From age to age the heroes of faith have been marked by their fidelity to God; and they have been brought conspicuously before the world that their light might shine to those in darkness. Daniel and his three companions are illustrious examples of Christian heroism and devotion to principle. A brief account of the life of these four Hebrews is left on record for the encouragement of those who are brought into temptation and trial. From their experience in the court of Babylon, we may learn what God will do for those who serve him with full purpose of heart.
In the reign of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, and carried away
all the princes, and all the mighty men of valor, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land.
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After his return from the conquest of the Israelites, Nebuchadnezzar,
spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; children in whom was no blemish, but well favored, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.
Among those chosen from the captives of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego.” The Babylonian officer had an object in thus changing the names of the Hebrew youth. Anciently the name of a child stood for his character, and the names given to these children were characteristic of what it was expected they would become. They were young in years, and this change in their names it was believed would make an impression on their minds. In a little while, it was hoped, their former religion would be forgotten, and they would become in character and purpose like the Chaldean youth about them.
That they might be fully prepared for their life at court, according to Oriental custom, these youth were to be taught the learning of the Chaldeans, and for three years they were to be subjected to a thorough course of physical and intellectual discipline. They were not only to be admitted to the royal palace, but it was also provided that they should eat of the meat and drink of the wine that came from the king’s table. They were appointed “a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.” In all this the king thought that he was showing them great honor, and was securing for them the best physical and mental development.
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But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.
In purposing that he would not eat the food that the king had provided, Daniel did not desire to be singular; but he was determined to be true to God. As a true Hebrew, he could not eat the meat nor drink the wine. In the food provided for the king’s table, were swine’s flesh and other foods which were proclaimed unclean by the law given to Moses. Again, a portion of the food, and also of the wine, was set apart as an offering to the false gods of Babylon.
According to the religious ideas of the day, this act consecrated the whole to the heathen gods. Daniel and his three brethren thought that if they should not actually partake of the king’s bounty, a mere pretense of eating the food and drinking the wine, where such idolatry was practised, would be a denial of their faith. To do this would be to implicate themselves with heathenism, and to dishonor the law of God.
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What They Might Have Thought
Daniel and his companions might have taken the position that because their food and drink was of the king’s appointment, it was their duty to partake of it. But they did not do this. As they were brought to the test, they placed themselves fully on the side of truth and righteousness. By earnest prayer and study of the Scriptures, they were prepared to act intelligently in the matter.
Flesh meat had not composed their diet in the past, and they determined that it should not come into their diet in the future. From the fate of the sons of Aaron, they knew that the use of wine would confuse their senses, that the indulgence of appetite would becloud their powers of discernment; and as wine had been prohibited to all who should engage in the service of God, they resolved that they would not partake of it. They would not defile themselves with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.
The faithful youth knew not what would be the result of their decision; but though they realized that it might cost them their lives, they resolved to keep the path of strict temperance in the courts of the licentious city of Babylon.
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Daniel and his companions are illustrations of what the young men of today can be. Earnest, whole-souled, these youth would be true to principle at any cost. During the early years of his captivity, Daniel was passing through an ordeal that was to familiarize him with courtly grandeur, with hypocrisy, and with paganism. A strange school indeed to fit him for a life of sobriety, industry, and faithfulness! And yet he lived uncorrupted by this atmosphere of evil.
What to Do with Temptation
To those who will do as these youth did,—close the door to temptation, deny appetite, and place themselves in right relation to God,—the Lord will manifest himself. It is the privilege of the youth today to have principles so firm that the most powerful temptations will not draw them from their allegiance. The company they keep, the principles they adopt, the habits they form, will settle the question of their usefulness in this life, and of their future eternal interests, with a certainty that is infallible.
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There is also a lesson for us to learn in the demand the king of Babylon made for perfection in the youth who should stand in his courts. They must be without blemish, well favored, skilful in wisdom, cunning in knowledge, and understanding science. If an idolatrous king should demand such excellence in those who were to stand before him, should not those who have a knowledge of the true God reach perfection of character and capability in his service? Those who expect one day to stand before the throne of the God of gods and Lord of kings, should live each day in such a way that the approval of God can rest upon them. They should seek daily to remove the blemishes in character that lead to sin, and bring into their lives the perfection of character that all must reveal who have a part in the kingdom of heaven.
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Character will always be tested. If Christ dwells in us, day by day and year by year, we shall grow into a noble heroism. This is our allotted task, but it can not be accomplished without help from Jesus, without resolute decision, unwavering purpose, continual watchfulness, and unceasing prayer. Each has a personal battle to fight; each must win his way through struggles and discouragements. Those who decline the struggle, lose the strength and joy of victory. No one, not even God, can make our characters noble or our lives useful unless we make the effort necessary on our part. We must put features of beauty into our lives. We must seek to expel the unlovely traits, while God works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure.
Ellen G. White.