In chapter 1 of the book of Daniel, Daniel and his friends find themselves struggling with an identity crisis. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians have conquered Israel, and taken the best and brightest back to Babylon to be indoctrinated into the ways of the Babylonians. Daniel and his friends are in this deportation group, and over the next three years they are immersed into everything Babylonian; clothes, training, and life. Even their names are changed from names honoring the God of Israel to names honoring the false gods of the Babylonians. The goal is to change their identity, to reformulate them as Babylonians, instead of followers of God. This indoctrination creates an identity crisis for Daniel and his friends. How will they stay faithful to God while living in a foreign land, and being immersed in a foreign culture?
Daniel and his friends determine that they must find a way to fight this indoctrination, but their method is not to start a petition, stage a walkout, or even start an uprising. Instead, they ask for a different diet. While the rest of the wise men in training are being served great delicacies from the king’s table, Daniel and his friends choose to eat only vegetables and water. While everyone else is enjoying the blessings of the king, Daniel and his friends eat in protest. It’s a silent protest however. Only a few people know of this silent act of protest, but for them it makes all the difference.
But what is really going on? How can a simple change of diet be such a big difference maker for Daniel and his friends?
There are multiple reasons of why they chose to protest their food allowance, when there were so many other areas they seemed to accept. Yes, God had command Israel to keep a special diet, and refraining from food from the king’s table probably helped keep this law. Yes, there is an acknowledgement that if they were to remain strong, even when only eating vegetables, they could only remain strong with God’s help. But even more so, every time they sat down to a meal they were reminded of their true identity. Three times a day, when everyone else was eating steak and dessert while they feasted on carrots and squash, Daniel and his friends were reminded that they were Israelites who worshipped the one true God. That was their primary identity. They were not Babylonians. They owed nothing to Babylon and its false gods. No, they belonged to, and owed their allegiance, to the true God of the world. Their diet was a daily reminder of who they were, and who they belonged to.
In many ways, this act of reminder was one of the purposes of the law. The law was given as Israel left Egypt, and God was trying to change their identity from enslaved Egyptians, to redeemed Israelites. In the law, God gave many commands about food, ceremonial washings, and even normal practices of life that left one unclean until evening. These were not just over protective laws formed because God enjoyed making Israel follow different rules. These were reminders of who Israel’s true identity. Every time Israel had to decide if an animal was clean or not, they were reminded that they belonged to God. Every time Israel had to determine if an action would make them clean or unclean, they were reminded they belonged to God. God was a part of every aspect of life; from the meals they ate to even such aspects as sexual relations with their spouse. God was apart of every aspect of life, and they were reminded of this on a daily basis.
For Daniel and his friends, their diet served the same purpose. While they were being trained in all the ways of the Babylonians they needed something to remind them of their true identity. While they lived far away from home, they needed something to remind them where they really belonged. Their strict diet served this purpose. Each meal was a reminded of their true identity. Each meal was a way to say, while we live in Babylon we belong to God. And one of the reasons they were able to so effectively challenge the culture they lived in without becoming assimilated into the culture, was their daily reminder of their true identity.
We need the same reminders. Everyday we are bombarded by our culture that is constantly trying to get us to embrace the ways of the world more than the ways of God. It’s a culture that is trying to change our loyalty. If we are going to find a way to walk a tightrope between assimilation and withdrawal, we must find ways to remind ourselves of our true identity. It is through these reminders that we will find ways to stay faithful to God and speak truth to our culture.