Daniel and his three companions refused to participate in the religious rituals of the Babylonian World-Power.
Upon arrival in Babylon, Daniel was confronted with a predicament. If he consumed the food and drink of the king, it might impinge on his ritual impurity. While he might have wished to avoid eating “unclean” meat, more likely, his concern was that consuming the “king’s delicacies” would mean participation in the idolatrous rituals of the Babylonian court.
Daniel objected to the “meats” and the “wine” from the royal table, but in Leviticus, wine did not cause ritual defilement. Moreover, he made no reference to the dietary regulations of the Torah, and the Hebrew term rendered “defile” (ga’al) in the passage is not the same one rendered “unclean” in Leviticus (ga’al appears nowhere in the Pentateuch).
- (Daniel 1:8, 12) – “But Daniel laid it upon his heart not to defile himself with the meats of the king, nor with the wine which he drank, therefore, he sought the ruler of the eunuchs, that he might not defile (ga’al) himself… I pray you, prove your servants ten days, and let them give us vegetable food, that we may eat, and water that we may drink.”
The Hebrew term pathbag more correctly means “delicacies,” not “meats.” The royal provisions would have included animal flesh, but that is not the point of the passage. Babylonian religious customs suggest a different issue, participation in idolatrous practices. Daniel objected to consuming provisions from the “table of the king,” and the stress is on the source of the food – The royal table.
Daniel proposed a “test.” For “ten days,” he and his friends would only eat vegetables and drink water, and afterward, their Babylonian keeper could compare their appearance with that of the other young men who did consume food from the royal table.
Idols played a key role in Babylonian rituals. It was believed the god was present in his or her image within its temple. Such images were provided with daily meals of food and drink. The king provided the required foodstuffs for the god’s “meal,” and no one else present could eat before the deity had finished “consuming” it. The remaining food was distributed for consumption at the royal table. Thus, the king’s provisions were linked to the idolatry of the Babylonian temples – (Joan Oates, Babylon, London – Thames and Hudson, 1986, p. 174-175).
The Book of Revelation alludes to this story in its letter to the church at Smyrna. The congregation was told to expect persecution – “You will be tried,and you will have tribulation ten days.” The Greek verb rendered “tried” in the Septuagint version of Daniel (peirazō) is the same one used in the Greek text of the letter to Smyrna – (Daniel 1:14, Revelation 2:8-11).
Christians at Smyrna were “slandered by them who say they are Jews and are not, but instead, are a synagogue of Satan.” Consequently, some believers found themselves “cast into prison.” Nevertheless, those who remained “faithful until death” would receive “the crown of life and not be hurt of the second death.”
The “slander” referred to false charges leveled against Christians before civil magistrates, probably for refusal to participate in the imperial cult. In Pergamos, Jesus rebuked church members who tolerated deceivers that taught believers “to eat things sacrificed to idols,” the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans.” Likewise, in Thyatira, the church was reprimanded for allowing the false prophetess, Jezebel, “to seduce my servants to fornicate and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” And in Revelation, “fornicate” is applied metaphorically to idolatry – (Revelation 2:12-17, 17:2, 18:3, 18:9).
The issue in Daniel was not ritually “unclean” food, but participation in idolatrous rituals. Likewise, in Revelation, first-century Christians were called by Jesus to avoid participation in the idolatrous worship of “Babylon,” that is, Rome. “Fornicate” and “eating meat offered to idols” refer to participating in the imperial cult, the veneration of the emperor.
In the same way, believers today must refuse to render homage to the idolatrous demands of end-time “Babylon, the Great Harlot” when she entices one and all to give allegiance to the “beast from the sea” and to its “image.”