Dudley Ross Spears
It has always been true that to live right, one needs the courage to do so. Teenagers are confronted with the temptations that belong to their generation, regardless what the generation is. Sin has been with every generation of people to whom the reading of this article is possible or will be possible. The disguise of sin changes, but it remains the same. Bathtub gin of the roaring twenties is replaced by a toke from a joint of grass. But there is no difference in the fact of sin. Courage is still demanded to live right.
There was a young man named Daniel who was taken into captivity by the Babylonians with the rest of the Jews. This youngster was fortunate in that he was selected to serve in the king's court. Daniel was especially bright and exceptionally physically endowed (Dan. 1:4). In order to properly cultivate the good looking young men of the court, the following order was issued by Nebuchadnezzar, the king: "And the king appointed for them a daily ration from the king's choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king's personal service. Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hannaniah, Mishael and Azariah" (Dan. 1:5-6).
A three-year, full scholarship to be educated in every branch of wisdom, including the literature and language of the Chaldeans, would be highly prized by any youth of any generation. Daniel and his companions were granted such a scholarship and needed not to participate in any kind of athletic event. Being of the Jewish people, they immediately encountered problems. Eating the food of the king's table and drinking his wine would defile these Jewish men. "Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank" (Dan. 1:8a). He begged permission from the commander of the officials to be excused from these things that would have defiled him. Daniel was granted such a favor, but it took courage for him to say, "No, I will not do that which will defile me." He is an example for all of us of the courage that enables us to live right.
Daniel had some strong convictions about what he ate and what he drank. He could not, in good conscience, compromise his convictions and do that which would be contrary to the law of Jehovah. Daniel was convicted by the law of Moses that he should serve only one God. The law forbade the Jews to serve any other God (Exo. 20:3). Certain meats were forbidden to the Jews (Lev. 11:2-47). In eating at the table of the king of Babylon, Daniel would be put in a position of violating these ordinances. H.C. Leupold says, "All meals served at the king's table were feasts in honor of the gods. That involved that a portion of the meat to be served would first be dedicated to some god in sacrifice. The eating of the remainder meant sharing in the sacrificial meal, which was, of course, in honor of the god to whom a portion had been sacrificed. To share in such a feast was the equivalent of honoring such an idol, admitting his claims and existence, and so practically denying the one true God. For that reason Daniel refused such contamination" (Exposition of Daniel, p. 66).
Three things seem to have been involved. (1) There was the heathen wisdom Daniel would acquire. (2) There was the wearing of a heathen name. (3) There was also the eating of heathen food. In Daniel's reaction to these three things we learn something about convictions as well as tolerance. Names meant nothing to Daniel and did not involve him in a compromise of his convictions, so he accepted the name, "Belteshazzar." That name could have meant, "the prince whom Bel favours" or it could have meant "Bel protect his life." This "Bel" was the god of the Babylonians. It matters very little what it meant Daniel did not object to being called that, for it meant no change in his convictions.
The wisdom he accumulated from being educated by the heathens meant nothing to him spiritually. What he learned and how much he learned did not produce a change in his life at all. He remained a faithful, God-fearing young Jewish man, true to his commitment to Jehovah. There is nothing wrong in getting all the learning and wisdom possible. Solomon said, "A wise man will hear and increase in learning and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel" (Prov. 1:5). As long as a youngster never forgets the basic teaching from the will of the Lord, education will pose no danger to the soul. Some people cannot handle a lot of education, though, and go off after many stupid philosophies and "the opposing arguments of what is falsely called, `knowledge"' (1 Tim. 6:20). Daniel is a good example of a man staying with his convictions even though he had probably the best education of anyone in the Bible.
The meat of the king's table was a different matter. If he ate of it, he would have made a breach of the will of God. This he had to refuse to remain faithful to Jehovah. He politely said, "No, I cannot defile myself." Sometimes it is really difficult for us to get out of situations like the one Daniel faced. We are tempted to make some sort of excuse that will not put us in a bad light with our friends. Or, perhaps we take delight in being as blunt as we can, often insulting someone who may offer us a drink of alcohol or ask us to do something contrary to our convictions. Do not get excited at me, friend, but by insulting a person who invites us to do something we feel would defile us will not provide us much of an opportunity or atmosphere to teach that person why we consider something to be sin. I think it is called "tact." Paul says we should, "with gentleness correct those who are in opposition; if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 2:25). That will be good to remember the next time we are invited to participate in something wrong.
The young prophet Daniel stood firm and there is a very good reason for such a stand. The passage says, "Daniel made up his mind." The literal translation of this is, "he set his heart upon not defiling himself." This indicates that there was a very deep resolve in the heart of Daniel. Leupold says on this, "The Hebrew idiom describes what Daniel did as `laying upon his heart not to defile himself.' There were no outward scruples. Daniel laid his resolve `upon his heart.' We endeavor to catch the force of this idiom by rendering the verb be `solemnly resolved"' (Ibid., p. 67). Someone once said, "Resolution took its rise in the depths of the soul, like a river in the hills far away." Anyone of us can stand firm like Daniel – if we have the depth of resolution that we will not sell ourselves cheap and become defiled. There is a German hymn that says, "Fest and treu wie Daniel," which means "firm and true like Daniel." I wish we had that song in English hymnals.
Like all men of all ages, we need convictions that are strong to meet the challenges we have every day we live. Convictions are also contageous – they breed strength in others. The resolve of Daniel seems to have strengthened the others with him. Who can know but that by having the courage to live right they may influence others to live right. The devil's crowd knows the power of influence. They have their convictions and they influence people to do wrong. It is time that in our lives we have the courage to "overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21). An intelligent stand for the truth, an uncompromising firmness of convictions and some good common courtesy brings admiration from the enemies of right living. When Daniel acted as he did and begged permission of the king's representative to be allowed not to defile himself, the representative had respect for Daniel. Sometimes help comes from unexpected places.
No one can deny that living right is difficult. If it is not one thing, it is something else that lures us from a path of righteous living. No matter what it may be, we have the following promise, "The righteous also shall hold on his way and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger" (Job. 17:9). In a piece called, "Guesses at Truth," I found the following line with which I close this article. "Few persons have courage enough to appear as good as they really are." It means, dear friend, that courage will help us see that we can live right. May God bless us all with that courage.