The Four Hebrew Children
Daniel 1:3-4
And the king spoke to Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel…

I. THE BODY. — As they were princes they were chosen to be pages of the king of Babylon. They were to be fed for three years with all the royal dainties. Most boys would have blest their good fortune, and taken their fill of all that was going in the palace. But these Jewish boys refused the king's meat and wine, lest they should eat anything forbidden by their religion. And they grew fairer and fatter than all the children in the palace. Like them, you should religiously think about what you eat and drink. The children who are content with plain food become the healthiest and fairest men and women. You will smile with suspicion when I tell you what is the healthiest place in all Scotland, and perhaps in the world. Sir Robert Christion proves that it is Perth Prison. For every man who dies inside it, about ten men of the same age die outside. Many of the prisoners have uneasy minds, and their lives have been wild, but no matter: they have by necessity what our four boys had by choice, — water, and the plainest food, and splendid health. Their food costs fourpence a day. I was in Richmond, Virginia, shortly after the great war. Nearly the whole city was a mass of blackened ruins. Two things, they said, astonished them during the siege; first, that they could live on so very little; and secondly, that fewer people died in days of starvation, than in days of abundance. They made the same discovery during the cotton famine in Lancashire. Plenty, it seems, harms more by its excesses than poverty by its privations. Your eating and drinking help greatly to form your character; for your diet influences the soul as well as the body. That Turk was much mistaken, who, when about to drink wine, warned his soul to quit the body for a little, lest it should be harmed. How many evils have sprung from luxurious living? It destroyed Rome, after Rome had conquered the whole world. How safe and noble is the spirit of these boys! They did not despise the body, as monks do: in the spirit of the Bible they honoured it as the handmaid of the soul. They were not as those who live to eat, but who eat to live. By keeping under their bodies they escaped being castaways.

II. THE MIND. — They were young thinkers, quickwitted, and eager to learn. Well-favoured and without blemish, they had minds to match their bodies. Your mind is nobler far than your body, and nobler than all the things your eyes behold. The powers of mind are more valued than powers of body by all but savages and stupid people. Often the body is the grave of the spirit; and many value the mind as the minister of the body: they would use it as a sort of chief cook or confectioner for the body. Yet he hardly lives at all, whose mind is not thoughtful. When the mind is not trained or used, man sinks toward the level of the sheep feeding in the pastures, and of the oxen fattening in the stall. His history is made up of nothings. For life without thought is death to all but the body. With many boys and girls the powers of the mind are roused at first as by a kind of sudden conversion. A book, or a conversation, or a lesson, or even a problem in arithmetic — I have known such cases — deeply stirs the mind and makes the youth conscious of new powers. From that day he tastes the sweets of thinking, and burns with the love of knowledge. William Arnot tells that the first time he read a book of his own accord, he was half-intoxicated with the new-found pleasure. Many a writer has used with real affection the words, "my master," as remembering how much he owes to his teacher. Thus also students long ago called their university, "Alma Mater," that is, Bountiful Mother. Their university cherished them into mental health and joy, even as a kind mother cherishes her dear children. Because the powers of the mind are so great you should be careful to read only healthy books. If the books of your boyhood are bad, you will regret the reading of them as long as you live.

III. THE SOUL. — As the mind is nobler than the body, so the soul is nobler than the mind. The soul is the man, the mind is the soul's servant, and the body is the servant's servant. As thought is the life of the mind, so true Christian life is the grandeur of the soul. Their state of body and mind was most helpful to their soul. Their minds were not dulled by over-feeding, nor were their souls clogged with stupid minds. We wonder at their holy lives in such a wicked palace, and at their perfect boldness. The poets speak of a river that preserves the sweetness of its waters amid the bitterness of the sea, and of an animal that lives in the midst of the fire; and such-like were their lives. There is a little insect that gathers around itself a viewless coat of air, and goes down clad in it to the bottom of the sea. The little diver moves about at its ease, unhurt amid the stagnant waters. The grace of God wove such a garment of Heaven's air around these children, that they passed unhurt through the poisoned atmosphere of Babylon. It made them the children of Heaven, and gave them a nobility of nature more than nature can give.

(J. Wells, M.A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes;

WEB: The king spoke to Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring in [certain] of the children of Israel, even of the seed royal and of the nobles;

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