June 8 – Integrity Passes the Test

“So [the king’s overseer] listened to [Daniel and his friends in this matter and tested them for ten days. And at the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food. So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables.”

Daniel 1:14–16

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All spiritual commitment will be tested.

When God wants to prove the quality of one’s commitment, He tests it. The test may come directly from Him, as with Abraham when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22:1–2), or it may come through difficult circumstances, as with the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings (Deut. 8:16), or it may even come from Satan himself, as God permitted with Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). Regardless of its source, every test is designed by God to produce greater spiritual fruit in His children (1 Peter 1:6–7).

Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed–nego’s tests came at the hands of their Babylonian captors. Separation from family, friends, and homeland must have been an extremely difficult test for them, but through it all their commitment to the Lord remained unshakable. Now they faced a test to determine whether or not they could remain undefiled. For ten days they would eat only vegetables and drink only water, while their fellow captives ate the king’s special diet.

Normally such a brief period of time would make no noticeable change in one’s physiology, but God must have intervened because at the conclusion of just ten days, these four young men were clearly healthier and more vigorous than their peers. The results were so convincing that their overseer allowed them to remain on a vegetarian diet throughout their entire three–year training period. God honored their uncompromising spirit.

When you are tested, remember that God is working on your spiritual maturity and that He will never test you beyond what you are able to endure and will always provide a means of victory (1 Cor. 10:13).

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Suggestions for Prayer: Pray for wisdom and strength to meet each test in your life with courage and victory.

For Further Study: Read Psalm 26:1–3. What did King David request of God? ✧ How does he describe a person of integrity?[1]


8–17 The plotline of a story unfolds in the arrangement of events recorded in the narrative. The basic ingredient of a good story plot is conflict moving toward resolution. The opening scene of Daniel reports such conflict. The conflict for Daniel and his three friends is an ideological or moral conflict dilemma. This type of conflict usually occurs within the protagonist(s) of the story and generally focuses on issues of worldview and ultimately “good” versus “evil.” Specifically, the issue here is the royal food and wine that Daniel and his friends were required to eat and drink (v. 8). The rejection of the royal food by Daniel and his friends foreshadows further episodes of conflict as the story of the Hebrew captives progresses, conflicts with other characters (e.g., the Babylonian wise men; 3:8–12; 6:1–5), and physical danger in the form of execution by fire (3:11) and exposure to wild beasts (6:7).

The expression Daniel “resolved” (v. 8) is an idiom expressing a deliberate act of the will motivated by a deep-seated personal conviction (Heb. śîm + lēb, “to set the heart”; cf. NASB’s “Daniel made up his mind”). The word “defile” (Heb. gāʾal) occurs fewer than a dozen times in the OT and may refer to moral or ceremonial impurity (e.g., Isa 59:3; Mal 1:7, 12). Wallace, 42–43, observes that Daniel believed “faith in God and the forgiveness of God had made him clean”—clean from the idolatry and moral pollution of the surrounding world. To eat the king’s food would compromise God’s forgiveness and draw him back into the very same “world” from which he had been cleansed.

The royal food rations posed a problem for Daniel and his friends for several possible reasons. First, the law of Moses prohibited the obedient Hebrews from eating certain types of food, and there was no assurance that such fare would be left off the menu (cf. Lev 11; Dt 12:23–25; 14). Yet the Mosaic dietary restrictions do not include wine, also rejected by Daniel and his friends.

Second, the royal food rations would have probably been associated with idol worship in some way (either by the food’s having been offered to idols or blessed by idolatrous priests). Yet Daniel and his friends do not refuse all the royal food rations (as though only meat and drink but not “vegetables” were dedicated to the Babylonian gods). On both counts the royal food would have been regarded as ritually unclean on theological grounds, and hence the eating of such food would constitute an act of disobedience against Yahweh and his commands.

Beyond this, it is possible that Daniel simply interpreted the eating of the royal food rations as a formal demonstration of allegiance to the Babylonian king. Baldwin, 83, and Felwell, 40, suggest that Daniel’s motivation for rejecting the king’s menu was political in the sense that eating the royal provisions was tantamount to accepting the lordship of the Babylonian king, whereas Daniel and his friends owed loyalty to Yahweh alone as their “king” (cf. 3:17–18; on the issue of cultural assimilation see BBCOT, 731). But again, Daniel and his friends do agree to certain provisions of royal food, thus weakening the argument of political allegiance to King Nebuchadnezzar by virtue of the “meal custom” of the biblical world. Longman, 53, suggests that the food-rations test was essentially a means by which Daniel and his friends might demonstrate that their healthy physical appearance (and hence their intellectual gifts) was the miraculous work of their God—not King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace food or the Babylonian pantheon. As J. H. Sims (“Daniel,” in A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. L. Ryken and T. Longman [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993], 333–34) points out, whatever the motivation for rejecting the royal food rations, the greater issue theologically is that of divine nurture versus human nurture—on whom or what will the Hebrews rely for sustenance in their captivity?

The question of conformity to the surrounding culture was of paramount concern for the Diaspora Hebrews. To what degree, if any, should the displaced Israelites make accommodation to the surrounding dominant culture? What place was there for the Hebrew distinctives of religious monotheism and ethical absolutism based on the law of Moses in the religious pluralism and moral relativism of the Gentile superpowers? Rather than react in open defiance of the king’s decree, Daniel and his friends arranged a compromise with Ashpenaz and his appointed guardian (vv. 10–14). The alternative to eating the king’s food was a “rations test,” with the Hebrew captives to be fed a diet of vegetables and water (v. 12), against the control group of those young men eating the royal provisions (v. 13). Goldingay, 20, interprets the “ten-day” testing period pragmatically as a standard round number of days that would not arouse the suspicion of Ashpenaz’s superiors and yet be long enough for the effects of the test to be observed.

The example of nonconformity by Daniel and his friends became a model for the Israelite response to Gentile culture in later Judaism. For example, the characters of both Judith and Tobit are portrayed as pious Jews who observe strict adherence to the Mosaic law in the books of the apocryphal OT literature that bear their names. Separation from Gentile culture was an important component in an emerging “Diaspora theology” for the Hebrews during the intertestamental period. By the time of the NT, the Jewish worldview was tainted with attitudes of particularism, exclusivism, and superiority in reaction to the influences of Hellenism.

This “Judaism against Gentile culture” paradigm made Jesus’ apparent laxity toward the Mosaic law and his accommodation to Gentile culture difficult to interpret and accept. The church, as the counter-culture agent of God’s kingdom in the world, has no less difficulty in discerning and practicing what Jesus meant when he instructed his followers that though they were in the world, they were not to be of the world (Jn 17:14–18; see the discussion of the Christian’s interface with culture employing Niebuhr’s classic Christ and culture paradigms in Longman, 62–69).

In the process we learn that God’s providential rule of history is not restricted to nations and kings, as God caused Ashpenaz, the chief official, “to show favor and sympathy to Daniel” (v. 9). The passage is reminiscent of Joseph, who “found favor” in Potiphar’s eyes (Ge 39:4), and Esther, who “pleased [Hegai] and won his favor” during her preparations for the royal beauty contest (Est 2:9). The repetition of the verb “gave” (Heb. nātan; GK 5989) echoes God’s deliverance of King Jehoiakim to the Babylonians (v. 2). The NIV’s “God had caused” (v. 9) fails to convey the full theological freight of the original (cf. NASB, “Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion …”). Literally, “God gave Daniel for favor and mercies before the chief official.” Even as God gave Jehoiakim to the Babylonians for judgment, God gave Daniel to Ashpenaz for grace.

This language of divine intervention is in keeping with the theme of Daniel established in the opening verses, namely God’s sovereignty. As Seow, 27, notes, “the sovereignty of God is thus affirmed; the theological paradox of judgment and grace is maintained … God is the narrator’s ‘lord’ … God is at work and ever providing.” In fact, God’s testing and providing are key themes of the OT and justify his name as “Yahweh Yirʾeh” or “Jehovah Jireh” (“The Lord Will Provide,” Ge 22:14).

The four Hebrews passed the rations test, actually emerging “healthier and better nourished” than their counterparts, whose diet consisted of the royal food (v. 15). For the third time in the chapter we read that God “gave” (Heb. nātan; v. 17). In this instance, as a result of their resolve not to defile themselves with the royal food, God granted Daniel and his friends “knowledge and understanding” (v. 17a). The term “knowledge” (Heb. maddāʿ) implies academic learning (cf. v. 4, “quick to understand”), and the word “understanding” (Heb. haśkēl) suggests both “aptitude for learning” (cf. v. 4) and insight with respect to prudence or sound judgment.

In other words, the food rations episode offers practical commentary of sorts on Proverbs 1:7a: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (cf. Ps 111:10). Baldwin, 84, has summarized that even small acts of faith and self-discipline, when undertaken out of loyalty to godly principle, set “God’s servants in the line of his approval and blessing. In this way actions attest faith, and character is strengthened to face more difficult situations.” (But see Goldingay, 20, who denies the cause-and-effect relationship between faithfulness and reward.) The added statement in v. 17b that Daniel received a special divine endowment to understand or interpret visions and dreams foreshadows those “more difficult situations” he will face in the key role he plays as interpreter of dreams and seer of visions in the rest of the book.[2]


A Young Man Decides

Daniel 1:3–21

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.

At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the two greatest reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, each issued commentaries on Daniel. Luther produced two studies, published in 1524 and 1544. Calvin produced one, published in 1561. It is a striking fact that in spite of Luther’s great popularity, which continues to this day, Luther’s books on Daniel have never been translated into English, while Calvin’s massive work, running to a thousand pages in the original Latin, was available in English within ten years.

Why has the text of Calvin’s commentary proved so popular? There may be many reasons, but most people feel that it is because of the passionate and moving way in which the great expositor linked the times of the exiled Daniel to his own.

Calvin lived in an age of ecclesiastical and political warfare in which many thousands suffered greatly for their faith. In Germany in 1546, Charles V began a war to stamp out Lutheranism. In France, between 1540 and 1544, Francis I attempted the same thing, massacring the Waldensians as part of his misconceived program. In 1545 he burned twenty-two villages and killed three thousand men and women. Others were sent to the galleys. In 1562, the year after Calvin’s commentary appeared, the eight Wars of Religion began, the destruction of which was so great that Europe did not recover for two centuries. Thousands became exiles during this period. Many fled to Switzerland where Calvin, who was himself an exile, lived.

Calvin’s commentary breathes with compassion for these people, and as a result it has always appealed to those who consider themselves exiles in a strange land. Indeed, it appears even more broadly than this. For Daniel was a man of God in worldly Babylon, and Christians are always God’s people in the midst of those who do not honor and in fact oppose their divine King.

Calvin dedicated his book to the “pious Protestants of France” and urged Daniel upon them as a great encouragement.

I have the very best occasion of showing you, beloved brethren, in this mirror, how God proves the faith of his people in these days by various trials; and how with wonderful wisdom he has taken care to strengthen their minds by ancient examples, that they should never be weakened by the concussion of the severest storms and tempests; or at least, if they should totter at all, that they should never finally fall away. For although the servants of God are required to run in a course impeded by many obstacles, yet whoever diligently reads this book will find in it whatever is needed by a voluntary and active runner to guide him from the starting point to the goal; while good and strenuous wrestlers will experimentally acknowledge that they have been sufficiently prepared for the contest.… Here then, we observe, as in a living picture, that when God spares and even indulges the wicked for a time, he proves his servants like gold and silver; so that we ought not to consider it a grievance to be thrown into the furnace of trial, while profane men enjoy the calmness of repose.

A Secular Environment

In order to understand Daniel we must realize that the Babylon to which Daniel and his three friends were taken was a secular, worldly place, as I attempted to show in the last study, and that their initial experiences there were intended to blot out of their minds the remembrance of the true God and their homeland. We see this in several ways. For one thing, Nebuchadnezzar ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to choose young men who would be easily molded by their new environment. Again, he attempted to lure them with the delicacies of food the great city of Babylon could provide.

Chiefly we notice Nebuchadnezzar’s intentions in the altering of the young men’s names. The Hebrew names of these young men were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They were changed to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It should be immediately evident to anyone with even a limited knowledge of Hebrew that the Jewish names of these men each contains a name of God and has a spiritual meaning. Daniel and Mishael both contain the syllable el, which means “God” and is the basis of the frequently appearing (plural) name Elohim. Daniel means “God is my Judge.” Mishael means “Who is like God?” The other two names, Hananiah and Azariah, both contain a shortened form of the name Jehovah. Hananiah means “Jehovah is gracious.” Azariah means “Jehovah is my helper.” The very names of these men were reminders of their heritage and a challenge to them to remain faithful to the Lord. But now, deported into a strange, pagan land, their names are changed. And the names they are given all contain a reference to one of the false gods of the ancient Babylonians, Aku and Nego. It was a way of saying that these who had been servants of the Jewish God were now servants and worshipers of the gods of the pagan pantheon.

Yet the change accomplished nothing. Nebuchadnezzar changed the men’s names, but he could not change their hearts. They remained faithful to the true God of Israel, as the story shows.

I apply that to our own age. One thing the world seems always to try to do—it has happened in the past, and it is happening in our own time—is to take Christian words and rework them to convey the world’s ideas. I suppose it is one of the devil’s subtlest tricks. It happens in liberal theology. “Sin” used to mean rebellion against God and his righteous law or, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (A. 14). But today it means ignorance or merely the kind of oppression that is supposed to reside in social structures. “Jesus” is no longer the incarnate God who died for our salvation, but rather our example or what might even be termed an evolutionary peak of the human race. “Faith” is awareness of oppression and beginning to do something about it, and so on. Of course, in the secular world the readjustment of words is even more ridiculous and extreme, as the recent use of the term “born again” in advertising slogans shows.

This is a great danger, I admit. But although it is a danger, if the truth of what is behind these words remains strong in the minds and hearts of those who really know the truth, then the vitality of the faith will remain regardless of the world’s corruptions. Christians will persevere because God will strengthen them to stand against the culture.

Daniel’s Decision

The most important verse in the first chapter of Daniel is verse 8, which says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.”

What is your reaction to that? Remember that Daniel was a young man at this time. We know from the later development of the story that he lived for a very long time beyond this—through the rule of four emperors. He was probably in his nineties when he died. So at this point he was probably between fifteen and seventeen. It was at this young age that he was taken away from his own country and culture, plunged into the strange but exciting life of the great world capital, and lured to loyalty by the best of all possible educations and by provision of the very food served to Nebuchadnezzar. Yet Daniel refused to partake of this food. As I say, what is your reaction to that? Do you find it a very little thing? Do you see Daniel’s decision as the immaturity and foolishness of youth? Would you have acted as Daniel and his friends did in these circumstances, or would you have gone along with your great benefactor’s desires? Would you have said, “After all, why should we live by Jewish dietary laws while in Babylon? Let’s eat and drink. It’s just a small thing”?

Well, it was a small thing. Yet that is just the point. For it is in the small matters that great victories are won. This is where decisions to live a holy life are made—not in the big things (though they come if the little things are neglected), but in the details of life. If Daniel had said, “I want to live for God in big ways, but I am not going to make a fool of myself in this trivial matter of eating and drinking the king’s food,” he never would have amounted to anything. But because he started out for God in small things, God used him greatly.

I have titled this chapter “A Young Man Decides” because it is particularly in youth that the most significant and life-forming decisions are made. Are you a young person? Then you should pay particularly close attention to this point. Most young people want their lives to count, and most Christian young people want their lives to count for God. Youth dreams big. That is right. You should dream big. But youth is also often impatient and undisciplined, and young people are tempted to let the little things slide. You must not do that if you are God’s young man or God’s young woman. God will make your life count, but this will not happen unless you determine to live for him in the little things now. You know what Jesus said: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). Being wholly given over to God now is the essential and best possible preparation for future service.

Why We Must Be Holy

In the last chapter I pointed out that Daniel is a story of the struggle of the world’s people and culture against God’s people and God’s culture, and it is. But it is also a story of men who lived for God by choosing the path of personal discipleship and holiness. This is no contradiction, because it is only such persons who actually embody the spiritual standards of “the city of God.” It is only these who make any lasting difference in the world.

A great evangelical bishop of England, John Charles Ryle, wrote a classic study of holiness in which he urged holiness upon all who call themselves Christians. After some opening passages in which he describes holiness as separation to God, devotion to God, service to God, being of one mind with God and wanting God’s will—Ryle went on to show why holiness, the kind of holiness exercised by Daniel, is so necessary. He listed eight reasons.

  1. “We must be holy, because the voice of God in Scripture plainly commands it.” Peter wrote, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:14–16). This is not optional. God did not say, “I would like you to live a holy life; but if you are not too excited about that particular lifestyle, don’t worry about it. We’ll work on something else.” God said, “Be holy, because I am holy.” We must be holy because the holy God commands it.
  2. “We must be holy, because this is the one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world.” You say, “But I thought Jesus came to save us from our sins.” Yes, he did come for that. But the Bible also says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25–27). Many Christians think they would like the benefits of salvation without the obligation to live for Christ, but they cannot have them because Christ came to make them holy just as much as he came to save them from the penalty of their sins. If you are fighting against holiness, you are fighting against nothing less than the purpose of God in the Atonement.
  3. “We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” How is that so? Well, James in his letter speaks of two kinds of faith: a living, saving faith and a dead faith that saves no one. The devils have a dead faith; that is, they believe there is a God and that Jesus is his Son, sent to save his people. But they do not trust him personally. They do not live for him. A living faith does live for him and therefore shows itself in good works. That is why James says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).

Ryle used this point to comment on so-called “death-bed” conversions, judging that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred these “conversions” are illusory. He said, “With rare exceptions, men die just as they have lived. The only safe evidence that we are one with Christ, and Christ is in us, is a holy life.”

  1. “We must be holy, because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” Jesus was quite plain on this point. He said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15); “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (v. 21); “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” (v. 23); “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). How could the point be more clearly spoken? If you love Jesus, you will obey him; you will be holy. If you do not obey him, you do not love him—whatever your profession. Do you love Jesus? We have a chorus in which we sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus,” but you do not love him if you do not do what he says.
  2. “We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God.” Do you remember how Jesus made this point when he was talking with the Pharisees? They claimed to be children of Abraham and therefore in right standing before God. But Jesus said, “If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the things Abraham did” (John 8:39–40). Paul said the same thing in Romans, noting that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). The Spirit of God does not lead you to sin. The Spirit of God does not lead to disobedience. If you are led by God’s Spirit, you will lead a holy life, and the evidence of that holy life will be sound evidence that you are God’s son or daughter.
  3. “We must be holy, because this is the most likely way to do good to others.” Many people today have some desire to do good to others, and many of our social and benevolence programs are an expression of that praiseworthy desire. But I ask, “Do you help others by advancing a low moral standard—one that is easy for them to live up to? Do you help others by whittling down the righteous standards of the Old Testament law or the New Testament precepts? Not at all! You help others by upholding the highest possible standards and above all by living according to those standards yourself. There are several places in the New Testament in which the godly conduct of a believer is said to be the best hope of doing good to someone else. For instance, Peter writes, “Wives, … be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (1 Peter 3:1–2). No doubt many besides husbands have been won to Christ by the consistent, holy behavior of some Christian.
  4. “We must be holy, because our present comfort depends much upon it.” Not all suffering is directly related to a suffering person’s sin. Christ’s words about the man born blind (John 9:3) should disabuse us of attempts to make that an easy, one-to-one relationship. But although all suffering does not come directly from one’s sin, the reverse is true: All sin produces suffering.

We do not think this way naturally. In fact, we think just the opposite. We come up against one of God’s commandments, think that we would like to do something else, and immediately reason that if only we could do what we really want to do we would be happy. We think that we would be absolutely miserable obeying God. That was the devil’s argument in his temptation of Eve, but it is as diabolical now as it was then. To heed it is to forget whence our good comes. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). If we turn from this good, we do not turn to happiness but away from it.

  1. “Lastly, we must be holy, because without holiness on earth we shall never be prepared to enjoy heaven.” The author of Hebrews wrote, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Revelation speaks of heaven, saying, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).

Can I Be Holy?

The objection I am likely to get is that these points are all very well and good but that it is just not possible for you to live a holy life in your circumstances. “If I did the right thing in my job, I’d lose it,” you say. Or, “None of my friends would speak to me.” Or, “I’d never get ahead.” Or, “I just can’t be holy; I’ve tried it and I fail.”

If you are thinking this way, let me turn back to Daniel, who was not only resolved not to defile himself with the king’s food and wine but was also willing to put the matter to the test and prove God able in his circumstances. Daniel said to the guard who had been appointed over him, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see” (Dan. 1:12–13).

The guard agreed to this test, and at the end of the ten days the young men looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. Moreover, it was not only in their appearance that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah excelled. They also excelled in knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. The text concludes by noting that at the end of the three years of training, when the king brought his young protégés in for testing, Nebuchadnezzar “found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (v. 20).

Do not say, “If I live for God, I’ll lose out.” You may lose out on some of the things the world offers, which are not good for you anyway, but you will experience a richness of God’s bounty. The Bible says, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).[3]


1:8–16 Daniel and His Friends Remain Undefiled. Daniel and his three friends resisted the attempted assimilation. They retained their original names (see v. 11) and resolved not to defile themselves with the king’s food and drink (v. 8). Many have thought that the four men’s resolve came from their intent to eat only ceremonially clean food, not any “unclean” food as specified in Lev. 11:1–47 and Deut. 14:3–20—much as a group of Jewish priests later did in Rome, eating only figs and nuts (see Josephus, Life of Josephus 14; cf. Rom. 14:2). That may be part of the explanation, for the Babylonians would have eaten such things as pork, which was unclean for Jews. But wine (Dan. 1:8) would not have been prohibited by any law in Jewish Scripture, so that cannot be the entire explanation (unless the young men feared that somehow the wine had been polluted through failure to grow the grapes according to the rule of Lev. 19:25–28; cf. Deut. 20:6). Another view is that they feared the meat and wine would have been first offered to Babylonian idols. Again, this may have provided part of the reason for their reluctance to partake of the Babylonian food, but the vegetables and grains would probably also have been offered to idols, so that does not seem to be the most persuasive explanation. A third view, that they were following a vegetarian diet for health reasons, is unhelpful, because no OT laws would have taught them that (modern) idea. A fourth view combines elements of the first two, and seems the best explanation: Daniel and his friends avoided the luxurious diet of the king’s table as a way of protecting themselves from being ensnared by the temptations of the Babylonian culture. They used their distinctive diet as a way of retaining their distinctive identity as Jewish exiles and avoiding complete assimilation into Babylonian culture (which was the king’s goal with these conquered subjects). With this restricted diet they continually reminded themselves, in this time of testing, that they were the people of God in a foreign land and that they were dependent for their food, indeed for their very lives, upon God, their Creator, not King Nebuchadnezzar. (It is possible that Daniel later came to accept some of the Babylonian food; see Dan. 10:3.) The Lord gave Daniel favor (1:9) with his captors, an answer to Solomon’s prayer for the exiles (1 Kings 8:50), and the steward honored their request for a special diet. At the end of a trial period, Daniel and his friends looked fitter (fatter in flesh; Dan. 1:15) than those who had consumed a high-calorie diet. This confirmed that God’s favor was upon them.[4]


1:14–16 Better and fatter indicates that Daniel and his friends were healthier than the young men who ate … of the king’s delicacies.[5] Daniel and His Friends Refuse Unclean Food (1:8–16). Daniel regarded the food offered by the Babylonians to be defiling. The Mosaic law forbade God’s people to eat unclean animals or flesh that had not been drained of blood. Portions of the wine and meat presented by Ashpenaz may have been offered to idols.

Daniel convinced the Babylonians to allow him and his three friends to follow a different diet, consisting only of vegetables and water. After a ten-day trial period they looked even healthier than those who were following the diet prescribed by the king. Consequently they were not forced to eat the king’s food or drink his wine.[6]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Hill, A. E. (2008). Daniel. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 52–54). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Boice, J. M. (2003). Daniel: an expositional commentary (pp. 19–25). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 1586–1587). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1009). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[6] Chisholm, R. B. (1998). The Major Prophets. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (p. 333). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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