Summary: God had chosen Daniel for special serive but before being entrusted with responsibility his spiritual character was tested.
DANIEL 1 - THE MAKING OF A CHARACTER
Three times in the book Daniel is referred to as a man "highly esteemed", or as the Authorised Version puts it, "a man greatly beloved". He was truly a noble character, but how did it come about? Was he born with this built into his genes? No, spiritual character and status is the end result of the grace of God at work in the life of a Christian, combined with that person’s willingness to be guided and developed by the Spirit of Christ. It is not something which happens overnight.
Before God could entrust Daniel with matters of national importance, he had to be proved trustworthy in smaller matters. When it comes to matters of principle it does not make any difference to God whether they appear large or small, important or insignificant, private or public. The key issue to God is whether they conform to his revealed will.
The foundation of Daniel’s response to life’s spiritual demands were well laid in his formative years, recorded in the first chapter. Let us see how he tackled the problems he encountered and see how the foundation of a godly life was laid. Notice first that Daniel was:
CHOSEN FOR A PURPOSE
Daniel was an Israelite, probably about 18 when the story begins. About the year 606 BC King Nebuchadnezzar of the Chaldean empire invaded Judah. Daniel, together with the cream of society, was deported to the fabulous city of Babylon. He was of the royal line, intelligent and cultured - just the material that Nebuchadnezzar wanted to mould into a courtier that he could use in the administration of his growing empire. But before this could happen he needed training in the language and culture of the Chaldeans.
This is the young man, one of a group earmarked for fast-track promotion in the Chaldean civil service. But from Daniel’s perspective he was a stranger in an alien land, a Jew among Gentiles, a believer in God among pagans. What an experience, to be deported a 1,000 miles, torn from his family, the temple worship in Jerusalem and the ministry of the priests. But it is not unknown for God to use adverse circumstances in the working out of his plans for our spiritual benefit and the advancement of his kingdom.
Character in a person is something which cannot be developed if the circumstances are easy, if conditions are undemanding. There are some interesting facts about the sisal plant from which is made tough sisal twine. The plant grows in Mexico in hard, stony soil. The story goes that some American businessmen visited the area and decided that there might be some good money to be made in growing the crop in richer soil under better growing conditions. So they started a sisal plantation in Florida where the plant found life no longer a struggle for survival and grew to enormous size. The business promised tremendous returns until the time came for reaping. It was then that the leaf from which the vital fibre came for the twine collapsed into a soft pulp. The tough fibre quality was missing. They learned too late that the sisal plant acquired its toughness by its battle with adverse circumstances.
God does not take pleasure in allowing the blasts of adversity to trouble his people. But in his wisdom knows what is necessary in our lives to foster the growth of spiritual character. Let us move on in the story to see how Daniel was:
STRENGTHENED FOR THE TRIAL
Daniel was not alone in his difficult situation, for God had provided him with other kindred spirits. Although the authorities tried to make them identikit Chaldeans, even to the extent of changing their names to wipe out the memory of their Hebrew heritage, they failed to do so. Christian fellowship is a wonderful thing. By oneself it is easier to become discouraged and depressed, but by banding together with other Christians, there is a multiplication of strength - "a three-fold cord is not easily broken" (Eccl 4:12).
Someone who was depressed asked his minister why he should continue going to church. The minister said nothing. He was sitting by the fireside and reaching out for the tongs, pulled out a red hot coal from the open fire and placed it on the side of the hearth, and together they watched what happened. The rest of the fire continued to burn brightly but the separated coal soon lost its glow and before long was black and cold. The minister had no need to give an explanation. Fellowship with God’s people is most important in maintaining our spiritual glow.
Daniel found himself in an alien environment. He was forced to live and work in a heathen community, but yet he demonstrated that it is possible to be in, but not of, the world; to live in an evil society without being contaminated by it. Daniel and his three close friends had made a conscious decision that they were going to follow the example of Joshua, an earlier leader of the Israelites, when he pleaded with his hearers, "Choose you this day whom you will serve, ... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (24:15).