Daniel 1:1-21 Daniel's Wine
Authored by Mike Furey
Judah was attacked by Nebuchadnezzar says the text, but it also says the Lord delivered the king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar's hand. The wine goblets used in the temple were stolen by the Babylonians and placed in their foreign temples. The people of Jerusalem had filled their cup of sin to overflowing and the time of a visitation by the Lord through a heathen king had come once again. The people had made an idol out of the sanctuary itself and lost their focus on the Lord alone. Because of their propensity to idolatry, ironically, the Lord sent the people into the land of idols; Babylon was known for its idols on every corner and turn. Apparently this stratagem of the Lord was effective in bringing Israel back to him because if we look at the fruit that came out of this experience we will see that Israel became alive in Torah studies. During this period we have the emergence of synagogues. There are two main families of Torah studies, one Talmud is centered in Israel, Talmud Yerushalemi, and the other in Babylonia, Talmud Bavli. Which of these talmuds is considered the greater and more accurate? The Bavli, the one in Babylon. Israel loved her Torah while in an environment that was antagonistic and full of idols.
Chapter one in the book of Daniel deals with Daniel and three other Hebrews, but I will focus only on Daniel himself. Daniel was taken as a youth from his home in Judah within the area of Jerusalem. He was from either an aristocratic, noble family or even of royalty. He was young, handsome, healthy, and teachable. He was selected for training in politics by Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar had ordered the siege of the city of Jerusalem because of their rebellion in refusing to pay him tribute and attempting to self-govern. There were three major stages of attacks against Israel at this juncture in history. The first was by the hand of the Assyrians in 722 BCE in Isaiah's day whereupon the northern kingdom of Israel and its ten tribes were largely transported to a completely different region. This tactic of deporting an entire country was a military strategy developed by the Assyrians. In order to subjugate an unruly people, the Assyrians practiced a strategy of relocating an entire nation. Of course, they did not take everyone, only the healthy and the wealthy. The poor were conveniently killed or left behind. The second major stage of attack against Israel came in Daniel's day around 605 BCE and the third major attack in Jeremiah's day at 586 BCE. The setting for the book of Daniel then is a milieu under attack, a world at risk. How will Daniel survive and thrive in a world gone crazy?
Daniel was selected for grooming by the political machinery of the Babylonians. The Babylonians uprooted this young man from his home. He must have seen death and suffering everywhere. But, he was chosen by the oppressors for leadership. He was to be trained for three years and then put into the king's service. It is an old tactic to make leaders out of those taken from the oppressed and train them to do the "dirty work." In Exodus we have taskmasters who are actually Hebrews given the detail to "rule" over their own people and ensure quality work is done. When Pharaoh ordered more straw and bricks made each day because of Moses' request for the people to take just three days off to worship Yahweh, it was the job of the Hebrew taskmasters to whip the people into submission and compliance. (I suppose Israel never would have suffered in Egypt had they left it after the famine. But, under Joseph's administration they became quite content with the fat of Egypt and had forgotten their duty to return to the Promised Land. Jacob made a plea for his bones to be buried in the Land, but not for a return of all the people, too.) When Hitler ordered the Jews into his concentration camps, he placed Jews over Jews. He furnished a corps of Jews with a sufficient amount of the food and warm clothing they needed as long as they would supervise the rest of the prisoners and keep them in line. The Babylonians are offering Daniel comfort and class if only he would help keep his people in line. Under these providentially guided circumstances, Daniel wisely accepts his lot as Joseph had. What other choice does he have but death? He goes on to live a long life of wisdom, dedication, challenge, and growth. He is probably in his seventies or eighties at the end of the book and is still a key part of the governing body. Daniel later becomes "third ruler in the kingdom."
With the destruction of the temple, there was no proper place for the Israelite to offer up his or her sacrificial presentations before the Lord. The people seemed utterly powerless not only politically but spiritually. The God of Israel seemed defeated, even having the articles of his temple deported to the pagan temple of Babylon. But, our God is not concerned with mere golden cups and golden censers. He is primarily interested in building people wherein he truly makes his holy habitation. The beautiful temple and its precious articles were destroyed by God because they became a hindrance to his presence in the people's hearts. The Lord wants the law to reside in every Israelites' heart. This is more important than physical structures or tangible items. Daniel is an example of a youth with the Lord in his heart and on his consciousness and with the fire of God's word in his heart. For instance, he demonstrates an awareness of Leviticus chapter eleven.
Leviticus eleven deals with kashrut, the laws pertaining to food. It is believed that Daniel wanted to keep the requirements of kosher food. It does not say specifically how the food was unclean. Did they not drain the blood from the meat? Did they offer them pork, rabbit, or some other biblically defined unclean animal? Was it meat that had been offered to an idol? Apparently the food offered was in violation of the teaching that Daniel had received. Had Daniel partaken of the royal table he would have defiled his conscience, become unclean himself and suffered a loss of fellowship with the Lord. His refusal to eat the royal food and drink the king's wine is very significant. How else could he demonstrate his position as a devout Jew? To this very day, as no proper temple exists in the world for Jews to observe the sacrificial system, the number one way that Jews practice Torah and honor the Lord is through the dietary laws. In fact, Sabbath, circumcision and diet are three ways that all observant Jews for thousands of years around the world have maintained their dedication to the Lord their God. In being careful how one prepares one's very food, one proclaims one's faith in the Name. No matter where one is one can be faithful to the Lord in the eating process of each day. The feeling is "I may not have a country, a temple, a place to offer sacrifices for my sin, but I can do this 'least' of acts. I can honor the Lord with the food I eat. I can be Torah observant." Daniel was dedicated and Torah observant.
Because of Daniel's dedication to the Lord, the Lord blesses Daniel before his heathen masters. After a trial period of ten days, the clean diet of Daniel caused him to look healthier than the other young men who indulged and so the officials of Nebuchadnezzar's court are impressed with the health and vitality of Daniel. Perhaps the wine drinking of the other young men evaporated their strength in some type of hangover. It matters not what the physical reason for the disparity in their appearances might be, for ultimately, it was the blessing of the Lord behind Daniel's good health. When one is dedicated to the Lord one is healthier. It is now common knowledge among hospital administrators that people who pray, who have a spiritual life, who have a religious community, have a "protective effect" that goes beyond explanation. Believers in God heal better and faster; this is now scientific fact according to H. G. Koenig in his secular studies on this topic. Daniel lived to a ripe old age in times of disaster and change because of his dedication to the Lord.
The Book Of Revelation by the apostle John in the New Testament is often compared with the Book Of Daniel of the Tanak (which Christians call the Old Testament). Both books deal with breakdown in social structures and end time apocalypticism. How does one survive, dare say even thrive, during times of world wide change and during times when evil ascends to power? Shalom comes in dedication to Yahweh for Daniel and well-being comes in worship of Jesus for John. When a person fixes his or her mind on being dedicated to God no matter the circumstances, when one worships the Lord of lords and King of kings no matter the times, one can survive and thrive, if it is the Lord's will. Sometimes we are called upon to sanctify the Name; sometimes we must die as martyrs. But, should providence so guide, we can thrive like Daniel who lived to an old man of seventy or eighty and prosper as John who lived till his nineties as the longest living apostle.
Lastly, I think it is instructive for us that Daniel did seem to have wine in his diet later in his life. The text does not say he drank royal wine or any defiling Gentile mixture of wine. I am positive that Daniel continued to observe the Torah of Leviticus chapter eleven. But, he did drink some kind of wine which most certainly had to have been "clean" by biblical standards. In Daniel 10:3 Daniel says he abstained from fancy breads, meat and wine for three weeks during a mourning period, which implies he would return to such a diet at the end of the mourning period. Perhaps as a person holding to the Rechabite traditon of abstinence from alcohol as recorded in the Book of Jeremiah, it may just be my sober interpretation, but I am inclined to believe that Daniel "mellowed out" in his old age based on this verse. It is quite plausible that he may have even drunk the royal wine which he once judged unfit as a youth as long as it had not been offered to an idol in sacrifice nor been subjected to any other ceremonial impurities. Our walk with the Lord changes. Our understanding of his law changes. Our lives become lighter and freer in the process of walking with Him. His conscience was free and he was no compromiser in his old age. He was very much dedicated to the Lord as we note from the tone in Daniel 9:23 where Gabriel the angelic messenger says Daniel is "greatly beloved," (KJV). What is important is not our imperfect understanding of the Torah, but that we sincerely and truly continue to be devoted to the Torah or Word of God. Our interpretation of the text will change over the decades. But, our minds and hearts must be steadfast in devotion and dedication. It is not our interpretation of the law or our understanding of the Bible and standards for daily living that preserve us. It is the act itself of seeking the Lord himself in accordance with a clean conscience that brings "the protective effect." Daniel grew in wisdom and knowledge and gained favor with God and humankind. His spirit of dedication and worship is the key to his surviving and thriving. It is also the key to our own.