Rick Warren will kick off The Daniel Plan, a 52-week fitness program at Saddleback Church, this coming weekend. Would his text for promoting this program be Daniel 1:8-15, where we read about young Daniel and his three friends declining to eat the king’s sumptuous meals. Pastor Warren grounds his diet plan on his health and wealth gospel:
The Bible says that God wants you to be as healthy physically as you are spiritually. The plan will help you feel better, look better, have more energy, get in shape, and use your body the way God wants you to.
Why would Daniel and his friends refuse to eat the king’s food and wine? Was it because they wanted only ceremonially clean food (Lev 11:1-47)? This may be true, because the Babylonians also had pork in their diet, considered unclean by Jews, but wine is not unclean by any law. Perhaps to avoid food and wine which were offered to idols, but even vegetables were also offered to idols. Maybe they heard from Hindus, Buddhists, animal rights advocates, and other New Agers that veganism is healthiest? Nah, because Daniel’s “vegetarianism” predated New Agers by several centuries.
No, Daniel and his friends refused to eat at the king’s table for reasons that are far deeper than not eating unclean food or food offered to idols or God wanting them to eat organic food and be healthy. The underlying reason is in Daniel 1:3-5. The king gathered all the best and brightest of all the Jewish captives to be brought up and educated in everything Babylonian–language, culture, laws, education, literature, arts and music, and most of all, religion. In other words, the king wanted Daniel and his friends to be totally Israeli-Babylonians after they finished their Babylonian higher learning.
That was unacceptable to the four young men. They knew that if they lived and ate luxuriously with the king in the palace, and were given the best Babylonian education, they would be assimilated into the Babylonian relgion and worldview as well. They resisted this temptation so they could retain their distinct identity as God’s people, even while they were in foreign exile. The different food they ate reminded them of their status as God’s “treasured possession among all peoples … a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:5-6). They even refused to use their new Babylonian names. In the end, if they allowed themselves to be assimilated by the Babylonians, they would stop worshiping the God of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, and turn to worship Marduk, Dagon, Nebo and other pagan gods.
For their faithfulness, God rewarded Daniel and his friends. At the end of a short ten-day diet test period, “they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food” (Dan 1:15). And God gave them far more than just Babylonian higher education but godly learning and wisdom, for “God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Dan 1:17). Most of all, because of Daniel, the remnant of Israel was preserved in Babylon and were able to return to the Promised Land, where their descendants settled back until Jesus the Messiah was born.
Lesson here? To be sure, eating healthy might be in the text. But far deeper than that is the Scriptural teaching that God’s people are called out, separate, distinct, transformed, and not conformed to the world’s thinking and desires. And this is not only in our food, drink and clothes, but most of all in doctrine and in worship.
Note: The Saddleback community will be helped out by three experts on healthy diet: Dr. Mehmet Oz, a Swedenborgian, and Drs. Daniel Amen and Mark Hyman, two New Agers.