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…
We have here a picture of a youth of fourteen making a stand for temperance and piety against temptations and inducements which might well shake the purpose of strong men. The lad did not parley with his resolution, making it contingent upon the success or failure of a first trial. There was no contingency about it; he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the King's meat or drink. It might cost him, not only serious inconvenience and additional reproach, but even his life, He considered these possibilities, and resolved at all hazards to obey first his conscience and his God, and then to regard that only as his duty which happened to agree with this obedience But Daniel was not only a captive accessible to motives of fear, but he was a youth accessible to the invitations of sin. The obscurity that invests his childhood prevents us from learning how his first years were passed. Although it was at a time when the morals of the Jews were depressed to the brink of national apostasy, when Jerusalem was as ungodly and impure as Babylon herself, Daniel was probably educated with a careful discipline, and his heart had been the early possession of the Great Spirit, who enters the tiny soul of a child, and, as it were, makes Himself another child to accommodate His presence to the undeveloped faculties and free fancies of childhood. Yet he was not insensible to the temptations incident to boyish life. He was born a prince and had tasted the luxuries of rank before his captivity; and in the presence of the dainty viands of the king's table, to school his inclinations into submission, to make the flesh bend to the authority of the spirit, discovered singular ripeness of virtue in one whose years had scarcely surpassed boyhood.
1. Daniel's act was an indirect avowal of his Hebrew faith. That faith forbade him to eat the food of the Gentiles. But this law was not mainly on account of the food itself. If the bread and wine of Babylon had been as simple in their preparation as the temperate provisions of a pious Jewish home, the Jew might not teach them. It was idolatry that brought a taint upon Gentile food. The blessing of wicked deities, lying vanities, was invoked upon the grain and the grape which the bounty of God had ripened; and to partake of food so contaminated was to the Jew like eating and drinking a lie and a curse. In primitive times eating and drinking represented a man's religion. He ate and drank to the praise of the deity whose providence was supposed to have furnished his table; and all who ate with him were partakers alike of his food and his faith. In refusing the king's meat, Daniel proclaimed himself the follower of another religion. Nebuchadnezzar imagined that a slave had no mind of his own; that his will, his conscience, his person, belonging to his Master and Owner, he must follow whatever religion that Master chose to impose. The poor lad could not resist his exile; he had no power over his own person; but young as he was, no one could touch his will, and no one should force him to violate his conscience. Such is the inalienable prerogative of the mind even of a child. But this law of the Hebrews which forbade them the hospitality of other nations was not a matter of faith only, but of morality. Although many Gentiles were distinguished for the severity of their virtues, yet as nations they were profoundly corrupt. They conceived that the gods who gave them food were exalted by the licence of appetite. The worship of some of these idols consisted in gluttony and drunkenness, of others in the gratification of more shameful lusts. Idolatry is, in its effects, the elevation of the animal in man, and the depression of the intellectual. In avowing his faith to the God of Israel, Daniel upheld in his own conduct the morality of that faith. Not in abstinence only, but in all his conduct he was pure; and the effect of his behaviour upon the distinguished men who were placed over him was a beautiful illustration of our Lord's lesson, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven." (Matthew 5:16). Ashpenaz was a man of high rank in Babylon; his position implied culture, wealth, and authority; his eye fell upon the young captive; his shrewd penetration discerned at once a mind and character of singular originality; and, judging by one expression in the history, he must have been charmed even to fascination by the endowments, the grace, and the beauty of Daniel's spirit. Here was a godly youth in the presence of an eminent statesman — a man whose opportunities commanded a wide field in the study of character, who had been mixed up with the splendid licentiousness of a court, with the intrigues of a State, and with the subtle involutions of priestly sorcery, and this veteran of the world was awed by the purity and courage of a youth and a foreigner. The Scriptures attribute this impression to the grace of God: "God brought Daniel into tender love with the prince of the eunuchs." The same is affirmed of the influence of Joseph over Potiphar and Pharaoh. "And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man, and his Master saw that the Lord was with him; and the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake;" and again, Pharaoh said unto his courtiers, "Can we find such an one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?" Both Joseph and Daniel were beautiful in person and character, and gifted in mind; but these in themselves do not necessarily conciliate and charm observers. I have known persons who possessed them and yet were unable to gain the love and confidence of others; not because they wanted piety and integrity, but for the lack of graciousness, courtesy, gentleness; in one word, sympathy with those with whom they had intercourse. It is not enough to be good in principle if we are harsh, uncouth, and unlovely in the expression of it, Some people seem proud of the tartness of their manners; they will never be proud of the number or quality of their friends. We must have our medium from God as well as our light; and the medium of a kindly and sympathetic manner is the best reflector for giving a mild and grateful lustre to the light of truth. "Even so lot your light shine before men."
2. Daniel's act was a practical affirmation of the benefits and blessings of Temperance. Some of Daniel's fellow captives, students in the Eunuch's College, ate of the king's meat and drank of the king's wine. It was, and is still, the custom of Oriental courts to pamper young men of this class, to provide their mess with such food as is supposed likely to bring out the ruddiness and beauty of their complexions and to sharpen their minds. There are two things which all monarchs like in their immediate attendants — beauty and intelligence. The education intended to draw out the former is curiously elaborate in Asiatic courts. You will see that this kind of preparation may make a court exquisite, but can never make a man. It is true that the understanding is not neglected: sumptuous dining is considered to be compatible with the most strenuous intellectual exertions. But in the end, when the boys become men and the motives of competition cease to be the spur of study, indolent and luxurious habits generally take possession of the character, and like the thorns of the parable, they strangle the natural growth of the man. But more than this: the youths trained for the service of Nebuchadnezzar were not intended to be mere court favourites, but wise men; in other words, Magi, a comprehensive appellation including statesmen, councillors, astrologers, and soothsayers: men appointed at the monarch's call to interpret a dream, to construe an omen, to read a sign, to register events and observations, to negotiate treaties, to plan festivals, and to direct enchantments. Let me say that stimulants are the snare and not the friends of the intellect. Our greatest works were written by temperate men, or by men in their temperate days. Some of the brightest lights of genius and learning were quenched in intemperance that covered them like the shadows of death. I lift up before you, young people, the example of Daniel; for the hope of the country rests upon you.
(E. E. Jenkins, M.A.)
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.