Daniel Prepares for Three Years

“The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.” (Daniel 1:5–6, ESV)

Daniel lived most of his very long life serving pagan kings — but not just serving. He served at very high levels. What was it like for him to have been forcefully taken from his homeland, to have been thrust into a strange culture, made to learn a new language, and made to live the remainder of his days under the yoke of servitude? How did he maintain a cooperative spirit among his captors? What convinced him to use his copious skills in the service of a strange king? Why does God allow his children to help a pagan nation prosper? We cannot answer most of these questions, but we can say this: None of Daniel’s trials took God by surprise.

Daniel began the Babylonian captivity as a promising fellow. By king Nebuchadnezzar’s command, persons with potential for service to the court were separated out, given a portion of the king’s provisions, and trained in the ways and wisdom of the Chaldeans for three years. At the end of the three years, they would be presented to the king for approval. Daniel, along with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, shone above their other classmates, and they were chosen to stand before the king. The training was a success, but what went on during this three-year preparation period?

One thing jumps out: God was not afraid to let his children grow in the common knowledge and wisdom of the nations. Math belongs to God, not to the Babylonians. The same may be said about other academic disciplines. Daniel’s mastering the Chaldean tongue did not defile his Hebrew tongue. Similarly, his learning about their gods and culture did not sully his relationship to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Part of the curriculum had to be about the Chaldean gods and their mythical exploits. Did Daniel ever roll his eyes? Let out a sigh? Or perform any other disrespectful act to his teachers and keepers? I cannot say. But this I can say: he graduated top of his class; he performed his duties ten times better than the local talent; he had not abandoned his God in spite of all his training. Daniel proved the latter by putting his life on the line for God time and time again. Have any persons ever had a more successful pagan education than Daniel? Yet, are any known to be more godly?

Daniel’s circumstances changed — but his relationship with God did not. Somewhere during this captivity, Daniel had to evaluate what God wanted him to do. Should he fight? Should he rebel and be non-cooperative? Should he lead his people either overtly or covertly to flee from captivity? How could an honorable man not turn these thoughts over and over in his mind? But look where Daniel ended up. He not only cooperated in his improvement, but he grew to become a leader of men—men of the nation which captured him. And with his high profile position, Daniel was able to give glory to God through his honest works and through his bravery. What corner of the kingdom did not hear about his deliverance from the lions?

We work at secular jobs, attend secular schools, and shop in secular stores. These things cannot defile us. The separation to which God calls us is not on that level. To fulfill the Great Commission we must live in this world. We can take Daniel’s cue, however, that it is permissible to learn and prosper while we are here. But, like Daniel, we must keep our relationship to God as clean as if we were in heaven itself.

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