By J.R. Miller
There is something very noble in the picture of Daniel which we have in the first chapter of the Book of Daniel. He was only a lad. He had been torn away from the godly restraints and influences of his own home. He was now at liberty to do as he pleased, so far as parental control was concerned. He was among heathen people, and no one would blame him if he would disregard the rules of his home religion. Indeed, nobody there would know it! Besides he was a mere boy, with a partially formed character, at an age at which convictions usually rest lightly--and when removal from the restraints of home frequently is the sign for the cutting of the moorings which thus far, have held the life from drifting.
All of these considerations heighten the beauty and nobleness of Daniel's conduct. He knew what his duty was, for he had been instructed at home. This duty was the same in Babylon, as in Jerusalem. Change of location and of surroundings, makes no change in the principles of right and wrong. What was wrong in the holy city, under the shadow of the temple, in the sacredness of a saintly home--could by no sophistical moral metamorphosis, be made right in heathen Babylon! There was nothing uncertain about Daniel's attitude toward duty.
"Daniel purposed in his heart." The heart is the place to settle all questions of principle. There was no long puzzling in Daniel's case, about his duty. He did not go around asking advice from his friends. He did not try to find a back door out of the perplexity in which he was placed. He did not ask: "How will this affect my future condition here in this royal court? May it not interfere with my personal advancement? Will it not make it harder for me to get along as a captive?" He met the question on the grounds of moral right, and settled it instantly, and never reopened it. One who thus lives--never needs to ask what others say or think--or how such and such a course will affect one's prosperity. It is a very heroic thing to be able to stand alone, to dare to be peculiar--and not to do as others do. To be true to God, ofttimes requires us to stand entirely alone--and even to be laughed at and sneered at by others! Decisions should always be made in just this way--and when made--they should be adhered to in spite of all opposition and danger.
One of the tests of character which came to Daniel in his captivity, was in connection with the food and drink allotted to him as a student. A daily portion of the king's dainties and of the king's wines was appointed for the young princes. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with these things. So the temperance question, is quite an old question. Of course, it is easy to say that Daniel did not settle his course upon what we call modern temperance principles. It is easy to say that he was controlled by old ceremonial laws now obsolete, or by superstitious notions concerning what had been offered to idols. Nevertheless the principle remains the same. Daniel believed it to be wrong to partake of the king's dainties and drink of his wine--that he would be defiled by them if he touched them, and, so believing, he was firm in his determination not to use them.
"God made Daniel find kindness and compassion in the sight of the prince." This was very important to Daniel's success. Had this officer been harsh or indifferent, the story would have been ended right here--perhaps in the martyrdom of the heroic boy. It is very important that we should act--so as to win friends for ourselves. Sometimes people profess not to care what other people think about them--but such indifference is surely very foolish! None of us know how much we owe to our friends, to the favor which we gain in their minds--to the kind words they speak to us, and to the influence they exert on our behalf. No one can ever rise in the world to any important place--except through the confidence and esteem of others.
We see here also, how God can make friends for one whom He wishes to promote. The Bible elsewhere tells us that the king's heart is in the hand of the Lord. Again, we read, "When a man's ways please the Lord--He makes even His enemies to be at peace with Him." So it is right for us to ask God to give us friends; but when we offer this prayer we must be very careful--that we do our own part to be worthy of the friends whom we wish to win.
One who is cross, selfish, and rude--will have but few friends and, when the time of need comes, will find himself left alone, without human sympathy and help. Evidently it was not hard to love Daniel: his character was so beautiful, his disposition so gentle, his manner so winning. Christians who wish to win favor and rise in the world, should cultivate the same qualities, and, thus making themselves attractive, they will win friends wherever they go.
The prince who was in charge of the young captives, feared to go contrary to his instructions. He felt quite sure that the boys would suffer in their appearance from their abstinence from the rich food and stimulating drinks provided for them--and shrank from taking the responsibility of permitting it. Daniel showed his tact by suggesting a ten day trial. "Prove your servants, I beseech you, ten days; and let them give us only vegetables to eat, and water to drink."
A good many people have about the same impression with regard to luxurious diet and drinks that this Babylonian prince seems to have had. They imagine that if they were to live plainly and temperately, that they would suffer in health or in brightness and sparkle. Probably in all such cases, a plain diet would be very much better for them. There is a vast amount of gluttony in the world--even among Christians. Not many people would suffer from coming down to plain fare for a time. Certainly as regards alcoholic drinks, the experiment cannot fail to prove--that abstinence is better every way for body, mind and soul--than indulgence.
It is interesting to have the result of this experiment given in God's Word. We are not to suppose that there was anything supernatural about this. No miracle was wrought--to favor the use of the plain food and simple drink. The steward's fears were groundless. The countenances of the Hebrew boys were fairer and they were healthier than those who had partaken of the king's dainties.
These Hebrew youths showed their superiority in other ways. "God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom." God is able to help young people even at school. Of course, they were not helped--except through their own industry and application. No doubt they worked hard as students, applying themselves diligently to every lesson. It will not do when the lessons are hard--just to pray to God to teach them to us--and then go out on the playground and waste our time, expecting to be divinely helped. God's help is never meant to bolster up our laziness. We are not to pray that God will do for us--anything we can do for ourselves. But God gives help--only to those who earnestly help themselves. If a student applies himself with all diligence to the study of his lessons--he has a right also to pray to God to help him, to make difficult things plain, to throw light upon obscure things, to make his mind alert and clear--and God will do it!
"Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus." For more than seventy years he held high positions in that heathen court. All that while--his life was godly and beautiful. He was faithful to God, noble in character, and loyal to truth. He began well, and never swerved from his purpose to follow God fully, and do his duty. In Daniel's life--we have a wonderful illustration of the value and of the power of home training and teaching. So well was Daniel taught, so deeply was the influence of that home impressed upon his heart--that when he was borne away as a captive to a heathen land--no power of heathendom, no temptation, no threat of danger could make him swerve!