Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will- Romans 12:2 NIV
Daniel and his friends were likely all in their mid-teens teens when they arrived in Babylon (Daniel 1:1-4). Each captive was immediately confronted with a choice (Daniel 1:5-8) upon arrival.
Like so many choices in this life, the choice was a surfacy, symbolic choice masking the real, much harder choice the captives were faced with. The immediate choice they were confronted with was whether or not to eat the food they were given. There were at least four really good reasons for them to just go ahead and eat the food:
It was tasty.
There weren’t a lot of other options.
It was offensive not to eat it.
It was weird for them not to eat the food.
There were also some solid spiritual reasons to refuse the food. The meat and wine while tasty, had all been offered to Babylonian gods. Eating food offered to an idol was a means of communing with and worshipping that god. Furthermore, none of the meat met Jewish dietary requirements and was unclean. Eating the food would violate all sorts of Levitical dietary laws.
It wouldn’t have been difficult to make a fairly decent argument for compromising on this issue. They were far from home in a foreign land. None of them would be going home in their lifetimes. (Jeremiah 25:1-14). Moreover, it’s not as if they could just run down to the local Kroger and pick up a few things from the Kosher section to tide them over until the training program came to an end.
The food wasn’t about the food, not really. Whether or not to eat the food was a surfacy, choice masking a much more critical choice. The captives had to decide whether or not they were going to conform to culture of the Babylonians (Romans 12:2, Leviticus 20:23, Deuteronomy 12:30-31).
Daniel wisely understood the real purpose of the food. The food was a hook the Babylonians used to make the captives comfortable with all things Babylonian. King Nebuchadnezzar’s ultimate aim was to convert the Jewish captives into loyal Babylonians. The food was the first step in a process intended to make the Hebrew captives loyal to the Babylonian gods, Babylonian values and the Babylonian way of life.
Daniel knew if the captives allowed themselves to become comfortable with that one aspect of Babylonian culture it would be a quick hop, skip and jump to becoming full-fledged and entirely loyal citizens of Babylon.
It was a practice known as “friendly captivity” and it was incredibly successful most of the time. The king (in this case Nebuchadnezzar) would conquer a country and take the best and brightest of those captives back to the court. Then he would find pleasant ways to make them comfortable with the culture. Once fully integrated to the society the best and brightest would in turn encourage the less prominent captives to accept their fate and integrate into the cultural system of their captivity.
It was a rather clever way to grow a kingdom.
Daniel and his friends refused. They weren’t rude, confrontive or disrespectful. Instead they enlisted the help of the overseer and found another way. Three extraordinary things took place ONLY BECAUSE the boys refused to conform to the culture:
The boys thrived physically, psychologically and spiritually in a hostile environment (Daniel 1:14)
God gifted the boys with supernatural levels of knowledge and wisdom (Daniel 1:15-17).
The captives impacted both the culture and the people of Babylon for their God (Daniel 4:1-37)
Here’s the thing:
Our world belongs to our God (Genesis 1, Psalm 19). Nonetheless, at this point in time, our world and most of the people in it, are currently firmly under the control of Satan (Matthew 4:8, Ephesians 2:1-3, Ephesians 6:12, Romans 16:20, 1st John 5:19). Satan’s aim is to take as many people to hell as possible. However, if someone places their faith in Jesus they totally avoid that fate (Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:16-17, 2nd Corinthians 4:14, Acts 2:21). God is redeeming the world through His son Jesus.
That being said.
Satan can take even redeemed people captive to do his will (Ephesians 4:27, Ephesians 6:11, 1st Timothy 3:7, 1stPeter 5:8). He uses “hooks’ to do it. Just like Nebuchadnezzar did. The hooks make us more comfortable with the worldly ideas, worldly pleasures and worldly pursuits. If a person gets comfortable enough with the world they eventually, over a period of time conform to the culture without even realizing they’ve been taken captive.
Because we live in a culture that’s under the control of Satan it’s imperative Christians are intentional about avoiding the hooks so prevalent in our culture.
Satan wants everyone to live their lives in captivity to sin and spiritual bondage. Sexual immorality, depravity, lust for power, greed, gluttony, self-reliance, addiction and covetousness are the places he wants to take us (1stPeter 5:8). Bondage, darkness and despair are his endgame and his favorite hook these days is entertainment and media. Media pulls us in and slowly, overtime like the frog in the pot of water on a hot stove makes us more comfortable with the values, ideas and gods of our culture. Before long, the Bible feels unkind, insensitive, and antiquated and it just makes sense to soften the moral commands of Jesus. We eventually lose our saltiness and the distinctions between how we live and how the world lives are trivial (Matthew 5:13-14).
When we wisely choose to limit our exposure to the hooks of Satan (like Daniel did) we too, thrive in a hostile culture. God gifts us with supernatural insight and we spread the influence of the gospel in our own dark culture and we get the high and holy honor of being a critical part of God’s redemption process in this world (Matthew 28:19-20).