7.23 Daniel -- Racial Assimilation
The first chapter is unusual in that it features neither a miraculous deliverance nor a dramatic revelation. As in chapters 2-6, though, a time of testing is followed by insight. The problem is stated rather subtly. Daniel and his three friends were forcibly taken away from Judah -- away from the Temple. They were immersed in pagan culture: they lived at or near the court, they were given new names, referring to foreign gods. They were being stripped of their identity as people of the Lord.
"To begin to study Babylonian literature was to enter a completely alien thought-world. . . . The writer of Daniel implies no objection to the study of a polytheistic literature in which magic, sorcery, charms and astrology played a prominent part, though these had long been banned in Israel (Deut 18:10-12, cf. I Sam 28:3ff.). These young men from Jerusalem’s court needed to be secure in their knowledge of Yahweh to be able to study this literature objectively without allowing it to undermine their faith" (Baldwin, Joyce, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary. The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Downers Grove: IL: Inter-Varsity, 1978, p. 80).
Up to this point, Daniel had put up with all the changes from his upbringing. The king's food, however, was a different matter. Daniel considered it unclean (Dan 1:8). This was not just a matter of Levitical food laws, but more likely because portions of the food were offered to idols (NIV footnote, p. 1300). Daniel had a plan to circumvent the king's diet, while limiting himself to vegetables and water. He and his friends thrived on this diet, and were given abilities by God that allowed them to be promoted above the other advisors (Dan 1:17-20).
The racial principle here is one of tactful avoidance, rather than belligerent confrontation, when faced with the unavoidable demands of outsiders. The objective is, rather than play the martyr, to cooperate as far as possible, and then "schlep" the point of contention. King Nebuchadnezzar never knew his commands weren't obeyed. This deceit would not have been possible without the connivance of the "righteous Gentile," the chief official in charge of their care, who was a eunuch (Dan 1:9, KJV, RSV).