The book of Daniel begins with the tragic end of the kingdom of Judah when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar overthrew Jerusalem. As was the custom in the ancient Near East, the victor took as slaves the very best of the vanquished country’s young men. Thus Daniel and his three friends were plunged into one of the most hostile work environments one can imagine. And while Daniel’s situation was quite different from what most Christians face today, we can learn some lessons from his experience.
Daniel’s life was sometimes on the line during his service to Nebuchadnezzar, but the constant temptation he faced was assimilation to the dominant culture. It’s interesting to note that Daniel didn’t refuse to be educated in the Babylonian “university” (v. 5), even though the subjects Daniel probably would have studied included astrology, the study of animal entrails, rites of purification, and other forms of divination and magic. Scholars point out that these would have been abhorrent to a devout Jew.
Daniel did not altogether reject the culture into which he was delivered (vv. 2, 9), but he did find lines that he would not cross. We don’t know what specifically about the royal diet he found objectionable, but we do know that the dietary laws were among the cultural features that most sharply distinguished Jews from their neighbors (Lev. 11; Deut. 14). It’s possible that maintaining a separate diet functioned for Daniel as a daily reminder of his allegiance to the one true God amidst his labor for the pagan usurper Nebuchadnezzar. In any case, Scripture is clear that God had His hand on Daniel and used him mightily precisely because Daniel was in a place that challenged his faith.