Did Daniel, the Prophet of God, have a health plan? Was it similar to the contemporary movements like Atikins, Paleo, Vegan or some other hip trendy diet? More importantly, was Daniel’s plan anything like the acclaimed “The Daniel Plan” promoted by Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church along with Dr. Amen and Dr. Hymen?
For those of you unfamiliar with Daniel & “his plan” you can read all about it in Daniel 1:8-21.
Daniel did have a plan.
“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.” – Daniel 1:8
What Did Daniel Eat?
The answer to this question would appear to be quite simple.
We should have expected Daniel (a Jew) to have followed the prescribed diet given to the nation of Israel, the dietary law (Leviticus 11) contained within the Mosaic Covenant. But this is not exactly what Daniel requests.
“…let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink”
– Daniel 1:12
Rather than partake in the smorgasbord of Babylonian food, Daniel asked for vegetables and water (vegetables, or more specifically, “seeds”1). Daniel plainly chose to eat only those things that grow naturally – grains and vegetables – and to drink only naturally occurring water.2
How Long Did The Diet Last?
The diet was clearly temporary.
As a recently acquired captive to Babylon, Daniel will now begin a three year training period set by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:5). We find out later on that once the three years of training were complete, Daniel and his friends were evaluated (Daniel 1:5). However, many years later, we find out that Daniel abstained from delicacies, meat & wine for a three week fast (Daniel 10:3). This implies that the Babylonian foods have now become a common part of his diet at some point beyond his initial three year training period.
Whether a brief period to detox, a desire to improve his health amidst the initial stages of his exile, a lack of commitment, or for some other reason all together, Daniel’s diet only lasted for a few years.
Why Did Daniel Choose A Different Diet?
What might prove to be the clearest reason for Daniel’s choice of diet can be found in verse eight, where we read that Daniel resolved not to “defile” himself. In its basic form, the Hebrew word here translated as “defile” means “to redeem/avenge.” The kind of defilement in view here seems to be this: “a condition that puts a person in a position of needing to be redeemed, so that he is not punished by the avenger.”3 Daniel didn’t want to deliberately place himself in a situation that would incite an act of redemption or avenging.
That still begs the question, why did Daniel choose a different diet? What was the rationale behind Daniel’s choice to alter his diet in order to avoid unnecessary intervention from God?
Was Daniel attempting to avoid the Babylonian food out of a fear of violating God’s Law? The issue was not simply that the Babylonian food was unclean. If Daniel abstained from meat and wine because it had been offered to Babylonian idols, that would have been the case with the vegetables as well. More importantly, if there was anything intrinsically evil about the Babylonian food then Daniel would have had to abstain permanently from the meat and wine, which does not seem to have been the case (remember Daniel 10:3?).
Was Daniel becoming a vegetarian? Was it now unrighteousness to eat meat? By requesting vegetables Daniel was not suggesting that eating meat was wrong because a meat diet was permitted, and in some instances even commanded in the Mosaic Law (e.g., Passover).4 And again, we know Daniel would return to eating meat at some point later in his life.
Or did Daniel simply choose not “to eat junk food and challenged the king to a health contest.”?5 Was Daniel concerned that God would only look favorably upon him if he chose better quality food? You know, organic, non-GMO, gluten free? Unfortunately, the kings food is more likely to have been anything but junk. The Babylonians would have had a vast variety of foods, prepared by the top chefs.
Was it a matter of fellowship? Bingo! There does not appear to be a hint of any other reason. Daniel and his friends rejected the food precisely because it came from the king. It was a simple rejection of the intimate covenantal union often established in table fellowship that was common in the Ancient Near Eastern culture.6
Eating food is a sign of incorporation. We incorporate food into our bodies. Eating the same food as other people, and with them at the same meal, means becoming one with them. Thus to signify that he was not uniting with Nebuchadnezzar in any true, ultimate & intimate way, Daniel rejected the king’s food.7 This was especially critical in the first three years of Daniel’s exile. At the end of three years he would be evaluated in every capacity. Yet who would receive the credit? The Lord God or the king of Babylon?
Therefore, the opposition of Daniel is not between clean food and unclean food, between omnivore and vegetarian, between idol sacrifices and non-sacrificed food, or even between pagan food and believer’s food. “The goal of this simple diet was to be constantly reminded of the dependence upon God for their food, not King Nebuchadnezzar.”8
So what was the outcome of Daniel’s diet?
“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.”
– Daniel 1:15
“As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”
– Daniel 1:17-20
Should We Follow Daniel’s Plan?
What would it look like for you and I to diet like Daniel? Babylon no longer exists. Yet there are still sovereign governments that rule over you and I. Does this mean we must resolve not to defile ourselves with food approved by the FDA? Ha! Not quite.
The principle for you and I has more to do with our dependence and trust. Do we depend on God or on government? Do we follow cultural or government approved and acceptable foods because we believe we will be blessed and prosper? Or do we believe that blessings come from God? That God alone is the one who disperses blessings of health?
But seriously now, tell me what to eat? How do we implement Daniel’s diet? How does the Daniel plan translate into our lives, into our kitchens and into our stomachs? Remember that regarding food Daniel was most concerned with the intimate fellowship that occurred with Pagans while sharing the table. If you’re anything like me, my health and diet are compromised most when I eat out, especially with others. The social atmosphere lowers our inhibitions. Self-control is all but a faint memory. Encountered with an abundance of food choices (some healthy, some not so much) I consistently find myself giving into temptation. Whatever healthy eating habits I have developed are reluctantly left at home. We’re vulnerable outside of our own kitchen.
Daniel didn’t intent to pioneer a new radical health movement. In fact, if Daniel was concerned with promoting any particular diet he would have focused our attention to the diet prescribed in the Mosaic Covenant. After all, this was God’s law for Israel. But Daniel didn’t promote a diet for us to follow. Daniel was well aware that sharing food was a potential stumbling block for him and his trust and dependence on God.
So Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the kings food.
1Ezekiel 4:9 sheds some light on the content of these “seeds.” That consisting of “wheat, barley, beans, lintels, millet and emmer.” Ezekiel was a contemporary of Daniel.
2Duguid, Daniel, 13.
3Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall, 120-121.
4Miller, Daniel, 69.
5Warren, The Daniel Plan, 15.
6Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall, 144-145.
7Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall, 146-147.
8Duguid, Daniel, 13.