And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.
And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.
I love this story of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who were seeking to maintain their covenants and not consume any unclean meat or drink. It is a small story, one that might seem inconsequential compared to the more epic tales of the Bible, but I believe it provides some wonderful lessons for us all.
There are multiple things I want to point out from this short narrative, so I will be reviewing them one-at-a-time over the next few days.
And the king appointed them a provision of the king’s meat: so nourishing them that they might stand before the king
But Daniel purposed that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine
To begin with, let us consider the setting of it all. At the outset Daniel and his companions are captives in Babylon. They are being integrated with a court system that already exists, and they naturally come to a point of friction between their old culture and this new one. There will be more points of friction at other points in their lives, but this is the first time we see them caught between their new king and God.
And so we must recognize that they are at the mercy of others. From these passages it would seem that they were not even able to obtain their own food, being entirely dependent on what was brought to them instead. Thus Daniel could make a request for a special diet, but if unclean meat was what was given to him then unclean meat was what he would have.
The prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: ye make me endanger my head to the king
And the prince of eunuchs could see no reason to honor Daniel’s request. The man was not himself a Hebrew and was not converted to their customs. His concern had far more to do with losing his head if he presented the Israelite youth as less fit than those who ate meat and drank wine! He thus had the power and the motivation to override Daniel’s religiosity. The two men were at an impasse and Daniel did not have the upper hand.
This very easily could have been the end of the story. Daniel could have taken the eunuch’s rejection and let his morals be crushed. He could have oscillated between anger at having been made a victim and shame at having not stood up more. He could have given up all his principles entirely, he could have made a bitter crusade and decried the prince of the eunuchs as an unfeeling sinner.
Any of these paths would have been easy to resign oneself to, but as we will see, none of them were what Daniel elected.
Ten years ago I served a mission, seeking to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to any who would hear. Some people were genuinely relieved to have us turn up on their doorstep. Some of them were disinterested, but turned us away kindly. Some of them quickly shut off the television and pretended that no one was home. Some, however, felt deeply offended that we had come calling at their house, and before we could say a thing shouted at us until we left.
And, to be fair, I get why people don’t like to talk to missionaries. First there is the matter of repetition. Many religious sects will frequently change the missionaries that they have in an area. Thus you can tell the first set “no, thank you,” but then a next pair arrives and they don’t know that you’ve already expressed your disinterest. You keep having to say “no, thank you” over and over, and eventually the “thank you” gets replaced with stronger verbiage.
Another reason is that some missionaries are simply insufferable. Obviously every one of them should be driven by a genuine love for those they teach. Their great, motivating desire should be to help all people however they can. But I have been a missionary, and I can attest that this is not true for all of them. Many of them truly do have sincere and good intentions, but there are also those that you can practically feel the holier-than-thou dripping off of.
And the last reason that comes to mind is that each of us have areas of life that we know we can improve on. We feel guilty, but many of us are in denial of that guilt. In this case even a heartfelt, loving invitation to a better life might feel like a judgment of how sinful we are right now. A salesman might come and point out dirt on our house and try to sell us a cleaning solution. We might be disinterested in the product, but not offended. But a missionary reminding us of the dirt in our soul? That is a much more touchy matter.
Thus I see work to be done on both sides so that proselyting efforts can be given with care and can be received with the same spirit by which it was given. In a perfect world missionaries would all establish a caring relationship first, then seek to share their light as a friend instead of a stranger. And in a perfect world each of us would be honest to ourselves about our own guilt and would be open to those who can help us become the sons and daughters we were born to be.
It is said that if you want to maintain a friendship you should never discuss religion. We might be able endure differences of opinion in sports and clothing brands, but we won’t tolerate conversations about the things that really matter.
Obviously this timidity to discuss spiritual matters has to do with their inherently sacred nature. We all feel a heightened sensitivity about things which are sacred. These parts are closer to our heart, and therefore a callous word is much more likely to wound our feelings. There is also the tendency to feel judged whenever someone else believes that what we do is a moral wrong.
But I don’t believe the solution should be to cut off communication there. I believe spiritual feelings can be conveyed in a way that is sensitive and loving. I believe that sometimes we need to testify of what we know is right, even if it will be perceived as offensive by the those that we are speaking to. I also believe that there is room to examine one’s intention in how they speak, and room to examine one’s intention in how they listen. With this study I would like to consider exactly those points. How can we share testimony, champion good, and call to repentance in a way that God approves of? How can we hear the opinions of others and receive or reject it as appropriate?
I have already studied a similar topic before, one where I considered how we can remain respectful in our differences of spiritual opinion. But I want to give special attention in this study for those moments where we need to share a spiritual truth that others may fight difficult to hear. I want to focus on both sides of that moment, the giving and the receiving.
In the meantime, I would love to hear about your own experiences in this matter. Have you ever tried to share something out of love, but had it received as if out of hate? Have you ever felt muzzled when trying to champion that which is good? Have you ever felt that you must say what you had to say, no matter how it would be received?