(Please read the first chapter of the book of Daniel in connection with this chapter)
When thinking about Daniel and his friends, I view their lives in the context in which they lived. Their world had been turned upside down. Their country had been overrun by a dominant force, wrecked and ruined. Israel was simply wiped off the map. Natural national boundaries were erased and the country ceased to exist from that time until the nation of Judah (Israel) was able to claim any land as its own after World War II had ended.
The Jews’ experience as a nation has been filled with nothing but grief, loss, and a faith which refused to be erased, even when enslaved or sent efficiently en masse to their execution. No people in history has ever been so brutally abused, so severely and relentlessly persecuted, so widely scattered. Nor has any people held so tenaciously to their faith and their identity as a “chosen people.”
The young men who are introduced in the first chapter of the book of Daniel must have been traumatized. All their youthful plans had been knocked into a cocked hat by the Babylonian invasion. Evidently each of them was pretty sharp. Chapter one, verse four points out they came from nobility, were quick to learn, handsome, and in peak condition physically. But they were led away to Babylon, enslaved, and picked for training to serve in the King’s court.
They were assigned new names and placed under guards (vs. 11). They were given new names, “slave names.” Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were all names assigned by their captors. They were expected to do as they were told and to eat what was served. . . despite the fact that their religious beliefs had strong prohibitions against certain kinds of foods, or eating or drinking any thing which had first been sacrificed to idols. They took their faith so seriously that it made others uncomfortable. If got them into deep trouble.
As the story of Daniel begins to unfold, apparently all four of the young men are recruited, “fixed,” and trained to be a part of the castle’s “eunuch detail.” (Aside: I have no idea how large the king’s harem was, but already we see several with the responsibility of watching over them. Some of these ancient monarchs may have embarrassed Hugh Hefner!). These young men were Jews. Therefore, they’d already endured circumcision. Now, this! Eunuchs have to be emasculated. I’m wincing and thinking: “Ouch! And double Ouch!” No wonder some of those ancients rued the moment they’d been conceived and cursed the day they were born!
But that wasn’t the worst of their problems. Enslaved in a strange land, they were under pressure to conform to the rules and customs of the strange religion of the Babylonians. Demands were made, not choices offered. And clear, cruel consequences could quickly follow even the slightest hint of resistance or rebellion. In those days, in those times, rulers had absolute authority and ruled with iron fists and unrelenting fury.
Your only option was to do or die. It was an outrageous situation. It demanded an outrageous, courageous faith if there were even the slightest chance to survive.
While most of us, fortunately, have not been captured and forced against our will to serve a merciless tyrant, we can surely understand something of what these young men were facing. They hadn’t caused a problem, yet a huge burden was placed on their shoulders. The pressures we face today to compromise principle, or surrender faith may be less obvious, a bit more subtle. But you’ve faced them, haven’t you, in school, or in the workplace?
Have you read their story in Daniel? Do you know what happened to them and how they dealt with it?
How do you deal with the demands and pressures placed on you by an unfriendly world? How do you react when you’re required to choose between being “accepted” and doing what is right?
God’s son and servant, your friend, brother, and fellow student ~donkimrey