Daniel 1:8

The objective of a culture is to draw everyone in and make everyone similar. This isn’t necessarily bad. The pressure to conform sometimes guides people onto a better path. But in many instances, that pressure is detrimental. We have to push back or stand firm in those cases, even when the culture doesn’t think it’s being harmful, even when the culture doesn’t understand.

An example appears in Daniel chapter 1. Daniel was an Israelite taken into the service of Babylon’s king after this nation had conquered Jerusalem. Daniel was given a new, Babylonian name. He was also given Babylonian food, and at this point he pushed back, asking to eat only vegetables instead.

Daniel’s reasoning is not explicitly stated, but we can infer it. The Israelites had been given special dietary rules by God. With Babylonian food, there would have been no way to know whether the food had been prepared in a way that was acceptable. For example, had the meat been an offering to an idol? By sticking to vegetables, Daniel would know he was in the clear.

What is explicitly stated is Daniel’s aim, and this is surprising. Daniel’s priority might be a surprise even to many who know the story.

Daniel 1:8 says: “Daniel determined that he would not defile himself with the king's food or with the wine he drank. So he asked permission from the chief official not to defile himself.”

Consider what that verse doesn’t say. It does NOT say, “Daniel determined that God would be angry if he ate the wrong food.”

It does NOT say, “Daniel determined that rules are rules, and to break them would bring dishonor.”

What it does say is that Daniel determined that he would not defile himself. Daniel was thinking about himself. There was something special about him, something worth preserving. Specifically, he was part of a special people. That people was now conquered, dispersed, and being absorbed, making it all the more important to hold to the ways that God had made this people distinct. If Daniel didn’t stick up for this specialness he shared in, then it might be lost.

How significant was that specialness? Listen: When the Israelites had carried the Arc of the Covenant, they carried a picture of themselves. The Arc was a vessel that had the word of God inside. As described in the Book of Exodus, the Arc carried the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. Similarly, the Israelites were a vessel that had the “Word” of God inside. They were a vessel through history that would carry a line of descent all the way to the birth of Jesus Christ.

Daniel lived before Christ; he didn’t know this much. The Babylonians around him certainly understood even less. All Daniel knew is that God had made him special by choosing for him to be born into a special people, and that part of living out that specialness was to obey a set of rules that (by design) set the Israelites apart from other peoples.

Is all of this still relevant today? Arguably, Daniel’s example is more broadly relevant now than it was in his own time. We are all vessels. Each of us who believes has God inside (Romans 8:11), and because each of us is unique, it must be that each of us has some unique expression of God manifesting through us. What is the specialness that you are given to protect?

The answer is written on your life or your nature. It might involve the interest you want to follow or the talent you can cultivate. It might involve the area of sensitivity you have to keep safe, or the need to which you ought to attend. It might involve the pain that is a part of you. It might involve the love you don’t wish to have to explain to others.

These things can be awkward to the point of feeling shameful. These things can seem downright weird. But in fact, an appearance of weirdness is the turbulence surrounding specialness. “Looking weird” is what happens when the culture applies its pressure.

There is so much of this pressure that we can’t resist it all. Nor should we. Again, sometimes the culture is right.

But then there are times when even loved ones are pushing us to yield something that we should not yield. The problem in these cases is that the point often seems small. Protecting that particular iota of specialness in that moment seems not worth the trouble. Yielding on this one point seems like a small-enough concession that we expect we can recover the lost ground later.

However, if God has woven something dear into the self he gave you, then likely the stakes are higher than that. What if your specialness is valuable? What if, like Daniel, the worth of what sets you apart and makes you distinct is actually much greater than you are able to understand?