Daniel has been hauled off to Babylon from Jerusalem. He is now a scholar in a new school, the Chaldean Institute, being tutored for three years to become an official in King Nebuchadnezzar’s government. When we left off last time, Daniel was negotiating with Ashpenaz, the head tutor, to change his, Daniel’s, diet. Goodwill is flowing between both parties but no decision has yet been reached. And now things get tense around the table.
Our text is Daniel 1:8-16, and Ashpenaz is now explaining to Daniel why he is afraid to change the diet. Hey, look, I like you. You’re sharp dude and you’re being fast-tracked to serve in government, but it’s way too risky for me to change your diet. You trying to get me killed? The king will have my head on a platter if he sees you looking worse than the other pupils (1:10). What to do? We don’t see a Daniel who now goes at Ashpenaz with abrasive speech or by resorting to demands. Nor does he mount a learned attack on the educational system or slam “pagan customs” about eating food from the king’s table. He keeps negotiating. He stays at the table and suggests a closed-door experiment, a dietary test, for himself and his three Jewish colleagues (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah), who were apparently in on this, with Daniel as spokesperson for their side.
Ashpenaz agrees. Fast forward ten days. Daniel and his three friends have passed the test with flying colors and Ashpenaz has ordered their diet permanently changed. Looking back, it is tempting to see the whole process as a carefully orchestrated piece of negotiations by a budding diplomat, and Daniel won, right? But look closely. Daniel was being asked to risk his life too.
Negotiations, the art of diplomacy, always consists of more than one person, with a win-win outcome the preferred goal. Around that table were five persons, and Ashpenaz was being asked to risk his life by one of them. He needed a good and sufficient reason from Daniel before he would even think about agreeing to Daniel’s odd request to bend the rules. And even then he might not, since his life was on the line.
Negotiations include ensuring that the other side “gets” where you are at. Now Ashpenaz is a seasoned diplomatic figure, and the stakes are so high for him that he is going to make darn sure that Daniel gets that. What to do? By establishing the fact that he could lose his life, Ashpenaz skillfully puts the ball back in Daniel’s court. Suddenly Daniel is now faced with what for him, too, is a mortal risk.
The implied meaning in Ashpenaz’s position is that if Daniel wants to proceed with the dietary test, then his life will also be on the line. Daniel is being asked to meet Ashpenaz halfway. And what a midpoint! Perhaps Ashpenaz wanted to know just how serious Daniel was about this dietary business. As a skilled negotiator, he has now presented Daniel with a face-saving way out if he wants to take it. Daniel could now say, Right, this isn’t a mountain I’m willing to die on. And he could bow out.
Alternatively, Daniel would have to suggest a plan that they could both agree to act on. But that could only be proposed in good conscience by Daniel if this dietary business is a conviction he is willing to risk his life for. If Daniel can convince Ashpenaz that it is, and if Ashpenaz then agrees to act on the closed-door experiment (1:11-16), then the moment of truth as arrived for them both. It will either be a win-win or a lose-lose outcome. These guys were not playing softball.
Yes, it was a clever piece of negotiating by a budding diplomat, but a budding diplomat at the table with a master diplomat, who was tutoring Daniel in the art of negotiations and the wise style of communication that goes with it. Daniel was already proficient in wisdom and Ashpenaz was tasked with helping him to become skilled in wisdom. Apparently he did a superb job of it.
At the end of the three-year period, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were graduated with honors and presented to the king, who talked with them. “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” (1:20).
©2014 by Charles Strohmer