At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

Three Lessons About Faith & Work from the Book of Daniel

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5th century sculpture of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Photo courtesy of Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

The life of Daniel provides a clear example of a man who was faithful to God in his career. Here are three lessons Daniel models for Christians seeking to honor God in the workplace.

Daniel lived in the context of foreign conquest and exile. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, solidified his conquest over the people of Judah by bringing the best and brightest Israelites to Babylon to work in his royal court. Daniel 1:3-5 describes the criteria for these young men:

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. 

Daniel mentions four of these chosen men: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 

To further establish their “new” Babylonian identities, the names of these four men were changed to honor the Babylonian gods: Daniel to Belteshazzar, Hananiah to Shadrach, Mishael to Meshach and Azariah to Abednego. Their identities were remade, and their careers chosen for them. 

For three years they underwent training in the Babylonian language, tradition, political structure, literature and many other subjects. They worked amidst the best of the best, the elite of Babylonian society.

Lesson #1: Christians can and should enter the workplace. 

Daniel and his three friends were the intended audience of Jeremiah’s letter to the Israelite exiles in Jeremiah 29. As Hugh Whelchel explains in a previous post,

In the tent city in Babylon, a young man in the crowd heard Jeremiah’s letter and believed that it meant a new vocational call on his life. From that moment, he totally committed his life to working for the shalom, the peace and well-being, of the great city of Babylon. The young man’s name was Daniel.

Daniel pursued the shalom of the city through his position in Nebuchadnezzar’s royal court.

You may not have a position in a king’s inner circle, but you can still work towards shalom in the place you are called to right now.

Lesson #2: Christians should pursue excellence in the workplace

We’ve already seen how Daniel and his friends were the cream of the crop of Israelite men.

It says in Daniel 1:20 that, as a result of God’s direct blessing,

In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

These guys stood out, even from the best. They strove for excellence as they worked to bring shalom to Babylon. The second chapter of Daniel provides an illustration of this.

King Nebuchadnezzar and his magicians, wise men, and enchanters cannot interpret a dream he has had. Nebuchadnezzar grows so irate he orders all the wise men killed, including Daniel and his friends.

However, when the commander of the guard, Arioch, shows up to kill them, Daniel spoke to him “with wisdom and tact.” Arioch tells Daniel the whole story. Daniel is able to request more time to interpret the dream through God’s blessing. God gives Daniel the ability to interpret the dream.

Because of God’s blessing of skill and success, Daniel and his friends are given greater responsibility as administrators over the province of Babylon. Likewise, you have been blessed with certain skills, which you are called to develop in order that you might do good work. Like Daniel, we should strive for excellence in our jobs.

Lesson #3: Christians should be obedient in the workplace. 

In Daniel 1:8-15, Daniel and his friends refuse the diet of royal food and wine set before them by the Babylonians. Scholars speculate on the different reasons for this, but the general consensus is that accepting the royal diet represented a violation of conscience for these men. They saw refusing the king’s food as an act of obedience to God. Another example of obedience is when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to worship a golden statue Nebuchadnezzar built.

There may be times when your office culture conflicts with your Christian values. You may be asked to do or say something unethical. Daniel and his friends are a model of obedience for us when facing these situations.

Throughout these first few chapters it must be noticed that Daniel and his friends excelled at their careers despite the fact that they did not choose them. They remained obedient to God throughout this experience, despite being a part of their conqueror’s inner circle. These are qualities that we as Christians should develop, too, as we seek the peace and prosperity of our surrounding culture. 

How are Daniel and his friends a model for you in your workplace? Leave your comments here

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