“…youths in whom was no blemish, but fair to look on, and skillful in all wisdom, and skillful in knowledge, and discerning in thought, and such as had ability to stand in the king’s palace…” Daniel 1:4
A prophet who doesn’t start shouting at us. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t being taught and aren’t being warned. Here’s a prophet that we get to do a little growing up with. We get to see him in his youth. We know part of the story of his beginnings. And maybe that will help us relate to what’s going on in his life.
The kingdom of Judah was still in existence with King Jehoiakim ruling. In the third year of his reign, Your judgment came, and Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his chief officer to bring into his royal court select children and youth of Israel, offspring of the royal line and of the nobles. He wanted “youths in whom was no blemish, but fair to look on and skillful in all wisdom, and skillful in knowledge, and discerning in thought, and such as had ability to stand in the king’s palace.”
This makes me think about a lot of things. First, it made me think about bringing in the children of Israel. The first word for the children of Israel is the Hebrew word ben. That’s the word that says that you were born of someone, that you are an offspring. But then the word yeled is used for the children in whom is no blemish. What’s the difference? It can mean young child or even adults. Actually, Exodus 21:22 uses the same word to refer to an unborn fetus, acknowledging it as a child while still in it’s mother’s womb. Obviously, You are telling us that there is no distinction between a child in the womb or out of the womb in value as a living being. “A person is a person no matter where he or she happens to be.” (Skip Moen) And here is this pagan king who happens to have at least understood that concerning the children and youth of this conquered people. Yes, he was selective, but he understood that there was worth in the offspring of this nation.
Now, where do you go to find children and youth with no physical or moral spots on them? Where do you find unblemished people at all? Well, you look at where they came from. You look at their appearance. You look at their character. Some have it “naturally.” Some have been raised in it. Some have been trained up in it. But still, you have to know it when you see it and you have to look throughout the land for it.
King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t just want any kids. He wanted well favored young people in his court. He wanted them beautiful in appearance and in their thinking. He wanted to be surrounded by well-shaped individuals on the inside and the outside. Why? Because these kids would one day help him to rule his kingdom well. He would benefit from their skill.
So here he was, asking his chief eunuch Ashkenazi to select young people who were circumspect and intelligent. He wanted advisors to be able to see things on all sides. He wanted people who were prudent, and would carefully examine all the “circumstances that might affect a determination, or a measure to be adopted.”(Webster) He was looking for young people who would be skillful and wise. The king wanted youth with “yada,” real knowing. They needed to be cunning.
Let’s stop here at cunning momentarily. Cunning isn’t used here like a crafty deceiver. Cunning is someone who had not just knowledge but skill to do and apply. They had the skill and dexterity of artificers or “artists” and knowledge acquired by experience. (Webster) They weren’t just talkers. They were doers who knew what they were doing. Having yada was being observant, careful, instruct-able, advisable, aware, comprehending, diligent, friendly, feeling, transparent, respectful, teachable, understanding-even of future events by present signs.
These were to be young people who used their knowledge, that cunning with wit. Does that mean they were wise guys? Were they class clowns? Wit means using the intellect, having real understanding. It’s being able to associate ideas the right way, the natural way, but also in an unusual and striking way, so that others are surprised and pleased. It’s about putting ideas together quickly and well. It’s about associating ideas in a new and unexpected manner. That’s what Nebuchadnezzar was looking for.
These youth were not only to distinguish and discern facts and life intelligently but they were to be firm, filled with vigor and strength. And I’m not thinking this is only physical stamina but stamina of character. And these youths had to be teachable.
So Ashpenaz made his choice and among those he chose was Daniel. So here is Daniel, snatched from his home and his land and most of his people and taken into another nation. This isn’t a certainty, but some people think he may have been castrated. Whether that was imposed upon him or not, he was placed in the king’s court to learn to serve this king for the king’s benefit and for the benefit of his kingdom, this kingdom who had conquered his people and thrown his world upside down. So how does he handle all this?
Daniel has three years to figure it out before he would stand before the king. He had three years of beginning training. But there was something special about Daniel. All those qualities that the king desired, were already at work in Daniel. As a matter of fact, the chief of the eunuchs, Ashpenaz, saw something precious in Daniel so that God had brought Daniel “into favor and tender love” with him. Ashpenaz delighted in who Daniel was and had true compassion toward him. I’m thinking that was because Daniel knew You, Lord, well enough that despite his circumstances, he showed favor and compassion to those around him, including Ashpenaz who was over him.
Yes, Daniel was strong, but that was because he was grounded in You, Lord. I know that because he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, nor with the wine which he drank” and asked the chief of the officers that he might eat differently. And because of his favor with the officers, it was granted after a ten day test period. Now, here Daniel was, already favored, already chosen because of how he shone out among youths, and after this his countenance was even fairer, his flesh was fatter (a good thing here), than all the other youths eating the king’s food. But it didn’t stop there. His heart and actions found favor not only with man, but with You, Lord. And so You gave them even more knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom; and gave Daniel understanding in all, not some, in all visions and dreams.
And when the three years were finished, Daniel’s wisdom and understanding were unequalled (except for his three Hebrew “brothers”) in the court and he surpassed the others by ten times better! As if that’s not extraordinary enough. This character exemplified his whole life through the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and into the reign of Cyrus! This was no one time deal. This is who Daniel was. Daniel knew his God so well, that he could remain personally united with Him even in a kingdom of many gods where there was no one to keep him “on task.” So, I have to ask, what’s my excuse?
When the world looks around for people with character like this, will they find it in me? When they look at me will they see a “child in whom is no blemish.” Am I full of the things that the people around me really need for their true welfare? Do I have favor and skill and wisdom and cunning and knowledge and understanding and ability from the Lord? Or am I just sharing my own? Am I teachable, by God first and then able to put all other learning in it’s correct perspective according to Him?
Would I stand up not only for God’s character but for upholding it in me no matter how much it singled me out or what the consequences might be? Do I have such a pleasant but strong spirit that non-believing people of high character would be drawn to me, that I would warm people’s hearts in love? Would I have advocates who were even outside my faith? I mean, I just can’t get over how respectfully and lovingly it appears that Daniel treated his captors, that they would feel this way about him. And I think, what a picture of Christ! What kind of picture am I painting in the world?
Thinking about all these things and whether my life looks like Daniel’s isn’t a far fetched idea. Paul talks about what our lives out to look like in Ephesians 5:27. He could have even been thinking about Daniel as he thought about the sacrifice given at the temple and as he thought about what You are doing in us, Lord. Here’s what he said that Christ did for us by His life and sacrifice and resurrection. It was all about presenting us to Himself, this glorious people that were called out of the world and unto Him, these individuals who listened and answered that call and responded. And in Him, He does what He does so that we are spot free, wrinkle free, and free of any such things. Why? So we are holy and without blemish, not just like Daniel but like Jesus Himself who is like God Himself. And we can do this and be this and allow God to do this in us and we live life out in Him because of the precious blood of Christ, “as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:19)
God, You are the original real deal. You are the origin of Character. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1 “Be you therefore imitators of God, as beloved children.” This mimetes, this imitating, isn’t like a flat 1 dimension image in a mirror. We’re talking about the real deal here. We’re talking about a God who through His Spirit creates the real deal in us. I’m not a flat copy and neither was Daniel. Imitation here is a call to real live action. It’s not an idea or a theology or a concept. It means doing what our God does. It shows with my life, not just my thoughts, how I align with You, Lord. It’s about how much I am really like my Father. Is there even a family resemblance? How strong is it? I’ll never be God but do my actions, and does my life duplicate His behavior? Am I a living duplicate of Your character, God?
Daniel wasn’t conformed to his circumstances because he was busy daily being transformed by the reality of his relationship with You, Lord. Because You are real and tangibly respond in our lives, we respond in the same real and tangible ways. That’s what walking in love is all about, it’s all about walking and responding and living in those real, tangible ways that You have shown Yourself to us. And character remains despite every situation. Your character never changes so neither does mine have to either. Life is about continually exhibiting Your character in me. It’s exhibiting obedience from my heart, not just compliance, but willingness from the depths of my heart.
I wonder if Daniel ever had a powwow with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the beginning? I wonder if he might have said something like this, “Be imitators of me, just as I am of God”? I’ll never know. But I know that Paul said that this way, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Does that seem awful prideful of him to say? Does that mean I’m not supposed to try to imitate Christ myself? Is Paul my example now? Paul’s an example just as much as Daniel is. I guess sometimes a copy is so good we can see the original almost perfectly represented by it. And the truth is that we are not called to be partial copies. We are called to be exact copies.
Now I was making a color copy of something that needed a signature. I like to sign official things in black. But my family made this point. It’s hard to tell that the black is original when the other copied words around it are black. So they suggested I sign in blue ink instead. But I see from that how much a copy can be like the original so that it’s so hard to tell what was copy and what was actual ink. That’s the kind of copies we are called to be of Christ.
We’re called to represent and reflect all the beauty of God’s character. He’s the One Original that is laying down on the copy machine for us to be represented from. I’m to reflect everything that comes from You, Lord, so much so that if we were placed next to each other, people shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Wow! Really? Isn’t that a far order?
It would be if it were all up to me. But it’s not. God’s heart desire is to produce Himself in me. He does that through His Holy Spirit. Like Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27) We’re not just talking ability here, we’re talking power, power to do it. The power of the Spirit is strong enough to make us spitting images.
I pray that You would make my life that transparent, like Daniel and Paul who could make this kind of claim. “If you’ve forgotten what Jesus looks like, look at me and my life and you’ll see Him so clearly because my life is just like His. Watch me and you can see Him again and then, as you copy me, you’ll be copying Him.” Lord, may my heart be so tangibly tied to You that I become that transparent that people see You instead of me. May I make everything in my life about You, my eating and drinking and sleeping and thinking and doing. May my life be all about my Father’s business so that I am so filled with Your character that all I do looks like You. I’m not there yet, Lord, but bring me there. I know it’s doable because Paul and Daniel aren’t the only transparent images of You out there. I’ve seen others and I want to be one of them too. So my prayer today is , make me Your spitting image, Lord.