Daniel refusing to eat the king’s food. Image source.

Are you shaping the culture around you, or is the culture shaping you?

by Brian Shilhavy

Read Daniel chapter 1.

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.  (Daniel 1:8)

Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were members of either the royal family (among the descendants and line of King David) or other families of nobility. They were “youths” when they were carried away from their homes in Israel into captivity in Babylon, and they were chosen to enter directly into the king’s service and go through a 3-year period of learning and preparation. As prisoners of war, they were not executed but given a chance to assimilate into the Babylonian culture and serve the king. They had to learn a new language, and a new way of life. They had no hopes of ever starting their own families, or pursuing their own goals or dreams of continuing the line of David to rule in their homeland of Israel. That was now all gone – lost. They were destined to live out their lives as servants of the king of Babylon.

But even in the worst of these circumstances, Daniel and his friends never lost their faith in God and his purposes for their lives. As is clear from this opening chapter in Daniel and in the chapters that follow, they were determined not to let the Babylonian culture change them in regards to their faith, but instead trust themselves to God and serve him, allowing God to use them to change the Babylonian culture. Babylon became their mission field – their opportunity to prove that God is worthy of our trust and will never let us down when we trust in him, and when we follow his path for our lives to fulfill the purpose for which he created us. They laid aside their personal goals and ambitions, and even their family ties, to serve God through their service to their captor.

So the first thing they determined to do was to make sure they would not be defiled by the king’s “choice food” and wine. The text here does not really say why the food and wine was defiled, but we know from other verses that there were food rituals to the pagan gods or demons of the Babylonians, and certain meats were considered unclean by the Jews according to the Law of Moses. Daniel and his friends were more concerned about offending God than they were in participating in the luxurious food that came from the king’s table and had probably been offered up to the Babylonian gods. So they requested to be fed simply vegetables and water, the food of the poor which would not have been subjected to idolatrous worship and be spiritually defiled.

It would be incorrect to think that Daniel and his friends were vegetarians by principle. According to the Old Testament writings there was nothing wrong with eating proper meats or drinking wine. As members of nobility and the royal family back in Jerusalem, they would certainly have been accustomed to fine food (see a sample of what was eaten by Jewish kings in Solomon’s day in I Kings 4:22-23). In fact, the law of Moses commanded the Jews to eat meat during the sacrifices that were made at the temple. Also, Daniel later records in chapter 10: “I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.

Daniel and his friends wanted to be right before God, to be used by God to fulfill his purpose in their lives. So they did not want to defile themselves with idolatrous practices in the Babylonian culture.  They trusted in God, and the result was that they found favor in the eyes of the steward in charge of them who allowed them to eat and drink that which would not defile them. God honored their faith and allowed them to excel both physically and mentally more than all their peers. As we will see in the following chapters, instead of the culture changing them, they ended up changing the Babylonian culture to such an extent that the whole world was affected by their actions of faith.

The apostle Paul in the New Testament also warned those of us who are reborn into the Kingdom of Light about being defiled by our culture:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

Are you being defiled by your culture today, or are you keeping yourself pure and separate so that God’s Holy Spirit can dwell in you and lead you to be a positive effect on your culture? For those of us living in the Kingdom of Light, we all have a choice: we can let the culture affect and mold us, or we can trust God and allow him to use us to positively affect our culture. But to do that we have to go against the crowd and experience persecution. Have you considered what God’s purpose was when he created you and put you on this earth? Do you have a vision of how God can use you to affect a greater influence for his kingdom? We must keep ourselves from defilement if we want the Holy Spirit to work through us, and have a positive impact on the culture and people around us. If you act just like everyone else around you who is in the kingdom of darkness, how will they see you as someone who has real hope for them in their desperate need? Are you being defiled today by certain relationships, by TV or Internet viewing, or possibly even by the choices you make for your eating habits and health care?

The time allotted to each one of us here on earth by our Creator is very short. While we must live among those in the kingdom of darkness, we are to be different from them, reflecting the character of our true King Jesus. We are to love and serve those in the kingdom of darkness as representatives of the Kingdom of Light, even if they oppose us and persecute us. We must not be defiled by the things of this world, knowing that our citizenship is in heaven. If you are reborn into the Kingdom of Light and stand defiled today, forget what holds you to your past and look forward to your future, the plan that God has for your life to use you in a mighty way, by his power, and through your faith. God is not limited by your past or your failures. Follow the example of Daniel and his three friends, and determine to not let the culture defile you so you can be used by God to accomplish great things, even if you are a captive or prisoner.

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:13-21)