Daniel’s Decision: To Sanctify Himself
“HE REQUESTED … that he might not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8).
It seems a momentous decision when we read about it, and we suppose it must have seemed so to Daniel at the time and to everyone around him, but I know better. At that moment, only the spiritually observant, such as Daniel, would have known its importance. That’s often the case with temptations: we only recognize the trap after it’s too late.
As is so often the case, temptation came to Daniel with the foot-in-the-door technique. Social scientists have well documented the effect. In one study, almost all of a random sampling refused to allow a large political sign in their front yard. In a second sampling, similar homeowners were first asked to allow a small sign in their yard. Most agreed, and of those who allowed the small sign, most later agreed to a large sign being placed in their yard. In other words, when people begin by agreeing or going along in small, unimportant matters, they’re likely to agree to more important issues or acquiesce to even more serious requests later. That’s why telephone solicitors start by asking questions to which people will answer yes. That’s why Satan begins with small compromises.
Considering their dire circumstances, eating and drinking from the king’s table likely seemed trivial to many of the young men with Daniel, even though it required eating and drinking food offered to idols. Some of them might have said, “The fuss you’re making is too much for this simple principle. It’s not worth so much fuss.” However, Daniel knew that a second request to compromise principle is always inevitable, that the consequences of the second request are far more serious and that resisting a second request is harder after agreeing to the first. Satan departed from Jesus for a season only because Jesus resisted his first requests. He doesn’t flee those who give in. The first compromise traps us, making it harder to marshal our own inner resolve and harder to convince others that it’s a matter of principle when we’ve given them no reason to suspect principle in us before now.
Some of the young men might have said: “Let’s go along till we’ve won them over, then make our request to be excused from this banqueting.” But Daniel knew that nothing is more fatal to the defense of right than delay. What has been will be. It is as difficult to reassert a moral principle as it is to get back on a tightrope after falling off.
Daniel might have said, as many in his position do, “True religion is of the spirit and not the body, anyway.” Or he might have said, “The old way was destroyed with Jerusalem, let’s not mess up our new opportunity in Babylon with some old fashioned principles.” Today, such chronological snobbery, as C. S. Lewis calls it, is common. It’s true that old things are often old and new things are new; but not all old things are outdated, nor all new things better.
Such arguments did not prevail with Daniel. He could probably handle them all at a rhetorical level better than you or I; but he didn’t win the moment by debate, nor will we. It was won by saying NO.
Daniel knew how to say no—what a wonderful ability! A lot of people are poor and will remain poor and others will become poor because they can’t say NO—either to their own desire for gratification or to persuasive salesmen. Telephone solicitors and salesmen and marketeers of all stripes depend on people who can’t say NO. So does Satan.
The best weapon available to young people in strange new circumstances, and indeed to Christians of all ages and in all circumstances, is the ability, the willingness to say NO. How many bright lives have been spoiled by the failure to say NO? How many preserved by saying NO? Let our courage be high, our faith firm, and our answer to sin always an unyielding NO.
Daniel’s success in saying no in so seemingly small a matter, which really was so very consequential (as the narrative goes on to show), was based on an obviously grave and important decision he’d made earlier, perhaps as a young man in Jerusalem, perhaps on his way to Babylon, perhaps even in the very moment before he said no to the king’s dainties. But, whenever—his fundamental decision to sanctify himself to the Lord was the basis of his success in resisting temptation in this moment, and in all the other moments of his life. As it ought, that grand decision guided his daily decisions.
Would that it were so with us. For Satan daily tests us, looking for weaknesses. Only a few days ago, as I made the third trip to the tool drawer looking for the right size screwdriver, rubbing my barked knuckles and wondering why I’d ever put training wheels on the bicycle in the first place, I asked my wife: “Why does every simple task have to turn into a test of character?” The next day, the Bible, as it always does, provided the answer: that’s what we signed on for. 1 Peter 3:9: “… not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.” The key phrase here is “knowing that you were called to this.” When we became His disciples, we signed on for the testing of our character, by which testing character develops (James 1:2).
It’s easy to float downstream, but we signed on to paddle against the current. So we shouldn’t be surprised when almost every activity and every day brings a new challenge to our commitment to sanctify ourselves to the Lord. Like Daniel, we need to make seemingly simple, day-to-day decisions in accord with the great decision of our life: to be like Christ.
Dickey, M. T. (1990). Daniel’s Decision: To Sanctify Himself (Daniel 1:8). In B. Lewis (Ed.), Christianity Magazine: September 1990, Volume 7, Number 9 (B. Lewis, Ed.) (18). Jacksonville, FL: Christianity Magazine.
By M. Thaxter Dickey
From Expository Files 20.9; September 2013