We see this in the very first chapter of the book of Daniel. At the opening of the book we are told that Daniel and a number of other young Jewish men that had been taken captive to Babylon were chosen for special training in the Babylonian king’s palace.
But now a problem arose. We are told that “The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table” (Daniel 1:5). This may sound great for the average young man with a good appetite, but for Daniel, as a faithfully observant Jew, this was a problem. There is no question that foods from the pagan king’s table (or more accurately, “kitchen”) would have included many meats and other foodstuffs that were unclean according to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament (Leviticus 11).
Righteous as Daniel was, he immediately tried to obtain an exception to this royal decree: “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (Daniel 1:8). But obedience to the law of God was not going to be that easy in this case. The official told Daniel: “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.” (Daniel 1:10).
Given Daniel’s firm righteousness, this is the point when we might expect that he would “take a stand” on the issue and refuse to eat the food – even if it meant risking the king’s displeasure and likely punishment for refusing his command. But Daniel took a very different approach. When he did not gain success through the normal channel, Daniel took evasive action and tried another, more unusual tactic:
Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed: “…Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see” (Daniel 1:11-13).
Notice that Daniel did not attempt to go over the official’s head, but rather went beneath him by making the same request to one of the guards under the official’s command. In this case this was a brilliant move. Had Daniel tried to go above the official to the king, his request would doubtless have failed if it were heard at all. By making the request of someone who had not been directly commanded by the king (as the official had been), Daniel was able to present an alternative “meal plan” to the guard that doubtless pleased the man.
By forgoing the food from the “king’s table” Daniel opted for a diet of vegetables – basic food probably close to what the guard himself received as that was the traditional food of servants and poorer people. The offer Daniel was effectively making to the guard was “How about we eat your inexpensive meals and you can have our rich royal fare?” Even if a direct exchange of meals was not involved, the guard simply had to give Daniel vegetables from the royal kitchen and could keep the rest of the rich meal for himself. The guard’s response to this offer was what we might expect: “So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days” (Daniel 1:14).
The results of this meal exchange were perhaps more surprising. At the end of the ten days Daniel and the other Jewish trainees looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who ate the royal food. As a result, the guard was doubtless happy to maintain the situation and we are told that he “…took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead” (Daniel 1:16).
The outcome of this situation was perfect. The royal official Daniel had first approached was relieved not to have to report a problem with some of the young men he was supposed to be training, and the guard who actually brought the meals from the kitchen had no complaints either.
But this simple outcome was based on a careful and well thought out approach on Daniel’s part. Instead of bluntly refusing the king’s commanded diet, Daniel used tact, interpersonal skill, ingenuity, and certainly wisdom in addressing the problem. In taking this approach he not only saved himself from a difficult situation, but also avoided being the cause of difficulty or even punishment for those assigned to work with him.
In using wisdom in this way, Daniel did not compromise his own faith and also did not cause problems for himself or others. We do not know what Daniel would have done if his second attempt had not been successful, but the story indicates it is likely he would have tried other alternatives as long as some were available. Later in the Book of Daniel we see that Daniel was not afraid to “take a stand” when he had no choice but to do so (Daniel 3:13-18), but the first story we are given shows his success in balancing obedience with wisdom when that was possible.
In our own lives we too may sometimes be called upon to make hard decisions regarding our faith. In those cases, like Daniel, we should be willing to take a stand regardless of the cost. But, also like Daniel, we should be careful to apply our faith in wisdom and to avoid “taking a stand” when this is not necessary. In many cases we will find that the application of wisdom to faith can bring about the best outcome for everyone. That is doubtless one of the reasons we are told that righteous Daniel found favor with both God and men (Daniel 1:9,19; 9:23).