Embracing your distinctiveness

He was only a teenager when the foreign army swarmed over the land. They killed a lot of his friends. The older men he had loved and admired for their courage as soldiers were all slaughtered. Every home had been looted, and every precious memory tarnished as these brutal conquerors, stinking and laughing, had pillaged the land.

Then they grabbed him, dragged him away from his parents, and rounded him up with some other teenage boys. He was weeping, but he was powerless. This was the last time he would ever see his home.

They made him march over 1,000 miles with the other prisoners until they arrived at their destination; a city that was more beautiful than any he had seen, even his beloved home. There were bazaars filled with spices, and gorgeous, wealthy people everywhere.

Soon after arrival, he and the other boys were locked up in a facility and told to wait. Days later, they were dragged one by one into a room and the operation took place. They cut off his testicles without a word, swiftly and decisively, paying no attention to his screams. He was given time to heal up, and as soon as he was walking again, he was brought to the palace.

The boys were lined up, and they were asked their names. He gave his. ‘God-Is-My-Judge’. The man stared at him for a few seconds and said, ‘That’s no good. Your new name is, O-Wife-Of-The-God-Bel-Protect-The-King.’

After weeks and weeks of sadness and despair, something odd was happening. These foreigners were treating him nicely. He was given a comfortable bed and new clothes, along with the other boys. Then they were invited to come and dine in the palace.

As the food was brought out, he looked with longing. He had never seen so much meat. And there was no shortage of wine. His stomach growled, and he felt like he could eat it all, by himself. But he also felt a subtle but definite hesitation in his spirit. He stared at the food and suddenly realised what he had to do.

They had ripped him from his family. They had taken him from his home. They had stolen his manhood, and now they’d named him according to their gods. He realised that they were breaking him down so that they could remould him as one of their own. And now this lavish treatment, the comfort, the food, the wine, was their way of turning him into their loyal subject. He understood that the greatest threat to his identity was not pain, it was pleasure.

So he said no. He wouldn’t eat the food. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with it. His God, the True God, would not mind if he ate it. But he just knew that he had to draw the line somewhere. He had to define himself as belonging to the True God. He had to remember who he was.

And so he ate nothing but vegetables and water. The meats smelled unbelievably good, charred to perfection. But even though he was exercising self-denial, he had that glowing sense of happiness in the deepest part of his heart. He had carved out a sanctuary of worship, a way of saying to the True God, ‘I’m yours. I can’t be bought. I can’t be seduced to love this place more than your Holy City.’

Daniel was learning how to be God’s man while he lived in exile. He would serve for decades in this foreign place, trusted by a succession of emperors as a man of exemplary character and divine wisdom. But he would always remember that he was a servant of the True God. Living in exile could not strip him of his identity as a Hebrew, as a man of God. His small act of defiance in refusing the pleasures of Babylon had forever sealed his destiny as one who belonged to God.