Menu Close

“Creative Negotiation”

Daniel 1:1-16
Bob DeGray
August 21, 2005

Key Sentence

Creative negotiation can resolve conflicts of interest.


I. Conflicts of interest are inevitable (Daniel 1:1-8)
II. Creative negotiation can help resolve them (Daniel 1:8-16)


        A Peacemaker Ministries staff member wrote an article for their web site which illustrates how peacemaking can be taken out of the fellowship of believers and used in our larger worlds. He writes: Pastor John was barely controlling his anger when he called me for advice. "Someone has to do something!" he said. "My eight-year-old daughter just came home a second time with heat exhaustion after riding in a stifling school van." When I asked him to explain, he described a frustrating conflict.

        His daughter Cindy and eight other students in their rural community rode in a van for an hour to and from school. Growing bored, some had begun to throw wads of paper and other small items out the windows at passing cars. When motorists complained, the driver was ordered to keep the van windows closed, except the one next to him. By the end of the afternoon drive, the van was so hot Cindy and some of the others were suffering heat exhaustion. Pastor John called the bus company to ask that the windows to be left open, but they repeatedly refused his request. As his frustration grew, he was considering a lawsuit to force them to respect his daughter's needs.

        After hearing his story, I encouraged him to use a negotiation process based on biblical concepts of valuing relationships and looking out for others' interests as well as your own. To illustrate, I referred Pastor John to the story of how Daniel and his three friends dealt with conflict when they were forced into the service of the king of Babylon. As Pastor John reflected on this passage, God gave him an idea. He called the president of the bus company and graciously presented his concerns to him. He affirmed the company's interest in vehicle safety, and said he was sure they were also concerned about the health and welfare of the children who rode their buses. When the president agreed, Pastor John proposed a simple test. He asked the president to personally investigate the situation by riding around in the back of the school van for an hour, with all but the driver's window closed.

        The president agreed, and thirty minutes into the ride, he was already convinced of how hot the van could get. He called Pastor John to say that he was reversing the earlier decision and would give the children another chance. After thanking the president for his help, Pastor John assured him the parents would work with their children to make sure that they did not throw things out the windows.

        This morning we’re going to look at the passage mentioned in that story, Daniel 1:1-16. We’ll find a situation ripe for conflict, in which pressure from a world system that opposed Daniel’s values made conflict almost inevitable. And it’s not hard to recognize that you and I are going to inevitably have value conflicts or at least conflicts of interest with the people around us.

        Can the principles of Biblical conflict resolution we’ve been studying make a difference outside the body of Christ? Yes. Biblical models like this account from Daniel show how creative negotiation can resolve value conflicts and conflicts of interest.

I. Conflicts of interest are inevitable (Daniel 1:1-8)

        Let’s set the scene. Daniel 1:1-8 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2And 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. 3Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility-- 4young 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. 5The 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. 6Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. 8But 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.

        For Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, the best term to describe these verses is culture shock. They’re lifted from the poor backwater land of Judah, and dropped into the teeming life of Babylon at the height of its power. With its ornate palaces, hanging gardens, and fertile rivers, Babylon would have seemed like another world to adult Jews, let alone teens. Pressure from that ungodly culture was inevitable. And it was made worse because they were chosen for special indoctrination, training which brought them into direct contact with Babylonian ways and beliefs.

        Nebuchadnezzar orders his chief of staff, Ashpenaz, to select some of the Israelites of noble birth, physically perfect and handsome, knowledgeable, educated, and quick on the pick up. These young men had passed a fairly strenuous aptitude test before they were selected for training as the king’s administrators. At the end of our vacation we visited Becky Casselberry in Colorado, in her new condo. She’s just started working for Lockheed, chosen for her excellent academics and skills, and fast tracked on a two year rotation to learn every aspect of whatever it is she’s doing - it’s secret, so she couldn’t tell us. And the pressure of that job will probably cause some conflict with the commitments of her Christian life. I’m confident Beckly will creatively resolve those conflicts.

        Certainly confict was almost inevitable for Daniel and his friends. The king instructs that they be taught the language and literature of the Babylonians - literally Chaldeans, a tribe that rebelled against Assyria, conquered Babylon, and took over the empire.

        Their language was Aramaic and their literature was primarily magic, mathematics and astrology. Talk about culture shock. This is a deliberate attempt to assimilate these bright young men. This king wants their allegiance and committed service. That’s probably why he orders them to be fed from his own table, his own food and wine. He wants them to be in debt, loyal to him. He even changes their Hebrew names, which contain references to God to Aramaic names that refer to Babylonian idols.

        So Daniel and his friends were facing a huge amount of pressure in a foreign culture where remaining faithful to God would bring them into conflict with their masters. But that can be true of us as well. As believers in Jesus our allegiance is to God, and remaining faithful to him can bring us into conflict with this world, whether we’re interacting with our bosses, fellow employees, government, or neighbors. So Peter teaches us, in all these situations, to ‘live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.’ And these conflicts don’t need to be over moral values: they may simply be conflicts of interest. But we need to handle even them in a godly way.

        For Daniel and his friends the point of conflict was this instruction to eat the king’s food. Verse 8: “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.” Why did Daniel choose this as the point at which to stand? Several things probably played a part. First, it seems clear the king’s food would not be kosher - there would be pork or ham, and a great deal of unclean food preparation. A second reason, was that much of the food in the king’s household would be food offered to the king’s gods, to idols. Added to these was the question of allegiance. Those who ate the king’s portion were the special dependents of the king, and therefore owed him special allegiance. By eastern standards, to share a meal was to commit oneself to covenant friendship. This was true from the time of Abraham in Genesis, all the way to Jesus, who was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners.

        This issue of allegiance may have been the last straw. Daniel wants, first and foremost, to be God’s man - not the king’s man. Does your behavior in the world reflect the same allegiance. In Daniel’s day, as in say Napoleon’s or Hitler’s, there were many who chose to give ultimate allegiance to a man. They would accept any order he gave, not considering its good or evil. In our own day, a second common allegiance is to self: ‘I’m going to look out for myself, be the judge of my behavior, not give my allegiance to man or God.’ Much of the turmoil we see around us, from divorce to murder to conflict in families and communities grows out of selfish motivations.
        Daniel knows the better way: Neither allegiance to a man nor self, but to God. This will become clear in his life when we see him in the lion’s den. It will become clear in the lives of his friends when we see them in the fiery furnace. The steel we see there is forged in this seemingly small act: “I will not eat the king’s portion.”

        So where will you take a stand out of allegiance to God? Let me share some scenarios. You’re a young engineer at a chemical company. Your analysis of a piece of equipment shows it to be safe, but operating above what is normally set as the safe temperature. Your boss says to share this result verbally, but not in writing. You feel if you believe the analysis you ought to put it in writing. What do you do?

        Your 15 year old son is an outstanding soccer player. His coach strongly recommends he play off season with the community league. You are enthusiastic for him until you find that the league plays its games on Sunday morning. Do you let him play? In a time of crisis the Supreme Court rules that assemblies of more than 10 people for subversive discussions. A few weeks later the local police department informs your pastor that from now on church meetings will be considered illegal on the basis of this law. Do you attend church?

        You and your family have long desired to be foster parents. You are ninety percent of the way through the approval process when the social worker tells you that in order to qualify, you have to sign a form stating that you will never physically discipline your own children. She implies that as long as you sign the form, no questions will be asked, and no one will know what you actually do. Do you sign?

        Obviously, these could be multiplied. You will at some point experience tension between your allegiance to God and the expectations of our culture. But let me add that what we’re learning today applies also to conflicts of interest that are morally neutral. Let me give some examples of these: Trinity has a policy of allowing building use with minimal fees to those who want to teach classes or hold meetings. But what happens when the calendar gets so filled with those kind of activities that church events can’t find a time slot? How do you negotiate this conflict of interest?

        Again, your neighbor has a dog that barks, often at times that interfere with your sleep or your baby’s sleep. Your neighbor has promised to work on the problem, but it’s not getting better and he doesn’t seem to be trying. What do you do? How about this one. Wanting to support a brother in Christ, you go to a realtor who promotes himself as a Christian. Three months later your house hasn’t even been looked at, and you can’t get the realtor to return your calls. You’re only halfway through the contract, but the lack of service is intensely frustrating. What do you do?

II. Creative negotiation can help resolve them (Daniel 1:8-16)

        If you’re Daniel, you will attempt to creatively resolve value conflicts and conflicts of interest. Listen to verses 8 to 16: 8But 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. 9Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, 10but 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."

        11Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12"Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see." 14So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. 15At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

        Notice briefly the details of how Daniel handles this. In verse 9 he makes an appeal to the chief eunuch, who is favorably disposed, but he doesn’t want to risk his neck. When you work for a tyrant you become wary of looking disobedient, especially since reticence in the matter of food might cause Daniel and his friends to look sickly. I suspect though that he told Daniel he could take up the matter with the guard. So Daniel goes to the guard and proposes a test: You let us eat vegetables for 10 days, and then compare our looks to those who are eating from the kings table. Daniel has discerned that the key issue on the Babylonian side is how they look to the king. Also, the guard may have received whatever delicacies and wine Daniel and his friends didn’t eat, which probably served his interest. So he agreed to the test. By the way, you shouldn’t imagine them eating carrots for ten days. The word in Hebrew is literally ‘seed’, anything sown: vegetables, fruits, grains, bread.

        But recognize what is being tested. This is not health food versus junk food. This is a test of God’s sovereignty. No change in diet can make the difference seen in verse 15: “At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished” - fatter - “than any of the young men who ate the royal food.” These guys look great not because of diet but because God is in control. And this resolves the value conflict: Daniel and his friends are not forced to defile themselves with the king’s food, but given a permanent change in diet. Implied in this story are certain principles that can help us when resolving value conflicts or conflicts of interest. We’ve spent most of our time in this series talking about the personal issues of conflict, and those are crucial. But careful negotiation and creative solutions can make a huge difference.

        Ken Sande addresses this in the Peacemaker material: “Instead of aggressively pursuing your own interests and letting others look out for themselves, you should deliberately look for solutions that are beneficial to everyone. As the Apostle Paul put it, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" A biblical approach to negotiation may be summarized in five basic steps, which are called the PAUSE Principle, an acronym made up of the words Prepare, Affirm, Understand, Search, and Evaluate. This approach is worth learning. In fact, at the end of this message I’m going to ask you to pick a conflict situation from your own life and begin to work through these steps this week.

        The first step is ‘Prepare’. This is part of all conflict resolution, but especially the kind we’re talking about today. Don’t assume that your side of the story is the only side of the story, that you know all the facts, or that you automatically know the right answers. Instead make it a point to get to the truth, to seek godly counsel and to begin thinking even at this early stage of creative options to resolve conflicts of interests or values. And pray, even in the most mundane situations, that God would be at work and give wisdom and provide peace in the negotiation process. As we saw in Daniel, the outcome of these things is in God’s hand and not ours.

        Second, affirm relationships. Show genuine concern and respect for others. It is far to easy to de-personalize conflict, to reduce it to a nameless, faceless ‘them’ against whom we struggle. But conflict always involves people. If we ignore the feelings and concerns of the people and focus only on the problem, we can cause further offense and alienation. So you need to affirm, first and throughout, that you care about these things. I’ll always remember a time that I had a real concern about a widely distributed e-mail, a bit of humor that seemed insulting to a whole bunch of people. But in pursuing a recognition of this insult, I failed to find out that the person I was in conflict with was in the midst of losing a close loved one, not really in the best shape for conflict resolution. I hope I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

        Third, understand interests. This may be the heart of creative negotiation and the most important skill we’re talking about this morning. Paul says ‘look out for the interests of others.’ Daniel took the time to figure out the concerns that the eunuch and the guard had, and to craft an appropriate solution. We need to focus on the other person’s concerns, desires, needs, limitations, and values - and at times to help the other person see them. That’s what Abigail did when she confronted David. She said, “I know you want revenge on my foolish husband, Nabal, but you don’t want to have on your conscience the grevious burden of needless bloodshed.” And David, after thinking about it, said ‘thank God you intervened - you’re right.’. And even if a person’s deepest interests are not particularly godly, like keeping his head or getting his share from the table, you can often take those interests into account in your approach, and craft a solution that ends up benefitting everybody.

        Fourth, search for creative solutions. Ken Sande calls this prayerful brainstorming, and the rules of brainstorming apply, like not eliminating ideas that sound wild at first. I love the story of the Gordian Knot. In an ancient city of Asia Minor, a Greek oracle announced that the next man to enter driving an ox-cart should become their king. Gordias, a poor peasant, was that next man, and in gratitude, he dedicated the ox-cart to the gods and tied it to a post with an intricate knot. Soon another oracles claimed that the one to untie the knot would become king of Asia, but no one could. In 333 BC Alexander the Great tried to untie the knot, but he couldn’t find a free end, so he thought outside the box: he took his sword and sliced the knot in half.

        The "Gordian Knot"required a bold, unconventional solution. And we need the same kind of thinking when we’re trying to account for other people’s interests. So Daniel devises the creative solution of ‘test us with vegetables’ and the pastor in the opening illustration suggests ‘ride in the back of the van.’ We need to search for creativity when attempting to solve value conflicts or conflicts of interest.

        The last step is to evaluate and select options objectively and reasonably. Ken Sande says “devise objective ways to evaluate potential solutions.” He says about our passage “As you can see, Daniel carefully prepared his negotiation strategy. He affirmed his respect for those who were in authority over him. By God’s grace, he understood the interests of the people with whom he was dealing. The king wanted healthy, committed workers. The chief official wanted to keep his head. Instead of focusing exclusively on his own interests, Daniel searched for a solution that would meet their interests as well as his own. Then, rather than offering his personal opinions, he suggested a way that the guard could evaluate his proposal objectively. When the test results showed that Daniel’s proposed solution was valid and reasonable, a permanent agreement was reached.

        So the bottom line is that you, yourself will have the opportunity to resolve conflicts that arise out of differing moral values or conflicts of interests. How will you handle those conflicts? I hope it will be in all the ways we have discussed in this series, but I hope you’ll also begin to think through this PAUSE principle, especially the part about looking out for the interests of others. In fact I want to give you the chance to do that now. We’re passing out a piece of paper that has some of the examples I’ve mentioned on one side, and a place for you to make notes about a similar scenario in your own life on the other. I’d like you to take out a pen or pencil, and jot some notes about a situation in which you need to resolve a conflict of values or a conflict of interest. Then, this week, I’d like you to prayerfully work through the steps of ‘PAUSE’ and set out to resolve that conflict by thinking about the interests of others and about creative solutions.