At The King's Table
( Originally Published 1921 )
DANIEL AND THE KING'S OFFICER
It was night in Babylon. The soldiers patrolling the walls had called the hour of midnight, and the watchmen in the towers had answered, "All is well." Even a cock in the distance had saluted this hour of darkness with a lusty crow. It was the time to be at rest, but Babylon, the queen city of Chaldea, knew not quietness. Through her streets were reeling boisterous revelers whose drunken shouts disturbed a few citizens who preferred sleep to midnight orgies. Babylon's armies again had been victorious, and should she not celebrate the homecoming of her soldiers with their thousands of Hebrew captives?
Into the temple of their gods they had carried the gold and silver vessels used in the worship of Jehovah. Jerusalem had been stripped of her beauty and her wealth, her walls destroyed, her temple and every house of value burned. The poor, the weak, and the sick had been abandoned, left to starve and die amid the desolate ruin of their city. But the youth of Judah, her princes and nobles, those with wealth and those skilled in science or in some useful art, were brought to Babylon to serve its king.
There were four of these captives who had not been herded with the others. As the sentry's call told the midnight hour they sat together in a room of Nebuchadnezzar's palace, their heads almost touching as they repeated among themselves the news the high chamber-lain of the king had brought them when he served their supper.
"We cannot do this thing," said Daniel, "for it is dishonoring our God." Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, his companions in captivity, were silent. Daniel, two years older than they, had always taken the lead. He was a mere lad of about eighteen, to be sure, but as the lads studied together in the schools of the prophets at Jerusalem, he had always been selected by his teachers to do every important work. "We are here in Babylon because Israel did not keep Jehovah's laws," continued Daniel, "and although our prophets have said our nation should return home after seventy years, it will be because here we have obeyed His precepts."
"But we are prisoners," replied his companions, "and must do the will of our master."
Daniel's clear eyes looked fearlessly into theirs. His parents and theirs had perished in the ruins left behind them, but these parents had belonged to the royal blood of Israel and had taught these lads Jehovah's laws. Daniel did not know what fear was; he trusted in his God and knew that meant safety. When he had knelt at prayer, his mother had told
"Human terror precipitates loss, but who trusts in the Lord will be safe." It was not wise to be afraid, he told his friends; that would only make matters worse. The three younger lads, in doubt, shook their heads. They did not intend to yield to the king's wishes, but how could they avoid doing so?
Daniel laughed cheerily. He never seemed to be sad, as every good thing with him seemed possible. Because of this he had many friends. Even the king had admired the lad's spirit, and the chamberlain and steward loved him. When people really please God they at the same time please man. Many years before, had not Solomon, the wise, said, "When a man's ways please Jehovah, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him?"
So Daniel this night encouraged his companions and told them that when morning came he would have a plan for them to act upon.
What was it the king required of them?
He admired their beauty, their wisdom, and the courage they had shown. Not a complaint had they uttered during the tedious march from Jerusalem to Babylon, and, although the officers on the way often had been cruel, not once had any one of the lads cringed or begged a favor.
Such spirit as that will serve me well, thought Nebuchadnezzar, and I shall, have these lads instructed in all the learning of the Chaldeans, so that after three years' training they may take their places in my court.
A king's favorite, to sit at the king's table — that is, feed on his dainties—could anything be more fortunate? said the other prisoners not so favored.
At the king's table, yes. What the others enviously coveted, to Daniel and his three companions was a sin. Could they avoid it? We shall see.
Daniel was a determined youth. He, like David, had a purpose and an aim and, like that king of olden time, he meant to hit the mark at which he aimed.
Did he do so? Let me answer by asking you to look about you. Are the people who shilly shally from one thing to another, who are never quite sure of what they want to do, the ones upon whom you can depend? Or is it the persons with fixed purposes, who turn neither to the right nor to the left but go straight forward to their goal, in whom you have confidence? In our day we call such people successful, but, after all, it is only knowing one's own mind and sticking to it. Nothing very peculiar about that, is there, —except that it is odd so few people do it?
In the morning when the steward brought them the rich food, the same as that served at the royal table, Daniel and his three friends refused to eat.
"We are defiled if we eat it," said Daniel. "Give us only water, and with it herbs and grains."
To the steward this request sounded like asking that they might be allowed to starve to death, so he replied, "I shall forfeit my head if you do not eat. Your pale faces and hollow eyes will show that you are not fed or cared for."
"Give us ten days' trial," urged Daniel, "and see if we do not at the end of that time look as sound and in as good health as the other lads for whom the king has appointed this rich food."
The steward consented. He believed that Daniel was wrong, but the youth had always kept his word and had dealt kindly and justly with everyone, so it could do no harm to humor him in his request. The ten days over, the lads would be glad to have some of the king's dainties and to drink his wines.
Daniel's fellow captives, with the exception of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, made much fun of him. "Why not enjoy these rich feasts?" they said to him. "Make as much of this opportunity as you can; it will be hard enough for you when you begin to be in the king's service," were their words.
"Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die," was not the rule of Daniel's life nor of that of his three friends. They understood why their faces at the end of the ten days "appeared fairer, and they were fatter in flesh."
You are thinking that you also know, and if I should ask you to tell me, you would say, "Man doth not live by bread only, but by everything that proceedeth out of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live."
Each day that they had eaten their simple food the chamberlain and steward had looked at them anxiously. Did the lads show signs of weakness? Were they listless and dull in their studies? Not a bit of it. Instead, they were ahead in all their classes, and could study harder and work longer without feeling tired than any of the other boys. The king's officers were astonished. They knew nothing of self-control; their gods taught them only self-indulgence.
When the, ten days were over, the steward with a beaming face gave them their breakfast of pulse, or grains, and water. Now he was certain that Daniel's words to him were true, and that it was safe never again to offer him and the three other lads any of the king's dainties.
What had Daniel said to the steward? He had told him that obeying Jehovah harmed no one; that the heads of the officers would not be imperiled by granting him his wish. Everyone who did right was not cursed, but instead was blessed.
The three years of training passed swiftly by and the lads were now daily waiting to be summoned to the king's presence. He would examine them and try in every way to trip them with hard questions. Many a lad returned from that royal council-chamber trembling with fright and with despair in his eyes because he had not been accepted. To be refused meant bitter slavery.
One night the curtain which shielded their room from view was hastily drawn aside and a harsh voice commanded, "The king desires your presence. Be ready at once to meet him." What royal caprice, what selfish whim was this that at this late hour he summoned the youths to him ?
To be examined. by the king, of course. The envious among their fellow students said that, taken by surprise as they were, they must surely fail.
Daniel arose quietly and as quietly replied to the messenger, "We are ready." Then the four lads followed the page into the council-chamber. The king looked at them with favor. But he meant to be severe with them, and if they failed he would have no mercy. They were Hebrews and his captives. He had for-bidden the mention of Jehovah's name among his prisoners, and yet some rumors had reached his ears that it was in Jehovah that these lads trusted. Their bodies did not tremble, their voices were firm and steady as without hesitance they answered the king's questions. There was no timid shrinking with downcast eyes as they stood before him—this monarch whose word could command for them life or death, slavery or freedom. Instead, they stood erect, graceful, and beautiful in their fearlessness, their clear, kindly eyes looking directly into those of the king. The court held its breath in amazement, expecting every moment that Nebuchadnezzar would strike them dead in his wrath at what his courtiers called impudence. Servility was all this court knew when it dealt with kings. But the brave youths were unharmed for the king admired their courage. The king was a conqueror, and he knew another conquering spirit when he saw it. It is only a coward who despises courage, especially when it is tempered with courtesy.
The wise men of Chaldea were present, the astrologers—those who search the heavens; the soothsayers—those who foretell events; and the magicians ; all were ready to detect any failure. Some leaned forward in their eagerness to be the first to correct any error Daniel and his friends might make in their answers to the king's questions and to theirs. The test over, the delighted king leaned back in his seat with satisfaction and told the court herald to announce that these four youths had exceeded even the wise men of his realm in their knowledge and understanding. These are fine youths for my court and for my service, thought the king. Then he dismissed them after appointing them to places of honor in his household.
Let us follow them to their room. As they enter their door the sentry upon the city walls calls the hour of midnight, and is answered by the watchman in the tower repeating the welcome words, "All is well." In the distance, as it did three years ago this very night, a cock crows its greeting to the hour.
Daniel turned to his companions and lifted his face and arms heavenward. They know the gesture; it is the one of prayer. As his lips move we know without hearing what it is he says within his heart : "With prayer have we prevailed with God and with men; blessed be the name of Jehovah forever."