An Assertive Young Man

lions“Daniel in the Lions’ Den” is a time-honored children’s story, but we adults can also learn from this Biblical hero. Long before he met the lions, Daniel demonstrated remarkable grace, common sense and integrity.

The book of Daniel is set in the 6th century B.C. The first chapter describes how King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and carried some of the Jews into exile in Babylon. Daniel was among the captives. As an educated young man of noble birth, he was chosen to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and was groomed for a career in the Babylonian government. Along with the other young trainees, Daniel was expected to eat the hearty food assigned by the king to keep them strong and healthy.

Daniel was in a quandary. The Babylonian food didn’t meet the kosher requirements of Daniel’s Jewish faith. To eat what his captors provided would defile Daniel in God’s eyes. To refuse the food would be an act of disobedience with grave consequences.

Here’s where Daniel’s wisdom comes into play. He could have made a number of bad choices. His response could have been:

  • Passive: Giving in to the demands of his captors, saying, “I’m helpless, there’s nothing I can do.”
  • Fight or Flight: Daniel could have tried to escape from Babylon or to stir up a rebellion.
  • Sneaky: Pretending to comply, while using devious means to disguise his eating patterns.
  • Passive-Aggressive: Going on a hunger-strike or simply “feeling too sick to eat.”

None of these options would have accomplished God’s purposes. Instead, Daniel behaved assertively. He spoke to his immediate supervisor, explained the situation and requested an exemption for himself and his three closest friends. The supervisor sympathized with Daniel’s plight, but refused the request, since his own head would be on the chopping block if Daniel’s diet should cause weakness or illness. Daniel didn’t argue; he proposed an experiment: allow himself and his friends to eat their kosher diet for ten days, then compare the state of their health to that of their peers. The supervisor consented to the test. After ten days, Daniel and his friends were found to be fitter than the others, so the supervisor switched all the young men to Daniel’s diet.

This was the first of many times when Daniel’s steadfastness would convey God’s truth to the  Babylonians. Even during this first test of his youthful faith, Daniel’s response was packed with examples of assertiveness in action. Consider all the things Daniel did right:

  • He understood his place in the world and picked his battles wisely. Although he doubtless grieved for his lost homeland and the sad state of his people, he didn’t rebel against the conquerers. He knew that rebellion was not his calling. Perhaps he felt he could serve his people better by representing them inside the Babylonian government. Maybe he knew that the prophet Jeremiah had foretold the Babylonian captivity as part of God’s plan. For whatever reason, Daniel chose to submit respectfully to his new overlords.
  • He did take responsibility for things that were under his control. “What goes into my mouth is my choice,” he realized, and so he honored God in his eating.
  • He trusted God above all else. Instead of worrying about the future—how to win the favor of his handlers and climb the ladder of palace sycophants—Daniel was worried about honoring God properly in the present moment. He believed that if he was true to God, God would be true to him, and everything would come out right.
  • When Daniel sought a change in policy, he used the existing chain of command. He went to his immediate superior, not over his head or behind his back.
  • He spoke respectfully, appealing to the man’s basic human decency.
  • He listened. When the superior explained why he must say “no,” Daniel understood his reasons.
  • Daniel made a respectful counter-proposal that showed he understood his supervisor’s needs and purposes. In so doing, he won a willing ally.

These attitudes and skills are as valuable today as they were in ancient Babylon. Let’s use them in service to God and pray that he’ll bless our efforts as he blessed Daniel’s.



  1. Anonymous says:

    Very nice and insightful article.