(Did I sleep in this fancy bed in a foreign land? Yes. Was that I wrong? I don’t think so. Did the picture make me laugh at myself after writing this blog post? Yes, so I couldn’t resist making it the photo, whatever that says)
Why does Daniel refuse the Babylonian king’s food? It was probably delicious, especially with the wine. It was free. In fact, it was pushed on Daniel; yet, he said “no.”
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youth who are of your own age?”…Then Daniel said…”Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed…So…he tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. So the steward took away their food and wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
Daniel, you’re a captive, now a eunuch, dragged off by force, and an exile in a foreign land. Do you not know a good thing when you see it? At least you could have a decent dinner every once in a while.
Actually, that’s the thing–that’s precisely the thing–Daniel does know a good thing when he sees it. He has not forgotten what’s good, and he’s willing to sacrifice for it, push for it, stick to it, despite what others are doing. Daniel “resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food,” not only because of food laws, not only because it was probably sacrificed to idols, not only because he wanted to show his loyalty to YHWH, not only because he wanted to live a temperate life. Rather, he understood that God gave the food laws to protect them from idolatry to help them follow Him to help them live a good life, which was not only temperate, but guided by the commandments, assured by the promises, empowered by the Almighty, and many other things besides. Daniel saw that one path was right, pure, faithful, and good, so he took it.
Right, pure, faithful, and good sound like a lot of adjectives to line up for one choice over another. Put that way, it seems like a no-brainer. Yet, go back to the decision about the king’s food and wine, and if any of us were in that situation, the right/pure/faithful/good would seem pretty evenly matched with what everyone else is doing, what sounds awful nice, the path of least resistance, what feels like finally getting thrown a bone. I doubt I’d have lived up to Daniel’s example, because I do love food, often too nice of food, often too much of that food, especially when I’m feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes we are the no-brainers.
So, what’s the bottom line? Are expensive things inherently wrong? No: As 1 Corinthians tells us, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful…For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof,'” and as Ecclesiastes says, “For everything there is a season…a time to keep, and a time to cast away.” The bottom line is, we often assume that it’s time for something because everyone else is choosing that something, when in reality it’s time to say “no” to that something so that we can say “yes” to another. That something is often a nice thing, which is what makes it hard.
However, God gives us hope, despite ourselves. While the “works of the flesh” include “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry…envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these,” the fruit of the Spirit includes “peace, patience…[and] self control” (Galatians 5). As Paul says several verses earlier, “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,” which means that if you are fighting against the flesh, you can know that God Himself is with you, in your corner, on your side, at your right hand.
“For the one who sows to his own flesh,” it says, “will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”