Excuses for Sin
To rationalize compliance with the king's orders, Daniel could have resorted to one of the easy excuses for sin that we all find appealing.
1. Nobody will know. Daniel was a thousand miles away from his parents. He was a thousand miles away from his teachers, who perhaps included Jeremiah. He was a thousand miles away from everyone he knew except a few boys his own age. How easy it would have been to buckle under the king's orders and take the king's food and drink! But he was steadfast in doing right. How do we act when we are separated from our Christian friends and acquaintances? Do we lead a double life?
Jesus furnishes a withering answer to the first excuse.
1 . . . Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
2 For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.
3 Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
How does God know what we do in secret? There is no place to hide from His view (Ps. 139:1-12).
2. It's not so bad. Daniel might have reasoned: "If something were really wrong with this food and drink, why would the king of Babylon insist that they be given to us? He is a great king, a wise man. I come from Jerusalem, the conquered city of an outlying petty kingdom. Maybe some of the things I have been taught are a little backward. I need to enlarge my thinking, broaden my horizons, take a first step out into the world of sophistication." But Daniel did not hide sin under this sort of excuse.
What about us? Do we long for sophistication? Sophistication beckons to our vanity by promising that if we will chase after a deeper, more discriminating knowledge of the world, we will join a superior group—an elite. Yet sophistication is always basically dishonest. It is always an effort to make vice look like virtue. To accomplish this deception, sophistication gives vice an alluring name and dresses it as the choice of fashionable people.
- This is not a pipe full of tobacco weed. This is an exotic Turkish blend in genuine briarwood.
- This is not decayed grape juice. This is a rare vintage of Chateau Laffitte-Rothschild.
- This is not a dirty movie. This is an art film, a memorable example of classic cinema.
Lest we be seduced by such words, we must remember Paul's admonition. "I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil" (Rom. 16:19). We are to take no interest in evil things, though they appear to contain much good mixed with the bad, though they seem wonderfully desirable or inventive. We are to stay away from them. Why? Because, as it says in Proverbs about wine, at the last they will bite like a serpent.
If, in obedience to the Word of God, we shield our eyes from worldly attractions, keep our feet from worldly places, and guard our hearts from worldly lusts, the result of our innocence will be that the world will see us as narrow and naïve, as simple indeed in a pejorative sense.
3. Everybody else is doing it. As shown earlier, Daniel was probably all alone in his initial decision to refuse the prescribed diet. There is no evidence that he was supported even by his three friends. He could easily have told himself, "Look, nobody else believes it is wrong, so it must not be wrong." But Daniel was a young man who thought for himself, who could fend off pressures to conform if they undercut his own convictions. His name was, "God is my judge." That is, "I am concerned only to please God—I follow God, not men." What about us? How often do we follow men, not God? But the Bible says,
12 For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. . . .
18 For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.
2 Corinthians 10:12, 18
One of the most widely read commentaries on Daniel was written in 1946 by M. R. DeHaan, an outstanding Bible teacher of his generation. In his discussion of Daniel's first chapter, he lingers for several pages on the problem of worldliness among Christian people (1). He demonstrates the rapid slippage in standards by listing some of the worldly practices that have crept into the church during his own lifetime. If anyone today objected to the same practices, he would be written off as a fanatic, for nearly all are now accepted without question by most professing Christians. Why has this slippage come about? The reason is that Christians have one eye on where God is pointing them, one eye on where today’s culture is pointing them, and they chart a course somewhere between.
4. This is an order. Daniel had no doubt been instructed to respect and obey authority. Thus, when the order came down dictating his food and drink, he could easily have said to himself, "Well, I don't agree, but God placed me under the king, so I had better do what I am told." Although such reasoning seems pious, it has not consulted the whole counsel of God. The Bible says,
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained by God.
The chief idea expressed here is that no man has authority in himself. Whatever authority he possesses has been delegated to him by God. Authority resides in his directives only so far as they are consistent with God's Word. If they are not consistent with God's Word, he has overstepped his authority, and his directives are not binding on anyone.
Most people today are inclined to be too headstrong. Resistance to legitimate authority is a prevalent sin undermining the witness of the contemporary church. Yet there are times when good people are too submissive. Frequently in the past, a pastor has entered the pulpit and begun to question the literal truth of the Scriptures or the necessity of separated living, and his people have respected him too much to raise any objection. Instead, they have meekly let themselves be corrupted by devilish lies spoken through the mouth of an authority figure.
5. God will forgive me. If Daniel had repented after taking the king's food and wine, God would indeed have forgiven him. But the sinner who stands on the brink of sin and says, "I will repent afterward," is making a very hazardous calculation, for three reasons.
- If the sin is attractive today, it will be even more attractive tomorrow, when it is more familiar.
- If conscience cannot prevail today, it will put up less resistance tomorrow, when it is discouraged by failure.
- No man should think that in himself he has the power to repent. Scripture teaches that repentance is a work of God.
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.
2 Timothy 2:25
Anyone who ignores God and willfully sins with the excuse, "I will repent afterward," is being presumptuous in the extreme. He is demanding future grace to repent that God is under no obligation to provide. Instead of turning him around, God might let him go his own way. He would be well advised to heed the warning stated three times in Scripture, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (Matt. 4:7; Deut. 6:16; Luke 4:12). Here is a sharp rebuke of the fifth excuse for sin.
6. God has failed me, so I have no duty to obey Him. If anyone has ever had cause for bitterness against God, it is Daniel. While still a child, he was wrenched from his own country and transported over a thousand miles into permanent captivity. Never again would he see his home or family. Then he was humiliated by being made a eunuch, and for the rest of his life his only prospect was to serve as the courtier of a pagan egotist.
The maturity of the young Daniel after suffering several life-shattering blows is remarkable. Forsaking the laws of a God who had apparently forsaken him would have been easy. Yet, even at the price of almost certain death, he chose to do right.
How do we react when God appears to withdraw His favor from us, when we have multiplied problems that seem undeserved? Do we turn away from Him in anger? Does resentment at the trouble He has permitted in our lives cause us to walk in rebellion against Him? But our trouble and difficulty are nothing compared with Job's, and look at what he said: "What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). Here is the answer to the sixth excuse.
Two Objectives of Daniel's Protest
Daniel was determined not to accept the king's food and drink. At the same time he realized that he should not throw his life away recklessly. God wants us to do right even though an evil world may respond with violent hatred, but we need not deliberately provoke that hatred. If Daniel had defied the king in such a way that the king had no alternative but to execute him, the tragic cost of doing right would have been the erasure of a whole life devoted to serving God. Therefore, to save his life, Daniel sought permission from the men over him to abstain from the defiling food and drink.
Conduct Daniel Avoided
How could Daniel escape from the king's wishes and not incur the king's wrath? Here was a task for a mature master of diplomacy. Yet Daniel was only a teenager. The great wisdom in the course he chose shows that he must have relied on God's leading at every step. Only with God's help could he have avoided all those ways of expressing his conscience that would have courted disaster.
1. He did not publicly oppose the king. If Daniel had been an outspoken young man with rebellious tendencies, he might have mounted a platform before all the other boys and announced that he, a holy Jew, would never submit to the king's unholy demands. But a short while later, he would have been dead.
Also today, any Christian whose conscience is uneasy about a demand from higher authority should, if possible, express his reservations privately, not publicly. If he embarrasses his superiors by public opposition, they may harden the objectionable demand and deal with him severely.
2. Even in private, he avoided a defiant attitude. He made no threats, showed no hostility. He merely requested permission to forego the food and drink allotted him (v. 8).
The trouble with a defiant attitude is that it may backfire. If a Christian complains belligerently about an offensive requirement, his superiors may feel that he is questioning their ability to make him do what they want. So, to prove their authority, they may insist that he comply. To gain their cooperation, he must keep a spirit of meekness. He must make them feel as if he is seeking a favor that only they can provide. He must convince them that he desires to support and not to subvert their authority.
Steps Daniel Took
The whole process shows the perfect wisdom available to anyone seeking to do God's will. The steps Daniel took illustrate how we also should proceed when we find ourselves poised delicately between the competing directives of God and man.
1. He respected the chain of command. He went straight to Ashpenaz, his immediate superior. He did not go over the head of Ashpenaz to the king. Nor did he go to some underling who lacked authority to make a decision.
2. He approached Ashpenaz with a request. His manner was so tactful and winning that Ashpenaz looked upon him with special favor (v. 9). The master of the eunuchs answered sympathetically that he would like to help Daniel, but he could not. Why? He was afraid of the king (v. 10). If Daniel showed ill effects after abstaining from the prescribed diet, the king might discover that Ashpenaz had sidestepped one of his orders, and Ashpenaz might lose his head.
3. He did not press the matter too far. After Ashpenaz gave his answer, Daniel did not argue with him. He said only what he planned to say and no more. Then he went home and began prayerful deliberation. Do we also keep our mouths under control, or do we habitually put them on automatic pilot?
4. He carefully considered what he had been told. He pondered Ashpenaz's words until he was able to flesh out the whole meaning. He realized that Ashpenaz's objection hinged on only one thing, fear for his life. Also, in Ashpenaz's friendly attitude he sensed an implied permission to forego the king's diet if he could maintain a healthy appearance.
5. He found a way of satisfying the objection. Instead of going back to Ashpenaz, he approached someone else, a servant identified as Melzar in the King James Version. This, incidentally, is probably the name of an office rather than of a man (2). Melzar (or, the Melzar) was an underling with direct responsibility for the food and drink of the captives. Daniel doubtless expected Melzar to relay the conversation to Ashpenaz. Because Ashpenaz had been afraid that a change in Daniel's diet would produce poor health and appearance, Daniel proposed a test (vv. 12-16). He said to Melzar, "Feed us ten days on pulse and we will emerge healthier and better looking than any of the boys on the king's diet." He did not choose too short a time for the benefits to be seen, nor too long a time to be acceptable to Ashpenaz. Obviously, Ashpenaz would not wait for weeks to see what would happen. Before then, any change for the worse might come to the king's attention.
6. He rallied support. Apparently it was just before Daniel approached Melzar that the other boys joined the drama by also deciding to refuse the defiling food and wine. Perhaps Daniel had been urging them to participate in the test so that the healthful benefits of the simple vegetable diet would be conspicuous and undeniable.
7. He took a leading role. Once the other boys were behind him, he did not enlist anyone else to speak for the group. Rather, he did the speaking. He recognized that God had been using especially him to discover the right course of action. Therefore, as they carried it out, he should stand forward as the leader.