Food Offered to Idols

Daniel and his three Jewish companions refused to participate in the religious rituals of the Babylonian World-Power – Daniel 1:14.

Augustus - Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash
Daniel was confronted with a predicament in the imperial court. If he consumed the food and drink provided by the king, it could cause his ritual defilement. Possibly, he and his Jewish companions wished to avoid eating meat classified as “
unclean.” More likely, the consumption of the “king’s delicacies” meant participation in the idolatrous religious rituals of Babylon - [Augustus - Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash].
  • (Daniel 1:8, 12) – “But Daniel laid it upon his heart not to defile himself with the meats of the king, nor with the wine which he drank, therefore, he sought the ruler of the eunuchs, that he might not defile (ga’alhimself… I pray you, prove your servants ten days, and let them give us vegetable food, that we may eat, and water that we may drink.
Was the issue eating foods classified as “unclean” under the Levitical regulations? Perhaps. But Daniel objected both to the “meats” and “wine” from the royal table, and in Leviticus, wine did not cause ritual defilement. Moreover, Daniel made no reference to the dietary regulations of the Torah, and the Hebrew term rendered “defile” (ga’al) in the passage is not the same one rendered “unclean” in Leviticus - ga’al appears nowhere in the Pentateuch.

The Hebrew term pathbag more correctly means “delicacies,” not “meats.” The royal provisions would have included animal flesh; however, that is not the point in the passage. Babylonian religious customs suggest a different issue, participation in the idolatrous rituals of Babylon.

Daniel objected to eating food and to drinking wine from the “table of the king”; here, the stress is on the source of the food and the wine - The royal table.

Daniel proposed a “test.” For “ten days,” he and his friends would only eat vegetables and drink water; afterward, their Babylonian keeper could compare their appearance with that of the other young men who did consume the royal provisions.

Idols played a key role in Babylonian rituals. It was believed the god was present in his or her image within its temple. Such images were provided with daily meals of food and drink. The king provided the required foodstuffs for the god’s “meal,” and no one else present could eat before the deity was finished “consuming” it. The remaining food and drink were distributed for consumption at the royal table. Thus, the king’s provisions were linked with the idolatry of the Babylonian temples – (Joan Oates, Babylon, London - Thames and Hudson, 1986, p. 174-175).

The Book of Revelation alludes to this story in its letter to the church at Smyrna. The congregation was to expect persecution - “You may BE TRIED, and you will have tribulation TEN DAYS.” The Greek verb rendered “tried” in the Septuagint version of Daniel (peiraz┼Ź) is the same one found in the Greek text of the letter to Smyrna - (Daniel 1:14, Revelation 2:8-11).

Christians at Smyrna were “slandered by them who say they are Jews and are not, but instead, are a synagogue of Satan.” Consequently, some believers found themselves “cast into prison.” Nevertheless, those who remained “faithful until death” would receive “the crown of life and NOT BE HURT of the second death.”

The “slander” referred to false charges leveled against Christians before civil magistrates, probably for their refusal to participate in the imperial cult. In Pergamos, Jesus rebuked church members who tolerated deceivers that taught believers “to eat things sacrificed to idols and to fornicate” - “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.” So, also, in Thyatira, where the church was reprimanded for allowing a false prophetess “to seduce my servants to fornicate and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” In Revelation, “fornicate” is metaphorical for idolatry - (Revelation 2:12-17, 17:218:318:9).

The issue in Daniel was not ritually “unclean” food, but participation in idolatry. Likewise, in Revelation, first-century Christians were to avoid participating in the idolatrous worship of “Babylon,” that is, Rome. “Fornicate” and “eat meat offered to idols” are metaphorical terms for participation in the rituals of the imperial cult.

Likewise, believers of later generations must refuse to render homage to the idolatrous demands of end-time “Babylonthe Great Harlot,” when she commands one and all to worship the “beast” and its “image.”



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