Sermons by Monday Club
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…
A nation's most splendid characters appear in its darkest hours. This is especially true of the chosen people with whom God made a covenant, and it made it certain that he would never leave them wholly in the power of their enemies. Hence we see, all along the Old Testament history, great deliverers raised up when all seemed lost. They purified religion. They broke the oppressor's yoke. They told of the coming Saviour. A wonderful group of great men was seen during the very night of the nation's history when for seventy years it was in captivity among a heathen people. During most of this time Jerusalem was a heap of ruins, and there was no altar of sacrifice. One of the greatest characters of human history arose like a star at this time in Daniel. Among the first captives Nebuchadnezzar carried over to Babylon, there was a company of royal children who were exceptionally attractive, educated and fit for public service. The conqueror determined to use their abilities for his own profit. We should remember that Daniel began life with high natural qualifications for his great work, and that he was attractive and beautiful, and capable to wield great affairs. So God uses natural abilities for his service. Great goodness requires great ability. At this time Daniel was about fourteen years old. He and the company with him had rich food and wine furnished them from the royal tables. How wonderful that a boy of that age, when one is usually so heedless and self-indulgent, should put himself upon a course of simple diet and abstinence from wine! Observe it was not a question with the boy Daniel whether meat itself was suitable human food, but whether meat defiled in heathenish modes of preparation was fit for a servant of God. It was a religious as well as a sanitary measure which he undertook when he respectfully requested his master to allow him a plain vegetable diet. It was an act of faith. But, besides this, he rejected wine, which was not forbidden by the law. Priests at certain times, and those under Nazarite vows, drank no wine; but the mere drinking of wine in itself was not looked upon in the law with favour or disfavour. It did not ceremonially defile one to drink, as it did to eat meat that had been killed in the heathen way, and served up with offerings to the false gods. The wine was unnecessary and tempting. Both were rejected by one who had in him the stirrings of the prophetic instinct, and who felt called of God to a spiritual service. Now, the greatness of Daniel, shown at this early date, was the cause of his vows of abstinence. These vows were not the cause of his greatness. Others, and tens of thousands of our youth, grow up strangers to wine and to "king's meat," without becoming famous leaders of God's people. High spiritual aims, communion with God, capacity to understand mysteries and discern the signs of the times, seem naturally to call for a plain and severe sort of living. We think of the Nazarites, like Samuel, who never touched wine. Elijah lived roughly. John the Baptist had locusts and wild honey for his food when he prepared the way of the Lord; and, while Jesus came eating and drinking, we must remember that his ineffable purity left him free to use what we easily abuse. If the pure in heart see God, surely the pure in body are fitted to be the organs of the Spirit, are free to obey his voice, and more quick to hear what he says. We should remember, too, that this course was adopted on religious grounds. We must also believe that it was maintained through a long life by religious faith. It was Christian temperance. Of course, it was all very singular in a king's palace. The higher one goes in the social world the more rigid the rules of etiquette and fashion are; and in the palaces of kings one might say they amount to a law that cannot be broken with safety. It snowed a great soul in Daniel to dare resist the mighty current around him, and live simply. Many a weak young man falls into intemperance, taking his first glass at a woman's hands, because he is afraid to show ignorance of social customs, or a scrupulousness that attracts notice. The regimen was used for three years with great success. During this time the boys were learning the Chaldean language, quite unlike their own Hebrew, so that they could speak with the king and the court. They also studied whatever of science there was to be learned, as Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. We read that God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom. What the four youths gained at their books was so clarified by prayer, by dependence on God, by pure actions, and by plain living, that they rapidly advanced. God helped them. Over the gate of one of the colleges at Oxford is the motto, "The Lord is my Light." Luther said, "To pray well is to study well." The mind that is unclogged by rich food and wine is strong to grapple with hard problems. The Great Light sends down kind and quickening rays. When the three years were passed, all the selected youths went up to the king for examination. He talked with each one of them, with the result that Daniel, and his three friends who had joined him in his vows, were selected to stand before the throne and give advice upon all matters of wisdom and understanding. It was essential to the great part he was to play as prime minister and God's representative that he should meet the astrologers on their own ground, and surpass them all, just as Moses had done in the Court of Pharaoh. This greatness of soul, shown by the abstinence of the boy Daniel, was attested and exhibited through a long and illustrious career. Some lessons may be emphasized in the study of this very early part of Daniel's life in Babylon.
1. Saints may be found in kings' houses. If we had been looking through the world in ancient days to find men of faith and prayer, we should never have dreamed of finding any such in the luxurious pagan palace of the Pharaoh at Memphis. Yet Joseph was there, praying and working for his God, surrounded by the pride of life, but untouched by it. So one would have passed by the court of Babylon as the last place where true piety could be nurtured, and yet there were men of God in highest station. The monarchs they served worshipped idols. There was feasting and revelry. There were sights from which the angels turned away. And yet in the heart of it all there was faith in God, humble living in His sight, and abstinence from wine and strong drink. So, I imagine, if we should search to-day for the brightest examples of piety, we should feel that it was quite in vain to look in the houses of the millionaires of our land, or of the titled rich of other lands, or in the courts of kings. God has His hidden ones, and often they are hidden in the blaze of the world's prosperity.
2. Godliness is profitable for all things. It carries power with it which nothing else can give. Men instinctively reverence the self-denying spirit which young Daniel and his companions showed at court. Those who live altogether under the powers of this world feel reverence for those under the powers of the world to come. Those who command themselves, command others.
3. But we see, above all other truths, how God exalts his servants. We may well draw useful lessons in temperance, uprightness, courtesy, purity, and studiousness from the boyhood of Daniel. But we see the mighty hand of God in guiding the king to place him among the chosen youths, in permitting him to live unlike the rest, in giving him favour with his master and skill in his studies, in causing him to be selected for wisdom and exalted to the chief place in the gates. It is all of God. Even the noble purpose not to be defiled by the king's meat found its place in the boy's heart through grace from on high, and it was kept alive there by the same power. And, therefore, we may well take up Daniel's own words, and say, "Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: and he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: he revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him."
(Sermons by Monday Club.)
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.