Daniel 1, NKJV

Daniel’s life is an example of how we can live a life of integrity in a culture that is trying to squeeze us into its mold. These actions are not commanded; they are commended. Our task is to take the principles that Daniel lived and apply them to our own modern experiences. So let’s get started in Daniel 1:1, 2 with some historical background.

Daniel opens with two succinct statements about the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. The first describes the event in terms of secular history: “Nebuchadnezzar . . . came to Jerusalem and besieged it.” The second is in terms of biblical theology: “And the Lord God gave Jehoiakim . . . into his hands.”

Nebuchadnezzar was not content with controlling the leading cities of these lands. He also desired to control the thoughts and hearts of the people in these cities. Rather than forcing the ruling leaders to change, Nebuchadnezzar moved the best and brightest young people of the land to his palace. In so doing, he was taking a long-term view of his conquest. He knew that overcoming people by military force was not enough. If they continued to resist him, more and more of his resources would be demanded. He was not the last leader to realize that capturing the hearts and minds of the young people would eventually capture these nations!


The course of study is described in Daniel 1:3-7:

A. Isolation. These young men were isolated from the influences that would mold their thinking and character in the ways of the Lord. They were separated from the regular public worship of God, from the teaching of the Word of God, and from the fellowship and wisdom of God’s people.

B. Indoctrination. Notice the emphasis on learning “the language and literature of the Babylonians.” This seems harmless, and there is nothing inherently wrong with learning foreign literature or languages. But, in this case, the aim was not merely academic: Nebuchadnezzar wanted to retrain their minds to think as Babylonians rather than as Israelites. Within the language and literature of a culture are the seeds of its worldview.

C. Compromise. Culture does not scream at us to change. It entices us with those things to which our undisciplined appetites and desires are drawn. The food allotment was one such seduction. It was not Taco Bell but filet mignon. It was connecting the indoctrination with a different life style, one that promised a lot more than it could deliver.

D. Confusion. The fourth element in the process of weaning these young men from the truth was the changing of their names. These names would be used day after day in normal speech and would remind these young people of the direction in which they were headed.

The principle is simple: The way we think— about God, ourselves, others, and the world—determines how we live. If Nebuchadnezzar could get these young men to think like Babylonians, they would begin to live like Babylonians. The reverse was also true: The less they thought of themselves as the Lord’s people and as His servants, the less they would live like one of them.

Few of us live in the kind of totalitarian state into which Daniel was brought. Yet we are still confronted by this strategy.


So how did Daniel and his friends handle this cultural crunch? And how can we handle our own conflicts with our culture?

A. Develop firm convictions and resolutions (Dan. 1:8a). Apparently some of the food Daniel was to consume had been declared unclean under Jewish law. The law forbade eating the meat of animals that had been sacrificed to pagan deities. According to the culture of that day, “to share a meal was to commit oneself to friendship.”

For a child of God, some things cannot be negotiated or compromised. From the outset, Daniel refused the delicacies of the court. In many ways, his usefulness in the kingdom of God throughout the rest of the book depended on this single decision. Daniel did not wait until he was in a position of strength; right from the beginning, he resolved to walk in the ways of God. Here’s an important question that each person must ask himself or herself: “What are the non-negotiable aspects of my life?”

B. Determine a wise approach to the immediate dilemma (Dan. 1:9b-10). Daniel didn’t stage a protest or participate in a hunger strike. Once he had developed his convictions, he sought permission to go on a different course. Notice that he also gave a reason: “that he might not defile himself.” Conviction and resolve without action become mere stubbornness. Daniel was able to tell this polytheistic official the basis for his monotheistic beliefs! He acted with conviction but with respect for authority—even ungodly authority. Notice it was not Daniel’s convictions or beliefs that caused the initial refusal; it was the anxieties of this official.

C. Refuse to retreat at the first sign of resistance (Dan. 1:11-16). The self-serving commander of the officials was not moved by Daniel’s request. But rather than responding with contempt, rebellion, or even resignation, Daniel stayed focused on his commitment with a creative and reasonable alternative. Daniel even allowed this overseer to be the judge of the outcome of this alternative. This was a humble confidence.

D. Rely on divine assistance (Dan. 1:17). There’s that phrase to be pondered: “God gave them . . .” Passing this test allowed Daniel to continue to live in harmony with his convictions. His obedience brought another benefit: God allowed him to have knowledge and wisdom about every aspect of that culture—without being swallowed up by it!

E. Honor God with your life over the long haul (Dan. 1:18-21). This was not a one-time event. Daniel didn’t think he had proved his point and so was free to live any old way. Let’s look at three critical outcomes.

First, in verse 19, Daniel and his friends were seen as unique. They weren’t odd or weird or even shunned. Living according to their convictions made them a source of conversation

Second, in verse 20, they were seen as indispensable. Daniel and his friends had been trained in all the learning and arts of this culture. Yet, it was their distinctiveness that brought them to this level of influence.

Third, according to verse 21, they lived like this for more than 60 years! They endured. Their influence in this pagan government had a profound effect for years to come.


The ultimate victory in this cultural crunch will not be on some national or international stage; it will come one person at a time. As you develop rock-solid, non-negotiable biblical convictions, as you live out those convictions, you will never lack an opportunity to influence the surrounding culture for good.

We have no example in Scripture of a government becoming godly and changing the world, but today we have many examples of small-business owners, teachers, parents, retired people, couples, single adults, and students changing forever how their friends and family look at life.