Longing for the Divine

Daniel’s Choice: Is It Time for a New Diet?

The first chapter of the Old Testament Book of Daniel contains a story about the prophet Daniel and his three exiled friends, who refused to eat the king’s food and wine. Its first few verses are fascinating. The story begins with Daniel’s resolve not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. He tells the Babylonian chief official, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink” (Daniel 1:12).

I have often heard Daniel’s choice being used to justify diets and weight loss. I grew up with conservative Christians who thought Daniel advocated a health-food mindset that shunned harmful foods and wine. Many other American churches have used Daniel’s choice to eat only vegetables and water to promote a “Daniel fast” or “Daniel diet.”

I don’t think that Daniel and his friends were obsessed with weight loss or today’s other health trends, however, because Daniel 1:15 points out that they gained more weight than those who ate from the king’s table. Today’s context, however, differs from that of ancient culture. In our modern culture, we eat carefully because we want to be thin and trim, while in that ancient culture, the focus was on gaining weight and having enough good food to eat. I absolutely agree that a diet of fruits, vegetables, and plenty of water offers the best nutrition and is scientifically proven to optimize health. However, I find it fascinating that Daniel requested the meat-free diet that the Bible indicates was eaten in the original creation setting (Genesis 1:29). Daniel most likely asked for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains, all of which are included in a vegan diet (Sung Jae Park, Why Did Daniel and His Friends Refuse the King’s Food and Wine, 2018, p. 92-93).

In all fairness, later in the Book of Daniel, it appears that Daniel eventually consumed meat after setting his own dietary restrictions according to the Levitical instructions (Daniel 10:3). However, scholars have noted that the dietary regulations in Leviticus 11 are based on the creation account in Genesis (Jiří Moskala, The Laws of Clean and Unclean Animals of Leviticus 11: Their Nature, Theology, and Rationale, 1998; Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 1989, p. 21). I mention this to show that Daniel’s main reason for abstaining from meat does not seem to be the avoidance of contamination but rather the desire to follow the Creator’s intention. Daniel chose to eat according to the Creator’s instructions given in Genesis 1:29. His choice reflects his worship of the Creator. Fad diets and exaggerated concerns about eating improper foods often prompt legalistic or rule-based approaches to diet, which lead to disordered eating habits. Rigid dietary behaviors can’t have the same meaningful impact as health, compassion, and caring for creation. I don’t consider proper eating habits unimportant, but those who follow them rarely go beyond personal reasons to reach back into the biblical narrative, as Daniel did, for life-giving inspiration.

Daniel’s choice to eat for the Creator placed the focus on the kind of person God is—abundant in goodness, grace, and blessing. “To worship the Creator is to bring to conscious awareness the fact that this is God’s … earth” (Jack Provonsha, A Remnant in Crisis, 1993, p. 99.) This awareness allowed Daniel to gain favor and influence with the highest dignitaries and people of other faiths and beliefs. God gave Daniel favor and compassion as he stood before the chief official (Daniel 1:9). Such grace and compassion are often lacking when a health-food mindset takes hold in a church.

It is surprising to me that followers of Jesus often feel that they are at liberty to eat any food they desire. Christians’ dietary endeavors often fail to inspire vegans, environmentalists, and those from other faiths. I share this because I have had over forty years of experience living and working in nonreligious vegetarian communities. Christians who choose to eat like Daniel make their dietary choices appealing to such communities. I do not think we should underestimate Daniel’s choice to eat for the Creator as a way to present the truth about God to environmentalists, animal rights activists, and health-conscious nonreligious individuals as well as to those of other faiths who assert compassion as a reason for abstaining from eating meat.

In the beginning of the Book of Daniel, Daniel and his friends request foods that reflect the creation account, God’s original intent for mankind (Genesis 1:29). At the end of the book, Daniel is told that his book of prophecy is to be sealed, closed until the end of time (Daniel 12:4). This implies that Daniel’s writings will be opened to our understanding at the end of time and that “the wise will understand” (Daniel 12:10). Many scholars have noticed that Daniel’s prophecies have been opened to our view and have a special application to our day. Perhaps the suggestion presented in Daniel 1:12 points us beyond fad diets to a meaningful way of eating at the “time of the end”—a dietary choice that manifests the Creator’s intentions for greater health and compassion, an eschatological diet, as it were, that is persuasive to those of other faiths. Perhaps it’s time for a new diet much like Daniel’s.

Craig Ashton Jr.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: