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. Daniel 1:1-5 (NIV)
Don’t let the strange names and unfamiliar places stump you. It’s easy to read over this kind of stuff and move on. This passage sets the scene for Daniel’s story.
Before we get to Daniel specifically, let’s talk about salmon. Yes, the fish.
Salmon live in the salty ocean as adults. When it’s time to spawn, to make new, little salmon, the adults are compelled to return to the shallow, fresh waters. By fresh, I mean not salt water. The entire process is astounding. Living in salt water requires specific adaptations—so does living in fresh water.
The quiet, fresh water pools offer the salmon eggs and small fry a delightful place to grow and feed until they are old enough to head out to the salty water of the ocean.
A herculean effort is required for the adult salmon to get to the shallows. First, a change in body chemistry must take place—living in salt water is very different from living in fresh water. Secondly, the adults must swim against the flow of the fresh water streams.
Swimming Against the Tide
Swimming against the tide: It takes determination. It takes extra effort. It takes commitment.
I’m not going to pretend any human can know what goes on in the mind of a salmon. Certainly, there are instinctual drives that compel the salmon to put forth the effort it takes to swim upstream, against the flow, to a place that will eventually claim the fish’s life. People often anthropomorphize animal behavior. I do it with Ozzy all the time—I interrupt Ozzy’s actions superimposing my intentions on his actions.
The harsh reality for the salmon is this: To stay in the salty ocean where the current is pleasant and the food is plentiful, means death—death without producing another generation. The work it takes to swim upstream, to bloat up in the fresh water, to find the perfect spot and swish out a nest for the eggs in the quiet shallows, and finally to starve to death after the fish’s fat stores are gone is the requirement for salmon’s success.
Superficially, that looks like a lose-lose proposition, both end in death. In reality, one scenario produces success. Biologists define success as creating viable offspring.
For the salmon, success begins with swimming against the tide.
For the Christian, the same is true. Daniel and his friends provide the example. It’s not always easy, in fact it’s inherently difficult. Neither the salmon nor the Christian can coast and go against the tide.
Daniel and his friends are going to give us practical lessons in swimming against the tide.
Father, give me the compulsion to swim against the tide. I know that only in Your strength I can make the journey. Let me not be content to remain in the ocean. Teach me the value of finding the stream that leads to new life. Give me the strength I need to navigate the tide.