Outcome of the Test
"Fairer" (v. 15) means simply "better." At the end of the test, the four boys looked better—that is, healthier—than all the rest. No wonder they looked healthier if they were not drinking alcohol or eating exotic foods. The wholesome diet that they had chosen must have given a good color to their complexions and made their eyes sparkle.
But they were also "fatter in flesh" (v. 15). How could they have become fatter than the rest? People go on vegetable diets to lose weight, whereas the food and drink from the king's table were meant to be as fattening as possible. The point is this. Just as God miraculously delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego from the fiery furnace, and just as He miraculously delivered Daniel from the lions' den, so also, when Daniel and his three friends resolved to remain unpolluted by forbidden food and drink, He intervened miraculously to uphold their convictions and preserve their lives. Although they were eating only pulse, He caused them, within a mere ten days, to become noticeably stouter than all the other boys.
What would the Hebrews have done if the test had failed? Daniel's intentions have often been misunderstood. In his proposal to Melzar, he made no promise that if the test failed, he and the others would begin taking the king's food and wine. In fact, he had unalterably purposed in his heart to shun anything that would defile him, and he was prepared to remain true to his conscience even at the cost of his own life. Daniel said, "As thou seest, deal with thy servants" (v. 13). In other words, "If we look good, then perhaps you will consider giving us the food we want. If we look worse or no better than the others, then perhaps you will decide to withhold the pulse." But he quite deliberately did not add, "And we will eat whatever you provide." If the test had failed, he and the others would probably have refused the fare set before them. But they would not have suffered much hunger. As rebels against the king's policy, they would have been quickly executed.
Purpose of the Test
The test was not a test of God's will. From Scripture, Daniel already knew God's will concerning the king's food and drink. Yet how often are we prompted by dissatisfaction with what Scripture says into seeking additional guidance! Indeed, we accept guidance that is easily manipulated by the evil one—guidance from circumstances, feelings, or the advice of people posing either as more spiritual or as not too spiritual. Then when we go off in the wrong direction, we think that just because God does not put up a roadblock, we have His approval and leading.
Also, the test was not a last effort to obey God. In Daniel's mind there was no plan to obey God only to the point of danger. Daniel never said to himself, "I will make every reasonable attempt to work out a way of keeping the law of God, but God can expect only so much of me. If the king won't cooperate, and Ashpenaz won't cooperate, and Melzar won't cooperate, then what choice do I have but to obey the king's order? Surely, God does not want me to lose my life over a question of food and drink." But Daniel's mind did not toy with thoughts like these. He was fully prepared to die if the test failed.
What then was the purpose of the test? The test was simply an effort to gain his master's cooperation. He was doubtful about helping the four Hebrews, so they allayed his doubts by showing him that he was at no risk. Their appearance after eating a diet of vegetables would be exactly what the king wanted.
Limits to Diplomacy
Earlier, we found that when Daniel sought to be excused from the king's food and wine, he shunned two kinds of conduct. He did not oppose the king publicly or express a defiant attitude. Instead, he used wise, mature diplomacy. Yet diplomacy is not always possible and, when possible, is not always successful.
Consider an incident some years later, when Daniel's three friends came to a convocation of the king's officials and the king ordered them all to bow down before a great image (Dan. 3). As followers of the true God, the Hebrews could not obey. They had to remain standing. Hence, they were immediately spotted by their enemies and dragged before the king. Faced with public insubordination, the king ordered the Hebrews to bow down or die. What should they do? Their decision whether to obey had to be rendered immediately, in front of all the people assembled around the throne. The methods of diplomacy were of no avail. Rather, they necessarily resorted to the kinds of conduct that Daniel had once avoided.
- They opposed the king publicly.
- Their opposition took the form of bold defiance. They said, "We are not careful to answer thee in this matter" (v. 16). They even expressed contempt for the king's punishment. They declared that it would be a trifling thing for God to deliver them from the fiery furnace (v. 17). Moreover, they forthrightly branded the king's gods as unworthy of their worship. Realizing that they might soon come into God's presence, buoyed up by a zeal to die heroically for the cause of truth, they did not mince words. They denounced the worship of idols (v. 18). The effect of their words on the king was not to win his sympathy, but to antagonize him thoroughly. He became full of fury (v. 19).
When an authority figure places us under a requirement that offends our conscience, what approach should we take—quiet diplomacy or open resistance? We resort to open resistance only if all else fails.
How Daniel and His Friends Distinguished Themselves
At the end of their training, the four Hebrews were personally interviewed by Nebuchadnezzar and found to excel all the other boys. Their superior knowledge and bearing earned each a position in the king's service (v. 19). Subsequently, after years of listening to their advice on matters of government, the king rated the four Hebrews as ten times wiser than all his other counselors (v. 20).
The most outstanding of the four was Daniel. He was so successful as a counselor to the king that his career not only outlasted the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, but survived the conquest of Babylon by the Persians (v. 21). Because of his proven abilities, he was appointed to a high post in the administration of Cyrus, the first Persian king. Specifically, he was made the chief assistant of Darius, the ruler whom Cyrus set over the province of Babylon (Dan. 6:1-3).
The first year of Cyrus (v. 21) was not the year of Daniel's death or demotion, but probably the year when Daniel retired from active government service. Daniel's death occurred no earlier than the third year of Cyrus, the date of the last vision in the Book of Daniel (Dan. 10:1).
How God Rewarded Daniel
God rewarded Daniel in three ways for his courageous refusal to compromise with the world.
- Preservation. God preserved his life.
- Exaltation. God gave him an exalted role in the kingdom of Babylon.
- Revelation. Through dreams and visions, God revealed to Daniel progressively more of Himself and of His program for the future history of nations and empires.
How God Rewards Every Believer
A believer today should not expect to duplicate Daniel's experience, for Jesus said,
19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.
Jesus said also,
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
Specifically, we cannot expect our lives to be preserved. For the sake of Christ, we may suffer a martyr's death. Also, we cannot expect to be exalted. Rather than reach heights of privilege and success, we may, like our Master, be counted as misfits and failures. And we cannot expect God to reveal Himself to us in visions. The God we serve is someone we know primarily through the testimony of the Bible.
Yet though God does not promise to preserve or exalt us in this world, and though we live by faith rather than by sight, He has promised us preservation, exaltation, and revelation in the world to come.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
15 Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.
16 In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.
17 For thou art the glory of their strength; and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted.
42 And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?
43 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
44 Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.
As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1 Corinthians 13:12