It is sobering to consider the average 15 year old boy these days. Most are obsessed with sports or video games or some other frivolous pastime. Fast forward ten or more years and you will find the average 25 year old–and even 35 year old–man in the American culture continue to be obsessed with the things that do not matter for eternity. And this isn’t just a problem with men. Young women also find themselves wrapped up in the things of this world.
Of course, this is an easy thing to have happen and it isn’t without intention that any of us avoid this–even us older people. We live in a world that is literally obsessed with entertainment and sports and outward beauty and money and education and politics. This list of temporal distractions is endless. And, while these things can be enjoyed and attended to in a godly way, they often also provide temptation to become fixated on the wrong thing. None of us is immune to being ensnared and preoccupied with the things of this life that are of no lasting value…the things that won’t make a bit of difference in all of eternity.
Most of us can’t even define what a true hero is, much less be one as we remain distracted with the stuff of life that just doesn’t matter.
I can’t help but compare this to Daniel and his friends. In studying chapter 1 of this much beloved book of the Bible, we see defined for us true heroism.
American culture has taught us that heroes have super powers or that they are someone who can catch a ball or put it through a hoop. We are given the poor substitution of someone who can pretend to be someone they are not on a big screen or drives a fast car. The word “hero” has been watered down and redefined until it gives us nothing but shallow or unrealistic men and women to emulate.
But God gives us real heroes in Daniel and his friends. These are real people who existed many thousands of years ago that are worthy of emulation.
It starts off in chapter one, when they are just boys. They are captured as teenagers and taken to Babylon. They are without any adults to remind them of God’s laws or to whisper encouraging words in their ears.
But by the age of 15 (or so), they are men enough to stand strong against peer pressure and possible persecution (or loss of life!) Now think about that for a moment. I am not sure even most grown and mature adults would have been brave enough to do that. As we move through the book of Daniel we see other heroic acts by these four, but this first chapter gives us insight on why they were able to face the hot fire and the den of lions.
If you haven’t read Daniel for awhile (or ever) then let me give a quick overview of chapter one. These teens were taken from their homeland to serve the King of Babylon in his courts. In order to prepare them they were to be given the choicest of food to eat.
Daniel and his friends refused this food. Not because it was wrong to eat meat (as some have surmised) or because it was unhealthy to eat it. They refused it because it was unceremonially unclean. It had been offered to Babylon’s false gods. (This topic could be expanded upon in great detail because it is much more complicated than all that, but for the sake of keeping this from getting too long, this is the reason in simplified explanation.)
God not only gave these four boys favor in the eyes of the officials, giving them an opportunity to not eat the King’s delicacies, but He also made them stronger and finer for not eating it.
So what made these four boys stand firm about something so simple as the food they would eat?
I want to turn to Robert Duncan Culver’s commentary on Daniel for the answer. In this, he gives eight reasons why these boys were able to stand firm instead of caving to peer pressure, as most would (and as many of Daniel’s co-exiles most surely did).
Let’s take a look at these reasons and examine our own lives and choices, as well as examine our parenting (and even our grandparenting) by what we read here.
For the instruction and enlightenment of a hundred generations, this story presents the elements present in true Christian heroism. If we want heroes to emulate, here are some of them. p. 20, The Histories and Prophecies of Daniel by Culver.
So let’s look at the reasons Culver gives. Let me add here that the reasons are from Culver and the commentary about the reasons are mine. I’d like to type all that Culver wrote as it was so profound but it would just be too long, so I am trying to give his points more concisely.
First, these boys were taught to discern. They had been taught the difference between right and wrong. This is something most likely learned from their parents (Deut 6:4-9). There is much to be commended with seeing that your children get a Christian education or taking them to church every Sunday but nothing can replace a godly parent’s influence in the life of a child. This influence is through both example and conversation.
Second, these boys had learned to resist evil. Where did this inner strength come from? Again, we must assume parental influence. They had been taught to live in submission and obedience to God. They had been disciplined from a young age to respect authority but to respect God above all else.
Third, they had the power to say NO. Youth is a season of conformity. Generally, they want to fit in so badly that compromise is the norm for teenagers–even Christian ones. Most are unable to resist the peer pressure in order to stand for what’s right. Even we “mature” adults have trouble with this. And, yet, here are these four boys showing us how to stand up and just say NO in a respectful and kind way.
Fourth, they had physical courage. They knew they could lose a lot–even their very lives–in the face of their refusal. And, yet, for the sake of pleasing God they were willing to risk this. Do we have this same courage? Or are we too obsessed with our own comforts, conveniences, worldly goods, and safety to do what’s right? I think we have learned much about this in our own hearts and in the hearts of others over the course of the last two years. And it’s not been very pretty, has it?
Fifth, they had perseverance. Daniel gently persevered in his conviction. He was not going to give in.
Sixth, they had determination. “Daniel purposed in his heart.” He kept his eyes focused on what matters, rather than to get distracted by the unimportant and transient.
Seventh, they were meek. We see here boys that just did what they were called to do by God. We see no arrogance or boasting or disrespect for authority (by the way, this disrespect is something we are often witnessing by those claiming Christ today). They simply and quietly did what was right.
Eighth, they had wisdom and good sense. Daniel wisely offered the trial of ten days. Instead of simply refusing to eat the food set out before him, he asked to be given a short time to at least try out his idea. He had wisdom beyond his years in dealing with this situation.
While most of this first chapter is focused on Daniel (he is the one making the requests), we know from verses 11-16 that his friends joined him in not eating the unclean food. We also recognize these same heroic traits in these friends later on in the book when they are cast into the fiery furnace. We don’t know where Daniel is at this point but he was not with them. This shows us that they, too, were of strong moral fiber and full of heroism themselves.
I found myself really reflecting on my own heart and mind as I studied Daniel 1 this past week. Do I have these same heroic traits? Am I prepared to face what they faced? These boys–all four of them–offer us a wonderful and quite relevant example for all of us believers as we start living in an unfamiliar world and face the persecution that is looming on our horizon. We may not have been exiled to a foreign land but the land we are living in is not the same land of our childhood. It’s not even the same land of just two short years ago. Everything has changed.
I want to conclude with one final, very profound, quote from Culver (p. 15 of his commentary)–
Our own period, aptly dubbed “the ease era”, does not have the climate which produces many heroes. The average American, including many who are already parents and a few grandparents, has yet to be involved in an unavoidable choice involving the necessary risk of his physical safety or public reputation. We prefer to watch synthetic heroes on television rather than even to read about authentic ones–much less to be real heroes!
Our era needs some heroes, too. We need them in public civic office no less than in the pulpit and mission stations; in newspaper offices as well as on the judges’ bench, and in the professor’s chair.
Written in 1980, much has changed since then. The opportunities to lose our reputation in order to stand up for what is right are now upon us. I believe the opportunities to sacrifice our physical safety are not far behind.
Are we ready to stand??