I was going to submit this for publication, but I didn't want to wait and play the acceptance/rejection game. Encouraged by my dear friend, I'm putting it on my blog instead. Let me know your thoughts!
"But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way." Daniel 1:8 NIV*
Recently, I had a brief text "conversation" with a friend. She was lamenting the fact that she didn't feel the desire or will to lose weight, even though she knew she needed to. I had heard this so many times from her, but something in me shifted this time--a tenderness, if you will. I replied that she should ask God to give her that desire, and I left it at that. I opened my Bible that evening trying to decide whether or not (yes, I know in advance how very Bible-geeky this is) I wanted to begin my new study with the captivity phase of the Israelites (Daniel), or the post-captivity books. I chose Daniel because my OCD mind would not allow me to reverse the order. So, I opened up my Bible to Daniel 1, researched some background information, and dived in. I had been implementing this new strategy of study in which I read a passage or chapter, and then I thoroughly journal about it. As one who had grown tired and weary of study, this was a refreshing course of action, inspired by a lovely movement called If:Equip. It was certainly feeding my soul. Now, back to the passage in Daniel. I had read Daniel several times throughout my life, and I had heard many sermons preached on the book of Daniel. This time, however, something stuck out to me that didn't necessarily have anything to do with the prophetic nature in which I normally heard a sermon. Remember, this was the same evening I had just had the "conversation" with my friend about weight loss.
So, I'm reading along about how God handed the Judahites off to captivity due to their disobedience (vs.2), and how the King ordererd his chief official (who also happened to be a Eunuch, if you study that one up a bit) to hand select for the King's service some of the Israelites of nobility and royalty. Scripture is quite clear that these were "young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified" (vs. 4). Lets face it. These were the kingdom hotties who had lived a life of privilege. These same hotties were now Babylonian captives forced into service for the King himself. The Chief of the Officials, Ashpenaz, was the one in charge of their training, and he was to fully immerse them in Babylonian culture. Where did that begin (and I love this part)? Language and Literature. They were to learn the language, the stories, the myths, the festivals, the histories--full immersion, people. If they had films back then, they would have watched all the popular films that represented this culture.
All of this is interesting, but this next portion is the kicker for me. What do we usually think about when anticipating travel to a new land? I immediately think about the food. Will I get to feast on fresh, exotic fruits and breads, or will I be eating bugs or some other disgusting meat I can't name? Will I end up getting worms from the water, or will I enjoy my food experience? As a pampered American with far too many choices, I have become considerably agitated and terrified by the thought of eating something I'm not comfortable eating. God forbid, right? Well, in fact, God forbid for Daniel and his friends. Verse 5 tells us that not only were they immersed intellectually, but they were also immersed dietarily (is that even a word?). "The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service." At face value, this seems like an excellent deal. These captives didn't have to worry about foraging for food in the garbage dumps of Babylon, and they knew they were set for 3 years. However. There's always that, isn't there? However. It all seems good, but . . . I can imagine, and with a little digging into the dietary habits of ancient Babylon, I'm sure you will also find that many of the foods the king probably enjoyed were in direct violation of the dietary restrictions given to the Israelites. Not only that, they were most definitely offered to the gods of Babylon, and therefore, unclean and defiled.
So, what did Daniel do? Did he fret and pray that God would just forgive them since they were forced into an impossible situation? Did he partake only to feel bad later? Did he wait until he felt he should act? No! "But Daniel RESOLVED not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way." vs. 8. Wow! Did you catch that phrase? "But Daniel resolved . . . " In our English dictionaries, the adjective "resolve" means, "firmly determined to do something". Or, in our case, to NOT do something. Other English versions use such words as "purposed" (NKJV/KJV), "determined"(NLT), "made up his mind"(NASB). I like the word "resolved", which is used by both the NIV and the ESV. Though Daniel and his friends were quite literally in captivity, he did not allow his captivity to keep him captive! He resolved! (And it's ALWAYS easier to do that with friends, right?) So, Daniel goes to that chief official and tells him he and his friends don't want to eat the king's food. They will eat only veggies and water (yep, you read that right . . . and which provided much fodder for modern day diet books). The official, though "God caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel" vs. 9, was still afraid of the king. Remember that this same official was a Eunuch, and not so by choice. He, too, was a captive of the king. So, he uses the line that strikes fear in even the modern reader "off with his head!" in speaking of his reason for not allowing Daniel and his friends this food trial. So, Daniel turns to the guard appointed to him by the chief official. He requests a 10-day test, and the guard agrees to it. Nothing but veggies and water, folks. Somehow, and we know it is only because of God's goodness, Daniel and his friends pass the test and end up looking healthier and more nourished than all the other captives eating the king's food. "So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead." vs. 14.
Do you realize that Daniel and his friends were not only blessed immensely by God for their resolve, and given favor and gifts unsurpassed in the kingdom, but he literally sustained them their entire time in captivity? There is no verse, and no reason whatsoever, for us to believe that after the 10 day test they ate the king's food. They "resolved" not to be defiled. This means, and stay with me here, that Daniel and his friends ate veggies and water (and no getting around that in the Hebrew, friends) their entire Babylonian captivity. They did not wait until they felt they should make the change. They knew that by partaking of the king's food, they would be disobeying God. They chose to be faithful even though they seemed to have been in a position in which they could get away with no longer holding to their dietary restrictions. They may have been fully immersed in a pagan culture, but they did not allow themselves to be defiled when it was in their power to do so. Isn't that beautiful? This isn't really a passage about diet, folks. I get so tired of that, don't you? God is not telling us we can't have wine. He isn't telling us we can't have fruits, breads, meats, etc. However, Daniel and his friends knew that by partaking of this particular fare--sacrificed to false gods, filled with dirty foods that were unfit for the Israelites--they were truly becoming captives of Babylonian culture. And God raised them up. I love that! Whenever we resolve to follow God, he is the one who sustains us. There is no way on God's green earth I could, alone, resolve to only eat veggies and water for most of the remainder of my life.
So, back to my original "conversation." It hit me that we must "resolve" long before we ever feel like making that good decision. Nearly 3 years ago, after much crying out to God for him to heal my body and help me lose all the weight I gained due to thyroid cancer, I resolved. I resolved to quit crying about my situation and DO SOMETHING. I decided to walk into a Weight Watcher's meeting and make healthy choices--whether or not it worked, and whether or not I felt like it. I resolved to make one good choice, then another, then another. God blessed my resolve, and I lost all 75 pounds! Again, this isn't a passage merely about diet and weight loss. It's about Godly resolve. Saying, "I resolve!" I will not allow my culture to defile me. I will not remain in captivity. I can be free in the midst of physical captivity when I allow God to free me from spiritual captivity. We can't wait until we "feel" like it. We could literally die if we do. I was obese and very unhealthy. I did not "feel" like working hard since nothing had previously worked. However, I knew I wasn't honoring God. I knew my extra weight was not only harming my physical body, but my spiritual body as well. I couldn't do all the things God called me to do as long as I was in captivity.
So, if I could have this conversation with my girlfriends, whether it be about weight loss, financial decisions, cultural captivity, etc, I would say, in all the wisdom of Daniel and his friends, "Resolve not to defile" yourselves. Resolve to follow God in obedience, even when it is impossibly difficult. And, girl, you know it was just as hard for them as it is for us today! Really? Veggies and water?? And, remember. These were men. We women can probably get by with salad and water everyday, but a man? That was God--completely God. And this same God gives us this same strength today to resolve. So, don't wait until you feel like it, resolve today to walk in obedience. He will do the rest.