But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. – Daniel 1:8-16
Daniel and his friends are under the care of the king’s Eunuch, being groomed for special service to the king. They were to be fed a special diet to promote their appearance and physical wellbeing. They opted, however, to forego non-kosher foods (possibly horseflesh and pork and wine offered to Babylonian gods) in order to obey the Old Testament dietary laws against such foods. This was not a matter of nutrition, but a matter of obeying the dietary laws of Israel, and a manner in which they resolved to maintain their identity in the face of strong pressure to do otherwise.
Their resolute decision to refuse the king’s food was at no little risk. In fact the eunuch who saw to their care and wellbeing could lose his head if this plan resulted in Daniel’s poor appearance and physical weakness. But, sure enough, their diet works; they appear better in appearance than the others who ate the king’s food.
I’m not certain we can draw much dietary wisdom from this approach – though I’m certain there are those who would do so. But I am certain that Daniel’s plan worked. Daniel believed God had favored him with a noble identity and true purpose. He will live that out in the pages to come.
Sometimes we must simply forego short-term pleasures in order to achieve long-term success. Sometimes we honor God by our conscientious temperance – not necessarily in our dietary choices, but in our generosity, use of time, refusal to bear a grudge, or willingness to forgive. These acts of spiritual temperance mark us as God’s people and set us up to give glory to God and express the reality of God’s rule and reign of grace in our hearts.