It is easy to feel sorry for ourselves when problems come into our lives. We believe that nobody understands us, and we have a perfect right to indulge ourselves.
Why should I try to do the right thing when my world has collapsed around me?
Can we even reach out to others if we don’t understand them?
Should we fight back when we have been hurt? What if they have hurt us more deeply than anyone could ever know?
Where is God when my life is turned upside-down?
I have had the chance to read about a young man who experienced more horrors than I will ever understand. As a teenager, he saw his city overrun by an invading army. They pillaged the town, looted the temple of God, and took him captive. Now, away from his family in a strange land, he was emasculated, given a new name, and enrolled in the pagan seminary. The penalty for failing his seminary classes would likely mean death.
Daniel was a teen in Jerusalem when his city was captured by Babylonian forces in 605 B.C. Babylon had recently defeated both of the existing world powers (Assyria and Egypt) and had extended its empire across much of the Middle East. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken several of the most promising youths back to Babylon with him to serve in his court.
Among a class of 50-75 teens, Daniel and his friends were given new names. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were all named after the God of Israel, but their new names reflected the Babylonian gods: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their classes consisted of a three-year intensive training in the language, religion, and ways of Babylon’s elite. At the end of three years, they would be personally interviewed by the king himself to see if they were competent to serve him.
These circumstances would have been intense pressure for any teen, but Daniel made a commitment. Despite everything that happened, the Bible says that Daniel resolved that he would not disobey God. Literally, he “set his heart” to not defile himself. Whatever happened, Daniel would not choose any action which would cause him to break God’s law.
There were several things outside of Daniel’s control. He was a slave to the king of Babylon and his life existed at the whim of the king or his servants. Daniel could not control what happened to him, but he could control what he chose to eat and to drink. The boys were expected to feast daily at the king’s pagan banquet, but Daniel respectfully asked to abstain. Instead of the king’s food and wine, he asked to eat only vegetables and water.
Daniel’s overseer refused at first, for fear that the he would lose his life if the boys became sick. Daniel requested a test: the four of them would only eat vegetables and water for 10 days and then the overseer could compare the results. After 10 days, Daniel and his three friends were visibly healthier than the other boys. Therefore, the entire class was moved to vegetables and water for the duration of their schooling.
There were no miracles, but God’s hand was evident throughout Daniel’s schooling. God blessed Daniel’s decision and allowed the boys to be healthy after the 10-day test. At the end of their schooling, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were personally interviewed by king Nebuchadnezzar. Not only did the four young men surpass their class, but they exceeded all of the king’s existing advisors.
We can learn from Daniel’s example about how to follow God, even when under pressure:
- Daniel refused to be defined by his circumstances. Daniel had every excuse to stop obeying God, yet he set his heart to not disobey Him.
- Daniel was not subject to peer pressure. All of his leaders and his peers ate the king’s banquet, yet Daniel and his friends refused. Out of a class of 50-75 teens, only these four refused to participate.
- Daniel answered his opposition with tactfulness and respect. Daniel respectfully asked the steward to abstain from eating the king’s banquet. When the steward refused, he proposed a test.
- Daniel was not consumed by situations which were out of his control. Daniel could not control his new name, his education curriculum, or his state as a eunuch in the king’s court. Instead, Daniel made sure that he was obedient to God in the areas that he could control.
“What a lesson for us-that purity of heart and faithfulness to God come before enlightenment in divine mysteries! If you attempt to reverse these things, you need not be surprised if you fall into all kinds of error.” – H.A. Ironside