Life in Babylon
Daniel 1:5
And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years…

The opening chapter of the Book of the Prophet Daniel contains the key and clue to all that follows, for it tells us of what stuff that man was made who gives his name to the book. The policy of Nebuchadnezzar must be admitted to have been admirable. He clearly wished to avail himself in the interest of his own kingdom, of the best talent and capability of the kingdom he had conquered. He first of all chose out the best material wad then proceeded (as he hoped) to subject it to the habits and discipline which should naturalise it in its new country. As he had poured the treasure taken from the Temple of the God of Israel into the Temple of his own god, so he hoped to adapt the human treasure he had acquired to the purposes of his religion and its institutions. He thought they might be cured, not only of all homesickness, as ordinarily understood — the wasting regret and longing for Zion, and the God of Zion, but of those home ideas and affections which are at the root of all patriotism worthy of the name. And among other means which the sagacity of their royal master devised for the accomplishment of this purpose, was that they should be fed, as well as taught, after a fashion to which they were not born. Nominally, the motive assigned for this special treatment of his prisoners was that they should grow physically strong and well-liking: that they should be well-nourished as befitted the attendants of a court. But can we doubt that the wily king was not regarding only the bodily condition of his pupils, but knew well enough that if he could but once acclimatise them in this respect also — if he could once foster a liking, an appetite for these flesh-pots of Babylon, and make these things, at first luxuries, to become in time necessaries, he would have gained a still closer hold upon the future services of his young counsellors and administrators? And he had no suspicion that the body and the mind, or whatever he held to be the seat and origin of wisdom, needed any separate treatment and regimen. Doubtless he honestly believed that body, soul and spirit would thrive alike, and together, upon this more generous diet. But he little knew the man with whom he was dealing. The young student in the wisdom and learning of the Chaldeans may well have felt the temptations of his novel position, for the brain is not independent of the rest of the animal economy, and the stimulant and support of the "King's meat" might have seemed even necessary and allowable to sustain him in the ardent pursuit of this new learning. But he had a past experience to which he could appeal. He had laboured and striven thus far upon simpler fare, and he would make no change. Daniel, the young and wise and spiritual, was in training to be a Prophet of the Most High; and his story shows, only with more detail and circumstance, what we had already gathered from the whole prophetic class before him, that to be a prophet — in that wide sense in which the prophet is a model to the least able and cultivated, the most common-place person among us — the man must be trained upon a food, and in surroundings, which are not those of the reigning influences of the land on which he is to leave his mark The Prophets of Israel and Judah were no doubt exceptional persons — exceptional in the greatness of their intellectual gifts, as well as moral excellencies. The very mention of a prophet suggests to us one set apart from his brethren because of his superior endowments to teach and guide his fellows. But is not the truer representation of the prophet one who, because he has lived and walked with God, and has not lived the life of the world, has grown up in that wisdom and insight which form three parts of the prophetic faculty? Not chosen to be a prophet because of his eloquence and intellectual force, but because the training of his heart and conscience had fitted him to teach, and to influence by example, the men of his day and habitation. It is the prophet, nourished and growing daily in wisdom and in moral power on his homely porridge, that is the precious image and model of the life that is in a fit state and position for hearing the voice and doing the will of God. Not in the occasional pang and spur of total abstinence, but in the daily moderation; not in the excitement of a ceremonial observance, but in the habitual self-discipline, is the condition of daily growth. But I have said that this history is for us an allegory. The "king's house" and the "king's meat" have a wide-reaching moral and meaning. The very name of Babylon itself has already, in the vivid imagination of men, been seized upon to express certain modern parallels. The great metropolis was long ago nick-named the "modern Babylon," and in its wealth and splendour, in the height to which the arts and resources of human capacity have been cultivated, the parallel is ingenious and happy. But the parallel has another side to it than that of wealth and the cultivation of the "liberal arts." We shall miss altogether the deeper lessons of the story of Daniel, unless we recognise strongly that Babylon, for us, is not a city, or a place at all, but a Spirit, the Spirit of our habitual surroundings. The ideals, the habits, the standards, the hopes and fears, among which we are content to live; the atmosphere of which we are content to breathe; these constitute for us, whether we are young men, just arrived like Daniel from purer, wholesomer surroundings, into the glare and glitter, the luxury and beauty, the stimulating food, and the stimulating culture and ideas, of some new centre of life and action; or whether we are living and travelling elsewhere (for we change our climate but not ourselves, for all the seas we cross), these constitute for us our Babylon. There may be no defined and concrete head and king of this country, no one building that can be called the king's house; no one diet that can be called the "king's meat." Yet there is a governing power which we may be living in subjection to, though we do not see anywhere set down its rules and codes. To live in Babylon, and yet to be the true citizen of a far different country; to be "in the world," yet not "of it"; this is for us the translation of Daniel's action with regard to the king's meat. The very object and design of supporting him from the king's table was to wean him from the food of his native land. He would live apart, with the nourishment and the associations that were bound up with the service of a very different master; lest in this now world of his exile he should forget the "imperial palace whence he came." The resolve of Daniel and his companions was just this: "Though we are in the country and the policy and the religion of Nebuchadnezzar, we will not have this man to reign over us." And. in order that they might preserve their faith in their own God, they would not live a life that was organically bound up with the god of Nebuchadnezzar. So subtle, so intangible, is this hold over us, this Babylonian sovereignty, that many a man is first awakened to a suspicion that he is in slavery to it, by discovering that his allegiance to another master once prayed to and believed in, is slipping from him. How many a young man coming from afar to live in the Babylon of London, or the Babylon of a University, has come after longer or shorter time to be aware that convictions which he had once hoped never to part with are becoming weaker, without obvious and apparent reason. Before the glitter and the enchantment of Babylon, before the interest and fascination of the new learning of the Chaldeans, the old duties and worships of the faith of his fathers seem to pale their ineffectual fires. Without apparent cause, the arguments for the truth of the old Gospel of Jesus Christ seem less valid than before. Why is this? Why is it so difficult to preserve the faiths and standards of Zion in the streets of Babylon? The answer surely is because it is so difficult for a strength that is merely human, to live in the streets of Babylon and not to imbibe the spirit of Babylon, even though the avowed philosophies and worships of Babylon are not yet by name accepted. So difficult to resist the contagion of its example, its habits, its easy toleration of things evil and debased; so difficult not to ascribe our changed relations to the faith of Christ to the cogent power of anti-religious argument, rather than to the corroding influences of the world, which do their work silently but surely, even as the noble stonework of some city cathedral crumbles beneath the acids of the mere city's breath. There are many Babylons in which it may fall to our lot to take up our abode, and make choice of our life's gods. There are the Babylons of great cities where boundless wealth and luxury are found, and boundless pleasure for eye and ear and fancy. There are the Babylons of great centres of education, where the god of the country takes a fairer and loftier shape — the god of knowledge: — the Nebo — the "god of the learning of the Chaldeans." It is not the grosser idolatries — the rites of Baal and Ashtaroth — that the nobler and better spirits among us have to guard against, but the more specious idolatry of things in themselves justly beautiful and engaging — the ever developing knowledge and culture of a still growing civilisation. Difficult it is — we know it — in any strength of our own to live in Babylon, and not to be of Babylon. So difficult, unless we set ourselves, with the ever-shadowing might of a power not our own, to walk with God. To traverse the common ways of men, and eat temperately of their common meat, and to do the duties and pursue the studies that are the immediate purpose of our being here, and yet to be strengthened by another food that the world knows not of — this is to live as Daniel lived.

(Canon Ainger.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.

WEB: The king appointed for them a daily portion of the king's dainties, and of the wine which he drank, and that they should be nourished three years; that at its end they should stand before the king.

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