15 May 2014

Food, Laws, and Captives in Control

One of the reasons I love the book of Daniel is that it is such a profound mixture of what I believe are the two important things to look for when we study the Bible.  One without the other would make either lose its power.

First, Daniel reveals truth in the large sense, theological truth, you might say.  In one little book, we get God's plan for sacred history from Daniel's days in college all the way down to the second coming in astonishing detail.  Daniel's prophecies constantly point us toward that end goal God has been striving toward since the very first sin:  the complete restoration of His good and pleasant kingdom on earth.

And the second one?  Daniel's stories overflow with practical, godly examples and personal advice on how I can be a better Christian and have vibrant faith no matter what I'm facing.  Right now, today.  Which, step by step, day by day, keeps me striving right along with God Himself for His end goal.  It's an awesome thing to be part of, no?

The book opens with one of the shortest war stories I've ever read:  the king of Babylon comes against the king of Jerusalem, wins because God lets him, and takes captive some of God's people and some holy things out of God's temple.  Off to Babylon they go.

Daniel and his friends perhaps stood in long lines as they got settled into their new home.  College orientations can be that way.  But theirs was different.  They're attending college in a new country.  They'll be learning a new language.  For a lot of students today, that would be the biggest of dreams come true.

But for these guys?  The word "captive" doesn't score high on anybody's list top fifteen hundred career goals.  Yet it's a word that defines them for years to come, the rest of their lives, in fact, through multiple kings and governments.   

Those captives of Judah...

They didn't choose the label, but it was there and it was true nonetheless.  They were captives, and there wasn't anything they could do about it.

Nothing, that is, unless they could be taken captive by Someone Else.

That first problem came up almost immediately:  food.  The king provided generously for their nourishment, but eating the food on his table broke God's laws.  Daniel and his friends made no excuses, but they did make a brash request.  The prince of the eunuchs denied the request on the grounds that granting it would cost his life.

Pretend for a second you haven't heard this story a million times.  Think for a moment about what Daniel could have said:

We'd hate to put your life in danger.  We're sorry we even brought this up.
We can make do with what's in front of us.  We'd hate to be the cause of your death.
We promise we won't tell anyone.  The king will never know.

Instead, Daniel simply negotiated further--not the typical behavior of a captive!  He's bold, he's calm, he's taking the reigns from his captors and gaining the upper hand.

Test us for ten days.  We'll be healthier at the end, and it will show everyone, including the king if he should want to know, that God's law and His ways are best.

His reply sets them up to be a public witness no matter how far and wide the story might travel.  They have no secrets to keep, no lies to tell, and no hint of fear that keeping God's law will cause another person's harm or death.

Because God's laws were designed to protect and enrich life, not destroy it, designed for everybody everywhere, nor just one people group in one small Middle Eastern country.

Of course, we do know how the story turns out, how the young men are healthier after just ten days than all the other students, likely including other Hebrew captives whose health visibly deteriorated while they ate the king's food and drank his wine during the ten days of Daniel's test.  We know how at the end of their college course, they came out far ahead of not only their own class but also all the other wise men in the kingdom.

Talk about a captivity turned around in their favor.  You know why?

Their bonds to God directed every choice they made.  They didn't buck Nebuchadnezzar's system just to see if they could, or to prove their independence, or merely to test the limits of their prisoner of war status.

They rebelled against only those things that would force them to break God's law, and in claiming their moral freedom trusted themselves entirely to His protection.  They obeyed by faith and thereby obtained His promised blessings. They didn't break one command in order to keep another.  For them, it was all or nothing.

Their story illustrates how far-reaching and binding God's law really is through all time, and sets it on a high level of honor.

That's true even if we might happen to find ourselves in situations that feel completely out of control, whether in a literal prison or whether it's simply a job or a boss that introduces "little" compromises.

And their story injects courage straight into my veins, right now, today.

Like them, I don't have to feel captive to circumstances, backed into a corner where there's no way out but to break God's law or sacrifice my principles.  It's so easy to feel that way, though, isn't it?  We worry about what people think, whether we'll be able to find and keep a job, whether someone else will get hurt if we take the stand we know we know we need to take.

Daniel and his friends didn't worry about those things.  I suppose you could say they had nothing left to lose, except their lives (and we'll get to those stories soon!).  Yet they trusted.  They obeyed.  And eventually they stood in the king's court, their influence extending over the largest kingdom of the earth.

I don't believe for a second they did any of that in their own strength or in their own wisdom, and I don't have to either.  They simply chose to be faithful, and the Bible says "...God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom..." (See Daniel 1:17).

The same One who provided for all their needs promised to provide for all yours, too.  Let's trust Him more today.  

Shall we even get brave and ask Him to let us know if there's an area of our lives that isn't matching up with His ways of doing things?  Even if we end up needing to make some changes in our lives, on the other side of those changes God only has more amazing things for us to be, do, and enjoy--for His glory.

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