And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. (Hebrews 11:32-34)
When Your Faith is Tested
Is there really a God? If there is a God, why do I still encounter difficult times in my life? Are my prayers effective? Should I give up and succumb to the realities of life, or should I continue to trust God? When our faith is tested, such questions inevitably arise. When the Israelites were besieged and captured, we wonder if Daniel asked these same questions as he stumbled along with the other captives on the way to Babylon.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it, taking captive some Israelites from the royal family, including Daniel. These noblemen, who were used to a comfortable and luxurious lifestyle, were now being moved along like a herd of cattle, making the arduous journey towards Babylon. Did they blame God? Did they persevere? How many of them survived and reached Babylon? What fate awaited them if they did survive?
Many captives died along the way. Daniel, along with those who survived, arrived in Babylon, where King Nebuchadnezzar had just given an order.
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. (Daniel 1:3-4)
Daniel and his three friends were among the fortunate ones to be selected. They were to eat food and drink wine from the king’s table, then they were to be trained for three years, and after that to enter the king’s service. In such a situation, most people would choose to accept their good fortune at being selected, and live this new life with thankful hearts. Daniel, however, thought differently. His experience of suffering had not caused him to stray from God, but rather increased his faith in God. Now he had a choice to make: should I eat food and drink wine from the king’s table? Such meals from the king’s table often consisted of food and wine that had been offered to idols. Furthermore, some of the food, such as pork, were forbidden to be eaten according to the laws of Moses. Daniel was conflicted: should I eat, or should I not? If I eat, I would be comprising what I believe; if I don’t, I may face severe punishment. And so, Daniel’s faith was tested.
He Would Not Defile Himself
Every believer’s faith will be tested. In every facet of life, whether in important matters or seemingly insignificant decisions, will I resolve to make choices that go against what the world says, and thus show that I belong to God? Will I hold fast and stick to the principles that are pleasing to God? Or will I make compromises in order to please the world? When we make compromises and do as the world does, we are accepted by the world as one of its own. However, when we stand firm and hold to principles that are against what the world desires, such conviction becomes offensive to the world. Yet Daniel resolved to draw a clear boundary in what others saw as a grey area. To him, it was far more important, even at the risk of his life, to gain the favor of the Lord over the favor of men. Thus, Daniel resolved not to defile himself.
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)
Daniel’s three friends had the same resolve as he did, and so they requested the chief official to test them by giving them only vegetables to eat and water to drink for ten days. At the end of the ten days, the chief official inspected them and found them to be “healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food” (Daniel 1:15). As a result, the chief official gave orders to remove the royal food and wine, and permitted Daniel and his friends to eat food according to their conscience. Praise the Lord, Daniel passed his test of faith with flying colors!
Daniel was twice tested in his faith, first in a test of suffering, and second in a test of life. The Bible merely mentioned the first test in passing, yet recorded the second test in detail. Why? Because in the first test, Daniel did not have a choice—suffering came upon him; but in the second test, he did have a choice, a decision that he had to face as part of his daily life. Brothers and sisters, what most often tests our faith are not seasons of suffering, but our day-to-day life. It is not the sudden catastrophic events that will erode our relationship with God, but more often than not, it is the daily choices we make that can defile us. In the matter of food and drink, Daniel knew where to draw the line, and did not allow the world’s impurities to contaminate him. What about you? Where do you draw your line? This is between you and God, but the underlying principle is the same: I am set apart for God, and I will not defile myself. I will honor God. Daniel honored God, and God showed favor to him.
Shut the Mouths of Lions
In life, there are two types of tests. One is “to not do what is wrong”, the other is “to do what is right”. Daniel did not defile himself with the king’s food, and so he chose “to not do what is wrong”. Do not lie, do not hurt others, do not covet dishonest gain…all these fall under the first category. Several years later, Daniel found himself in another alarming situation where he would face the second type of test.
By that time, the Babylonian empire had been overturned, and on the throne was Darius the Mede. At the instigation of treacherous court administrators who planned to harm Daniel, King Darius issued a decree that anyone who prays to any god or man other than to the king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Daniel had always prayed to God three times a day. If he continued praying as usual, he would violate the king’s decree and be thrown into the lions’ den. What should Daniel do? Should he pray, or should he not?
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:10)
Daniel decided that he must do what is right. And so he went upstairs where the windows opened towards Jerusalem, and got down on his knees and prayed. When Daniel’s enemies found out about this, they immediately reported it to King Darius. The king loved Daniel, but he could not change his decree. Bound by his words and forced to act by the people, he had no choice but to capture Daniel and throw him into the lions’ den. At the first light of dawn the next morning, the king drew near to the lions’ den, and called out in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” To his astonishment, Daniel answered from inside the lions’ den:
O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me. (Daniel 6:22)
Darius was overjoyed to hear Daniel’s voice, and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. No wound was found on Daniel, and he appeared in front of King Darius unharmed! Without a doubt, this was a miracle! God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions, and saved the life of Daniel. The reason Daniel was saved was because “he had trusted in his God” (Daniel 6:23). Dear brothers and sisters, the miracle of the lions’ den happened only to Daniel, and only once in history. The miracle of salvation, however, is ongoing—it takes place every day, everywhere, and to everyone who trusts in Jesus.
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:12-13)
Daniel’s experience teaches us:
- God shows favor to those who honor Him, and saves those who trust in Him.
- The tests of faith are “to not do what is wrong” and “to do what is right”.