The Power of Preemption
Imagine you are intently absorbed in a “made for TV” movie. The plot of the movie is coming to an exciting climax. Just as the story reaches its high point, the screen goes blank and a mysterious voice speaks: “We interrupt this program to bring you an important announcement . . .”
To preempt, according to Webster’s, means “to take the place of.” Television show interruptions were common in precable, presatellite TV days. Even live events were often interrupted by “important announcements,” as well as by other programs. Preemption was a disturbing reality to television watchers in those days. But sometimes preemption can work out very well.
In 605 B.C. four young Judeans in Babylon were about to be selected as the best of their class, to be trained to become King Nebuchadnezzar’s close advisors. The king’s instructions and plan went beyond mental training and education to include clear instructions on their diet and spiritual values: “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” (Dan. 1:5).
Eating food from the king’s table that was first offered to the gods of Babylon would be a major challenge to the singular faith of these young followers of Jehovah.
In addition to changing their diets, the king’s plan also included changes of names. Reflecting the practice of godly Hebrew parents, the names of these four Hebrew youth had spiritually potent meanings. But the Babylonians changed them to mirror the thoughts and concepts reflected by their gods. For example, Azariah (“the Lord has helped me”) became Abed-Nego (“servant of the god Nebo”).
Nebuchadnezzar did not merely desire to compliment and flatter his young Israelite captives; according to Ellen White he had a hidden agenda: “The king did not compel the Hebrew youth to renounce their faith in favor of idolatry, but he hoped to bring this about gradually. By giving them names significant of idolatry, by bringing them daily into close association with idolatrous customs, and under the influence of the seductive rites of heathen worship, he hoped to induce them to renounce the religion of their nation and to unite with the worship of the Babylonians.”1
A program was in place. A schedule outlined. A war was about to begin, and the battlefield was the minds of the four Hebrew youth.
Daniel Takes a Risk
In the face of this overt challenge to his spiritual and physical well-being, Daniel took a bold step, resolving not to defile himself “with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (verse 8).
And though nervous about the outcome, the king’s official permitted Daniel and his three companions to substitute water and a vegetarian diet for the king’s meat and mind-numbing alcoholic beverages. At the end of the 10-day test the Hebrew captives were healthier than their comrades who ate and drank from the king’s table. With God’s blessing and aided by their healthful diet, they went on to excel academically during their years of study, and at the end were found to be “ten times wiser” than the other students that Nebuchadnezzar interviewed (see verses 17-20).
This story of Babylonian preemption looks in more than one direction. It works both against Daniel and his friends, and in their favor. For Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of their homeland surely preempted the plans and expectations their loving parents first had for them. But once in Babylon, led by Daniel, they used the power of preemption to circumvent Nebuchadnezzar’s new reconditioning schemes. To benefit from the power of preemption today, we must, like Daniel, take at least four steps.
1. Decide beforehand. We must make a positive mental decision before the Nebuchadnezzars of life, those unsuspected enemies of our spiritual well-being, initiate their plans for our spiritual destruction. To preempt the king’s plan, Daniel had to surrender heart and mind fully to His Creator before the enemy’s plan went into effect. He determined to keep his mind clear by avoiding exposure to substances, such as alcohol, that could benumb his spiritual senses.
He took seriously the principles of sobriety, of which Peter would later admonish: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
2. Take action. We must take action. After making his initial decision, Daniel took action to sustain his decision. “He asked
. . . for permission not to defile himself” (Dan. 1:8). Mental decisions have their place. But at some point we must take action to move from point A to point B.
Consider the following frog story: five frogs sat on a lily pad; one decided to jump. How many frogs are left? The answer, they say, is five. For one may have decided to jump, but it never acted on it!
You have heard the phrase Don’t just stand there, do something! As wisdom reflected, “He who observes the wind [to which the Amplified Bible adds, “and waits for all conditions to be favorable”]2 will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap” (Eccl. 11:4, NKJV).3
3. Use preemption’s full powers. To take full advantage of the power of preemption, we should take that first crucial step early. Daniel acted promptly to fend off the plan for his indoctrination into Babylonian living by requesting relief from practices he knew would be harmful to his spiritual and physical health. Likewise, in our race for spiritual victory it is important to get ahead of Satan, by relying fully upon God before our enemy can take action against us.
This concept is clearly recognized in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”
Jesus is our best example of this kind of intentional living. Mark illustrates His prompt and thorough preparation habits: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).
4. Stick with the plan. To make full use of the power of preemption, we must follow God’s plan patiently until the fruit of obedience emerges. Just because you make a decision, and even take a significant step of change in an area of your life, does not mean that the battle is over. On the contrary, it has only just begun!
Daniel’s decision and request was followed by a 10-day test, a period of waiting, watching, and trusting God to do what only He could do. When the test ended, God once again proved faithful.
We live today in a microwave society that seeks instant success and immediate change for the better. But as Daniel’s experience illustrates, positive growth and meaningful change in life take time. We must learn to be patient while the changes, brought about by our positive choices and the Holy Spirit’s intervention, take place.
The apostle Paul wrote: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). Evil will marshal its forces against you. But make a mental decision, take action early, and follow God’s plan until the fruit of obedience emerges. Do this, and watch the power of preemption work for you.
- Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1917), p. 481.
- Bible texts credited to Amplified are from The Amplified Bible, Old Testament copyright © 1965, 1987 by Zondervan Corporation. The Amplified New Testament copyright © 1958, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
- 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.