On Daniel's Diet
Not far from where I went to college, there is a gorge where the Maury River winds through the Appalachian Mountains called Goshen Pass. The river is strewn with boulders. The big boulders were great places to lay in the summer sun, and the smaller boulders made for good rock slides and rapids. At one point, the river narrowed and the boulders channeled the water into an even narrower route. That natural formation turned what was more of a lazy river elsewhere into a fairly swift current. It was fun to get in front of that flow of water and try to swim upstream. Even though we were all collegiate swimmers, it was no small feat to overcome that swift current.
My own reflections on Daniel’s diet in our text for this week reminded me of those summer days in Goshen Pass. It is not easy to swim upstream, and that is—metaphorically speaking—what Daniel had resolved to do when he humbly requested an alternative to the king’s prescribed diet for all the captive trainees. As I say in my sermon, Daniel’s humble request gives rise to a kind of competition of fears as Daniel’s fear of the Lord is pitted against the chief eunuch’s fear of his lord, king Nebuchadnezzar. But while I do think it’s important to emphasize the bigger picture, I also think it’s important to remember that Daniel was a human being who made a conscious decision to swim upstream. He was not a lifeless pawn in a game of cosmic chess; he was a young man in a vital relationship with the Lord who sought to live his life faithfully for God. With that said, I thought I would use this reflection to personalize Daniel’s diet in an attempt to capture some of the personal resistance that he likely encountered as he metaphorically swam upstream.
We can begin by remembering that Daniel and his four companions were likely not the only ones deported after Nebuchadnezzar successfully sieged Jerusalem. That is to say, there were likely other young Jewish men in captive and allotted the same diet who did not have the same scruples over the food and drink. Apart from the thoughts and opinions of his captors, Daniel may have been swimming upstream with respect to the estimation of his peers. In today’s language, the others may have whispered that Daniel and his companions were just Jesus freaks. Perhaps the others would have asked Daniel why he was such a fundamentalist. What’s the point in distinguishing yourself from everyone else when separating from everyone else never kept you from being deported in the first place? Or even more subversive, maybe others asked Daniel if he didn’t have enough faith to believe that God could bless him no matter what he ate or drank. In the end, Daniel and his companions likely felt the strong current as they turned to swim against it.
And then, as they began to swim against it, they likely would have realized the danger of having no safety net. When the chief eunuch remains neutral in response to Daniel’s request, perhaps Daniel apprehended the danger of what he was doing. He was not going swimming in a four-walled, tiled, chlorinated pool; he was not going for a swim off a lifeguarded beach; he was in the wilderness, swimming at his own risk, with no help and no cell phone reception. If God did not bless his humble faithfulness, Daniel was done for. And while I’m certain that he would have soberly assessed that danger, it is almost never just a matter of the intellect when you swim at your own risk. Your whole body is engaged in preparing for the risk; it’s no longer a game when the safety net is removed, or the lifeguard is nowhere to be found.
My hope with these two thoughts is to illustrate the boldness that it takes to resolve in your heart to follow the Lord humbly without any support or worldly assurance that things will turn out fine. What Daniel and his companions did was not easy nor was it some detached intellectual exercise. There are impacts on our emotions and even sometimes on our physical bodies when we resolve to be humbly faithful to the Lord, swimming against the current of popular thinking and prevailing wisdom. That is not meant to scare you but to prepare you for the reality of humble faithfulness. While God is pleased to work through humble faithfulness, it will often include risks to you. Your job is to fear the Lord more than you fear the risks of swimming upstream.