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What We Can Learn from Daniel’s Refusal of Wine
by Meghan A. Neumeier

It is part of American culture to make New Year’s resolutions. I would guess that it is also part of American culture to resolve to eat healthier. What to eat and what not to eat is the topic of the first chapter of the Book of Daniel. The beginning of the Book of Daniel contains fictional stories that, like Jesus’ parables in the Gospels, are meant to teach a lesson. In the Book of Daniel’s first story, Daniel trades in a king’s diet of food and wine for a simple diet of vegetables and water. This might make sense to those of us contemplating cutting calories and large portion sizes. However, in ancient Jewish culture, eating in abundance, and the figure that accompanies it, was valued. So why did Daniel decide to give up royal food and wine? Here’s the story:

In Daniel 1, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar attacks Jerusalem, laying siege to the city. The king then instructs his chief chamberlain Ashpenaz to find young, male, royal Israelites who are “without any defect, handsome, intelligent and wise, quick to learn, and prudent in judgment” (NAB, Daniel 1:4). The young men are to study the language and literature of the Babylonians for the purpose of becoming servants in the royal palace. Four of the chosen men are Jews from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. King Nebuchadnezzar allots each young man a portion of food and wine from the royal table. Daniel, however, “was resolved not to defile himself with the king’s food or wine” (1:8). Daniel’s decision is generally interpreted as an attempt to avoid food that was not prepared according to Jewish customs. Daniel also may have wished to avoid food that may have been offered as a sacrifice to Babylonian gods. John Barton and John Muddiman add that Daniel wanted to make a statement by refusing the favors of an earthly king in order to serve his Heavenly King.1 In order to avoid the food and wine from the royal table, Daniel cuts a deal with Ashpenaz wherein Ashpenaz agrees to provide Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah with only vegetables and water. These four men from Judah soon look better and healthier than the other men chosen for training. God rewards Daniel with the gift of understanding visions and dreams and rewards all four men with an understanding of literature and science. At the end of the training period, King Nebuchadnezzar is pleased with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and pronounces them his servants.

At the time the Book of Daniel was written, its stories were meant to comfort and support Jews who were being persecuted by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The stories in Daniel taught Jews at the time that “men of faith can resist temptation and conquer adversity.”2 This lesson applies to people today, too. The above story can also teach us to trust in God and His provisions. Daniel surrenders to God, trusting that a diet of vegetables and water will be sufficient for him and his friends from Judah. We can also learn to be true to our cultural or religious identity. Daniel refuses to abandon his Jewish roots by refusing to eat food and wine that is not prepared according to Jewish regulations. Daniel would rather incur King Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath than reject the Heavenly King and Jewish customs. Finally, we can learn that good things are in store for those who trust in God. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are all gifted with knowledge from God, a blessing for men who trusted that God will provide. May 2013 be filled with blessings for those who trust in God.

1 John Barton and John Muddiman, eds., The Oxford Biblical Commentary (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 563-571.

2 Donald Senior, ed., The Catholic Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 1087.



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