The Temptation of Daniel, Part 3
Topic: Expository Passage: Daniel 1:1-21
The Temptation of Daniel, Part 3
Good evening! Please turn in your Bibles to Daniel 1. I can’t tell you how good it is to be speaking to many of you in person tonight! I am thankful for Facebook Live, but this is much better. Tonight, we will continue our temptations series that started in Sunday school and has now moved to Sunday nights.
This is our third week in Daniel 1. And we’ve been working through four points: “Daniel’s dilemma,” “Daniel’s decision,” “Daniel’s discernment,” and “Daniel’s deliverance.” Last week, we stopped in the middle of “Daniel’s discernment,” so will pick up there this week.
But before we do that, let’s read Daniel 1 again (Daniel 1:1-21).
We left off last week talking about the nature of Daniel’s discernment. First, we said that Daniel had to discern between God’s commands and man’s applications. Do you remember that? Daniel had to perform ye old “gun to your head” test– “Could I participate in X questionable activity if there was a gun to my head?”–because for Daniel, a lot of the times, his life was at stake! So he had to ask himself questions like, “Can I in good conscience allow them to call me by a name that includes the name of a false god?” [Go back; look at the Bible] “Yes, I can do that.” “Now they are asking me to worship an idol. Can I in good conscience worship an idol? [Go back; look at the Bible] No, I cannot in good conscience under any circumstances worship an idol.” And so on and so forth.
Daniel was in a completely new set of circumstances. So his applications of the Old Testament had to change! Because, as we learned last week, our applications of Scripture are always affected by our circumstances. The interpretation of Scripture never changes. The Bible can never mean what it never meant. But our application of the Bible changes as our circumstances change. And Daniel had to discern these things. Does that make sense?
So 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 let’s start here: what is the definition of an appeal?
Why are appeals important? Appeals are important because God values both justice and authority. Is that true? Does God value justice? How do you know? Does He value authority? How do you know?
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! That is why, for instance, what is going on in our country right now is so awful. God certainly values justice. But He also hates anarchy. So when an injustice has been done, we must go through the proper channels to right that wrong, and that is where the appeal process comes in.
By the way, 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? It applies to our interactions with government. So Pastor Kit’s letters several weeks ago to our governor, assemblyman, and county supervisor were perfect examples 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 what Daniel 1 have to teach us about godly appeals?
First, I want to emphasize before going on, figuring out how to make an appeal was the easy part compared to Daniel’s decision to obey God not matter what! Do you remember we talked about that last week? The most important decision in this passage is the one Daniel made in v. 8 (v. 8a). 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. Daniel appeals not once, but twice. His first appeal is to Ashpenaz in vv. 8-10, but then he appeals to the steward in vv. 11-14. So what is going on here? Is 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 more 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 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, exercise, clothing, housing, activities, etc. He has a lot to think about! The “steward,” whom Daniel appeals to in v. 11, on the other hand, probably worked for Ashpenaz and was assigned directly to a small group of boys that included Daniel and his friends. 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 doesn’t say yes, either! He isn’t very inclined to make something happen, because he knows that if anything goes wrong, it could be his head! However, when Daniel follows up with the steward, that gets the ball rolling!
What’s the point? When you need to make an appeal (at home, at work, at church, at school, or wherever), it’s usually more effective to start at the bottom and work your way up. Interestingly enough, that 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 first. 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.
So, for instance, let’s go back to one of those case studies I mentioned two weeks ago. Let’s take Ben, the aspiring Christian artist who, halfway into his junior year at a public university, realizes that he is required to take a class about painting nudes. If Ben is going to meet with his advisor and request an exemption to that class, he better show up to that meeting with plans A, B, and C as far as how he can make up that credit! Because if it’s up to his advisor to make up the plan, it isn’t gonna happen! Does that make sense?
Lesson #3: Identify the interests of your authorities and incorporate them into your plan. Anticipate and account for various objections (vv. 10, 12-14). Daniel’s first attempt at an appeal was not a total waste of time. In it, he learned something very important. He learned about his authorities’ interest.
Do you remember what an interest is from our Peacemakers study? In negotiation, interests are the underlying desires that motivate you. Interests are why you want what you want. What was Daniel’s primary interest in this story? (pleasing God) What was Ashpenaz’s primary interest? (Keeping his head attached to his shoulders!) So now that Daniel has that information, he is able to craft a plan that is in keeping not only with his interests, but also with the interests of others. And, by the ways, that’s exactly what Philippians 2:4 tells us to do: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” So for the Christian, negotiation is never supposed to be this tug-of-war whereby I get as much as we can. No, we are supposed to listen to and consider those with whom we are speaking and to work out a plan that is mutually agreeable. Does that make sense?
How did Daniel incorporate Ashpenaz’s interest into his plan? He proposed a ten-day trial period. This suggestion was very effective for a few reasons. First, it was low-commitment. Daniel effectively put a time stamp on how long the steward would go out of his way in case things didn’t work out. “I’m only asking for ten days, and then we can reconsider.” I’m sure the steward would have had to talk to the cook, and people would have had to make adjustments! If you have ever cooked for a group that includes people with allergies, you know what that’s like! But it’s a lot more palatable if you know you are only making a ten-day commitment, at least to begin with.
Second, Daniel’s suggestion was effective because it was low-risk. Nebuchadnezzar was not scheduled to interview the boys till the end of their three-year training period. So even in the worst-case scenario, if Daniel and his friends somehow get sick from eating just vegetables (which, by the way, could refer to anything grown or made from what is grown, including bread, etc. The only thing this diet cuts out is meat.)– even if Daniel and his friends get horribly sick from not eating meat, there is still time for them to recover! In other words, no one’s head was going to roll as a result of Daniel’s plan. That is very important. Because if this plan puts Ashpenaz in jeopardy at all, it’s not happening!
Third, Daniel’s suggestion was effective because it had the potential to make his steward look good. Daniel said in v. 13 that after ten days, he and his friends were to be compared with the other boys to see who was healthier. Now if you are the steward, think about this. Let’s say on a long-shot that after ten days, Daniel and his friends look healthier. Who else comes out of this looking really good? The steward! So that is his motivation to give this a try!
Do you see how Daniel incorporated the interests of his authorities into his plan? He does not try to appeal to them on the basis of their commitment to the Old Testament law. Because they have no commitment to the Old Testament law! Rather, he appeals to them on the basis of their own interests.
However, that said, Daniel does not hide the fact that he is a believer in God. And that brings us to two additional lessons about appeals.
Lesson #4: Do not veil your motives. A respectful appeal is an excellent chance to witness (v. 8)! In Daniel’s first attempt at an appeal, what specifically did he request? (“that he might not defile himself”) He would have had to explain that phrase to Ashpenaz. When you think about it, what other choice did he have? How on earth was Ashpenaz to understand the significance of Daniel’s objection unless Daniel explained himself?
But so often I think, Christians are embarrassed about their motives. So they try to play it cool and pretend like it is a preference thing. You know, “It’s just not really my scene.” What a horrible waste of a witnessing opportunity! When Christians practice the appeal process over issues of conscience, it is an excellent way to show to the world how much our faith means to us! So next time you have to bow out of something or appeal a decision because you’re a Christian, do not hide the fact that you are doing so because you love Jesus!
I have a friend who is a singer in a premier community choir in the United States. (They won a Grammy.) One day, after rehearsal, his choir was given a piece of music to sing for a promo on their Facebook page. The words were very simple: “Love is love.” But after rehearsal, my friend wondered what this promo was getting at. So he emailed his singer-representative and found out that the song was going to be released in the context of supporting LGBTQ activism. Now he’s got a problem! He’s in that video! He is a Christian! What is he going to do? Well, he emailed his CEO and explained very delicately that he is Christian and that although he loves the LGBTQ members of his choir and has no problem with that actual words of that song, he could not support the message behind those words. And he asked very respectfully that the recording not be published. He also referenced the fact that at least one other individual in the choir felt the same way, and he mentioned that he didn’t think it would be good PR for the choir to come out on one side of this issue. And he prayed. And they didn’t publish the video!
Now, you say that you’re joining a choir for the sake of opportunities to witness. But how is that realistically going to happen? It’s going to happen when you are salt and light like that! That is exactly what we are talking about!
If you find yourself in a position of having to appeal to an authority based on your Christian convictions, do not veil your motives!
Lesson #5: Be willing to try several times. Again, Daniel appealed twice before he got through. Now, in some cases, I understand that it may be inappropriate to appeal again. That is what we teach our children. If they appeal a decision to Mommy– “Mommy, I know you told me to go clean my room, but you might not have known that I only have two pages left in my book. Would you mind if I finished those pages before I go clean?”– that is an example of an appeal to a parent in a totally different context; but we teach our children that if Mommy says no in that instance, that is the end of the story. There’s no more debate because that becomes arguing.
However, there are other situations in which it is perfectly appropriate to appeal again. And that was the case with Daniel. Ashpenaz did not technically deny Daniel’s request; he just left if open-ended. And it wasn’t like Daniel was going around Ashpenaz by speaking to his steward because the steward no doubt would have to go through Ashpenaz eventually. So this was not Daniel working the system; it was just him being persistent. And sometimes you will have to do that, too.
So all that was “Daniel’s discernment”; now to “Daniel’s deliverance.”
Daniel’s Deliverance (vv. 15-21)
Daniel’s deliverance had several aspects. First, God gave him favor with his authorities (vv. 9, 14, 19-20). We should not think that Daniel’s favor with his authorities was simply because he was such a nice person. No, the text is clear that this was something God did! Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” God made Ashpenaz and the steward and Nebuchadnezzar like Daniel and his friends!
However, we also need to understand that God uses means! And that means that we can assume that Daniel had a winsome personality! There is an application here for us: If you want to make an appeal to your husband, boss, etc., you better not make yourself repugnant! Work hard! Be respectful! Try to get along with others as much as possible! Don’t be an idiot or a jerk! This can only help your cause and the cause of the gospel moving forward!
What I am getting at is the importance of a Christian’s testimony; and it is unbelievably important. We as a church ought to be concerned about our testimony in the community right now. We are not to be people-pleasers, but we ought to care what they think! When you post on Facebook, you better think about how what you are saying affects your testimony–not just with other believers, but with your unsaved friends, as well!
If wearing a mask helps me to have a good testimony, I will wear a mask till I die! (Now, I hope I don’t have to do that. I really don’t like those things!) But I pray that that is my heart! And you ought to feel the same way. Isn’t that how Paul thought? Paul willingly laid down his rights to serve others.
If your rights are more important to you than your testimony, you have got a problem. So maintain a good testimony!
God delivered Daniel by giving him favor. He also delivered Daniel in several other ways, and I will just fly through these quickly for the sake of time. He delivered him by allowing his steward to grant his request (v. 14), by making him and his friends appear healthier than their comrades in only ten days (that was a miracle!). By the way, don’t make this story about dieting. Rick Warren has a book called The Daniel Plan. Now, to be fair, I don’t know what he says in that book. But I do know that some people try to apply this story by telling people what they should eat to cure cancer or other such nonsense. This story has nothing to do with that. It was about Daniel standing for God. (That was for free. J) But God delivered Daniel by making him and his friends appear healthier than their comrades in only ten days.
He also delivered Daniel by giving him a permanent change of diet (v. 16), He blessed him with academic skill and the ability to understand dreams (v. 17)–that fact becomes very important as the story unfolds, and He blessed Daniel and his friends with important positions in Nebuchadnezzar’s administration (v. 19).
You see, one of the important lessons from Daniel 1 is that God blesses those who determine to do what is right, no matter what. That doesn’t mean that we will all get promotions or that no one loses his job or even is thrown in the fiery furnace, as the rest of the book of Daniel makes clear! But God often blesses those who determine to do what is right in this life. And we know that He always blesses that choice in eternity.
I’d like to finish by telling you the rest of that story with my friend. Not only did his choir not publish the video, but later, the singer-representative came to him and said, “You know, I really appreciate how you handled that situation. You were wise and careful. Those are the same traits that are necessary in a singer-representative. Would you like to take my place?” So now my friend gets to be on the board of that choir and to brush shoulders with very influential people in the community and be a witness to them!
Again, not every story has a silver lining like this, but I don’t think it’s any coincidence that two of the best-represented characters in the Bible–Daniel and Joseph–lived in pagan cultures where they had to stand for God. And partly because they did stand for Him, God blessed them and advanced them where they were at. How cool is that?
I hope that these last three lessons have been a help to you and that you are more committed than ever to please God, no matter what as you seek to live for Him in Babylon. Let’s pray.