Practically Peculiar

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…”[1]

I can easily think of ways an emphasis on peculiarity has been used to justify eccentricity or, on the other hand, self-regard within Adventist circles. It can often be difficult to track down what this label is supposed to mean and how it’s supposed to work. Nevertheless, one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s purpose for us in the world is the life of the prophet Daniel. From humble beginnings as a Babylonian prisoner of war, he rose to occupy one of the highest positions ever held in secular society by one of God’s people. Yet the journey to Daniel’s greatness was punctuated with moments–indeed, an identity–of peculiarity.

It began when Daniel and his friends first arrived in Babylon. They had just lost everything that was familiar to them: Family, homes, social networks, names, and virility.[2] In the midst of an intense campaign to re-shape their identities, they were served the king’s food and wine: Items generally considered to be the best food in the land of Babylon, but which were either discouraged or prohibited under the Levitical code.[3] Rather than eating the food served them by the king, as so many of their Jewish comrades did in this time of desperate circumstances, Daniel and his friends risked their lives by refusing to eat the king’s food and drink his wine. They asked for a ten-day trial to eat and drink vegetables and water only.[4] 

As Adventists, we are well acquainted with the ending of this story: At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his friends were “fairer and fatter in flesh”[5] than their peers who ate the portion of the king’s food. Not only this, but at the end of their Babylonian education, King Nebuchadnezzar found them to be ten times wiser than all of the magicians in his realm,[6] a group of people that included some of the brightest minds on earth at the time.[7] 

It is remarkable to note that the diet Daniel and his friends requested was far stricter than the diet allowed for the Jews under the Levitical code. Why did Daniel and his friends ask for just vegetables and water? The pen of Inspiration gives us some unique insights:

“Daniel and his associates had been trained by their parents to habits of strict temperance. They had been taught that God would hold them accountable for their capabilities, and that they must never dwarf or enfeeble their powers.”[8]

In other words, Daniel and his friends chose to go the extra mile and request a diet of vegetables and water when it was not necessary for them to do so because they recognized their need for clear judgment. In the midst of paganism and a false education, they needed more than ever to hear the voice of God instructing and teaching them. White continues, “Should they compromise with wrong in this instance by yielding to the pressure of circumstances, their departure from principle would weaken their sense of right and their abhorrence of wrong. The first wrong step would lead to others, until, their connection with Heaven severed, they would be swept away by temptation.”[9]

Their decision to exercise self-control in matters of diet would ultimately determine their destiny.

We have often heard it said that Adventists are a peculiar people. For many of us, this ‘otherness’ is an unspoken part of the Adventist consciousness, something we either celebrate or seek to minimize. Perhaps one of the most long-standing sources of this sense of ‘otherness’ stems from what is generally referred to as ‘the health message’ – lifestyle counsels revealed in vision to Ellen White in 1863.[10] Many principles are recorded in the Ministry of Healing, and include practices such as abstinence not only from alcohol and tobacco, but also from caffeinated beverages.[11] They include a simple diet based upon “grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables,”[12] adequate hydration, regular outdoor physical activity, and adequate sleep.[13] It’s a message we celebrate because of the way it has influenced our longevity, yet often ridicule where unfavorable circumstances make it inconvenient.

On the one hand, we are keenly aware of the ways the health message can transform our cognitive wellbeing. A simple, plant-based diet such as the one adopted by Daniel and his friends has been shown to improve executive function[14], which includes self-control, selective attention, working memory, and creative thinking.[15] This is one reason its popularity has surged in modern society today. Who doesn’t want to be smart and successful like Daniel? On the other hand, many of us fail to live up to the counsel given us in the Spirit of Prophecy. It isn’t practical to forgo a vanilla latte when driving cross-country late into the night or convenience food when pressed for time on a busy morning. Our lives can get so busy that prioritizing sleep and physical exercise becomes next to impossible.

It goes without saying that Daniel found himself in difficult circumstances in the midst of the court of Babylon. Not only did it appear to those around him that his God was dead, there were immense social and practical incentives for him to bend; the majority of those he was raised with were forsaking the diet and identity they had known since childhood, and, in general, temptations to evil and vice were everywhere. Yet for some reason, Daniel and his friends refused to flex in this seemingly small area of life.

Their adherence to a simple diet, uncalled for by the Levitical code, not only gave them the wisdom and clarity of mind to resist the pagan influences of false education that surrounded them, but also set off a cascade of other choices that made them ten times better than the brightest minds in the land. They slept on time. They studied hard. They prayed harder. Not only did they pray hard for wisdom, they “lived their prayers.”[16] At the end of it all, they got to be ten times wiser than the brightest minds in the kingdom. And the consequences of their faithfulness in the little things proved to be more significant when Daniel’s friends faced the fiery furnace and Daniel faced the lions’ den. Their unflinching witness led to the conversion of one of the greatest monarchs this world has ever seen.

And it all started with diet.

Who knows what God intends to do with us. If the story of Daniel teaches us anything about the meaning of peculiarity as God’s people, it’s this: Faithfulness in the little things– like our celebrated but infrequently adopted health message–opens the door to bigger choices that define our witness as Adventists to individuals we would never dream of affecting. Integrity to our identity matters.

Perhaps you find yourself unconcerned or even resentful about the Adventist health message as delineated in the Spirit of Prophecy. Maybe you are convinced of its importance, but find it hard to be faithful. While it is challenging, we have been clued in to Daniel’s secret to success. Reflecting on Daniel’s life of consistency, Inspiration concludes that “only by him who determines to do right because it is right will the victory be gained.”[17]

So often, we focus on secondary gain: Higher IQ; Better executive function; Superior health or longer life. But that’s putting the cart in front of the horse. We are forgetting that the health message’s importance stems from the simple fact that it’s the right thing to do. Therefore, let us resolve to adhere to the light we’ve been given because it is the right thing to do. Let us commit to habits of faithfulness and simplicity. Let us dare to be like Daniel, one of God’s most peculiar people.

[1] 1 Pet. 2:9
[2] Dan. 1:1-7
[3] Lev. 11;  Lev. 10:9-10
[4] Dan. 1:12
[5] Dan. 1:15 (KJV)
[6] Dan. 1:20
[7] Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press, 1917), 485.
[8] Ibid, 482.
[9] Ibid, 483.
[10] Roger W. Coon, The Great Visions of Ellen G. White (Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald, 1992), 90.
[11] Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press, 1905), 335.
[12] Ibid, 296.
[13] Ibid, 127.
[14] Michelle M. Ramey, Grant S. Shields, and Andrew P. Yonelinas, “Markers of a Plant-Based Diet Relate to Memory and Executive Function in Older Adults,” Nutritional Neuroscience 25, no. 2 (February 2022): 276–85,
[15] Adele Diamond, “Executive Functions,” Annual Review of Psychology 64 (2013): 135–68,
[16] Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press, 1917), 486.
[17] Ibid, 489.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *