If I mentioned the name Daniel in connection with the Bible, the first words most people would associate him with are “lion’s den.”
Sure, Daniel was thrown into a lair of hungry lions because he disobeyed a decree to bow and worship only King Darius when he was caught praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But it’s what Daniel did long before he entered the lion’s den that has always resonated with me.
When Daniel was in his teenage years, he was among the most handsome, physically fit, and intelligent young men in the royal line of Judah. Then disaster struck: King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian ruler of the most powerful nation in the civilized world at the time, assembled a massive army to march into Jerusalem and to conquer the land in 605 b.c.
To demonstrate his dominance, King Nebuchadnezzar cherry-picked Jerusalem’s best and brightest minds and most beautiful women as captives. Daniel, along with three young men his age—Hananiah, Misha-el, and Azariah—were carted off to Babylon, along with all of Judah’s livestock and the Temple treasure.
There’s every indication that this quartet was treated well because they were seen as assets by the King’s court. They were the best of the best, the crème de la crème who would have gotten perfect 2400 scores on their SATs or aced their law school entrance exams today. Think National Merit Scholars.
Biblical academics believe this Fab Four was around fourteen years old when they were placed under the guidance of Ashpenaz, who was in charge of the palace personnel, to teach them the Chaldean language and literature.
Like hotshot recruits entering college, they were assigned the best foods from the King’s own kitchen during their training period. Nothing would be spared for these elite scholars who looked—as well as acted—the part.
Daniel and his three friends may have grown up in spiritually depraved Judah, but somebody in their lives—a parent, an uncle, a rabbi, or a prophet—must have modeled how they should serve God. That’s the best explanation I have for why they refused to eat the rich foods set before them at the King’s table.
You see, these “foods” were considered detestable to the God of heaven whom they faithfully served. Perhaps they were presented with meats that had been sacrificed to idols, or meats that were unclean because the animals had been strangled or contaminated with blood or fat—or all of the above. More likely, though, they were offered meats that God forbade His people to eat in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. I’m talking about pork, rabbits, camels, badgers, snakes, and flesh-eating birds such as vultures.
Daniel also passed on the King’s wine. While there was no scriptural injunction against drinking wine, perhaps Daniel knew the pitfalls that awaited those consuming excess alcohol and wanted to truly present his body to God as a living sacrifice. After all, the Babylonians were attempting to change his worldview by giving him a Chaldean education, to change his loyalty by giving him a new name (Daniel was called Belteschazzar, while Hananiah, Misha-el, and Azariah became the celebrated Shadrach, Meshach, and Abegnego who would later walk into the fiery furnace), and to change his lifestyle by giving him a new diet.
So, when presented with the King’s banquet, Daniel politely inquired, You got anything else to eat?
When told no, he asked if he and his compatriots could consume a different diet that would be blessed by their God, which made Ashkenazi—the man in charge of their well-being—very nervous. He was afraid they would become pale and thin compared to the Babylonian youths in palace training. They wouldn’t measure up. They’d fall behind.
“Give me and my buddies ten days,” Daniel said. “That’s all I ask. Let us eat only pulse and drink only water. If at the end of ten days we don’t look better and look healthier than the young Babylonian men, then we’ll eat the foods supplied by the King. Case closed.”
I always marvel at the faith and courage it must have taken Daniel to risk his life for what he believed in. He simply was unwilling to dishonor God’s commands, even in the area of diet.
Ashpenaz knew his head was on the chopping block if these four youths— the best of the best of Judah—became weaklings and lost their physical edge. When Daniel pressed his case, the steward reluctantly agreed to their experiment. The four could eat their pulse—the ripe, edible seeds and produce of a wide range of plants—and drink only water for ten days.
In a sense, Daniel was placing his life on the line as well, but he was willing to put God’s principles for healthy eating to the test. The story goes that for ten days they ate only pulse and drank only water. At the end of their experiment, they were found to be greater in health and excelled in wisdom and mental acuity and clarity when compared to their Babylonian counterparts. No one was smarter, better looking, or healthier than Daniel, Hananiah, Misha-el, and Azariah.
Based on the objective results of following their “Maker’s Diet,” the four young Hebrews were allowed to continue consuming a diet approved by God for the balance of the three-year training program. Scripture tells us that when they were examined by King Nebuchadnezzar himself, they were found to be “ten times better” in health, wisdom, and understanding than the leading young men of Babylon who had received the same education.
Imagine if you were found to be ten times the student, ten times the teacher, ten times more effective as an attorney, ten times more proficient in sales, ten times more precise as a surgeon, or ten times stronger and faster than the competition. Think of the advantage you would have over everyone.
In other words, imagine that you were LeBron James for a moment. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but sometimes when I see LeBron take over an NBA basketball game in the waning moments, I can imagine what it’s like for someone to be clearly head and shoulders above the competition. That’s what Daniel must have been like against his competition in the palace court. He was ten times better, which is why the King gave him more and more responsibilities.
The author of the Book of Daniel was Daniel himself. This was his story, and the Spirit of God inspired his words. Compared to some of the other miraculous events described in the book—interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walking in and out of the roaring flames inside the furnace; Daniel surviving without a scratch in a den of hungry lions; and seeing astounding visions from God Himself—I still believe that Daniel’s steadfast faith and the fact that he and his friends excelled to the point of being “ten times better” than other young men in the palace court is the greatest miracle recounted in the Book of Daniel.
I believe it’s critical to return to our Maker’s plan for eating healthy. We are God’s temple, and He cares about us and what we eat and what we do. He wants us to live long, healthy lives so that we can be beacons of light to a lost generation for as long as we can.