4 - Success in a Pagan World
RDean/Daniel Lesson 4
Success in a Pagan World – Daniel 1:8-16
Open your Bibles to Daniel 1:8; we continue our study in the book of Daniel. By way of review we realize that what has happened to Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, is that they have been taken as captives to Babylon. They are probably 14 years of age; this seemed to be, according to Plato, according to several other ancient sources this was the standard age that the Persians started the training of young men for future government service and it seems likely that that's about the time the Babylonians did as well. So they are young men, they don't have much experience under their belt in terms of life, other than the fact that they have seen their hometown surrounded by the enemy forces and they have been taken as hostages to secure the obedience of their king, who is a relative of theirs, back in Jerusalem. And they have been taken to Babylon and now they're going to be taken through an enforced training situation.
Babylon, as we have studied, always represents in Scripture the highest and best of man's efforts. Babel goes all the way back to the tower of Babel in Genesis 10. Babel was established, a tower was established there, it was a city that was set against God. So there's always this conflict in the Scripture between Babylon on the one hand, representing man's best, man's efforts to solve his problems on his own, man's best to establish a civilization or a culture that is totally independent of God and to erect a structure that completely excludes God and tries to prevent God from interfering with man's life. That's the general thrust and bent of man's sin nature, the sin nature does not want divine interference. We just don't want God to really talk too much about our life; we want to do it the way we want to do it, live life on our own terms.
Babylon represents the kingdom of man which is the larger dimension of human autonomy. We have reviewed the characteristics of the kingdom of man and the kingdom of man is always grounded upon a thought system and that thought system in the Scripture is called worldliness. It's from the Greek word kosmos, from which we get our word cosmetics and has to do with the orderly system of thinking. There are various systems of thinking that Satan promotes in the cosmic system, all of which are similar in two regards; one is they're based on arrogance, the idea that man is independent of God, and secondly they're based on an antagonism to God. Now what happens is whenever we are immersed in any kind of pagan system we are always going to come up against systems that attack us from those two directions: arrogance, the idea that man can solve all of our problems, we don't need divine interference, we don't need divine help, man, after all, is the measure of all things. That's the standard line from humanism.
The second attack is antagonism; there's always going to be a hatred, an antagonism, an assault on any believer who is trying to take a stand for the Word of God, because the world does not want that testimony, they do not want to have to deal with this witness that there is a God and that God's way is the only way. Around here we call cosmic thinking also human viewpoint thinking and the Scripture identifies it as the thinking of demons. So when we think of any kind of humanistic system of thought it is ultimately called the doctrine of demons. And the thing that Daniel and his friends face is they are taken as captives to Babylon; they are in an environment that is almost unequaled in human history for opposition to doctrine, opposition to the truth, opposition to God, and they are going to be in some of the greatest pressure situations ever known to anyone in human history. None of us, probably, will ever face the kind of hostility, the kind of rejection, and the potential punishment for taking a stand for God that these men faced. And yet as young men, 13-14 years of age, they drew upon the spiritual resources of doctrine in their soul that enabled them to take a stand against this great power structure in which they found themselves.
We see that as they were immersed in this power structure that there was an attempt by the administration of Babylon to force them to conform to Babylonian thought in every and all practices, and including the religion. And one of the ways that was done was through renaming them. We saw in Daniel 1:6-7 how these men were renamed. All of their names originally had a testimony to God in them; there was something about their name that indicated that God, Yahweh, or El, another term, the general term for God, the generic term for God in Hebrew, that God was their protector. Their names witnessed their relationship to God. And so their names were changed and they all included either a prefix or suffix of some Babylonian deity, indicating that now they were under the protection of Babylonians gods because obviously their God failed to protect them, so they were now captives and they were going to be protected by the gods of Babylon.
This is one of the reasons that God so blesses these four men in this time, because God is going to demonstrate through Daniel, through Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that He has not been defeated, that indeed He is still the sovereign God of history and He is the One who has allowed the Babylonians to defeat Israel. But Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah are faced with a personal crisis, one that every one of us faces, and that is when do we fight the world system. When do we fight the satanic system around us and when do we just sort of go along. We can't fight everything, at every point we're at opposition with human viewpoint; we can't battle everything, we don't have the resources, we don't have the time, we have to be able to pick and choose our battles, and the battle that they chose was a battle over their diet.
Now as we're going to see, the reason they chose that is because there are specific commands in the Old Testament for their diet; they're not just picking something that is a theological principle, they're not just picking something that is some abstract deduction that is probably true, they're picking a very clear issue in Scripture that they're being called upon to compromise. That's an important lesson to learn. We have to pick our battles and we're going to see how they handled this confrontation as we go through these verses beginning in verse 8.
Daniel 1:8, "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.  Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials;" Now what has taken place is back in Daniel 1:5, "And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king's delicacies," this is the problem. The king himself is taking care of their diet. Among the diet there were a variety of animals; some of these animals were going to be clean, some of these animals would be unclean according to the Mosaic Law, and they could not eat the unclean animals without it ceremonially defiling them. Now we have to remember that they're not in Jerusalem, they're not going to be going into the temple, so it would not be a factor for them in terms of their daily spiritual life and worship in the temple. Nevertheless, it does affect their relationship with God so they're going to make an issue out of it.
Back in Daniel 1:5 we read that, "the king appointed for them a daily provision," and that's an interesting word in the Hebrew, it's the word pathbag and it comes from an old Persian word, patabaga, which means a portion or assignment and the only reason I point it out is because once again I indicates something about the date of Daniel, that it's an old Persian word that only someone living at the time of Daniel would be familiar with. Liberals come along and try to late date Daniel; they try to date it into the 1st century or 2nd century BC because liberals don't like the idea that God's actually involved in human history and can forecast the future accurately. So on that assumption they have rejected the idea that there's real prophecy in Daniel and therefore it couldn't have been written in 537 or 538 BC because then it's filled with prophecy and that actually gives testimony to the reality and existence of God. So instead they late date it so that instead of writing prophecy it would just be writing history. But no one in 150 or even 200 BC would be familiar with old Persian words; the language was a dead language by that time. So once again, the vocabulary of Daniel sustains the position that this is a work done in the 6th century BC.
We start off by seeing that "Daniel made up his mind," now the Hebrew does not say "made up his mind." It's a phrase that's a compound of two words, first the Hebrew word suwm, which means to put, to place, to set or to appoint, plus the noun leb, for heart. So literally it reads "Daniel set his heart," now in everyday English idiom we have a tendency to try to make "heart" mean emotion. That is not how the Bible uses the word "heart." Let's use the equivalent Greek words to set up our diagram. The mentality of the soul is comprised of two compartments, one inside the other, like concentric circles. The one, the innermost, is called the heart, the kardia in the Greek, or leb in the Hebrew. The outer part of the mind is the nous. Now the kardia is the inner most recesses of our thinking, the core of our beliefs, that which tends to control our actions, our deepest convictions.
What happens is in the New Testament Church Age period the pastor-teacher communicates doctrine; because every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and if you're in fellowship you're filled by means of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit functions to make that doctrine understandable. He does not understand it for us. He makes it understandable but we still have to exercise our little gray cells and we have to pay attention to what is being taught and then we have to think about it. The Bible calls that meditation, we think about what is being taught, you just write it down in your notebook and go home and think about it the next time you come to Bible class The Holy Spirit makes it understandable and we use our thinking to understand it. Once we understand it then the issue becomes whether we accept it; we either believe it or we don't believe it. You cannot believe something you don't understand. You might have heard something 150 times and think you understand it but just because you can repeat the words back doesn't mean you understand it.
I can't tell you how many times I have gone through subjects with the Scripture time and time again, taught things I was taught when I was younger, taught when I was in seminary and all of a sudden one day I'm reading another passage and all of a sudden I put two and two together and come to realize what this is really talking about, and no longer am I just teaching something that I was taught, teaching something that I had read many times but I finally come to understand what this really means in all of its relationships and all of its implications. Too often we confuse the fact that we can understand the words the pastor uses, we confuse the fact that we can repeat what he said to someone else without actually understand the concepts involved. So we have to first understand it and only then can we believe it or reject that. Once we do that, if we believe it, God the Holy Spirit then stores it into the innermost recesses of our thinking. Before that it is simply what the New Testament calls gnosis, or academic knowledge. Everything has to be academic knowledge before it's applied knowledge. I remember when I was Junior High School, before we ever got behind the wheel of a car we had a classroom session for auto mechanics, we had to learn about a car operated, that was just academic knowledge, no applied knowledge yet, that didn't come until the next semester. Everything starts first with academic knowledge and then goes to applied knowledge. You can't skip over the academics. That's what happens too often in churches today because people are too shallow in their understanding of the learning process. Oh pastor, that was too academic last night, I want to hear something that's practical; you know, that just doesn't relate to my problems. Well, if you really stick with it eventually you'll understand what the dynamics are.
It has to be academic knowledge first and then when we believe it the Holy Spirit stores it in our soul as epignosis or full knowledge, and then He recalls it to our thinking at the proper times and we can apply it. That too is done under the principle of walking by means of God the Holy Spirit and that is the application of doctrine, what the Old Testament calls wisdom or chakmah, and it is the application of doctrine and God the Holy Spirit then uses that applied doctrine to strengthen our souls. That's what we talk about when we talk about building the soul fortress, that's that edification that the New Testament talks about. And it strengthens our souls and builds a structure and that structure is our protection when we're in adversity.
And so we see that even by the young age of 13 or 14 Daniel and his three friends have all built this soul fortress on the Old Testament principles so that they are operating within that framework during their entire time living in a foreign power and operating under the pressure that is brought against them, both by peers and by those who had been their enemy. And because they are able to apply doctrine inside the structure of the soul fortress, then they are able to withstand the pressure, they are able to relax, they're able to make wise decisions from a position of strength.
It's interesting as you look at Daniel and what we learn in the Scripture about Daniel and his friends, Daniel is one of only two people in the Old Testament where we're not told anything about their carnality. Joseph is the other one, the only thing negative said about Joseph is that he was a little impatient when he tried to jump the gun to get one of the other men who was in jail to with to remind the Pharaoh that he was in jail and to get him early; he wasn't going to relax and wait for God's timing, he wanted to hurry things up a little bit. That's the only thing negative we know of Joseph and we don't know of anything negative about Daniel. God is trying to show some things about how doctrine has allowed these men, Joseph and Daniel were very similar, that it is doctrine that allows these men, both operating in extreme pagan environments, operating in situations where there's tremendous hostility to the Word of God, where everything that goes on in those cultures was dominated by a false religious system. Idolatry was rampant, there were all kinds of sacrifices, worship of the phallic cult, fertility religions, everything that you can possibly think of was going on in those cultures and there was pressure, because these men were in government positions, there was pressure from coworkers, there was pressure from the highest executive power in the land to conform, and yet they took their stand because they had learned the Word of God and it provided them with the strength to withstand that pressure.
And we see the key in this first phrase, "Daniel made up his mind," he "set his heart," this refers to volition; volition is the issue in the Christian life, it emphasizes our personal responsibility, that we're accountable for the decisions that we make. God has provided us with the most incredible salvation that we could ever imagine. It is ours free of charge, Jesus Christ paid the price, we don't. Along with that salvation, at the instant of faith alone in Christ alone, we are told that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing. That means that we are given an incredible array of spiritual assets so that we can face and handle any situation, any problem in life. Whatever the pressure is, the Word of God tells us how to handle it and how to face it. But those assets are only activated by our volition.
It starts with out decision to make the Word of God the highest priority in our life and then it goes on by exercising our volition to stay filled with the Spirit, to walk by means of the Spirit, and to apply doctrine. We realize that failure to do so means self-induced misery, that problems will pile upon problems and begat even more problems. We realize that as we go through the path of carnality we will develop an inability to accurately understand and evaluate the situations in our lives and discern what's really going on because we don't understand what's really happening and what the issues are in decision, we'll start to make bad decisions. Because we're dominated by the sin nature we're going to make bad decisions from a position of weakness and the only solution is the Word of God. What we have to do to recover from that is to use 1 John 1:9 and to confess our sins, and we're instantly forgiven and we're restored, the filling of the Holy Spirit, we recover fellowship with God, and that means we're back inside that soul fortress, back inside that protected environment where we can apply doctrine.
"Daniel set his heart," that's more than just making a decision today, then tomorrow you forget about it. It means he thought about it deeply and profoundly and that he made a commitment that was irreversible. We see the same kind of thing in Ezra 7; Ezra was a priest that was involved in the return of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity. Daniel is at the beginning of the Babylonian captivity and he lives through that entire period; Daniel probably did not die till 536-535 BC, maybe even 534, we don't know. We know that he lived as long as about 537 BC. Ezra wrote around the time of the rebuilding of the temple which was about 516 BC, so that's some 20 years after Daniel died. Ezra was born a captive in Babylon, so it's easy to assume that he probably sat in one of Daniel's Bible classes when Daniel was an old man, and if he didn't know Daniel personally, he at least was familiar with who Daniel was. I doubt there was a Jew in captivity in Babylon who didn't know who Daniel was and hadn't been impressed with Daniel's behavior and Daniel's testimony. He would have been completely familiar with Daniel's decision making and he would have been familiar with what Daniel had written and he would have been familiar with Daniel's decision here in Daniel 1:8.
So Ezra did the same thing, Ezra 7:10, "Ezra had set his heart," he made a decision, he committed himself to a course of action. The idea of setting your heart, it's not making an emotional decision, it's not being swayed by the fact that somebody else did this and oh, wouldn't it be great to be like them so you make that decision and the next day, as soon as you get a little test on that decision, you easily break down. This is a firm commitment; it's something that has been well thought out. It is not just an off-the-cuff decision. So it's not based on sentimentality; it's not based on the enthusiasm of his friends, but it is based on something that they have thought out. So "Ezra set his heart" to do three things; first, "to study the law of the LORD," that shows what his priority was, he made doctrine the number one priority in his life. He recognized that doctrine was truth, the Word of God was truth and no matter what else he did, if he didn't base his life on truth everything would be useless. So he started with the priority of the Word of God. "He set his heart," he made up his mind and set his course "to study the Law of the Lord, and then to practice it," it wasn't just academic learning, he wasn't just out to satisfy intellectual curiosity, he wasn't just going to cram his notebook full of notes about the Bible but he was going to learn it for the purpose of applying it, it was going to revolutionize his thinking, revolutionize his life. Ezra set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to practice it," and then third, "and to teach it" because that was his role as a priest, to communicate the Word of God to people and to teach it.
The first time I ran across this verse I think I was a senior in college and I read this verse and realized that if I was going to go into the pastorate that this had to be sort of a motto for my life and I think that anyone who has an inclination for going into the pastoral ministry needs to read Ezra 7:10 and make this a motto for their life. This means that if you're going into a teaching ministry it has to dominate everything; everything else takes second place to the preparation necessary to become a teacher of the Word of God.
Now Daniel understood this as well in terms of his role and so he made a decision, an irreversible decision to set his course, "not to defile himself," "he made up his mind that he would not defile himself," that comes from the Hebrew word ga'al, it's in the hithpael stem which is usually the causative stem. So he was not going to do anything that would cause himself to be defiled. The word ga'al is a homonym; a homonym is a word that is spelled the same but they have different meanings, there is another Hebrew word, ga'al which means to redeem, but that's not this word; this word, again it indicates the Aramaic background of Daniel. I said in the introduction that much of Daniel was written in Aramaic, so this is an Aramaic loan word that came into Hebrew and it means to defile and it refers to either moral defilement or ceremonial defilement.
Now this is the issue here related to the dietary law, is that by eating something forbidden in the Mosaic Law, and those stipulations are spelled out in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14:3:20, then if you eat that food then you are ceremonially unclean. It doesn't mean that that was a sin but that God was using those dietary laws and those other laws to demonstrate that sin affected every area of man's life. Usually the animals, the foods that were forbidden were related to animals that were scavengers, touched dead bodies; it had something to do with death. Death was the penalty for sin and therefore if you touched anything related to death it was symbolic of being related to sin, that indicated a breaking of fellowship with God. So Daniel had made a decision that he was not going to defile himself. We might apply that today, he made a decision to walk by the Holy Spirit and he was going to do everything he possibly could not to sin. Now that's not possible but he was going to give it his maximum effort to stay in fellowship. He was not going to do anything that would cause a disruption in his fellowship with God.
Now notice, this is a 14 year old boy; this is not somebody who has been to seminary, this is not somebody who is making their life work some professional Christian ministry. This is a young man, that in fact, because of his dedication to the Lord, because he's focused on doctrine which is going to give him the real wisdom he's going to need to be successful in life, he's going to rise to not only the second highest position in the Babylonian Empire, but after that Empire is defeated by the Persians he'll become the second highest person in the Persian Empire. That kind of success can only come, lived out the way Daniel did, because of his understanding of doctrine. I don't know of another instance in all of history where any individual has been in a high position of authority in one kingdom and then when the conquerors come in and destroy that kingdom, elevate that individual to the same position in their kingdom. That shows how remarkable an individual Daniel was.
But nevertheless, don't put him on a pedestal, Daniel has a sin nature just like you do and just like I do; he's not tempted any less than we are, he's not deity like Jesus Christ was, he is a man of like nature just like we are, and the issue is that he made a decision, he made a commitment and it was no easier for him than it is for us but he made that decision. "He purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies nor with the wine which he drank," and the reason was because the food items were first dedicated to the gods in the Babylonian pantheon. That was the standard operating procedure. What they would do is they would take the food down to the temple the food to the gods so that the gods would bless it and everybody wanted the blessings of the gods, that the gods would protect them if they ate the right food, and so of course Nebuchadnezzar, as the king, made sure that all of his food was blessed by the gods, so if you ate the food you were in effect validating the entire religious system of the Babylonians, and the last thing that Daniel and the others wanted to was validate the pagan thinking of that culture.
So there was two problems; one is by eating the food it would make them ceremonially unclean and two, by eating the food it would compromise their testimony and it would compromise their devotion to God and make it seem as if they were validating the paganism of the culture around them, so they were picking their battles.
Now this was not an easy decision for these men to make. First of all, this was a personal order from the king, and everything we know about Daniel and the other is that they were brought up to respect authority, they seemed to be very polite, they're well-mannered, the way they approach every situation shows that they had tremendous respect for those in power, they're not antagonistic, they're not rebellious, they're not being confrontational but they are very concerned with doing what is right. So their tendency, because of their training, would be to obey the authority and this was a personal order from the king, and along with that, in Oriental cultures at that time if you disobeyed the king was usually death. So there was a certain amount of pressure on making a decision like this.
Secondly, the pressure from their peers and the other authorities, the man who was over all of the training for these young men and all of his assistants, those men would have put a tremendous amount of pressure on them because they knew that it would affect their job as well, if they didn't eat right, if they lost weight or if they lost in strength, didn't perform well, then that would reflect poorly on them and they might not only lose their job but lose their lives. So there was pressure, not only from the other young Jewish boys there who apparently none of the others took a stand like they did, all of the others were willing to compromise, after all, they were using those rationalizations we all use, that everyone else is eating the king's food so that must make it okay, after all, God's really deserted us, He let us be taken captive so why should we honor God, He hasn't honored us. Furthermore they could rationalize, well, we're not in Jerusalem, our family won't see us, we're not going to be going to the temple anyway, so what effect does it have, let's just go ahead and compromise and of course if we don't go along with this it may affect our eventual position, it may affect our career and we'll be known as troublemakers so let's just go along, don't make waves, we're in the enemy's country, let's just take it as easy we can. So there would be pressure from their peers to perform as well as from the authorities that were placed over them. So they would daily face ridicule, contempt, insults from those around them.
Last but not least is the food that they were turning down was the best food in the land. The king had probably much beyond what we would consider to be a five star restaurant; he had the best chefs in the land, the best food in the land, and so these men were going to be eating the very best food and drinking the very best wine available in the ancient world, on a daily basis. So with all those delicacies in front of them you can imagine that when faced with that, eating all those various foods versus just a vegetarian died of vegetables and grains and bread that there would be a tremendous temptation to want to eat the delicacies put before them. So it wasn't an easy decision. Nevertheless, they made up their mind to not defile themselves by not eating the king's choice food.
Daniel 1:9, "Now God granted Daniel favor," notice, Daniel makes a decision and then God is the One who is working to bring about the fruits of that decision. Daniel doesn't cause this, God causes it. Daniel makes the right decision and then God moves to support that decision. "God granted," the Hebrew word there is nathan, which is the word for to give, to grant, to bestow, and it always reminds us of God's grace. It's never earned, it is freely given. As we have studied so many times, God does not bestow blessings because of what we do; God bestows blessings at the point of salvation and He doesn't distribute them until we've demonstrated the maturity to handle it. Daniel, and these three men, by the decisions they're making demonstrate that they are mature enough to handle the responsibilities that God is going to give them so God moves to grant "favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials." The word for "favor" is the word chesed, loyalty.
Notice this, the servant, the man who is placed in charge of the men, Ashpenaz who is the master of the eunuchs or the master of court officials really is how it should be understood, that he looks favorably on these young men. He looks favorably upon them because they're not troublemakers, they didn't approach the problem like a troublemaker, they don't challenge his authority when they question the matter of the diet. They are going to be polite, they are going to be well-mannered, they are going to show respect. This is very important. They have authority orientation; you can't get anywhere in life without recognizing the principle of authority and respect for authority. So because of that, because of the way these young men, these boys, handled the problem, because they went to the leader, they went to those over them with respect, with deference, they did it in a way that showed that they weren't being rebellious, it indicated that they were loyal to those men over them. And in return the men over them were loyal to them.
See, that's a principle of leadership, whether you're a leader in the home, a leader at work, whether you have employees under, no matter what position you're in, if you're in any kind of leadership position, loyalty works both ways; it flows up and it flows down. Not only should you expect the people under you to be loyal to you but you need to be loyal to them, and "God granted favor," it's chesed which means loyalty and love and faithfulness, so that here Ashpenaz, who is the master of the court officials, has developed a liking for Daniel and these men and he's loyal to them because of the way they're handling the situation. They're not trying to make him look bad, they're not going to put him in a bad light, and they've shown tremendous respect for him.
The second word that we find here is that they have found "favor and compassion," from the Hebrew word rechemim, the "im" is a plural of intensity, and it comes from the literal word for bowels and it indicates compassion, it's a Hebrew idiom for compassion or sympathy. So God works behind the scenes to cause Ashpenaz to look with favor and compassion upon these men and look favorably upon their request. But he has a problem, Daniel 1:10, the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, "the commander of the officials," he hasn't been emasculated, that the term eunuch had become a technical term for the bureaucrats serving in the administration of the king, "the chief of the eunuchs," or "the chief administrator said to Daniel, I fear my lord the king," he's afraid of Nebuchadnezzar, there's a death penalty for violating the king's mandate, "I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king."
See, he's got a problem, he wants to grant their request but he knows that if it doesn't work out that it's head on the chopping block. But then in Daniel 1:11, "But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah," now notice, in verse 11 there's a time gap. The New King James translates this "the steward," the Hebrew word is melzar, it's the overseer, this is a person who is second or third in command, who is specifically responsible for the oversight or the education of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. So apparently some time went by. First of all, here's the strategy. He goes to Ashpenaz, makes the request; Ashpenaz says Daniel, I'd really like to do it, what happens if you become weak, what happens if it doesn't work out, what happens if you don't perform as well as the other men then my head's on the chopping block. He probably prayed about it because we know from Daniel's life later on that was a major factor in Daniel's life; three times a day he prayed. So he goes back, he prays about it, he thinks about it and now he approaches the man who's directly over them with a solution. Let's try to solve the problem, what's a workable solution here. And he said why don't we give it a little test.
Daniel 1:12, "Test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink." Then in verse 13 he says, "Then let our appearance be observed in your presence," let's have a little pragmatic examination here, after ten days we'll see if works out, 'Then let our appearance be observed in your presence, and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king's choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see." See, you make the decision, let's have a little test, when ten days are up then you evaluate and you make the decision.
Daniel 1:14, "So he" that is the melzar, the steward, "listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days." So for ten days they were on a diet of vegetables, grains, breads and water. Verse 15, "And at the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king's choice food." Now let me tell you, that's a miracle. Any of you who have been on a diet where you've been on a low fat diet or low carb diet know that if you're eating just vegetables and water and grains and bread that you're going to be losing weight. But what happened at the end of this period is they gained weight, they're in better shape than the other men in the group, and this impressed the steward who was over them.
Daniel 1:16 concludes, "So the steward took away their portion of delicacies, and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables." Probably on a day to day basis, if at any moment over the next three years if he had seen them getting weak or a failure on their part he would have restored the diet, but what they did was they had appealed to him, they had a test and they demonstrated that their way was better.
Now there are some principles that we can learn from this about how to pick our battles and how to confront the human viewpoint system around us. First of all, carefully choose your battle. You can't fight everything; don't waste your energies fighting against things that are non-essential or not crucial. Carefully choose your battle; they're picking a key battle. Remember, they're given names from the pantheon of Babylonian deities, they don't challenge that. They're being forced to go through an education system where they're going to be taught all kinds of concepts from their pagan version of evolution to astrology, divination, necromancy, all kinds of other things that were being taught as part of the curriculum in Babylon. They don't fight that, they don't challenge the teachers. Remember in any classroom you're in if a teacher is teaching something you don't agree with, if you're in a biology classroom and they're teaching evolution… you need to communicate this to your kids, if you're in a history class and they're teaching liberal views of history, they're teaching Marxism or socialism, your job is to make the grade and pass the course; your job is not to straighten out the professor. So what you do is you keep your mouth shut, unless you get an opportunity under the principle of Biblical wisdom to say something, but generally you keep your mouth shut, you don't challenge their authority, you don't challenge the teacher's position, you learn what they want you to learn, and you use it as an opportunity to understand how the human viewpoint system works, thinks and operates so that you can use them against it later on. But you don't challenge them in the classroom, you just learn what they want you to learn and regurgitate it. Carefully choose your battles, don't fight on something that you're not going to win and it's not a key issue.
Second, operate on humility and authority orientation. Always be polite, always be well-mannered, don't be sarcastic, don't be rude, don't challenge the person's authority over you. Learn how to do it in a respectful manner.
Third, anticipate possible answers. In a classroom situation in school that may mean go out and investigate, do some research as to what the alternatives might be. Anticipate possible answers and determine your counter moves. That's what Daniel did, he went home, he thought about it, he had an answer; it was "maybe." Now he eventually got the answer of "yes, we'll go along with your plan." Later on in Daniel he's going to be told "no" and we're going to see how he handles that, but here he anticipates a possible answer, gets the answer "maybe," he looks at what his options are and develops a countermove, and a counter suggestion which appeals….
This is the fourth point, because he knows his opponent he understands the dynamics of the pagan system, he can't appeal to them on the basis of spiritual values, notice he doesn't go "well the Word of God tells me that I have to eat a certain way so because of that you need to line up with what the Bible says." He doesn't approach it that way. He approaches it on a value that is inherent within the pagan system, and the pagan value system is success, and the pagan value system is pragmatism. So Daniel appeals to them on the basis of the values in their system and says okay, let's see what's going to work. That's because he knows his opponent, he understands the dynamics of the human viewpoint system he's confronting and he appeals to their value system. Now he's not compromising himself; this isn't the same thing as when you're witnessing you don't want to go over and assume their position. He's not doing that. He's appealing to them on the basis of his own value system, let's try it out, you'll see that it works.
Point number five, an explanation of the problem can be an opportunity to witness. You don't have to, sometimes if you bring in spiritual things you're just going to aggravate the situation but obviously Daniel, when he explained the situation to him he went to the chief of the eunuchs back in verse 8 and said, he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself," he explained the situation to them. That gave Daniel an opportunity to witness and over the subsequent years their stand for the truth of God's Word and the reality of the existence of the God of Israel became known throughout all of Babylon. And that just increased their witness and their testimony. So an explanation of the problem can be an opportunity to witness but that doesn't mean that you want to go up and slap the professor or whoever the person is, your boss, or whoever, with the Bible. I'm using an academic situation because that's what we have here but the same thing can happen with your employer or the company you work for. They have certain policies mandated by a pagan government system, policies that run counter to divine institution principles of human government, of family, many things that you may think are not in line with the Scripture. So you have to implement those policies. And you have to learn to do that with wisdom and without compromising your own understanding of Scripture. Sometimes you can't do that and that means you have go look for another job. Sometimes you can do it; sometimes you're going to have to appeal to your boss on a basis that appeals to him in order to avoid that compromising your own position.
Daniel 1:15 says, "And at the end of ten days their appearance was better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king's choice food.  So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables." And then the result is given in verse 17, "And as for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom," now this doesn't mean they sailed through their courses with a 4.0 average and never cracked a book or did their homework. That's not what it's saying. See, they had to go home and they had to do their homework and they had to learn and they had to cram and they had to study, and they had to work hard, but then God blessed those efforts, so that they not only made the grade but they came out number one, two, three and four in their class. They were ahead of everybody else. God was the One who saw to that, He helped them understand what they were studying and He helped them apply it. The word "knowledge" here just refers to basic knowledge; it's translated "science" earlier in this section, the scientific discipline of that day.
"…knowledge and intelligence," and "intelligence" here is from the Hebrew word sekel which has to do with the mental activity related to knowledge. Knowledge was just learning the facts, learning the data, learning the information but then they had to put that information together, they had to correlate, they had to be able to then apply it in real life situations. They had to be able to develop skill with that information, they had to be able to make good decisions and they had to be able to demonstrate discernment, they had to be able to think critically. By thinking critically I don't mean that they were critical but they were able to evaluate all of the options and come up with creative and innovative solutions to problems.
So we're told that "God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom," the branch of literature there refers to the Hebrew word cepher, which refers to the scrolls. This was the Babylonian library, they didn't have scrolls, they had clay tablets. The clay tablets were cuneiform tablets and they had to learn that language and we know from archeological discoveries that there were huge libraries in the ancient world. Ashurbanipal's library in Nineveh was enormous. Recently a discovery was made of over a thousand clay tablets in a secondary site, that was one of Nebuchadnezzar's libraries, and they had to master all of that information. So they were given "intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom," wisdom is the Hebrew word chakmah which means application, so they had skill.
But then Daniel was given something extra; "Daniel ever understood all kinds of visions and dreams." "…all kinds of visions and dreams," so we need to look at the Biblical doctrine of visions and dreams. People get terribly confused over this and think that God speaks to them in a dream or that God still communicates to us in a vision and we have to look at what the Bible says about this. I think you'll find that our discoveries are quite informative.
First of all, learn something about dreams in general. There are 22 dreams in the Scripture, 16 in the Old Testament, 6 in the New Testament. That's not much over the course of 3,000 years, that's very little activity by God in terms of dreams. Of these 11 of the 16 Old Testament dreams occurred before the Old Testament was written, before any of the Old Testament was written, 11 of the 16 so that's only 5 that were given after there was any written canon of Scripture. In the New Testament the 6 dreams in the New Testament were prior to the time in which the New Testament was written and that tells us the purpose for dreams and visions was to communicate divine revelation to man before there was a written canon of Scripture. So dreams were designed to communicate information from God to man and what we'll discover is they weren't this kind of subjective information; people usually, when they say well pastor, I had a dream, it's all about what to do in their life, it's very self-centered, it indicates their self-absorption and their arrogance. That's not the case of any of these Biblical dreams.
The second thing we need to do is define the term vision. Vision derives from the Hebrew word, machazeh which means a vision, it means light, it means a place of seeing and it also means a window. What that tells us is that a vision was the opening up of enlightenment; it's like looking through a window into a room to see something you wouldn't normally be able to see.
Now there's a difference between dreams and visions. The third point, there are at least 15 visions in the Old Testament. There are probably more because many of the books, the Minor Prophets and Major Prophets were considered visions, even though the word might not be used, many of them used the word but others don't, but there's probably more than 15. There's 7 visions recorded in the New Testament. Notice, 15 visions, 22 dreams, that's not a lot, this is not a normal every day frequent occurrence. God's standard operating procedure is not talking to everybody through dreams and visions. It's unusual and it is rare. In the New Testament there are only 7 visions recorded; those are all given to believers and they are all before the canon of Scripture. Now I want you to notice, dreams and visions—dreams went to unbelievers also, visions only went to believers. Why?
In the fourth point, in contrast to dreams which took place while the recipient was asleep and therefore passive, visions included a conscious rational interaction, often a dialogue between the recipient and God. When the first vision, in Genesis 15, Abraham had a vision with God and they're talking back and forth to one another so Abraham is fully conscious, he's alert, he's rational, he's thinking, it's not an emotional state, he's not in some sort of ecstatic trance out of his rational mind. It is an opening up of his mind to God and to divine revelation. So dreams are for believers and unbelievers because the recipient is passive, but in a vision the recipient was active, he's communicating with God. So that indicates that the recipient of a vision had to be a believer because God can't have fellowship with an unbeliever. So unbelievers had dreams as well as believers, but only believers had visions.
Next time we're going to come back and look at some of these dreams and visions in detail; we're going to build this doctrine because we're going to come to understand that the content of dreams and visions always had to do with something related to the working out of God's plan in history. It wasn't subjective, it wasn't oriented to what was going to happen in the individual's personal life; it had to do with how God was working, perhaps through that individual in terms of his greater global cosmic plan for the human race or for the nation Israel. Visions were never subjective personal things, they always had to do, both dreams and visions, with God's plan for the nations and God's plan for the human race.