as a cloak for rudeness or fanaticism.

[9]  Upon the request of Daniel, God inspired the officer with favor toward Daniel. The chief official recognized that Daniel’s request was made upon the basis of principle and he listened to the request. This response by the chief official was the result of divine grace.

[10-13]  But the chief official is hesitant to allow Daniel’s request because he fears the king’s anger if the appearance of Daniel and his friends are more haggard then the other youths. But Daniel continues his appeal, this time to the overseer whom the chief official has placed over them. Daniel proposes a short, ten day test. If Daniel had made this offer merely upon his own initiative, he would have been guilty of presumption. Therefore it seems that Daniel had received a special revelation from the Spirit of God and that, in speaking, he was acting in accord with that revelation. From verse 12, it appears that Daniel desired to abstain from food which in any sense might be regarded as dedicated to idols. But also that he wished for himself a simple diet that showed his desire to be free from all the luxuries of the king’s court. Then, after the ten day test, Daniel asks the overseer to act as he sees fit based upon what he sees happening to Daniel and his friends.

[14-15]  The overseer granted this request for the ten day testing period. When the period of ten days had expired their appearance was seen to be better and healthier than all of the other youths who ate from the king’s table. Thus we see evidence of God’s grace at work in the lives of Daniel and his friends.

Rendering Service to Society:  Daniel 1:17-21.

[17]  As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams. [18]  Then at the end of the days which the king had specified for presenting them, the commander of the officials presented them before Nebuchadnezzar. [19]  The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s personal service. [20]  As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm. [21]  And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king.   [NASU]

[17]  The emphasis in this verse lies in the contrast between the words four youths and Daniel. All four made progress in literature and wisdom, but Daniel, in addition was favored with the understanding of visions and dreams. These attainments were not necessarily because of superior ability, but were gifts of God. The entire course of life of these youths was in the hands of God. The knowledge and intelligence which God gave to them was of a discerning kind, that they might know and possess the ability to accept what was true and to reject what was false in their instruction. That these youths might more effectively serve the Lord at a heathen court, it was necessary that they should be deeply versed in all the Babylonian teaching, just as it had been necessary for Moses to be versed in the wisdom of Egypt [Acts 7:22]. That the youths did not accept the superstitious and false elements in this teaching is shown by the later examples of their steadfast faith in God [e.g. Dan. 3:6]. The statement about Daniel understanding visions and dreams prepares us for Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2. So we are told that Daniel not only possessed the ability to see visions and dreams but also had the ability to interpret the dreams and visions of others. By means of vision and dream God made known His will to true prophets [Numbers 12:1-8]. The term vision was also used as a synonym for revelation [see Isaiah 1:1]. However, the true method of revelation was imitated by false prophets and diviners [cf. e.g., Jer. 23:25ff.]. Here the terms are broad and include both true and false visions and dreams. Thus, Daniel received the ability to tell whether a vision was from God and thus true, or whether it was a mere invention of the mind of man. In addition he was able to declare the true interpretation of the vision or dream. However, the words understood all kinds of visions and dreams need not necessarily imply that Daniel was always able to interpret. The interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was given to Daniel by means of a special revelation [2:19]. The reason why it was given Daniel to have understanding in visions and dreams was that he had to live in an atmosphere where stress was laid upon dreams and the correct interpretation of them. Joseph had been placed in circumstances somewhat similar to those of Daniel and to him also had been given the power to interpret dreams.

[18-19]  By means of ordinary conversation the king sought to discover the abilities and progress of the youths. Daniel and his three friends stood out among all of the other youths. Thus the king, by his own personal examination, fixed upon the very individuals whom God had distinguished by peculiar gifts which rendered them superior to the other youths. In this way Daniel and his three friends were placed in the king’s court where God will use them to bring about the accomplishment of His plan.

[20-21]  Wisdom here refers to objective knowledge or science, and understanding to those powers of perception and insight which enable the mind to make proper distinctions and so to arrive at accuracy of knowledge. Verse 21 tells us that Daniel lived through the whole seventy year period of the exile.

Questions for Discussion:

1.      How is the culture that Daniel lived in similar to our culture today? What lessons can we learn from Daniel concerning how we are to live and honor God in our culture?

2.      Why didn’t Daniel and his friends want to eat from the king’s table? What principle were they unwilling to compromise? How can we apply that type of commitment to principle in the way we live today in our secular culture?

3.      In these verses, how do you see God’s sovereign hand at work? How is he guiding and directing events to bring about His purposes in history?


Daniel, James Montgomery Boice, Baker Books.

The Prophecy of Daniel , Edward J. Young, Eerdmans.

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