“And the king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food. . . But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food. . .” Daniel 1:5,8
My heart melted as I watched last year’s season of Survivor. I’d never seen it before; had only heard of the perils endured by the contestants involved. The harsh environments and intense extremes these brave and disciplined humans contend with have made this show one of the longest reality series on air. Millions of viewers are intrigued at the thought of humans being deserted in a remote location with no shelter and no food.
Yes, those two words always become a question at some point. Like the man I recently talked with about his forty-day fast. I looked at him with an admiring yet blank and quizzical stare.
Forty. Days. No. Food.
Forty days no food?
The question mark dangled off the end of my thought punctuated again by a raised eye brow and gnawing sense of disbelief. I’ll be the first to admit that hunger isn’t among our favorite feelings. An empty stomach doesn’t produce a sensation humans are quick to ignore or slow to remedy. When we are hungry we do something about it – almost anything. It’s uncomfortable, hollow, empty and when pushed to its limits, can cause us to act in ways we never thought we would; willing to go to lengths we never thought we could. Especially for someone like me.
Cause I like food.
And I like to eat.
All. Kinds. Of. Food.
(No question mark needed.)
I love salty things, crispy things, sweet things, gooey things, warm things, cold things, stacked things, baked things, fried things, poached things, cheesy things . . .edible things. That should just about cover everything cause that’s what I like to eat.
It’s a hobby really.
It’s a happy hobby but can be a hazardous hobby for a human to have. . .especially for people deserted on an island with only a sack of uncooked rice (which, without a creamy gravy smothering it and huge piece of meat beside it, still amounts to no food in my book). Think of the delicacies, decadent flavors, succulent textures and luscious treats that you most enjoy. The steak you like cooked medium-well or the baked potato you like piled high with all your favorite goodies. Consider the eggs you enjoy for breakfast and the syrup-smothered waffles you serve right next to them. Picture the fried chicken, warm rolls, sushi, tortilla chips, coffee, soft drinks and sweet desserts your mouth loves to savor.
Now, picture your life without them.
For 1 day.
For 1 week.
How about a month or two?
I know, right? After a couple days of that kind of deprivation, it might not take much more thanone grain of rice to entice you to throw in the towel, give up your chance at the million dollar prize and lure you back to your normal, comfortable life. Except maybe. . .maybe. . if you’re one of the disciplined warriors on Survivor and your team name is Tandang.
Tandang was a fairly close knit group who’d faired well in the game but severe conditions had begun to take their toll. Emotional fuses were on edge. Stomachs were growling loud. Exhaustion was setting it and alliances were wearing thin. By the time the weekly competition rolled around and they met up with their opponents (a team called Kalabaw) they were near a breaking point.
Adrenalin was running high enough to peak on Mt. Everest as the groups began what amounted to a wrestling match that went on for sixty, nail-biting, nerve-wracking, energy-sapping minutes. Just watching the edited version from the comfort of my living room sofa made me exhausted. The last few drops of their starved vitality was drained completely dry while they each sought to win this game. . and the accompanying reward. . .
A full, all-you-can-eat, banquet buffet.
That’s a prize appealing enough to make a grown man cry – especially a starved one. In fact, I think several of them just may have dropped a tear or two as their weary, empty stomachs roared with hunger and they considered the consequences of losing the competition.
So they waged an intense war but after an hour the teams were at a standstill. No one was moving and none of the dynamics were changing. It was clear that one of the teams was going to have to give up in order for this battle to ever be over.
So. . . a deal was struck between the tribes.
Kalabaw agreed to forfeit if Tandang would let them have the victory meal. In exchange, Kalabaw would give their bag of rice to Tandang. At quick glance, it sounded like no deal at all – trade a banquet feast for a bag of rice? Well, maybe, except to the wise members of the Tandang tribe who decided that the long term nourishment possibilities of a full bag of grain was a better bargain then the momentary (yet admittedly tempting) satisfaction that their opponents would be able to indulge.
Kallabaw member’s mouths watered as they silently prayed Tandang’s members would agree to the terms: take the rice and leave them with the bountiful table. And minutes later, for better or worse, the deal was struck and Kalabaw headed off to enjoy a banquet feast of delicacies while Tandang, stomachs aching, went to claim their extra bag of rice.
Uncooked rice. (Did I already mention that?)
One of the most high-stakes hunger game I’ve ever seen played. . .except for Daniel’s . . .and ours.
Exiled in Babylon, Daniel and his countrymen were adjusting to their new surroundings in a pagan land. Stripped from all that was familiar, they no doubt sought to maintain some of the culture and tradition of their nation and their God. But the Babylonian king wouldn’t stand for that. He changed their names, put them in new schools, surrounded them with new environments and set to reformat their thinking in order to line it up with Babylonian culture. And then. . . he changed their food.
The. King’s. Choice. Food.
He went for the jugular – the one thing that could really tempt someone to give up what’s best in the long term for a momentary sense of mouth-watering delight and satisfaction. He offered them the best delicacies that the kingdom had to offer. This wasn’t fast food or local cafeteria fare. We aren’t talking warmed up leftovers from Thanksgiving or even the best option from your local mid-range neighborhood dive. In fact, the best restaurant in your town, with that tip-top five star rating, couldn’t hold a candle to the kinds of things King Nebuchadnezzar was offering.
No, this was the king’s food. His hand selected options from the best meals the culture had at its disposal.
It’d be hard to turn down good eating like that.
Except if you’re Daniel.
He and three friends made up their minds that they would not sell their soul for even one bite. They determined that the long-term satisfaction of Yahweh’s blessing would sustain them longer than any tasty treats ever could. So, they stood their ground – the same ground on which every victorious Christians must stand theirs – and they won.
Without question. In every way imaginable.
We win too. Every time we choose not to indulge the lust of our flesh – to pamper the craving of our bodies in exchange for faithfulness to God. Every time we take the opportunity to walk away from the banquet feast that the enemy craftily sets out and choose instead to stick with God’s way, we take home the ultimate prize – internal peace, God’s favor and His divine nod of approval.
Sure, it can be difficult when the options are so varied and enticing. The enemy wouldn’t have it any other way. He knows better than to try and snag us with mediocre things. He’s a master in high stake hunger games . . . like the one you are facing right now. He brings out the “choice things” – the most alluring, most tempting, most exciting options then hangs them in front of us like fishing bate on a line. He knows what you like – what would most tempt you to walk away from your convictions:
MMMMM, sounds and tastes so good.
Until. . . .it just doesn’t anymore. Until you are left with a full stomach and an empty, hollow soul.
This is the hunger game of your life. And it’s the game that he no longer has to win in your life or mine. Choose long-term satisfaction of allegiance to God even when it seems that others are getting the better end of the deal.
Trust me . . . they aren’t.
No question about it.
Daniel knew it.
Tandang illustrated it.
And now, we can live it.