On Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach on Daniel in big church, really focusing in on two points of a real authentic faith: it is pre-determined and resolute. Living out a person’s faith doesn’t happen on accident, especially in the face of trial. I mentioned towards the beginning that Daniel and his friends would not be defiled with the king’s meat or wine, but also said that I didn’t have time to get into all of that, promising to write about it. So here I am, writing about it.
Daniel was well studied. He knew God, and he knew God’s laws. So he would have been able to easily identify foods that were unclean or that would defile him. Leviticus 11 gives a breakdown of how to determine whether an animal was considered ceremonially clean or unclean, though it doesn’t give insight as to why. That is actually a long debated topic that I will not discuss here, or probably elsewhere, because God didn’t tell us why He made those distinctions. So who am I to tell you? But the standards existed nonetheless, and Daniel knew them and was determined to follow them. It is likely that the Babylonians would have eaten pork, which was off limits to Daniel as a devout Jew.
But that doesn’t settle the entire matter, because wine is not forbidden in the Bible as a general rule. In fact, Daniel apparently drank wine in Babylon later on, so this was very specific to the king’s wine (see Daniel 10). It is possible they were afraid that the wine came from a tree that was defiled according to the standards found in Leviticus 19:23-25, or it’s possible that they either feared or knew that the wine and meat had first been offered to an idol.
The reality is that there were probably a combination of reasons the boys abstained from the food and wine offered to them. There would have certainly been unclean meats, which was against Jewish Law. The wine itself was also likely a protection against defilement, in case the Levitical Law wasn’t followed regarding the planting and waiting period necessary to made the fruit ceremonially clean by God’s standard. Additionally, they were refusing assimilation in general, aspiring to maintain their identity as sojourners, exiles, Jews, and people of God. They were not willing to risk becoming a part of a godless culture and losing that identity. I believe it was this combination of reasons that kept them from participating.
We live in a Christian culture that is not so cautious. Daniel and his friends knew God’s standard and made sure not to cross the line, even if the information given them was ambiguous at best. Honoring God was more important to them than fitting in or being happy, so they went to great lengths to do just that. A lot of Christians seem more interested in identifying the line more so that they can get as close to it as possible without crossing it, whereas Daniel and his friends stayed far from crossing the line into sin. The calling and identity of a Christian living by faith is to live separately, differently, and as one who does not belong to the culture. Daniel and his friends really were exiles and sojourners in Babylon. We are to live like we are exiles and sojourners in this world, not conforming, not assimilating, but sacrificing anything that keeps us from representing God well.