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Sometimes there is something we can do to get out of an uncomfortable situation. But often there is no easy way out, as in the case of, for example, bereavement, financial difficulties or relationship problems. Daniel found himself in precisely one of those no-way-out situations.
Have you ever been in an ongoing situation where you felt really uncomfortable? In one of my jobs I felt unappreciated and disregarded by my boss, not given the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the work of the department. I remember going back to work after one New Year break, sitting at my desk, and saying to God, “I’ve had enough of this; I’m going to look for a new job.” Straightway I heard something like a voice coming from inside me say, “That’s fine, but it’s not my best for you.” The familiarity of the voice and the impact with which it hit me convinced me that it was God.
So I had a choice to make. I had learnt that, although obeying God is often really hard, disobeying him is inevitably much harder in the long term. So I said, somewhat reluctantly, “OK, God, I’ll stay here in this job” - and then felt peace. The upshot was that I applied myself to the job in a way that I had not done before, regardless of discouragements; and 6 months later another job opportunity opened up which was much more suited to me, and I was able to leave with the blessing of my boss - and with a much better attitude.
Sometimes there is something we can do to get out of an uncomfortable situation, as with me and my job. But often there is no easy way out, as in the case of, for example, bereavement, financial difficulties or relationship problems.
Daniel found himself in precisely one of those no-way-out situations. Brought up as one of the privileged nobility in the Judean court at Jerusalem, his world was shattered when his city was invaded by the Babylonians and he and his friends were dragged off to Babylon, to a city and a culture which was totally alien to all that they had experienced up to then. There they were probably castrated and were forced to dress in Babylonian style, speak the Babylonian language and learn pagan - even occult - customs and practices. There was no way out for him. What was he to do?
The answer is rather surprising: he resolved not to eat the royal food and wine, but only to eat vegetables and drink water. Why this? Certainly much of the Babylonian food was unclean to a Jew - but there were far more potentially damaging things which he was having to do, such as learning Babylonian magic and astrology. So why pick on the food? Firstly, he chose something over which he had some power - he had no power over the curriculum which he was being forced to learn, but he could possibly have some power over the food he ate. Secondly, he genuinely believed - and he may well have received revelation from God about this - that sticking to a simple diet would be healthier for him - and the results bore that out.
There are times when God calls us to make a decision to do or not to do something - it may well be something that is not obvious, something that is not in itself wrong. For example, I love football - from the armchair, not on the pitch! - and when I first became a Christian I felt God telling me not to go and watch football matches. There is nothing inherently bad about football, but I think I needed to show God - and myself - that he was more important than football in my life. Several years later I felt a freedom to go back and watch games; and I still do. But I make sure that he always takes first place above football in my life.
Note how Daniel was wise and tactful in the way he approached the issue of changing his diet. The official looking after him was very fearful that he and his friends would look poorly nourished, and that could spell death for him - but Daniel’s suggestion of a trial period was acceptable and proved his point. Wisdom and tact are always useful when God is calling us to be obedient to him. We see that only three of the exiles from Judah joined in with Daniel, but he does not condemn the others who carried on eating the royal food - what is wrong for us is not necessarily wrong for everybody; and even if it is, people are much more likely to be won over by gentleness and persuasion rather than condemnation (see 2 Timothy 2:24-26).
Finally, Daniel’s willingness to stick his neck out for God in this matter laid a foundation for his future career, for we read in the last verse of the chapter that Daniel remained in the royal court until the first year of King Cyrus, a period of 66 years (no early retirement in those days!). Today you are laying foundations for the future of your life, however young or old you may be. When God calls you to give something up, or to take a particular course of action, will you do so willingly, with wisdom and tact, and not looking down on other people who are not taking the same way as you?