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Cultural conformity and nonconformity

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But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, or with the wine which he drank. – Daniel 1:8

Daniel is an exilic prophet. He is one of two, the other being Ezekiel.

These prophets write during the Babylonian exile period. Daniel’s story begins in 605 BC, in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah. It was the same year that Jewish captives were carried off to Babylon in the first deportation, after King Nebuchadnezzar had come to Jerusalem and besieged the city.

Ashpenaz is instructed by King Nebuchadnezzar to bring some of the children of Israel – “young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had the ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans” (1:4).

Among the sons of Judah who were chosen were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, whose names were changed to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. The Jewish captives were appointed a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank. They were also given three years of training, so at the end of that time, they might serve the king (Nebuchadnezzar).

The story takes an abrupt turn. Daniel “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” with the royal food and wine. Daniel was willing to allow his name to be changed; he was willing to be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans; he was probably willing to change his style of clothing.

But Daniel drew the line; he was not willing to sacrifice the dietary laws of his God. And if the story is followed further, Daniel was not willing to bow down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (chap. 3), nor to stop praying to Yahweh (chap. 6).

Eating the king’s delicacies and drinking his wine was a case of cultural discrimination for Daniel.

He couldn’t do it, because it was an offense to Almighty God. Cross-cultural adaptation – with its deculturation, acculturation, and assimilation process – did not include forsaking the God of one’s birth. No matter where Daniel was, whether in Jerusalem or in Babylon, Yahweh was still God and he alone deserved to be worshiped.

These faithful Jews – Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – pay a high price for the sake of their integrity. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are thrown into the fiery furnace (chap. 3), while Daniel is placed in the lion’s den (chap. 6).

Have you been trying to please others, to be a conformist, because you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings? What about the Lord’s feelings? Or, what price have you paid for holding on to your integrity and being a nonconformist?

The Bible is very true: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Gal. 6:9).

Melvin Woodard is senior pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church. Write him at New Salem MBC, 3315 W. 36th St., Indianapolis, IN 46228.


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