Purpose is a matter of the heart.
At the chronological stage of teenage youth, and the psychosocial place of geographic and familial dislocation, Daniel’s heart had purpose. Dragged in forced marches across the Arabian desert in Babylon’s chain gangs of war-violated Judeans, his soul and body aching from exposure, starvation, brokenheartedness, and the loss of homeland, Daniel’s heart still spoke with clarity. He may have wept when he remembered Zion (see Ps. 137:1), and wondered at the meaning of it all, but tragedy would not muffle his purpose.
When Ashpenaz’ servants interrupted his early-morning cell devotion with friends who found in him inspiration and leadership worth following, Daniel was ready. Eunuchs led the motley slave crew away from prison filth toward a world of unimaginably better things. The young tyrant who had ravaged their homes and land, ensconcing Yahweh’s Temple treasure in Marduk’s house, would now ensconce them with himself in Babylon’s place of privilege and palace society. His careful scrutiny and background checks had qualified them for destinies higher than their fellows. They would not be daubing pitch with the rest of Nebuchadnezzar’s human import traffic, or slave at baking blue bricks for Ishtar’s gate. Instead, as selected recipients of royal favor they were being drafted to study in the kingdom’s prep school, stand in the imperial court, socialize with royal stargazers, sip the intemperate sophistication of Babylonian Bloody Marys, and savor capital foie gras pâtés. Wonderful to relate! Royalty had designed a purpose for their lives.
Too late for Daniel. He had no need or appetite for pagan manufactured purpose. Independently of torture or scholarships, he had already determined the course of his living, and neither inconvenience nor serendipity would chart his course. “To purpose” is to have and live with purpose. It is to live with a made-up mind. Daniel’s “purpose” was a verb that spoke principle to his appointed overseer [Melzar in KJV] in words that flowed from already firmly fixed purpose. For Daniel had purposed to be pure (Dan. 1:8).
A millennium and a half before, providence had bequeathed him the model of another victimized teenager, the subject of forced migration from the land of his fathers and his God. Not by invasion, but at the hands of cruel brothers whose callous calculation had determined his economic value as the price of a slave. The grief and terror of Nebuchadnezzar’s captives had once overwhelmed Joseph too, until purpose supplanted panic. As his captors’ caravans trended ever south, Joseph’s eyes had strained to look upon his father’s receding tents, and “his thoughts turned to his father’s God.”1
In that terrifying circumstance Joseph resolved “that the God of his fathers would be his God.”2
Daniel chose the Joseph road. He would neither be fazed by youth, victimization, and dislocation, nor by invitations to the liberation of indulgence. He “purposed in his heart” to be pure. Half a millennium later another young Jew gave to purpose its ultimate meaning: He would not “fail nor be discouraged, till he [had] established justice in the earth” (Isa. 42:4, NKJV).3 Now the world waits for His orders.
Another millennium and a half went by, and it was Martin’s turn to purpose in his heart for Jesus against the lords of Rome. Martins and Daniels, Ruths and Esthers, still know today that public decree and persecution’s cruelties may do no more than touch the body. The vagaries of circumstance must never define soul purpose. Purpose is a matter of the heart.
1 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890), p. 213.
2 Ibid., p. 214.
3 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Lael Caesar is an associate editor of the
Adventist Review. This article was published January 17, 2013.