Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning and Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. – Daniel 1:11-17
Welcome to the book of Daniel. When I think of the book of Daniel I think of fiery furnaces, lion’s dens, and Veggie Tales episodes. The stories from the book of Daniel make great VBS and Sunday school material – time will tell how big a role water plays and what insights God has in store along this stretch of the river.
The first reference to water is here in the first chapter. Daniel and others find themselves in Babylon, in exile. The king of Bablyon, Nebuchadnezzar, has drafted them to serve in his court. As a perk for their service the king wants them to eat “court food”. I am not talking about “food court food” which is a whole other thing which could arguably be more dangerous.
Presumably the food they are being offered includes meats, wines, and probably other items that God has asked His people not to eat. Daniel and his compatriots propose a solution, vegetables and water, essentially a vegetarian diet in lieu of the royal food. If after a time they look healthy then they get to continue with the vegetarian diet.
I was a vegetarian in college for a few years. This was in the days when dorm cafeterias were more like Animal House than Starbucks. I survived on grilled cheese sandwiches and the salad bar. My reasons at the time were complex and multi-faceted. I idolized Mohandas Ghandi, so part of my motivation was to emulate his diet. Another reason was a desire not to kill things so I could eat. For me at the time it had little to do with anything commanded by God in the old testament.
The king’s representatives agreed to the vegetarian diet for Daniel and his gang and they were given a pass on eating the royal food and wine. They thrived physically and mentally and “God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning and Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds”. God rewarded their faithful following of His commands. It think it is an important detail that God gave these young men their knowledge and understanding. It was not a result of their diet and “clean living”.
It probably would have been much easier for these young men to just eat the royal food, but they chose to follow God even in what would seem to be a small thing. As we will see this was merely a warm up for some harrowing “following” to come.
I think part of the reason God provides rules for His followers is not because He wants to “keep us in line” in a punitive way. God is not a school master or traffic cop just waiting to catch us in a broken law or rule. I think God is more like a coach and He wants to keep us in practice trusting Him with small choices and decisions so when it comes time for really hard ones, like stepping into a furnace, we are ready.
Prayer: God help us to be faithful in obeying your commands not to avoid punishment, but to acquire practice.