For the past few years I’ve worn my hair in a shorter way, not quite crew-cut style, but not really long enough to comb either. Affectionately I call it “Chia Pet.” Here’s the little secret about the primary reason for “Chia Pet” hair: manageability.
However, my hair history has not always been so low maintenance. Alas, there were the dreaded comb-over, hairspray days. Yup, and cheap hairspray too. Believe me, it required several gallons a day to maintain the helmet-head look I once (regrettably) sported. In some ways I was personally responsible for the hole in the ozone layer. But I digress…
Mornings were the worst times during the era of unmanageable hair. After a night’s sleep, there was no telling what new contortion my hair would take! The process of watering down, combing over, and hair spraying into submission would begin. Every day. Every single day.
In so many ways, what happened to my hair each night is what happens in our Christian lives. Paul warned us that this world system would relentlessly seek to stamp its image upon us, would systematically endeavor to conform us to its values. We dare not sleep! For when we do, we wake to find ourselves in an entirely misshapen, un-presentable state.
Of all the shining examples of those who effectively resisted such cultural conformation is the young man Daniel. Now don’t tune me out, because I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve heard a million messages about Daniel and the 3 Hebrew boys. I know all about ‘purposing in my heart’ and ‘10 times better’ and the ‘lion’s den’ and the ‘fiery furnace’ and…”
Listen, I certainly do not question your Bible literacy about Daniel. But what I’m asking you to do is to consider the ways by which his culture threatened his faith and challenged his God-given identity. Before we begin, it might be helpful to acquaint yourself with Daniel 1:1-7 http://goo.gl/Yd3nDu, or simply read on.
Nobody really knows exactly how old Daniel was when he was captured and deported by the Babylonians. We know he was young. Because he was a child with potential, the Babylonian government sought to program Daniel for their benefit. That program included three objectives: (1) religious realignment; (2) educational indoctrination; and (3) behavioral adjustment. Allow me to suggest some of the ways by which Babylonian culture sought to accomplish these ends in the life of young Daniel.
Religious Realignment: they sought to downgrade Daniel’s religion and introduce him to a more eclectic approach of worship.
Seemingly unimpeded, into the Temple of God at Jerusalem the Babylonians stormed. With total disrespect for the Jews and their God, the soldiers profaned holy ground and pilfered holy artifacts. King Jehoiakim and a number of the royal and noble families’ children were taken captive. Off to Shinar they were carried and into the pagan temple of Babylon the holy items of Jehovah’s Temple were deposited. Openly, rebelliously, and shamelessly the Babylonians denigrated the Jews and their religion.
Was God overpowered by the Babylonians? Had He met his match in the well-trained army of the Babylonian superpower? Of course not! In fact, the passage clearly tells us that “the Lord gaveJehoiakim” into their hands. Even in their defeat, God was in control. Then, as now, He allowed His people to live in a culture antithetical to Biblical values.
But from the Babylonian perspective, they were demonstrating the superiority of their polytheistic religion to that of the antiquated monotheism of the Jews. In similar practice to that of today, the Babylonian society “celebrated diversity” and “multiculturalism.” In their demented thinking, the Jewish God would simply now collect dust in the trophy case of a more powerful religious reality.
Things haven’t changed much in these 2 ½ millennia since Daniel lived. Like that of the Babylonians, this world’s culture argues against the absolutism of one God, and along with Him, one body of truth. Much more acceptable it seems is a multi-god approach to worship. As He was seen in Babylon, the God of the Bible is often viewed today as an insignificant, somewhat powerless relic of a defeated people.
Educational Indoctrination: they sought to isolate Daniel from godly influences and to educate him according to their own cultural bias.
Interestingly, Nebuchadnezzar focused his attention on the best and the brightest. By the use of physical and mental diagnostic processes, the king offered a comprehensive, state-funded education to those who satisfied the stringent requirements. His purpose? To indoctrinate them into the learning and language of the Chaldeans. These that had such a propensity for learning would now be given the knowledge by which the state could best be served.
The purpose of this schooling was to enhance the knowledge of young people within the framework of the Chaldean culture. And, make no mistake about it, the Babylonian society was an advanced society indeed. Agriculturally (hanging gardens), militarily (world power), and economically (amassing wealth) they had distinguished themselves. But a healthy GNP, super power status, and booming stock markets do not necessarily indicate the spirituality of a nation.
The unity of a nation is its language. Babylon understood this. One cannot appreciate the values nor incorporate the philosophies of a nation without learning and speaking its language. Translations and interpretations are poor substitutes. Nebuchadnezzar desired followers who shared his ideals philosophically and communicated them effectively. His goal was nothing short of a complete conformation to the ideals of Babylonian culture.
Get to the children early. Isolate them from their God and from their godly influences. Realign them religiously. Identify them by the ideals of society. (Notice even the changing of their names to accomplish this.) Tell them what’s important. Curriculum choice alone will accomplish this de facto. Speak the same language. Communicate the same message. Repeat.
Behavioral Adjustment: they sought to change the way Daniel acted and to manipulate the way he behaved.
Even the casual Bible student is aware of the way society endeavored to change Daniel’s prayer life. But that was at the end of Daniel’s life. Here at the beginning the process was more subtle, but no less insidious. In fact, I see at least two ways by which society attempted to adjust Daniel’s behavior: (1) gender reorientation; (2) physical diet.
Because it is a difficult subject, a person typically does not hear a lot about the fact that Daniel was a eunuch, or at least that seems to be the strong biblical implication. After all, he was under the auspices of the prince of the eunuchs. And it was common for captured males to be physically altered in order that their government service not be inhibited by sexual temptations. For this very reason, a eunuch was often assigned to serve the king’s harem. Additionally, the decreased testosterone levels made the servant more docile and compliant. Pretty sick, huh? It reminds me of some of the appalling and relatively recent historical examples of eugenics in Nazi Germany or even here in the States among Native Americans, African Americans, and others.
So what in the world can we learn from this?
Babylonian society understood the power of sex and sought to control it. In this case, they simply neutralized the gender to achieve its end. Is there any doubt that our present society also recognizes the power of sex and seeks to control it? We have movements toward both gender neutrality and unrestricted sexual expression. Some of society’s goals seem to include these: Diminish distinction between genders. Redefine core values like marriage. Profit in the market because “sex sells.” Politicize sexual choice to an ever-changing constituency. And, lest we give ourselves a pass, minimize the seriousness of sexual sin in our churches and among its leadership. And on it goes.
The king also sought to control the diet of these young people. The “king’s meat” consisted not only of the food the king would eat, but also included the process by which that meat was prepared and served. Most likely, before it was served, the meat had been ceremoniously offered to any one of their false gods. To participate in the meal, even if the food itself were kosher, was to celebrate and endorse their false gods. This Daniel could not do.
In addition to this spiritual roadblock to eating the king’s meat was the additional danger such a diet imposed physically. In ancient days, a society considered fatness—even obesity—to be a symbol of success and luxury. In some ways, these boys were being “fattened up.” Of course we understand how unhealthy that is today!
Thirdly, the diet obviously did not meet the strict biblical requirements that God lovingly gave to the Jews for their own benefit. Daniel understood this, of course. One might say at this point, “Why would Daniel risk his young life over a cheeseburger? I mean, is God really that concerned with a food choice?” And the answer to this objection is simply, “Yes, God is concerned with a food choice. If you don’t believe it, ask Adam and Eve. They’ll testify.”
The point is this. All of God’s commands are attached to His person. If the command is clear we must attach our obedience to it directly to Him. We don’t obey commands, per se. We obey God. Compliance may be regulational, but obedience is always relational.
In light of these three societal objectives—religious realignment, educational indoctrination, and behavioral adjustment—Daniel’s stand is nothing short of extraordinary. By God’s grace he maintained fidelity to His God and religion until the day he died. Educational indoctrination failed to shake his commitment to his learning about God and his continued use of God’s language. (As an evidence of this, he wrote the book of Daniel primarily in Hebrew.) Lastly, and insofar that he had choice in the matter, Daniel’s behavior continued to reflect his respect for God first.
Ironically, God used Daniel to greatly bless and benefit both the Babylonian and Persian empires, not by conforming to their cultures, but by standing for God within them. By God’s grace, may we do the same.
Now where did I put that hairspray?
Source: Consider This