Summary: Daniel and his friends were strangers in a strange land and were surrounded by paganism. How did they deal with standing up for God in that setting, and how can we stand up for God in an increasingly offensive world?
I read the true story about a wife who liked to make sure she had meals ready to cook. She made “freezer meals” ahead of time and carefully noted what they were in large clear letters. There was "Meatloaf", "Pot Roast", "Steak and Vegetables”, "Chicken and Dumplings" or "Beef Pot Pie." But whenever she asked her husband what he wanted for dinner he didn’t asked for those things So, she said she decided to stock the freezer with things he really liked. Now, if you look in her freezer, you'll see a whole new set of labels. You'll find dinners with neat, legible tags that say:
"I Don't Know"
"I Don't Care"
or just "Food."
Now, whenever she asks him what he wants for dinner, she gives him what he asks for.
There’s an old saying that goes: You are what you eat. In our text this morning we have a story of 4 young men knew what they wanted to eat – and they didn’t want Pot Pie, or Meatloaf or Chicken & Dumplings. These boys insisted on having their vegetables.
But before we get to that… let’s talk about who these guys were. Their names were: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and they were Judeans. They’d been carried off into captivity by Babylon. Their parents were probably dead, and they’re unlikely to ever see their homes again. Now they find themselves captives in foreign land with little chance of escape.
But these boys are different. According to our text they were apparently men of noble birth. They were good looking, intelligent and had fairly good judgment (kind of like me), and because of all that, they had been chosen to be trained to serve in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.
But now… there appears to be a problem. They don’t want to eat what’s set on the table in front of them. There’s something wrong with the food they’re being given.
But why don’t they want to eat this food? What’s wrong? Well they don’t want to eat it because they were paying attention in Sunday School. They were listening when the preacher got up in the pulpit. They had paid attention and they believed what they’d heard.
ILLUS: There’s an old story about a rabbi discussing God's Word with his young student:
Rabbi: Do you know the phrase, 'Thus have I heard?'
Student said: Oh, yes, that is found throughout the scriptures.
Rabbi: Well my son… what have you heard?
Well these 4 boys - Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah had heard – and they’d heard enough to know that they ought not to be eating what the Babylonians were serving.
But that still leaves the question: what was wrong with that food? My 1st thought was that the food was unclean. Leviticus 11 gives us a really long list of foods that Israelites weren’t supposed to eat - there were certain kinds of fish, mammals and even insects they couldn’t eat, but the most famous item on that list was pig meat.
But then, as I reread the text something didn’t seem right. These boys didn’t want ANY of the meat at all… all they were wanted was salad. You’d have thought that there should have been some meats that would have been acceptable. You’d have thought there’d at least have been something on the “clean list” they could have eaten. But they rejected EVERYTHING on the table. So I began looking for a better answer to question – and I found that answer in a commentary I came across. John Gill (and 19th century theologian) said: “… though it might be food in itself lawful to be eaten, yet part of it being first offered to their idol "Bel," as was usual, and the whole blessed in his name, it would have been against (Daniel’s) conscience, and a defiling of that, to eat of things offered to, or blessed in the name of, an idol.”
In other words, all the foods Daniel and his friends had been asked to eat had been dedicated to a pagan god and had been sacrificed to honor him. That was enough to make Daniel say “I’m not eating that.”
Now that made sense. The worship of pagan gods was so much a part of Babylonian society that they even renamed these Jewish boys to honor those gods. Daniel – was renamed BELTESHAZZAR or “Bel’s treasurer”. Bel was the chief idol of the Babylonians. Hananiah was called SHADRACH – the “rach” ending stood for their Sun God. Mishael was called MESHACH, - the name of one of another of their gods. And Azariah he called ABEDNEGO - "a servant, or worshiper of Nego" (another god of the Babylonians).
So, Daniel and his friends had a problem. They were strangers in a strange land. They weren’t in Judah any longer and the Temple wasn’t just up the street. This was a pagan land filled with pagan practices and there was no way they’d be able to get away from it.