I recently watched the Harry Potter franchise of movies because I had never seen them nor read the books, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. One line in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets stood out to me. Professor Dumbledore, speaking to Harry, said, “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” When it comes to choices, I think it is important for us to realize that there are some choices we get to make, and there are some choices we do not get to make. No one illustrates this better than Daniel.
At the outset of Daniel’s story, we learn that he was taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar after the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. Daniel is chosen because of factors beyond his control. According to Daniel 1:3-4, he is chosen primarily because he descended from a royal or noble family. He was also chosen because of his attractiveness and intelligence. In other words, Daniel was chosen to a large extent because of his heritage. Daniel did not get to choose his family of origin. Daniel did not necessarily get to choose his physical traits or mental faculties, although he could choose whether or not he developed those attributes. The point is that Daniel did not get to choose his background. In like fashion, you do not get to chose your family of origin, your ethnicity, your gender, your race, or your genetics. Like Daniel, you do not get to choose your background.
When Daniel arrived in Babylon, he was then forcibly enrolled in Nebuchadnezzar’s training program, which was designed to assimilate him into Babylonian culture. Daniel did not get to choose whether or not he left Israel. Daniel did not get to choose whether or not he relocated to Babylon. Daniel did not get to choose whether or not he entered Nebuchadnezzar’s assimilation program. Daniel did not get to choose the circumstances in which he found himself as a young man. In like manner, we do not always get to choose our circumstances. We did not get to choose whether or not the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Some of us will not get to choose whether or not our children go back to school virtually. Some of us did not get to choose whether or not we were furloughed, fired, or retained as an employee. Like Daniel, we do not get to choose all of our circumstances.
We may not get to choose our background or our circumstances, but that should not matter because what we do get to choose is much more important.
Upon arrival in Babylon, one of the first things Daniel received was a new name. He was assigned a Babylonian name (Daniel 1:7). Why? Because Daniel’s Hebrew name made reference to the God of the Israelites, and Nebuchadnezzar wanted him to have a name that made reference to the god of the Babylonians. It was just another step in the Babylonian policy of forced assimilation. Despite this name change, Daniel’s Hebrew name appears 75 times in his story while his Babylonian name only appears 10 times. This is worth mentioning because according to Daniel 12:4, Daniel wrote this book himself, and he deliberately chose to use his Hebrew name seven times more than his Babylonian name even though the majority of his life was spent living in Babylon. This detail indicates that Daniel chose his identity. He chose to be known by a name that referenced the one true God rather than by a name that referenced the culture in which he lived. In other words, Daniel refused to be who the world wanted him to be and choose to be who God called him to be. And, like Daniel, we get to make that same choice. We get to choose our identity.
Another important detail to notice about Nebuchadnezzar’s training program is that those enlisted in it were fed they were given food from the king’s table (Daniel 1:5). In other words, they ate well. But Daniel felt that eating the king’s food would compromise him spiritually. So, we’re told in Daniel 1:8 that he “resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.” Maybe Daniel chose not to eat the king’s food because it was not kosher (cf. Leviticus 11). Maybe Daniel chose not to eat the king’s food because he didn’t know if it had been sacrificed to a Babylonian deity, and, thus, eating it would be like worshipping another god. Maybe Daniel chose not to eat the king’s food because he wanted to demonstrate his dependence on God instead of the king. Regardless of the reason, Daniel made a deliberate decision to declare his boundary. He chose the point at which he would assimilate no further. And the choice he made here impacted the rest of his story. By choosing his boundary at this early stage, he was able to make a much more difficult choice when another king prohibited prayers to God (cf. Daniel 6).
You may not get to choose your background or your circumstances, but you will always get to choose your identity and your boundaries. And those choices matter because they are the choices that ultimately make you. So, as the grail knight told Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Choose wisely.”