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A View from the Altar / Daniel and the Great Depression
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Daniel and the Great Depression

My daughter and I read through the story of Daniel and his friends refusing the king’s food, and it got me thinking about the role of faith in the life of the Christian.

Daniel’s people didn’t lose an election or even an economic depression.  They lost a war of invasion, and their conquerors carried them away as slaves.  Some of the children of the nobles got sent off to the ancient equivalent of re-education camps to learn the Babylonian language and customs.  Things of a Most Unpleasant Nature happened to them there.  The Bible doesn’t say explicitly that Daniel and his friends were castrated, but that was the custom of the day, and they were under the authority of the “master of the eunuchs,” so you can draw your own conclusions.

Being conquered, exiled, enslaved, and mutilated was designed to break the spirits of the captives.  The Babylonians then switched from bad cop to good cop and started feeding them from the king’s table.  This was considered a high honor in ancient times, and you may remember Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, being extended the same favor by King David.  But this was Babylon and not Jerusalem, ruling by force and not by grace.  The food and comforts were a velvet glove over the same old fist.  To accept the favors of the king meant joining his entourage of clamoring, backstabbing toadies.  The alternative was to join the hordes of slaves toiling their lives away in Babylon’s prison farm.

But Daniel and his friends weren’t quite ready to stop trusting God.  Being Jews and men of God, they could not accept the king’s food, and they resolved not to eat it.  But resigning themselves to slavery was a poor choice for men seeking God’s glory, so they sought for a way to obey God in all this.

And here’s where the faith part comes in.  Their choice was not a digital, one-or-zero option, either sucking up to the king or becoming religious kamikazes.  Rather, faith viewed the issue in terms of a challenge, maybe even a riddle.  Given that God must be obeyed, how could a way be found through the impasse?

So they asked for vegetables to eat (the KJV calls it “pulse,” which sounds gross), trusting God to fatten them up despite a lean diet.  The Lord did this, but He also rewarded their faith, making them adept in the Chaldeans’ learning above all the king’s other counselors.

They won this battle by settling their hearts on obeying God and then trusting God to grant success.  Faith doesn’t really put God on the line; it puts self on the line, risking what is necessary to serve Him and prove that, “They shall not be ashamed that wait for me.”

The footnote to the story is that the mutual strength of believing friends increased their boldness and faith.  How can one be warm alone?  But the threefold cord is not quickly broken.  Trust God and do good, said David, so shall you dwell in the land, and truly you shall be fed.  Good to remember in difficult times.

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