In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
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. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”
Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So, he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
At the end of the ten days, they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So, the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found no one equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so, they entered the king’s service. 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.
And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus. (New International Version)
Daniel is a much revered biblical figure. And for good reason. He exhibits the best qualities of humanity.
The mighty Babylonian Empire invaded Judah, tore down the wall of Jerusalem, seized the Temple, and carried off the best and the brightest Jews to Babylonia for service to the powerful King Nebuchadnezzar.
By the king’s orders, the young men were given to Ashpenaz, the head official, to be trained in the cultural ways of the Babylonians. And this is where it gets interesting. The interaction between Daniel and Ashpenaz is a master class in cultural competence and cultural humility.
Cultural competence emphasizes the knowledge of the person in the majority. Cultural humility, however, allows other people to share their own experiences.
Cultural humility is about curiosity. The real discovery, and real competence, is in knowing there’s something you may not understand about another individual or group. Being open to finding out or figuring out what that difference is, is the humble curiosity which can lead to new and good possibilities.
Daniel and the others were forcibly taken from their home. They are in a strange place and are not about to acquiesce in becoming Babylonians instead of a Jews.
Ashpenaz was given a clear task by the king, which was essentially to make Babylonians out of them. This could be an explosive situation. Yet, it wasn’t, because both Ashpenaz and Daniel were willing to have some cultural humility about their situation.
The humility of Daniel, his way of being civil and present, opened the way for Ashpenaz to listen. The young men did not want to go against their religious convictions. At this point, Ashpenaz took the way of humility. He learned something about these Jewish men under his charge. Instead of filing that information away in his head or in some papyrus library, Ashpenaz became open to Daniel’s suggestion.
And, as it turns out, both Ashpenaz and the Babylonians were much better off because of two men’s interactions based in humility. Furthermore, Daniel and the others navigated a dicey situation and came out holding to their integrity, not to mention their lives.
Ashpenaz was not only willing to learn about another culture (cultural competence) but took the next necessary step in letting that knowledge affect how he went about his job. The open discussion about differences is what led to belonging.
Today, we must realize that the idea you can arm yourself with a body of knowledge about a culture and believe that’s all you need to do, doesn’t give anyone or any culture much space to change. In other words, knowledge by itself isn’t being inclusive of another’s perspective or ways. Knowledge alone doesn’t bring connection between differing people.
We need people (you and me!) who are willing to be curious and take the understanding we have about another culture and pursue changing something that isn’t right in our own culture. We must have people who are humble enough to discern that our own cultures have their good practices and their bad approaches.
Daniel wasn’t obnoxious about what he wanted and didn’t decry or verbally attack Ashpenaz and the Babylonian culture. And Ashpenaz didn’t simply ignore Daniel and force cultural colonization on him and the others.
This interaction between two people was the seed which eventually led to the Jews leaving exile and returning to Jerusalem. I doubt that ever would have happened, had Daniel and Ashpenaz held tightly to cultural pride.
Holy God, who sent your only Son Jesus Christ to be crucified for our sins, have mercy upon me. May I follow in his example, leading and loving in great humility, for you oppose the proud but raise up the humble. Help me to be gracious, patient, loving, and kind in every interaction, especially with those who are very different than myself. Amen.