Daniel’s life changed forever during the reign of King Jehoiakim, whose wickedness paved the way for Jerusalem’s eventual destruction by the Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 23:36-37; 24:1-4, ESV). Before this disastrous event took place, Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar hauled off Jehoiakim and his best men as exiles around 605 B.C. (2 Chronicles 36:5-8; Daniel 1:1-4, ESV). This began Judah’s seventy-year exile, which had been prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer. 25:8-11, ESV). Daniel and his three friends were among the first wave of exiles to Babylon (Dan. 1:7-8, ESV). It did not take long for Daniel to lead his three friends with faith and boldness to their God in the presence of their captors (Dan. 1:12-14, ESV).
Before moving forward, let me quote the passage for us:
“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs…” (Dan. 1:8-9, ESV).
These words describe Daniel as a man of gumption and faith. The latter is the reason for the former. One could argue from a practical standpoint that Daniel risked his life and his friends’ lives due to his faith in action. After all, they are captives of the reigning, world empire, Babylon, which destroyed their city and temple. Daniel and his friends belong to a conquered people, who have no standing in this foreign land of a foreign king. Where and with whom did these four men have grounds for such faith and boldness? The answer is the Lord God Almighty, who dwells in his heavenly temple. Daniel leads his friends through prayer and fasting in order to demonstrate their faith and dependence upon the God they serve. He grants them favor before their captors, which empowers them to outshine the best and brightest within King Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom (Dan. 1:17-20).
When I chew on this portion of scripture, it causes me to stop. Daniel and his friends live through the destruction of their home and the temple as exiles in a foreign land. Their existence is one of captivity not freedom. Instead of living in defeat, these men immerse themselves in prayer and fasting in order to show their allegiance to God rather than their captors (Dan. 1:8, 12-13, & 15, ESV). It seems to me that praying and fasting are more than mere spiritual disciplines for them, but a lifestyle that they embrace. Someone might argue that Daniel’s life as a prophet demanded such a commitment. This presupposes that he operated on a different level than the rest of us. It is true that Daniel served as a prophet and an interpreter of dreams; however, I must emphasize the fact that Daniel is a human being. This means that inherited Adam’s sin nature by birth. Daniel is in the same boat as every man, woman, and child who has ever lived on this earth except Christ. Here is what I mean.
Over in the book of Romans, the apostle Paul unveils some key teaching about the nature of fallen humanity. Because Adam rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, his choice and action corrupted his nature and all of his descendants (Romans 5:12, 19, ESV). This means that the natural tendency of human beings is to rebel against God and his word rather than obey. Daniel’s life and the lives of his three friends demonstrate God’s transforming work of grace in their hearts and souls in order for them to live contrary to their sin nature. Their display of praying and fasting confirms that they are new men living according to their new nature (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10, ESV). If this is not true about Daniel and his friends, then someone needs to explain the meaning behind the author of Hebrews alluding to their deliverance in the lions’ den and the fiery furnace (Hebrews 11:33-34; cf Daniel 3:25; 6:22, ESV).
Here is the point. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is the famous hall of faith passage. It lists Old Testament (OT) believers, who serve as examples of believing faith, in order to encourage believers in the New Testament. Another way to say this is Daniel and his friends are not examples of believing faith, then why list include them or anyone else from the OT? The Old and New Testaments are different eras in redemptive history; however, the believers from both put their faith and trust in the same God. Daniel and his friends looked forward to Christ while NT believers look back. If my faith is in Christ like Daniel and his friends, then I can expect similar results. This is one of the key takeaways from Hebrews eleven. My circumstances are totally different from these OT saints; however, my God is their God, and he stopped the mouths of the lions and walked in the furnace with his servants (Dan. 3:24-25; 6:21-23, ESV).