posted on Jan, 28 2013 @ 05:09 PM
There’s an old conundrum which asks the question; “What happens when an Irresistible Force meets an Immovable Object?”
The briefest way of putting the answer is to say that “One of them is exposed as a fraud” (because the two things can’t exist at the same
The question which forms the main issue of the book of Daniel can be framed (and dealt with) in much the same way;
“What happens when the will of God meets the will of a ruler who thinks he’s God?”
The classic model of this kind of encounter, in Jewish history, was the reign of the king who called himself THEOS EPIPHANES- “the visible
So the last chapters of Daniel are clearly pointing towards the infamous Antiochus Epiphanes, and looking beyond him to another ruler cut from the
At the beginning of the book, though, the same contest is being described in terms of the kingdom of Babylon.
The impact of Babylonian power had been hostile to the Jewish religion.
Directly, because it destroyed the Temple of Solomon.
Indirectly, because it took Jewish people into exile, and exposed them to the temptations of the dominant Babylonian gods.
So if Antiochus Epiphanes is the model for the overbearing Beast of Revelation, the Babylonian state is the model, or part of the model, for the
The story of the first chapter concerns four young men who were chosen to be trained in the service of the king himself, the victorious
That wasn’t a problem, in itself.
None of these youths were refusing to work for him, as a matter of principle, and there’s no suggestion that they should have been.
The difficulty comes when obedience to the king conflicts with obedience to God.
The king wanted them to be served with “food and wine from the king’s table”.
Daniel thought this would be a defilement, and he wanted this meat to be replaced by vegetables (or “pulse”, if you’re reading the AV), and the
wine to be replaced by water.
We mustn’t misunderstand his reasons for making this proposal.
There were no objections to eating meat in the religion which Daniel had been taught.
But meat in the ancient world was commonly sacrificed to the local god, who got a small portion of it for his own use (it might be a choice piece of
thigh, it might be just the pleasant aroma).
In Israel, of course, the meat was sacrificed to the God of Israel.
But any meat they were given in Babylon would have been dedicated to the gods of Babylon, especially if it was coming straight from the king’s
table. The same would apply to the wine.
That was what Daniel was counting as defilement; any kind of association with other gods would be an infringement of the first commandment.
That’s what he wanted to avoid.
The eunuch in charge of training was very nervous about this request.
He was afraid that the more limited diet would make the boys look malnourished, which would get him into trouble for disobedience to the king’s
(I can’t help remembering a very non-P.C. piece of dialogue from the “Two Fat Ladies”, as they were approaching a girls’ school;
“I’ve heard that all the girls nowadays are vegetarians.”
“These can’t be, they look so healthy.”)
Daniel persuaded the eunuch to allow a ten-day trial period.
Already, at the end of that time, they looked healthier and better fed than the boys who were eating the king’s food, so the new diet was allowed to
Once again, this mustn’t be misunderstood. We can’t say that this was the natural result of the vegetable diet, because that would miss the point
of the story.
This chapter is one of a series of stories about God protecting his faithful people from danger.
The writer is expecting us to understand that God’s power has been at work, so the danger of malnourishment has to be a real one, or there’s no
scope left for God’s intervention.
Living among the believers of other religions was one of the new conditions of Jewish life, so the problem that meat might be defiled by idolatrous
contact comes back in the New Testament..
In Revelation, the letter to Pergamum and the letter to Thyatira both complain of a teaching which encourages believers to “eat food sacrificed to
idols”, linking the practice with “immorality”.
On the other side of the Aegean, Paul makes a very practical distinction. He warns the Corinthians against joining in the ritual meals associated with
pagan ceremonies, because that makes them part of the idolatrous community, “partners with demons”.
However, if they find meat in the open market, they don’t have to make themselves anxious about the possibility that it might have come from one of
those meals. (1 Corinthians ch10 vv18-27)
In other words, they will take no harm from meat which has been sacrificed to idols, as long as they avoid meat which is being
sacrificed to idols. I think this is the real concern in Revelation as well.
If Paul had not made this distinction, he would have been obliged to adopt the same solution as Daniel.
Conditions have changed again, and this question of “meat being sacrificed to idols” is no longer a living issue.
But we can still apply the moral of the story to the more general issue, of the friction between two competing loyalties.
Later chapters in this book are dealing with more direct conflicts between believers and the state.
The third chapter is about the king commanding a worship which God has forbidden.
The sixth chapter is about the king forbidding a worship which God has commanded.
But these are both examples of conscious confrontation on the part of the state, where there are people knowingly trying to stir up trouble.
This first chapter covers a much earlier stage in the development of the problem.
The king’s orders are following his own will and controlled by his own interests, but he’s completely unconscious that the Jewish youths might
have any scruples about them.
His conscious intention, in fact, is to give them the best treatment possible, according to his own lights.
Therefore it’s left to Daniel to identify the conflict, based on his own knowledge of how the God of Israel wants his people to behave.
That’s how the moral of this chapter can be given a more general application.
The human rulers of this world will make their decisions and give their instructions in accordance with their own purposes.
They may not be looking for a clash with the will of God, but they won’t be making it their business to guard against the possibility.
Therefore it behoves the people of God to work out for themselves, like Daniel, where obedience to the human ruler might be in conflict with the first
“You shall have no other gods but me”.
We have Daniel’s example to show that taking a stand on such an issue does not necessarily involve challenging the general authority of the
The intended message of this chapter is that where God’s people are faithful in obedience to him, when they’re put under pressure, then he will
honour their faithfulness and keep them in his protection.
Insofar as Daniel prophecies a future confrontation between believers and the ruling power, this chapter serves as a reminder that the confrontation
will at first be a gradual and unconscious development.
It comes as the result of the very nature of human authority, when it’s founded upon the will of the ruler.