But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank…
The first chapter of Daniel is one of the very best sermons possible on the subject of temperance. It goes not merely to the question of the use of intoxicating drinks, but to the further question of unhealthy food. It covers not merely the matter of wine and beer and brandy, but also pastry and pound-cake and confections. In olden times victorious nations had three ways of dealing with those nations they had conquered. One was to carry the inhabitants out of the land, as the Jews were finally carried into Babylon. This was the severest mode, and was only adopted after repeated rebellions. Another was to take away all the leaders and skilled workmen, This crippled them in case they tried to throw off the yoke. This was also tried by Nebuchadnezzar in the second deportation, as will be seen in 2 Kings 10:16. The other or mildest form had first been tried by the Babylonian king. This consisted in levying tribute. Very often certain choice young persons were selected and taken back by the victorious general as specimens of the people he had overthrown. Daniel and his three companions, who are mentioned in this and the third chapter, were on this principle taken back to Babylon. People often foolishly say in contempt of education that God does not need man's learning. But the intimation of the divine record confirms the famous reply, that "Even if God does not need man's learning, still less does he need man's ignorance." When God was about to lead his enslaved people out of Egypt, by his providence he sent Moses into Pharaoh's household to learn everything that Egypt knew. When the New-Testament Church was to be organized and spread all over the great empire, he sent Saul, a free-born Roman citizen, out of intelligent Tarsus up to Jerusalem, that at the feet of Gamaliel he might learn what he would need to know when he should be transformed into the apostle Paul. So here are these four taken to the Babylonian capital that they might have the best instruction the nation could afford. The Babylonian king compares wonderfully well with a vast number of modern parents and government officers. To him two things were needful to make up an acceptable civil officer — namely, a healthy body and an educated mind. He would furnish his own provisions and his own teachers, and then no boy could complain of bad food or poor opportunities. This was genuine civil-service reform. Was the ambition of these boys stirred by the chance thus given them? Where are the boys of fifteen whose hopes would not quicken them to do their very best in these circumstances? It must have been with some such thoughts as these that Daniel and his boyish companions first confronted the question of eating the king's meat and drinking the king's wine. The average boy would have gone ahead and never cared. The average man or woman would have said, "What difference does it make?" The average politician would have said, "It will never do to offend the king's officer." But thoughtlessness is a sin. Boys and girls, as well as young gentlemen and ladies, are bound to think. As we shall see, success came of thinking. When a boy first tries to shoot birds on the wing he usually fires too quickly. He must learn to stop an instant and steady himself before he fires. So it is in all life, It may be but a moment for thought, but that moment of self-possessing, reassuring thought may be of infinite value. As for these four young men, they foresaw what was coming and made up their minds about it. Our hero seems to have been a born leader, and he led here. With him it was not an open question. He "purposed in his heart" — not with the stubbornness of self-will, but with the resolution of deep conviction. His three companions stood by him. Whether with God or not, certain it is that with man politeness pays. It gave this open-hearted boy the "favour and tender love" of Melzar, his present master. That same trait of character, coupled with his integrity and ability, held for him the confidence of King Nebuchadnezzar in after years when God made Daniel his mouthpiece to reprove the king's iniquities and pride. Iniquity and insolence may seem to prosper for a time, and the lions' den open for Daniel's feet; but at last the hungry lions make a meal of the good man's foes. When Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself with the king's meat, it was purely a question of principle. He did net then know that his course was wise. It seemed utterly foolish. King Nebuchadnezzar and Melzar both believed that the popular opinion of the day was all right in saying that wine and fat meat were necessary for a clear complexion and a quick brain. The same false notion is widely held now about lager beer and tonics. Is it true? Ask the health records. You will find cholera, yellow fever, diphtheria and the rest give explicit answer that they can much more easily carry off the tipplers and topers than those who have not burnt out their constitutions with these slow fires. The poor envy the rich the food on their table, and the rich envy the poor the food that is digested. Boys think it is big to smoke cigarettes, but the doctors say it stunts their growth and poisons their blood. You may not wish to obey Nature's hearth laws, but you cannot defy them and escape. The health and brain-power of the Jews would teach the Gentiles a lesson if the Gentiles were not so heedless. Many will doubt this statement and stubbornly stick to Melzar's notion, that if they restrict themselves to Daniel's diet they will soon become worse-looking than others which are "of their set." Well, why not take Daniel's way of settling it? Just try it. But be sure and have Melzar's honesty, and when the experiment proves you are mistaken give it up. I have a most profound respect for honest old Melzar. It is net an easy thing to give up to a boy when the boy is right and you are wrong. It was specially risky with Melzar, for if he blundered his head was the forfeit. No pride of his own opinion controlled him. We must not forget, however, in our enthusiasm over Daniel's triumph in physical beauty and his splendid victory in intellectual learning, that he knew nothing of all this when he made his decision. With our knowledge of the outcome any of us could have the courage to insist on vegetables instead of the king's idol-polluted meat and wine. We must remember, however, that with this youth, of twelve to twenty at the outside, it was wholly a matter of duty. As no shame or pain is so deep as a mother's humiliation over wayward, wicked children, so no joy is sweeter than that which mothers feel when their children, on their own responsibility and out of their own force of character, choose the right and do it. Boys and girls, suppose your mothers knew you as well as you know yourselves, would they weep for joy, or shame? At last the day of decision came. It always does — a day of final judicial inspection, when the uses to which opportunities have been put are revealed, and the estimate is to be made up of all past conduct. Daniel was to stand before the king, and be not only inspected but examined by the king. These Hebrew young men, of now sixteen or twenty, mere found ten times better than their best. Here was the foreshadowing of what Daniel was hereafter to do. They had boasted of their soothsaying insight into dreams until "Chaldean" had become synonymous with "wise man." When, then, the king, as is related in the next chapter and ninth verse, put to them a crucial test of their powers by which he could certainly know the value of their interpretation, they were all at fault. Their gods were proven utterly ignorant. Daniel's humility is as beautiful as his faith and greatness.
(G. P. Hays, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
WEB: But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's dainties, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.