Daniel 1:8-21 – Living with integrity when a culture wants to cancel you (pt. 2)

For those of you who don’t know me well, I’ll give you a bit of background about myself. I was a schoolteacher for 30 years (high school AP Physics and Geology, primarily) as well as doing various special assignment types of things for the school (tech support, university liaison, data analyst, etc.). After that I spent 5 years as a software trainer for an oil/gas related company. Now I’m semi-retired and working as an Interpreter for the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko, Nevada.

In 2009 I completed a doctorate in educational leadership. Getting a Ph.D. is not easy, of course, but one particular class held more of a challenge for me than any other. It was not that the material was difficult – probably some of the statistics courses I took were more academically challenging, and of course, writing the dissertation and passing the oral exams were no piece of cake either. The one class that brought me closest to abandoning my work toward this degree was the one on Critical Race Theory. Yes – it was a required course back in 2007.

If you’ve paid much attention to the news lately, the teaching of critical race theory has become a hot political issue, but it has been a part of the educational system for a while. I got an “A” in the course, but it was not a class I enjoyed. Without going into a great amount of detail, I documented some of the online discussions we had and here is one of the exchanges made to me in response to one of the class sessions about the imposition of “culture” on others: “[Christian missionaries] traveled (and still travel) the globe to introduce their dogma but also made the conditions such that people were compelled to accept that culture so in effect the culture was imposed. For example, in China youngsters were (are) orphaned and homeless; the missionaries took them in in exchange for food and shelter perhaps education. Thus the missionaries had a whole new flock of youngsters who gave up their native culture and belief system for another.”

I replied “I feel there is a difference between imposing a culture on people through forced occupation / demands of change and introducing them to a religious worldview. Admittedly, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach this issue, and in the case of Christianity, there have certainly been a plethora of examples of wrong behaviors and approaches throughout its history. Nonetheless, the foundational beliefs of Christianity lie in the Person of Jesus, who said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)”. He also said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15)”. The simultaneous exclusiveness and inclusiveness of these two statements dictates that Christians must “travel the globe to introduce” their beliefs to all people.”

Part of the response I received was “I would never ask anyone to succumb and go away and concurrently ask that we always stand up for what we believe is right! Isn’t that what post-modernism (which I think critical theory is part of) is all about? I understand post modernism to be represented by lack of universal truths and a way to honor all voices and point of views. [my italicized emphasis]”

A significant part of this course was spent in anti-Christian rhetoric, offering up Nietzche and Foucault’s atheistic philosophies as prime examples of good thinking. I remember a missionary who came to our church to speak while I was enrolled in this class. I asked him in a private conversation his advice on whether I should quit the PhD program because of the faith resistance I was feeling. He wisely encouraged me to learn what I needed to to pass the course and finish the degree, while maintaining my Christian integrity and faith. I did that and that leads me to today’s Bible Study.

As mentioned last week, Daniel and his friends were exiled during the Babylonian conquest of Israel and were placed in an education program to instill Babylonian (and anti-God) values in them. Read Daniel 1:8-21 to see how they responded.

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.’ Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

The purpose of this passage is not to present an argument in favor of vegan diets. The emphasis here is on the word defile. “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.” The food was considered defiled because in the Babylonian culture the first portion of the king’s food (as in the Israelite culture) was offered as a sacrifice to their gods. So, for Daniel to partake of the food was to signify being in agreement with the gods to whom it was offered. Paul discussed this same concept 600 years later in 1 Corinthians 8. He pointed out that the food itself is not the problem. The problem lies in appearances: if people see you knowingly eat food sacrificed to idols, then the assumption will be that you agree with the sacrifice and idol worship.

But rather than just rebelling, Daniel gracefully requested a waiver. “Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.’” Note that no discussion of an alternative has occurred yet. Again, the main point of the story to this point is, first, that God is in control, and second, that Daniel has already established his integrity in the eyes of his overseer. The chief of the eunuchs tells Daniel that if Daniel doesn’t comply with the food consumption and is found lacking, the chief’s own reputation and livelihood will be jeopardized. This good relationship with his overseer now enabled Daniel to propose an alternative solution, with the cooperation of the designated representative of the chief.

“Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, ‘Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.’” I had not noticed this before, but it was actually through his good relationship with the chief’s representative that Daniel was able to procure a solution to his moral predicament. The chief was concerned with his own reputation with the king, but Daniel obtained the stewards cooperation in the alternative solution. Daniel and his friends convinced him to give them the alternate diet and then test them to see that they were able to meet the requirements of the king. After confirming that the result would likely meet with the king’s approval the steward allowed Daniel to maintain their conscience and convictions. “So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

The end result was that Daniel and his friends were able to maintain their integrity, remain faithful to God, and succeed in their “secular” situation without compromise. “As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

God blessed their efforts to remain faithful to him – e.g. they got an “A”. As we are faced with a culture that is wanting to cancel us, let us do so with integrity without compromising our convictions. In this particular case, Daniel and his friends received a “promotion” and suffered no apparent ill effects. As we will see in future studies, that was not always the case with them. Nevertheless, we learn from their examples how to live in a hostile world and still keep our faith and our convictions. Sometimes things work out for our benefit, and sometimes they don’t. But regardless of the result, we must stand firm in our faith and let Him worry about the outcome!

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