Heart Set On It (Daniel 1:8)

But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought [permission] from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.

Daniel 1:8

While this verse is often pointed to as an example of how a believer ought to live, it bears repeating … especially for me.

The context. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had carried off captives after laying the smack down on Israel. The king decided that he wanted some of the prisoners to be part of his advisory council (rather egalitarian, I think) and had them trained for three years. During their training, these youths were given a portion of food from the king’s table. We are talking about gourmet food here. Daniel and three of his friends — Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael — decide they will not eat the gourmet and will, instead, eat veggies and drink water. This was risky for more than just them, the guy given charge of these three would lose his head — literally — if they seemed to be doing worse than their counterparts. So Daniel and friends proposed a test period and things went well and the four young men were able to remain as ceremonially clean as possible during their captivity.

A couple of things jump out at me as I read this verse this morning.

First, Daniel made a determination. Often, believers know what the right thing to do is, but we fail to follow through. I suspect that it may have to do with us not having done as Daniel did. Daniel made up his mind that he would stay pure in this regard. The footnotes for this phrase tells me that it literally means set upon his heart that he would do one thing and not another. We have a similar phrase in English. We talk about having our heart set on something. We want desperately to do something or have something and the phrase used is that we had our heart set on it. This is exactly what Daniel did with regard to obedience. He had his heart set on it. If I am failing to obey God in some respect, I need to examine whether or not I truly have my heart set on obedience in that or find out if my intention is split between obedience and wanting to flirt with wrongdoing. Daniel and friends were successfully obedient, in part, because they had their hearts set on being obedient. Nothing else would satisfy them.

Second, Daniel sought [permission] from the commander of the officials to do what he meant to do. There is a level of respect for the other’s position and the risk at which that man would be putting himself by allowing the four youths to do what they intended to do. This commander was not a believer. I find myself drawing out a principle about how I, too, should be dealing with unbelievers. There are many places in which obedience may present not only an obstacle to me — not being promoted, losing out on a raise, losing friends, and so on — but also prove dangerous to those in authority over me. Jesus commands me to go and make disciples of all nations. Obedience would have me witness in my workplace. If my workplace allows that, then I absolutely should. If there is some policy that could be interpreted in such a way as to put not only me, but also my supervisor at risk if I witness, then it is right and proper for me to seek permission to talk about salvation. While some would argue that obedience to one edict — do not witness at work — is disobedience to the other and higher edict — go and make disciples — I maintain that God also tells me to respect the authorities He places over me and that Daniel and friends asked permission to be obedient. This implies that they would have submitted to the commander’s decision had he refused. In addition, the verse following states that God granted Daniel favor and so the request to be obedient was granted. I have often struggled with this notion of workplace witnessing and how some are terribly gung ho about witnessing no matter the cost without considering that they may not be the only ones at risk … at it may be an unbeliever who is put in jeopardy by our decision. One of the New Testament writers tells wives that they can witness without saying a word by their chaste and Godly conduct. I suspect that workers can do the same thing in our workplace. My conduct can speak for itself and others can see the character of God’s child played out in front of them. If my conduct cannot stand on its own, then I have yet another issue to which I must attend. Does this mean I never witness? Not at all. But it does mean that I should be mindful and respectful of the situation around me at work. It is a thought, and one that bears more consideration before I conclude that the principle is sound.

While the second thought percolates, the first demands attention. Is my heart set on obedience? If not, I need to sort that and set my heart on obeying God.

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