“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank. . . .” Daniel 1:8
And so, finally, we come to temperance, the last of nine evidences of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. What is temperance? Who is the temperate man that Galatians would have us know?
Simply put, temperance is self- control. It is the virtue which is best defined by its opposite, excess or indulgence. Sometimes we like to speak of temperance as “moderation in all things.” To the proponents of this definition temperance is drinking liquor but not to the point of drunkenness. It is regular and sumptuous dining, but not to the extreme of gluttony. It is watching television, but not being glued to the tube. It is partying with the boys on a given night, but not partying five nights out of the week. It is freely spending money, but not at the expense of paying the church budget. Sometimes we are inclined to think of temperance as sinning just a little, not a whole lot.
The nice thing about defining temperance as moderation in all things is that really no one can ever accuse you of being immoderate or intemperate in your manner of living and leisure since moderation necessarily involves a good deal of what we call “Christian liberty.” So you think that my six-pack a day is too much alcohol? Well, let me tell you not only to mind your own business, but you can be thankful that I don’t drink a couple Southern Comforts to boot. My Christian liberty, you know. And just where in the Bible does God legislate the strength or intake of alcoholic beverages? Maybe a six-pack is a sin for you — and then you had better not drink it either — but it definitely is not a sin for me. And so goes such argumentation. Good argumentation too, for even Jesus taught, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (Matthew 15:11).
It occurs to me that it is too simplistic to identify temperance as moderation. Moderation is certainly included in temperance, but that is not its essential character. Temperance, at its very core, is saying “no” to sin. It is saying “no” to anything that takes on the appearance of sin (I Thessalonians 5:22). It is even a big “no” to the compromising position in which we sometimes put ourselves and which circumstance makes it extremely difficult to say “no” to the eventual temptation which follows.
We must think of temperance as “keeping under your body, and bringing it into subjection” as found in I Corinthians 9:27. It must always be a “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, making not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14). The temperate man is a man concentrating all his attention upon doing God’s will, not letting any earthly consideration interfere with this calling. He is the man who disciplines himself in every area of life to conform more and more to God’s perfect law as guided by the new spirit of grace within him.
Often the calculated and well- thought-out decision to be temperate must be made the first time one is confronted with any excess, any temptation which leads to sin. One must not parley with sin or postpone its urgency. Like a young Joseph, one must set his heart against sin. Like a youthful David, one must refute the imperious demands of sin at the outset.
I am Ashpenaz, prince of the eunuchs of the great King Nebuchadnezzar. For many years I stood before his majestic personage, carrying out every royal caprice and command. I am very old now, having seen the rise and fall of these great ones in Babylon — Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar his son, and Darius the Mede. But for all this, I have fallen out of favor with the mighty ones of Babylon. Nevertheless, for my faithful years of service to these gods of Babylon, I have not been killed as so many of my companions have, nor subjected to the austere punishments which are so whimsically inflicted on dissidents (fiery furnace, dens of lions, “cut into pieces”); I have merely been exiled to this humble hut far from the palace of Babylon and the court activity in which I once played such an active role. Here I muse on the golden days of Babylon, now past. For even as I write this, another enemy, Cyrus of Persia, readies his forces for the takeover of this crumbling decadent city. “Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come” (Revelation 18:10). But before I die, I take stylus and tablet in hand to tell you a most curious and compelling tale. It came about in this manner.
During the reign of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, went into Jerusalem and besieged it, carrying home not only the spoils of war (including the intricate and costly vessels from the House of Judah’s God), but also, and especially, the prized and princely young captives of royal descent. One of these captives, Daniel by Hebrew name, had a most significant impact on the great King Nebuchadnezzar, on me, and even on the life pulses of the proud city of Babylon.
But to understand this Daniel, one has to see him against the city into which he was brought.
There was certainly ample reason for Nebuchadnezzar to boast, “Is not this the great Babylon, which I have built?” For he has made this magnificent city one of the wonders of the world, an unrivaled capital of the Near East. “The merchants of the earth waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies” (Revelation 18:3).
Babylon stands on a spacious plain occupying about 196 square miles. Around the city is a deep and broad moat full of water. Both city and moat are surrounded by a wall which makes a circuit of some 56 miles. I would reckon this wall to be over 300 feet high and almost 90 feet thick — so broad that a four-horse chariot can easily be driven across it. The gates of our city are made of marble and iron and brass and are guarded by images of winged bulls, giant serpents, and fearsome dragons. Outside these city gates live most of Babylon’s citizens — her artisans, her workmen, and her merchants These folk live in modest houses of unbaked clay; their standard of living is poor, but they are just as rich in superstition and sorcery as their compatriots within the city gates.
Opulence within the city gates stands in marked contrast to the humble huts outside. Two royal palaces adorn the city, ornately decorated with heads of gods, animals, and many statues. Each brick in these palaces bears the proud inscription, “I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.” The interior of these palaces is lavish with gold, silver, costly materials of wood and ivory, and precious stones and pearls. These splendid palaces were built for Nebuchadnezzar, but equally celebrated temples and festival houses were built for Babylon’s 65,000 gods and goddesses (Marduk the sun god and Ishtar, a bearded bisexual diety, being the most famous). For it must be remembered that Babylon is a civilization rich in myth and superstition, “the hold of every foul spirit” (Revelation 18:2), and the wishes and demands of the gods must always be assuaged and catered to. “The gods were not aloof from men; most of them lived on earth in the temples, ate with a hearty appetite, and through nocturnal visits to pious women gave unexpected children .to the busy citizens of Babylon” (Our Oriental Heritage, Will Durant, p. 234).
It was for these gods that a great and magnificent causeway was built — higher than the houses themselves — for the festal days of the procession of the gods. Walls of glazed tiles portraying life-size lions decorated the causeway on each side.
As much as 9/10 of the city consists of gardens (the most renowned being the Hanging Gardens which Nebuchadnezzar built for his queen who expressed a longing for her native hills and mountains), parks, paradises, fields, and orchards. And right through the center of the city flows the Euphrates River, its banks lush with palms, willows, and exotic flowers and shrubs; its waters rich with commerce and trade.
The learning and knowledge in this city is unparalleled. It is unexcelled in language and literature, in astronomy and mathematics, in agriculture and architecture, in painting and music, in law and medicine, in religion and philosophy.
Within this city, every pleasure and pastime conceivable to those of wealth and leisure takes place. Every deviant practice, sexual atrocity, and laxity of men and morals is prevalent. Within these high protected walls men of high degree were satiated with “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16). It is a city “full of abomination and filthiness”; it is “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS” (Revelation 17:4 and 5). Effeminate degeneracy is ordinary; fathers prostitute their daughters for money; every native woman is obliged once in her lifetime to sit in Venus’ temple and have intercourse with a stranger. And while Babylon gives itself up to revelry and debauchery, to eating and drinking and being merry — for tomorrow we die — a young boy far from his faith, home, and people walks into this city, gives new meaning to a ten-letter word called temperance, and forever alters the course of Babylonian history.
Daniel was not the only Hebrew captive to be brought into Babylon during these times (10,000 captives from Judah alone, II Kings 24:14); there were many lads of nobility and rank from all of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquests throughout the world. It was my duty to initiate a certain number of these boys to Babylonian traditions and assist them in making the adaptation to a foreign land. Particularly, at this time, four boys were given into my charge. It was Nebuchadnezzar’s practice to change the native names of all his captives and confer Babylon names upon them at once. Thus, Daniel, “God is My Judge”, became Belteshazzar. Daniel had no choice in this matter and I doubt that it bothered him a great deal. In his own mind God was always his Judge, as his subsequent life in Babylon showed.
I noticed very soon upon his arrival at Nebuchadnezzar’s illustrious court that Daniel was of strong physique, superior intellect, and of the highest character. Here indeed was a lad who would be worthy to drink at the fountain of Babylon’s knowledge, culture, and wisdom. I was eager to begin his rigorous training, for I was convinced that in him I had an apt pupil, old enough to make adjustments to this alien land, yet young enough to learn easily and feel at home in this new setting. By Nebuchadnezzar’s decree he, along with the others (including his three closest friends), would study extensively in the Babylonian ways — and I knew immediately that this young man would master them.
You can imagine, then, how surprised I was to encounter Daniel’s refusal so soon upon his arrival at the royal palace. Nebuchadnezzar’s decision was that these young men should
eat from his own table in order to hasten their adaptation to Babylon and secure their success in their studies. His philosophy ran something like this, “Strong, healthy bodies ensure strong, healthy minds.” ‘Tis true, the luxury of fine dining was a deliberate design by the king to weaken old loyalties and foster new allegiances. And most young captives were only too eager to lap up Babylon’s culinary delights. Captives were accustomed to and expecting abuse. How it surprised them to discover favors instead. This too was a deliberate psychological ploy. But Daniel never fell for it.
Nevertheless, when Daniel refused to eat the king’s meat or drink his wine, requesting pulse and water instead, not only did he put himself on dangerous ground, but he also jeopardized my high standing in court. Nebuchadnezzar had literally commanded the captives to eat of his food. Disobedience would certainly incur punishment, and as I’ve told you before this was never light or superficial in Babylon. Moreover, to speak of defilement in this matter of food, as Daniel had, could only be considered insulting to Nebuchadnezzar’s generosity.
Didn’t Daniel know that besides incurring the king’s wrath, disobedience would certainly be a barrier to any future progress and promotion? Could he not compromise on this moot point seeing he was far from home — “My parents will never know?” Wasn’t he aware that a refusal to eat the delicacies from the king’s table would mean mockery and jeering from the other boys? True, the king’s food was regularly consecrated to the Babylon gods before it was eaten, and Daniel had told me that it was against his religion to eat meat offered to idols, but even I knew that his choice of such a restricted diet was by no means normal Hebrew fare. I was appalled to find such resistance to eating the king’s dainties, and his speaking of defilement in this way at a mere 14 or 15 years of age — well, Daniel as yet had no idea of the defilement which Babylon could offer. Yet, he was determined to nourish his body frugally, lest he become intemperate.
So he came to me with candor, politely requesting that I give him and his three friends a ten-day trial period during which they would dine on pulse and water only. I had not the heart to refuse, even though I knew I should, because this young man had gained my favor immediately. I knew instinctively that here was no impudent young upstart, but rather, a boy of high moral stance. Having dealt daily with deceit, guile, and cleverly disguised intentions as I did, this lad was like a rare gem glinting in the mud. For whatever reason, I agreed to his astonishing proposal. And if ever in my life I did one good thing, this was it. May the gods smile on me for my answer to Daniel.
You know now the sequel to my story, for I too have had opportunity to see the divinely-inspired book which Daniel has written. You know how Daniel and his three friends continued to eat their chosen fare because the trial period only served to heighten their shining faces, superior physiques, and cunning intellects. You know how Daniel’s God revealed to him not only interpretations of dreams, but the very dreams themselves, catapulting him to the very highest offices in the kingdom. You know how his initial “no” to becoming Babylonianized made easier many other “nos” which he and his three friends were forced to make during their captivity in Babylon. You also know how, because of Daniel’s first “no”, his three friends were able to say “no” to another decree of the king and stand unscathed in Nebuchadnezzar’s hottest furnaces. You know how Daniel’s God, his race, and his faith never became remote or outdated to him, all the cunningly devised schemes of the king notwithstanding.
What you don’t know is that the lot of all Jehovah’s people was made easier because of this young boy who said “no.” Jehovah’s people enjoyed good farms in Babylon; many owned their own homes; they had freedom to come and go; they were able to continue their own institutions of elders, priests, and prophets; they had good job opportunities; they were able to correspond with those left behind in Judah. And yes, many in Babylon, myself included, came to hold Daniel’s God in high esteem. Here was a holy and powerful God, much in contrast to our gods of greed and impotence. . . and this boy’s entire life reflected Him. Daniel never succumbed to the filth and slime of Babylon’s manners and morals. At a tender age, by his temperance, he overcame the enticements of a godless court and city.
I found out, too, that for Jehovah’s people saying “no” to sin is not just for teenagers; it encompasses a lifetime — be it 70 or 80 years old as Daniel was when he had to say “no” even at that old age and thus endure Darius’ den of lions. Here was a temperate man to the end of his days.
And now, I, Ashpenaz, have nearly filled this tablet. Yet, before the clay hardens and I set my name to this document, I must tell you one thing more: it is certain that Daniel’s God placed him at this heathen court to declare to successive monarchs the truth of that curious dream which my lord, the great King Nebuchadnezzar, dreamed. For I, even in my lifetime, am seeing the stone made without hands growing in strength, size, and velocity as it strikes the fleeting and temporal kingdoms of this world to crush them to powder. And even now, Cyrus marches to Babylon’s gates. But the kingdom of Daniel’s God fills the earth. It will endure forever. I know this for a truth. For I have seen it in the life of one of His servants, Daniel.