The Temptation of Daniel, Part 2
Topic: Expository Passage: Daniel 1:1-21
The Temptation of Daniel, Part 2
Good evening! Welcome to our Sunday evening Bible study. Today, we will continue our temptation series by looking at Daniel in Daniel 1. In a few minutes, I’m going to pray, so if you have any prayer requests, feel free to share them in the comments.
Last week, we began studying the temptation of Daniel. Our four points were “Daniel’s dilemma,” “Daniel’s decision,” “Daniel’s discernment,” and “Daniel’s deliverance.” I planned to get through the first two of those points last week, but we only got through one– “Daniel’s dilemma.” So today, we will pick up there and discuss “Daniel’s decision.”
You probably remember that at the end of last week’s lesson, I read five case studies about ethical dilemmas that ordinary Christians face in everyday life. There was Jennifer, whose mom wanted to take her to see an R-rated movie; Ben, who discovered he was required to take a college class about paining nudes; Tina, whose boss told her to lie to a client; and Sarah, whose unsaved husband had kept her from church for a month. Like Daniel, we are exiles living in “Babylon,” so to speak, so we can expect to face a lot of sticky decisions like these in life!
So what do we do in situations like these? I’m curious if any of you have any just general ideas or guidelines as to how to handle one of these sticky situations.
In a minute, we’ll talk about what to do in what at least appears to be an ethical dilemma; but first, let’s talk about what not to do. Don’t just “go with the flow”!
Do you remember what Jesus told his disciples in John 17? He said that we are to be in the world but not of the world. Many preachers have compared the world to a mighty river that is pushing us along. The world has an anti-God agenda that it is constantly pushing. And it is exhausting to paddle upstream! Much easier just to “go with the flow”! But the Bible says we cannot do that! Romans 12:2: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” We cannot go with the flow!
What excuses did Daniel have just to “go with the flow”? Can you think of any? There are a lot!
Here are 7 excuses I thought of that Daniel could have used just to “go with the flow.”
- Fear: “Nebuchadnezzar will kill me!”
- Appetite: “The meat and the wine look good, and everyone says they taste good and are good for you, too!” (By the way, there is a parallel here to Eve in the Garden.)
- Peer pressure: “Everyone else is eating it. I will be mocked if I don’t!”
- Ambition: I’m sure the boys were told that their future depended on how well they did in their schooling! Daniel might have thought to himself, “How could I ever expect to land a high rank in the government after pulling a stunt like that?”
- Laziness: “I’ve been through so much already, and swimming upstream is just way too much work. I’ll just eat that dumb meat!”
- Hopelessness: “They will never listen. Appealing will never do any good!”
- Bitterness: “God didn’t protect me and my people, so why should I stick my neck out for Him?”
These are all excuses that a lesser man would have used. And apparently, most of the Jewish boys taken into captivity did use these excuses! But not Daniel and his three friends! Instead, what did they do? That question brings us to point #2, which is “Daniel’s decision.”
Let’s talk first about the essence of Daniel’s decision. What do you think was the essence of Daniel’s decision? If you could summarize it in a sentence, what would you say (v. 8)?
According to this verse, Daniel decided not to defile himself with the king’s meat or wine. However, behind this commitment is the deeper commitment: “I am going to please God no matter what.” In other words, there is a decision behind the decision in v. 8! This isn’t just about meat and wine! You say, “Pastor Kris, how do you know that?” Because we find Daniel and his friends standing in other ways throughout the book! The essence of Daniel’s decision was that he was going to please God no matter what.
Next, let’s talk about the importance of Daniel’s decision. How important do you think Daniel’s decision was? Can you put that into words for me?
Daniel’s decision to please God no matter what is the center of chapter 1 and a key to explaining the rest of the book. Everything in Daniel’s life flows from this one decision. It is the proverbial fork in the road. Either Daniel will please God or he will go with the flow. There is no middle ground. He has got to be all-in, or else he might as well not even try.
So that is the essence of Daniel’s decision and the importance of Daniel’s decision. Let’s talk next about the significance of Daniel’s decision. What do you think is the significance of Daniel’s decision to please God no matter what? Are there any principles we can glean from the part of the story we’ve covered so far?
Daniel 1 reminds us of this important principle: No matter what situation you find yourself in, you can always please God, no matter what. That is very important to remember, because sometimes we come across ethical dilemmas that are very sticky, and we are tempted to think there are no good options. In fact, there are even systems of ethics that teach that sometimes, there are no good options. The problem with this is that it contradicts 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” God doesn’t put His children into situations in which there are no acceptable options. There is always a way of escape. The question is, have you predetermined to take it?
Notice that I didn’t just say “determined”; I said, “predetermined.” This leads us to the timing of Daniel’s decision. I know that Daniel and his friends decided not to eat the king’s meat the first time they realized they were going to be served the king’s meat and understood what it meant. But when do you think he and his friends purposed in their hearts to please God no matter what?
I am going to argue that Daniel’s decision to please God no matter what came very early. You say, “Why do you say that?” Well, as far as I can tell from the text, Daniel and his friends never did eat the king’s meat or drink the king’s wine! In addition, as we are going to see, they made multiple requests before their appeal was heard! So I would assume that all of this is getting worked out in the first several days that Daniel and his friends are in Babylon! Which means there must not have been a lot of waffling going on! Daniel and his friends went into Babylon with a firm commitment that led them to stand very quickly.
Here is the application for us: you do not make the decision to stand for God on the fly. If you are Jennifer from our case study, you do not make that decision as you are walking up to the doors of the theater to see the R-rated movie. By that point, you have already lost the battle! No, this firm commitment has to be in your heart before the temptation comes, or else when it comes, you will be swept off your feet.
You have got to decide now that you will always do what is right.
Not only that, but you have got to be dead-serious about your decision. Consider the firmness of Daniel’s decision. I want to ask you two questions. How serious was Daniel about his decision and why do you say that?
Daniel was dead-serious about his decision. He was willing to die if need be! How do we know that?” Because in chapter 3, his three friends get thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to bow to an idol! And then in chapter 6, Daniel himself gets thrown into a den of lions for praying! Think about this: how is it that when the decree goes out, “No one can pray to other gods,” Daniel doesn’t even blink? He goes straight home, gets on his knees, and prays. It’s because he had known since the time he was fifteen years old that this day could come, and he had already decided what he would do.
One of the most important ways to defeat temptation is to purpose in your heart ahead of time that you will always do what is right. Once you have this commitment, the details will take care of themselves, as they did in this story.
Have you purposed in your heart to please God no matter what? I’m afraid that there are many professing Christians who have not. Their problem is not that after a careful, prayerful consideration of God’s word and their circumstances, they have made the wrong decision; it is that they have not decided to please God no matter what! There will always be Christians who differ on how to apply certain biblical commands and principles. That should not be alarming. What should be cause for alarm is when so-called Christians do not seem to care what God thinks! May that never be said of you.
So Daniel’s decision to please God no matter what is the heart of this story, and he was all-in. However, that does not mean he was ready to just needlessly throw away his life! How do we know that Daniel was not flippant about his decision to please God? The fact that he survived into his 80’s shows us that he was very careful and shrewd! So let’s talk next about Daniel’s discernment.
Daniel’s Discernment (vv. 8-14)
First, the source of Daniel’s discernment. Where do you think Daniel got his discernment? Where did it come from? Was it from the excellent education that he had received as a child? Was he just that smart? Where did it come from?
Here’s what I believe: Daniel’s discernment was a gift from God that resulted from his decision. God would not have given Daniel the kind of discernment he did if Daniel was not resolved to follow God. Turn with me to James 1:5-8.
I preached on this passage several years ago, and since then, it has meant a lot to me. James is dealing with trials, and listen to what he says in v. 5 (Jas 1:5). That’s a massive promise, isn’t it? James says, “If anyone lacks wisdom, ask God for it, and He will give it to you.” That seems too easy, doesn’t it? Ah, but there’s a catch! Look at v. 6 (Jas 1:6-8). Whenever I read v. 6, I used to assume that “doubting” meant doubting whether God will answer your prayer for wisdom. So according to that interpretation, this verse is saying that you’ve got to discipline your mind to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will give you wisdom. But if you start to wonder even for a split second, “What if He doesn’t?”, then you’ve spoiled everything. Now you’ve got to start all over.
The problem with that interpretation is that it fails to account for the rest of v. 6, not to mention vv. 7-8! The type of man James is describing here is like a wave on the troubled sea. He has no reason to expect anything from the Lord. He is double-minded, or literally, “two-souled,” unstable in all of his ways. Does that sound to you like someone who just has a split-second doubt? No, it sounds to me like someone who has not made up his mind whom he will serve, to quote the words of Joshua. So now we’re back to Daniel’s decision, aren’t we? James 1 is describing the type of man who has not purposed in his heart that he will please God. He’s straddling the fence in terms of his basic commitment to Christ and His word. And God says, “I will not answer that man’s prayer for wisdom.”
Have you ever asked you spouse for his or her opinion, and he or she gave it, and then you just went ahead and did what you were planning to do anyways? Maybe your spouse says to you, “Why did you even ask me?” God doesn’t give his wisdom to those who aren’t willing to listen.
However, God says in James 1 that if you are truly a man of faith, who has committed your heart to serve God alone, then if you ask him for wisdom, he will give it to you. Do you see the connection to Daniel? God does not give you wisdom until you make up your mind to obey. Or, as Proverbs 9:10 puts it, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”
So we’re back to the importance of that basic decision to please God no matter what.
Daniel’s discernment was not mere intellectual ability. It was God-given skill at discerning what pleased God that flowed from Daniel’s commitment to please Him no matter what.
So that was the source of Daniel’s discernment. Next, let’s discuss the nature of Daniel’s discernment. What exactly did Daniel have to discern between? Does anyone have any thoughts on that? The very nature of discernment is making distinctions, so what kinds of things did Daniel have to distinguish between in this passage?
First, Daniel had to distinguish between God’s commands and man’s applications. This is very important. I want you to imagine Daniel’s high school camp speaker back in Israel. (Okay, I understand, this is imaginary. Daniel didn’t have a camp speaker. But if he did, what might that preacher have said?) “Young people, you don’t worship idols! Idols are false! Idols are a lie! You don’t talk to anyone who worships an idol! If someone tries to tell you about an idol, don’t listen to them! Don’t even look at an idol!”
Now, if someone had said those things to fourteen-year-old Daniel living in Jerusalem, would that have been bad advice? No! But what’s the issue? It goes beyond what Scripture says.
Now, is it necessarily wrong to go beyond what Scripture says in order to apply God’s Word to our lives? No! In fact, I would argue that we must do so if we are going to take the Bible seriously! However, at the same time, we also must carefully distinguish between God’s commands and our applications of those commands. Does that make sense?
God’s commands never change. Our applications change based on our circumstances. Let me give you a pertinent example.
Hebrews 10:25 says that we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. How is that command usually applied? Go to church! Don’t skip church! Is that a legitimate application? Yes! Then why aren’t any of us going to church right now?
Well, it’s because, “Thou shalt physically attend church every Sunday” is not actually what God said, is it? What did He actually say? “Don’t forsake the assembly.” “Forsake” is a strong word. I do not believe that temporarily postponing physical gathering for a time in order to love my neighbor and honor the government is what the writer of Hebrews had in mind. That doesn’t mean I’ve changed my view on Hebrews 10:25! It just means that my application changed based on a new situation. (Hopefully, we will be able to meet in person again soon, and that will all be just a footnote.)
The point is that new situations and/or ethical dilemmas force thoughtful, committed Christians to discern very carefully between God’s commands and man’s applications. For Daniel, that came down to things like whether or not he could be called by a name that included the name of a false god or if he could eat meat offered to idols.
Daniel had to perform the old “gun to your head” test over and over and over. He had to constantly say to himself, “They are asking me to do X (be called by a name that includes the name of a false god, for instance). Can I do that in good conscience? [Go back to the Bible.] Yes, I think I can allow people to call me by that name without sinning against God, given that I didn’t choose it. Now they want me to do Y (bow down and worship an idol, for instance). Can I do that in good conscience? [Go back to the Bible.] No, I cannot in good conscience under any circumstances worship an idol. Okay, now, are there any creative alternatives that I may have failed to consider? In other words, is there any other way? Perhaps there is a third option. If so, then I should be sure to exhaust those options before doing something rash! However, if there truly are no other options, and the decision really does come down to ‘Worship the idol or die,’ then I make my stand here.”
The more Daniel was forced into these types of situations, the more discernment he developed. By the way, that means that we should view this current situation a great opportunity for us to develop discernment. I know that my brain has been stretched in huge ways over the last couple of months as I’ve thought through various issues related to Covid-19. I know Pastor Kit could say that same, and I hope that you could, as well. Sometimes we don’t like situations that stretch us and make us think and apply God’s word in new ways, but those situations are actually really good for us because they drive us deeper into God’s word.
But I also should note that this decision-making process Daniel went through got easier over time. Why do you think that is? Do you think it was easier for Daniel in, say, the tenth year of living in Babylon than it was in the first year? Why or why not?
I would assume that overall, it got easier. Here are a couple of reasons why. First, Daniel developed more discernment. That’s simple enough. Second, Daniel decided where he stood on these issues! Once you have done your homework on a particular dilemma, you do not need to revisit the question every time a similar problem arises! I’m sure that those first years living in Babylon were some of the most stressful of Daniel’s life as new situations were coming at him all of the time. And probably future promotions brought with them further dilemmas. But once Daniel had worked out the basic tenants about how he would live in Babylon, he didn’t need to reinvent the wheel every week. Does that make sense? Of course, what is the potential problem with becoming comfortable with your ethical applications? The danger is that the situation changes and you don’t notice it, so you fail to account for new circumstances, and your application becomes outdated. So sometimes you’ll run across a Christian institution that has rules that make no sense at all. And you’ll ask, “Where did this rule even come from?” Well, it made sense 40 years ago, but now, things have changed! That’s why as thinking Christians, we must periodically reevaluate our circumstances along with our applications of Scripture to make sure they are up to date. Does that make sense? Can you think of any examples of applications of Scripture that may change over time?
The first aspect of Daniel’s discernment was that he had to distinguish between God’s commands and man’s applications. The second aspect of Daniel’s discernment was that he had to determine the best way to appeal.
This opens up the topic of an appeal, which is a big and important topic in Scripture. So maybe I should start here: what is the definition of an appeal?
Appeals are important because God values both justice and authority. So even just pragmatically speaking, there has got to be a way for those being governed (or led) to appeal for justice without tearing down the very authority structures that uphold justice! Good authorities value the appeals process, too, because it makes them better leaders. So this is an important topic.
It is also a topic that applies to lots of situations! Can you think of any situations in which a Christian might need to appeal? Pastor Kit’s letters to Governor Newsome, Assemblyman Jay Obernalte, and County Supervisor Robert Lovingood are a perfect example of an appeal. But this concept also applies to children with their parents, wives with their husbands, students with their teachers, church members with their pastors, and employees with their bosses.
Learning how to make a godly appeal is an important part of pleasing the Lord in a hostile culture. If you want to be well-equipped to deal with temptation in a hostile culture, you will have to learn how to do this! So I thought it would be worthwhile to take a bit of time and consider what Daniel 1 has to teach us about godly appeals.
First, I want to emphasize, figuring out how to make an appeal was the easy part compared to Daniel’s decision to obey God not matter what! That decision is the foundation. However, that is not to say that the appeal was simple! In fact, I think that it took some learning!
There is an interesting thing that I noticed when I was studying this passage last week. Daniel appeals not once, but twice. He appeals first to Ashpenaz in vv. 8-10, but then he appeals to the steward in vv. 11-14. So what is going on here? Is this Daniel being like a child– “Dad didn’t give me the answer I wanted, so I’ll go ask Mom?” No, I think Daniel is actually figuring out how to make his appeal most effectively.
Let’s consider some of the lessons Daniel learned in this process.
Lesson #1: Talk to the person directly responsible for you. Appeals to the top are rarely successful (vv. 8-14). The first person Daniel goes to is “the chief of the eunuchs.” His name is Ashpenaz, according to v. 3. Ashpenaz is the chief of the eunuchs. In other words, he appears to be over all of these young men–not only the ones from Israel, but also the ones from other countries. And he is probably over everything that concerns them–not only their diet, but also their education, their exercise, their clothing, their housing, their activities… he has a lot to think about! The stewards, on the other hand, worked for Ashpenaz and were probably assigned directly to small groups of boys. Does that make sense?
So with that distinction in mind, notice what happens when Daniel appeals to Ashpenaz (vv. 8-9)? What happens when Daniel appeals to Ashpenaz? Nothing, really! Ashpenaz doesn’t exactly say no, but he isn’t very inclined to make anything happen, either! But when Daniel follows up with his steward, that gets the ball rolling!
What’s the point here? When you need to make an appeal, it’s usually more effective to start at the bottom and work your way up. It is interesting that this is the way our justice system works, as well. You can’t just take your case straight to the Supreme Court. You have to work your way up through lower courts of appeal. That is a wise arrangement.
Lesson #2: Make life easier for your authorities by taking upon yourself the task of developing an alternate plan (vv. 12-13). Another difference between Daniel’s first appeal and his second appeal was that the second time, he provided an alternate plan. He didn’t just leave it up to the steward to figure out a solution. This is important because people are lazy (and busy), so if you leave it up to the authority to develop the plan, it probably will not get done.
Lesson #3: Identify the interests of your authorities and incorporate them into your plan. Anticipate and account for various objections (vv. 10, 12-14).