23 November 2020Daniel 1:1-6, 8-20
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine. (v. 8)
The action of much of the Book of Daniel is set during the end of the seventh and beginning of the sixth centuries BC. It was a time of turmoil for the Jewish people. The armies of the Assyrian empire had marched through the northern kingdom of Israel and reached the walls of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. Then, as that empire began to fade, armies of another empire – Egypt – marched north through Judah to try to assert their authority. With their defeat by Babylon, Judah found itself facing the might of this new empire. Judah had four kings in just over 20 years, but most were merely vassals of Babylon’s king, Nebuchadnezzar. It is important to remember that the exile of Jews to Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem was not a single event, but was spread over a number of years. It is likely that the reference in verse 1 to Nebuchadnezzar coming to Jerusalem took place in about 605 BC.
We cannot know for sure why Daniel refused to partake of the royal food and wine. Jewish dietary laws could not wholly be the reason, as there was no prohibition on wine. It is possible that the rations were consecrated to a Babylonian god. Maybe the vegetables, which he was willing to eat, were not treated in the same way.
Another thought is that Daniel and his friends were doing something to maintain some sense of identity separate from the rest of Babylon. If you read through the whole of chapter 1, you will see in verse 7 that an official in the palace gave them all new names. Their Hebrew names all contain a reference to God, but their new names have a Babylonian flavour. Perhaps they wanted to do something to assert their identity, to help them remember they were separate from everyone else.
Despite being set much earlier, the Book of Daniel was important during the second century BC at a time when the Greek ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, was attempting to force the Jewish people to forfeit their beliefs. It led to a time of revolt (for the story read 1 Maccabees) and this story of Daniel’s struggle to remain pure was an inspiration.
- In what ways as a Christian do you have to make a conscious decision to live differently from wider society?
- Whose stories or lives inspire you to persevere in your faith, and why?