Daniel 1:1 – 8
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If Daniel, as a typical young man, had reflected the theme of our culture, then the book of Daniel would have started off with the words “Why me?” Kris Kristofferson wrote a song that starts off that way, “Why me Lord.” Like Kristofferson, Daniel will review the blessings that God has provided him, he will just take a lot longer than the length of the song to get to it all. He will also provide some of the dirt about what happened to him and his friends before we get there. Amid all the evil things going on around him and the evil done to him, Daniel would indeed take it as blessing as he looks back over his life and begins to write about his life and the prophecies YAHWEH gave him.
Does God “Wink: at Sin?
We have seen, looking at the background and history leading up to the events causing the exile of Daniel and his friends, that there is a bottom line – sin. It always gets down to same bottom line as we read of the dealings of the Lord with His people in the scriptures. The bottom line is always, what have we done with His offer and His requirements?
Daniel reflects a problem that is common to us even today, faithfulness. Are we faithful to YAHWEH? Do we really follow what it is that He asks of us in His word? Do we fall into the camp of those who believe that He winks at some of the things we do today? The world, after all, has changed a lot since the time of Daniel. We all know that God “winks” at some of the things He used to condemn back then…right? Hardly.
Have we concluded that there are valid alternative methods of reaching and finding God? This is not winking at sin. This falls more along the lines of, you know, “real religion;” one with rules I can sink my teeth into and that makes me think I am really doing something to earn His approval here. After all, nothing is simple, and we must be busy. There are rules to follow, people to feed, mantras to chant, prayers to repeat ad nauseum, beads to worry about or pray through, take your choice. You know, methods of approaching God on our terms rather than on His terms.
God is God and as such, His terms are the really the only ones which matter. From Jesus, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6, NASB95) That’s it, there is no other way. There is no negotiation, none. He makes the rules about forgiveness and getting into heaven. The details are His and His alone.
The true path is really, at the end of the day, very simple. Forgiveness takes no effort from us at all. It is the gift of grace that is offered to us by God. We must simply accept the offer. “In fact, it says, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”” (Romans 10:8–11, NLT)
What is Salvation?
There is nothing we can do to obtain salvation. There is not one thing we can do to make Him love us more or want to save us more than the next guy. It is all grace…a gift based on believing. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NLT)
When we believe, we begin to learn we must change our minds about ourselves. We don’t have it all together nearly as much as we thought we did. Things in our lives have to change.
The Bible calls this dealing with the changing process – sanctification. It requires repentance. We stop living like we did, seek forgiveness for how we used to live, and then move forward with His Holy Spirit guiding us along the way. All part of becoming more like Jesus. By the way, He does this through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us as He also knows we are incapable of doing it on our own.
If you followed up further from the verse above in Romans, you learn it does not then say to “go and do this and this and this; and then maybe you will make it.” Not at all. We simply stop following the broad path we were on and then enter a new narrow path as we follow Jesus. His invitation still stands today. “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13–14, NLT)
Jesus is upfront about what it takes to follow Him. He says it is an easy load to carry “For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” (Matthew 11:30, NET.) We follow Him. “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:26, NASB95) We learn that by seeing what He says in His word, the Bible.
The Problem in Judah
Following God and being faithfully loyal to Him was a problem for the people of Judah.
The Jews once were a unified nation, called Israel. Now the remaining remnant of that nation, Judah, has a faithfulness problem. Their complete and utter lack of faithfulness to YAHWEH, to God, is their doom. They were warned.
Multiple times by Moses in the Torah. They publicly agreed with Moses.
Every prophet after Moses warned as well. But, Israel insisted on having it their way, so did Judah. This is like most folks we see around us today.
YAHWEH allowed them to have their way. As a result, their sin has placed them into the position of now seeing and personally experiencing the curses Moses had only warned them of. “This is what the LORD says: ‘I am about to bring disaster on this place and its residents, the details of which are recorded in the scroll which they read before the king of Judah. This will happen because they have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to other gods, angering me with all the idols they have made. My anger will ignite against this place and will not be extinguished!’” (2 Chronicles 34:24–25, NET)
How Bad Was It?
The people of Jerusalem found themselves involved in sin profoundly the opposite of what God wanted for them. God referenced that sin as the main overriding reason Judah would be going down to defeat and into exile. The primary sin referenced by Jeremiah, is the same sin we see all around the world today. Here is what Jeremiah writes about that sin.
“Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter.” (Jeremiah 19:4–6, NASB95)
I have added emphasis to some aspects of what Jeremiah related to the people of Jerusalem as to why they were going down. There were going down because they were killing babies. They sacrificed them to Baal or Molech. The surrounding nations worshipped these false gods. King Ahaz of Judah imported them. King Manasseh simply re-established what King Ahaz had done and personally participated as well.
Do We have the Same Issue Today?
The only difference between then and now, we do it pre-birth, they did it post birth. God sees it as slaughter, murder, and a reason for judgement. But even with that, we read in Isaiah “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.” Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:18–20, NASB95) Repentance, a turning away from the sin, the reason for judgement would have changed everything, but Judah was not willing to repent so, as a result, we arrive where we are in Daniel.
This is a warning for us today. We see referenced here that it appears the primary reason for Judah to be going into captivity is the murder of their own children. Today, worldwide, the culture is bound and determined to do the same. That fallen divine being who agitated for human sacrifice back then, is still around and doing so today. Only now the lie we believe is that it is a woman’s choice, or reproductive freedom, or healthcare, or population control; God’s view has never really changed. He does forgive if we repent, Judah didn’t, thus they went down. He is calling to us today to repent. His love and forgiveness is there if you only ask.
Curses Coming True
Part of that curse, as explained by the prophet Isaiah, would involve the taking of hostages from Judah.
Nebuchadnezzar, in the first group of exiles being deported to Babylon as hostages, took Daniel and his friends. As young men, princes of Judah, they were forced, as teenagers, to leave their homes, forever; and begin, for them, a long strange trip.
They Had Been Warned
The people should not have been surprised. YAHWEH had warned the people of this through His prophet Isaiah. “Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”” (Isaiah 39:5–7, ESV)
Daniel and his friends, as well as many other young men who were also rounded up and taken away, were a fulfillment of that prophecy. Isaiah clearly wrote some of your own sons shall be taken away and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Over 100 years before it happened, Isaiah told King Hezekiah, some of your descendants will be taken prisoner. They will be castrated thus making them ineligible to go to Temple or even be part of the nation any longer. They will spend their lives serving a foreign King who serves a foreign god.
You would think that this would be a wakeup call for Judah and they would see it, hear what YAHWEH is saying to them, and repent. Just like us today, just as people will do during the Tribulation, prophecy is being fulfilled all around us, the signs are all evident, but they would not listen, and we don’t either. It is also interesting to note that of all of those who were taken hostage to be trained at the University of Babylon, only four stood up for the Lord, and those are the four we know about from Daniel. We do not know the total number taken, but we do know how many took a stand.
Let’s look at the first four verses of chapter one.
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.” (NASB95)
Some Background on the Book
Daniel is written in two languages; the language used in a section is an important indicator for us as to who the message is for. This section of Daniel is written in Hebrew. It is for Judah; it is for Israel. They are the ones who need to see and understand what is going on.
At the point in time that Daniel is writing this, all the actions he is writing about are years in the past. The point is simple, Daniel wants each generation reading this book to understand the need to pay attention to what is going on around them, prophetically. We tend to not see the forest for the trees and do not understand the significant convergence of prophetic events taking place all around us today.
Jesus also talked about the inattention being given to prophecy by the religious leadership of Jerusalem during His first coming. “He said, “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be fair weather, because the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, because the sky is red and darkening.’ You know how to judge correctly the appearance of the sky, but you cannot evaluate the signs of the times.” (Matthew 16:2–3, NET)
Things have not changed much over the centuries. We still deal with people today who do not consider the clear and visible prophetic signs converging all around us. The number one major sign, Israel is back in the land.
Jesus held the leadership of the Jews accountable to know what time they lived in. They knew it, but they ignored it.
We should be watching and waiting for the soon return of Jesus Christ. His coming is immanent. Do we truly understand the times in which we live? How should we live considering this fact? Jesus is coming back very soon. He is also holding us accountable to know the times in which we live.
Again, from Jesus, as He looked at Jerusalem and the fact, they did not “get it” as to the time they lived in; we have the same need to be aware of the times in which we live as well. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’ ” (Luke 13:34–35, NASB95) Because they knew; it was clear in the scriptures, the signs were all evident, but they ignored those signs, Jesus held them accountable.
For us today, Jesus has a word, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:19–20, NASB95) The sad side of that passage, Jesus is knocking to get into a church that no longer knows Him but is busy doing stuff, He is asking that the last days church Him in. Unfortunately, there are a lot of churches busy doing stuff these days and not making and growing disciples. Laodicea is alive and well at a church near you.
Centuries of Warnings
Leading up to the exile of Judah, literally for centuries, YAHWEH had used the prophets to tell the people of their need to repent and be faithfully loyal to YAHWEH. They were told repeatedly to quit following all the gods of the surrounding nations. These are not just inanimate statues but are fallen divine beings. These fallen ones are in rebellion and no longer faithful to YAHWEH. There is more to come from Daniel on that topic.
The leadership of Israel and Judah did not take too kindly to the constant reminders to repent. We can tell this from Jesus’ commentary on the topic.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” (NASB95)
Why All the Hubbub About False Gods?
The Jews knew their Bible. They knew that the gentile nations surrounding Israel had been divorced by YAHWEH due to their lack of obedience to what He commanded back in Genesis 9:1, to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” The nations did not want to fill the earth and instead, under the leadership of Nimrod, became committed to establishing a presence only in and around Shinar which is in present day Iraq. “It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.” (Genesis 11:2, NASB95)
Then to top off all of that, the nations then decided to try and recreate a forbidden conduit of communication that had existed previously in the antediluvian world. They wanted to relive what they thought to be the glory days, the circumstances of Genesis 6, by building a high place, a ziggurat. “They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”” (Genesis 11:4, NASB95) This caught God’s attention and He came to see what was going on along with His divine council.
The judgement that YAHWEH pronounced resulted in all of the people of earth being divided into 70 language groups. This would force the issue of obedience to His command of filling the earth. It would also stop the attempt to recreate the corruption that is written about in Genesis 6:1-5. ““Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:7–9, NASB95)
YAHWEH divorced Himself from mankind assigning oversight responsibility of all the nations to members of His divine council. He then carved out a people for Himself with a man named Abram. “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.” (Deuteronomy 32:8–9, ESV)
Doctor Michael S. Heiser, in writing about the actions taking place as a result of the rebellion at Babel, writes that “Yahweh in effect decided that the people of the world’s nations were no longer going to be in relationship to him. He would begin anew. He would enter into covenant relationship with a new people that did not yet exist: Israel.” (Heiser 2015, 113)
Those members of the Divine Council who were assigned responsibilities over the nations, and we will hear about some of them later in the book of Daniel, became corrupted and began to demand worship from the very peoples they were supposed to be overseeing. Recall, that was the problem we read about concerning another fallen divine being in Isaiah 14. “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” (Isaiah 14:13–14, NASB95)
YAHWEH indicates, in Psalm 82, His future plans for those now fallen divine beings who made the decision to rebel and began to demand worship from those they were appointed over. “I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”” (Psalm 82:6–7, ESV) God indeed has a plan for these fallen ones which we see fulfilled in the book of Revelation.
The Major Problem
The major problem for the nations of Israel and Judah, they had been sucked in by these fallen ones and worshiped them rather than YAHWEH, the God of the universe. They believed the lie as propagated by the surrounding nations.
YAHWEH had cut a deal with the Jews back in the wilderness at Mount Sinai. He told them that if you do not uphold your end of the deal, certain things will take place. They did not uphold their end of the deal. As a result, Isaiah wrote about the end game which would take place as a result of the sin of the people.
“The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw. On a bare hill raise a signal; cry aloud to them; wave the hand for them to enter the gates of the nobles. I myself have commanded my consecrated ones, and have summoned my mighty men to execute my anger, my proudly exulting ones. The sound of a tumult is on the mountains as of a great multitude! The sound of an uproar of kingdoms, of nations gathering together! The LORD of hosts is mustering a host for battle. They come from a distant land, from the end of the heavens, the LORD and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.” (ESV)
This, to a Jew reading it after the fact, is hard truth. Isaiah relates to the Jews that the nation which destroyed them, Babylon, are His “consecrated ones,” inferring that they were consecrated to specific service and dedicated to the destruction, on behalf of God, of the nation. God also calls them His “mighty warriors,” His “proudly exulting ones” and points out the reason they are appointed and sent is to execute the anger of God onto Judah and Jerusalem. This is hard to stomach for someone sitting in Babylon after being taken into exile.
Micah, who was a contemporary of Isaiah also said the same thing to the people at the same time. You would think the people would get it and repent. It appears that they were just as hardheaded as we are. Warning after warning; meanwhile Judah believed they were bullet proof and invisible and could do whatever they wanted without any repercussions. They were wrong!
“Twist and strain, Daughter Zion, as if you were in labor! For you will leave the city and live in the open field. You will go to Babylon, but there you will be rescued. There the LORD will deliver you from the power of your enemies.” (NET)
If that was not enough, Habakkuk, another prophet also wrote about this. His problems were more basic. His question was one of understanding. How could YAHWEH be using someone like the Babylonians to chasten His own people. Habakkuk asked YAHWEH why? Why the Babylonians? YAHWEH tells him why – arrogance. “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4, NASB95)
But despite that question, Habakkuk remained faithful and fully communicated the warning from YAHWEH. “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, That fierce and impetuous people Who march throughout the earth To seize dwelling places which are not theirs. They are dreaded and feared; Their justice and authority originate with themselves.” (Habakkuk 1:6–7, NASB95)
YAHWEH tells Habakkuk that there is a remnant who will make it through the judgement that is coming; a remnant. We see beginnings of that remnant here in Daniel 1. To help Habakkuk’s concern over the nature of the tool He chose to judge Judah, He told Habakkuk not to worry, as Babylon is as good as dead. He will not let Babylon off the hook for their part in this.
Daniel starts off the book by giving us the historical context of the book. He is probably writing this all down near the end of his life and context is needed, so he provides it. As we discovered in the previous chapter, Daniel and his friends were teenagers, most likely around 13 or 14 years of age when they were taken into captivity as hostages.
We have difficulty imagining the brutality surrounding all of this. It was quite common in the middle east at this time in history to take members of the royal family as hostages. For Babylon, this was a means to ensure that the nation being subjugated did their end of the deal and paid the tribute owed and not rebel; if they were to rebel, it would put all those hostages at risk.
In addition, if you are going to subjugate a people or culture that you are not that conversant in, you need intel about how they would live and react to your laws and proposals. In order to rule a people, you do not know well, it would be nice to have some of them around to let you know what the potential impact of your decisions would be. It is important to have someone around who can help to provide that intelligence and context to you.
But Why Judah?
But to answer the bigger question of why, Doctor John Walvoord tells us it was “Because of their sin, the people of Israel, who had given themselves to idolatry, were carried off captive to Babylon, a center of idolatry and one of the most wicked cities in the ancient world. It is significant that after the Babylonian captivity, idolatry never again became a major temptation to Israel.” (Walvoord 2008, 30)
To help us more fully understand this, since we tend to approach things using our rational 21st century mind, let’s look at this from the mindset of a Jew living during this time. They would be struggling with questions that may or may not have crossed our 21st century mind. Some of the questions they would have asked are as follows:
- How could YAHWEH allow this to happen?
- Are the gods of all the nations surrounding Judah more powerful than YAHWEH?
- I thought we belonged to YAHWEH. How could this happen to us?
Why? Sin is Why
I have already answered these questions, the answer is short – sin. “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB95) We are all s-i-n positive. We all suffer from the same horribly fatal epidemic. If the Lord tarries, none of us are getting out of here alive.
The nation had unintentionally taken it upon themselves to outdo the sin of the Amorites. Remember them? They were one of the nations the Jews had conquered in order to go into the promised land in the first place. King Ahaz started the process down, but it was King Manasseh who took things past the point of no return.
2 Kings 21:1–9
“Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned for fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother was Hephzibah. He did evil in the sight of the LORD and committed the same horrible sins practiced by the nations whom the LORD drove out from before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he set up altars for Baal and made an Asherah pole just like King Ahab of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the stars in the sky and worshiped them.
He built altars in the LORD’s temple, about which the LORD had said, “Jerusalem will be my home.” In the two courtyards of the LORD’s temple he built altars for all the stars in the sky. He passed his son through the fire and practiced divination and omen reading. He set up a ritual pit to conjure up underworld spirits, and appointed magicians to supervise it. He did a great amount of evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.
He put an idol of Asherah he had made in the temple, about which the LORD had said to David and to his son Solomon, “This temple in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will be my permanent home. I will not make Israel again leave the land I gave to their ancestors, provided that they carefully obey all I commanded them, the whole law my servant Moses ordered them to obey.”
But they did not obey, and Manasseh misled them so that they sinned more than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed from before the Israelites.” (NET)
Is There a Problem with Time?
As we look at the beginning of Daniel, there are some scholars that immediately start off by saying there is an error in timing seen in the first verse. There really is no error.
The issue is the calendar, something you and I take for granted. We use a Julian calendar. There was no one single calendar at this point in history. Each nation would have its own method and reckoning of time, their own calendar. For example, I would have my week begin on Tuesday since I don’t like Monday much. I would also have only four months, summer, fall, cold, and spring. I think you catch the idea, each nation did time their own way. There is a Jewish reckoning of time, a Jewish calendar, and there is a Babylonian reckoning of time and a Babylonian calendar. They do not match.
Daniel, since he is writing this book later in his life, more than likely in his 80’s, has already spent a lifetime in the service of the court in Babylon. His administrative world is centered in Babylon and he uses Babylonian reckoning and terms rather than Jewish for some items. He also is conversant in the language, various terms, slang and idioms from Babylon. Since he also served under the Medo-Persian Empire as well, some of that administrative world shows up as well. Daniel does flip around them from time to time.
Getting back to the calendar; per Dr. Walvoord, “It was customary for the Babylonians to consider the first year of a king’s reign as the year of accession and to call the next year the first year.” (Walvoord 2008, 31) Imagine having your personal calendar centered around whoever was President. If we used the same format as Babylon, then I was born in the first year of Eisenhower, which is the second year but the first year would have been the year of accession. Got it?
We have differences that even exist today. Using the Gregorian calendar, the day I am writing this is September 2, 2020. If you use the Jewish calendar, it is the 13th of Elul in the year 5780. The Islamic calendar says it is 14 Muharram, 1442.
Jeremiah, being in Jerusalem, would naturally use the Jewish calendar and reckoning of time. It is not the same as the Babylonian reckoning of time. It is different and Daniel, being in the Babylonian court, would not use the Jewish calendar, but would use that calendar he had used for most of his professional life, the Babylonian one.
Using other sources to validate the time periods involved, we find that there is something called the Babylonian Chronicles that can be referenced. “Babylonian military actions recorded in the Babylonian Chronicles may fill in some of the details. During the subsequent period of 605 to 601, the Babylonian Chronicles report that Nebuchadnezzar, who ascended the throne shortly after the Battle of Carchemish, marched throughout Syria-Palestine, collected tribute from various rulers, and converted the many smaller kingdoms in the region into Babylonian vassals. Perhaps the decisive moment came in 604, when the Babylonian Chronicles seem to indicate that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Philistine coastal stronghold of Ashkelon, although the precise reading of the place name is debated. Archaeological evidence bolsters this interpretation and attests to further destruction at other Philistine cities across the following years, perhaps also reflected in accounts in the Babylonian Chronicles.” (Kelle 2014, 380-381)
Daniel wastes no time introducing us to the King of Babylon, he introduces us to the King in the very first verse. The King is Nebuchadnezzar.
What does the name, Nebuchadnezzar, mean? Remember, this is a gentile king who comes from a people who like to use theophoric names. That is a fancy term for saying the name would include some aspect of, or the name of, their god or gods. Nebuchadnezzar means “Nebo is the god of fire. Nebo, protect the landmark; Nebo, defend the boundary. An entangled adversary. Confusing the lord of treasure; prophesy, the earthen vessel is preserved.” (Smith and Cornwall 1998, 182)
Some commentaries on Daniel will show the name spelled as Nebuchadrezzar which is “Another way of spelling Nebuchadnezzar.” That name means “Confusion of the abode of treasure; prophesy, the seer’s vessel is preserved.” (Smith and Cornwall 1998, 182)
So as it pertains to the name of the King told to us by Daniel, “In the cuneiform records the Babylonian conqueror is called (see East India House Inscr. I. 1, Borsip. I. 1 &c.) Nabû-kudurri-uṣur written Na-bi-uv-ku-du-ur-ri-u-ṣu-ur, in which form we at once recognize the prototype of the form נְבוּכַדְרֶאצּוֹר, occurring in Jeremiah 49:28 (comp. Ezra 2:1 (K’thib)), as well as of the name Ναβουκοδρόσορος in the pages of Strabo, Alex. Polyhistor, Megasthenes and Abydenus.  The name is compounded of the name of deity Nabû (which in the Assyrian column of the syllabary II Rawl. 7, 41 g. h. corresponds to the written form Nabiuv) and the subst. kudur “crown” (comp. κίδαρις), as well as the Imperat. uṣur from naṣâru “protect”. Thus the name signifies “Nebo, protect the crown”; see Assyr. Babyl. Keilinsch. p. 124.” (Schrader 1885-1888, 47-48)
Nebuchadnezzar works fine for me.
Daniel wants his readers to be fully confident in who it was that gave Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar. It was the Lord who did so. This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 42.
“Who gave up Jacob to the looter, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned, in whose ways they would not walk, and whose law they would not obey?” (ESV)
This is also consistent with the Jewish worldview of the nations. That worldview states that YAHWEH divorced the nations in Genesis 11 and then per Deuteronomy 32, set the boundaries of those nations. But YAHWEH allows those boundaries to move according to what it is He is doing.
God is in Control
As we have seen in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, (“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.” (ESV)) because of the sin of the nations in Genesis 11, YAHWEH divorced the nations and began His plan involving Abram which ultimately results in the nations being reconciled to Him through the achievement of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Just as Habakkuk complained about, yet faithfully prophesied, YAHWEH is using a foreign power who is not faithful to YAHWEH to deal with the sin of His people. As we will find, in a specific dream of Nebuchadnezzar’s, one that Daniel will interpret, “Babylon, then, had already had its duration determined by God; and it was God who intended that the Babylonian army extend the boundaries of its nation during the year 605 B. C. Nebuchadnezzar’s heart, wicked as it was, was directed by God to chasten His own people (Proverbs 21:1).” (Simpson 2000, 11)
“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (ESV)
As previously detailed by Moses (Deuteronomy 28,) there were promises from YAHWEH contingent upon faithfulness to the covenant made between YAHWEH and Israel. There were also curses stated as part of the deal too. These curses also were contingent upon the faithfulness of the Jewish nation. The curses would be implemented if the nation did not exhibit covenant loyalty to YAHWEH as required by the covenant agreed to by YAHWEH and the nation.
For the entire idea to be reinforced on the nation, Joshua repeated a review of the covenant requirements. He literally reemphasized what Moses had already said earlier (Joshua 8:34.) The nation though, failed to exercise covenant loyalty to YAHWEH as required. As a result, per the covenant, YAHWEH gives the land to someone else just as He said He would if the nation was unfaithful. He gives it to Nebuchadnezzar.
Why? Primarily, due to the idolatry of the nation. Idolatry is the clearest view of a lack of covenant loyalty to YAHWEH. But it was also due to another failure of Israel and Judah, they failed to keep the sabbatical year, as laid out for them in Leviticus 25:1-7. “Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete.” (2 Chronicles 36:20–21, NASB95) Since the sabbatical year was to be every seventh year, that means the nation had not followed the instructions of YAHWEH and kept the sabbatical year for 490 years, 70 years of sabbatical years.
Back to the Situation in Judah
Daniel then tells us some details about the first round with Nebuchadnezzar; there will be three. “The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.” (Daniel 1:2, NASB95)
We see that not only did YAHWEH give Judah and the city of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar, but He also gave him some of the vessels of the Temple. Some, not all of the vessels. Some items were hidden or taken later. Noticeably absent is any reference to the Ark of the Covenant. We do not see the Ark of the Covenant taken; it’s not even mentioned. There is nothing like what we see in 1 Samuel 4:11. What about the Ark of the Covenant this time around? Where did it go?
Where Did the Ark Go?
Even today there are as many conjectures as there are archaeologists who have looked. Some of the favorites of mine include Aksum Ethiopia, a cave underneath the temple mount or perhaps a cave in Mt. Nebo. The apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees says that Jeremiah hid it. Let’s look at the Septuagint version.
2 Maccabees 2:1–8
“Now it is found in the records that Jeremiah the prophet commanded those being carried into exile to take of the fire, just as has been noted, and that the prophet exhorted those being carried into exile, giving them the law in order that they might not forget the ordinances of the Lord and in order that they might not be led astray in their minds upon seeing the golden and silver idols and the ornamentation around them.
And saying other things such as these, he admonished them to not send the law away from their heart. And it stands in the written report that the prophet ordered the tabernacle and the ark to accompany them, an oracle being received by him, and that he went out to the mountain from which Moses, upon ascending, beheld the inheritance of God. And when he arrived, Jeremiah found a cave-like house, and he brought in there the tabernacle and the ark and the altar of incense, and he blocked up the door.
And some of those who accompanied Jeremiah went back in order to mark the path, and they were not able to find it. But when Jeremiah learned about it, censuring them he said, “The place will be even unknown until God should bring together an assembly of the people, and there shall be mercy. And then the Lord will reveal these things, and the glory of the Lord will appear, and the cloud, just as it was visible for Moses, as also Solomon prayed that the place be greatly sanctified.”” (Lexham Press 2020, 2 Maccabees 2:1-8)
We do know that King Solomon had placed the Ark into the Temple when he oversaw the construction of it as well as the dedication of the Temple. 2 Chronicles 35:3 “And he said to the Levites who taught all Israel and who were holy to the LORD, “Put the holy ark in the house that Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, built. You need not carry it on your shoulders. Now serve the LORD your God and his people Israel.”” (ESV)
The prophet Jeremiah predicted the disappearance of the ark during the restoration, because Jerusalem would then become God’s throne (Jer. 3:16–17). After the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by Nebuchadnezzar (ca. 587/586 B.C.), the Bible makes no mention of the ark. (Myers 1987, 85)
What Does It Mean for Items to be Taken?
The confiscation of these items and their deposit in a Babylonian temple is a dramatic declaration by Nebuchadnezzar. He is saying, “my god is better than your God.” “Now the God of Israel had to vindicate Himself. This was a low time for Judah and God’s people. It seemed that the God of Israel lost out to the gods of Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon. The Book of Daniel shows God vindicating Himself at a time when the conquest of Israel might have brought God’s reputation into disgrace.” (Guzik 2013, Da 1:1-2)
For a young Daniel, and others taken at the same time, it is a dark time.
It appears that YAHWEH has left them and the nation. It looks, to other nations looking on, like the gods of Babylon are stronger than YAHWEH. That is exactly the reason for some of the events that take place in the book of Daniel. YAHWEH shows His people that He is indeed still in charge. The problem is their sin. That sin must be dealt with as it is the root cause. That is why they go into exile.
This is not the first time for this to happen. In the past, it appeared that the gods of the nations were stronger than YAHWEH. There was a similar incident of chastening for the Jews in 1 Samuel 4 that did not end entirely well for the Philistines.
Bible readers are familiar with the Israelites’ shocking loss of the ark of the covenant into the hands of the Philistines (1 Sam 4:11–22). Adding insult to injury, the Philistines took the ark to Ashdod and placed it in the temple of their god, Dagon (5:1–2). Yahweh’s response—reducing the idol of Dagon to a grotesque stump without limbs—was swift and dramatic (5:3–5). But God was not content with this vivid display of contempt for Dagon. The people of Ashdod had to be taught a lesson—one just as unforgettable. (Heiser, The Bible Unfiltered; Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms 2017, 97)
Knowing this, we need to place into the back of our minds, that somewhere or someplace in the book of Daniel, YAHWEH will reveal Himself these Babylonians.
“Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.” (NASB95)
The Babylonians, to ensure a more complaint vassal state, which Judah now is, would take captives.
Traditionally, captives would consist of the best and brightest of the nation being subjugated. It would include princes or members of the royal house. The goal, to Babylonianize them and turn them into compliant followers of the new culture they have just been dumped into. Motivation is simple. Death for non-compliance.
To begin with, merge these captives into the new culture. Make them forget about the culture they came from. Feed them well and condition them to your way of life.
To ensure full compliance, take young people. This forces compliance back home. It also ensure compliance with those being taken away into captivity.
Younger captives will be easier to mold. They are not fully set in their ways yet. Compliance should be easy. Limit external contact to only the group exiled and their captors. There will be a strong desire to fit in. Today we call that Stockholm Syndrome. They will being to identify with their captors and conform to what their captors want.
Stockholm syndrome is a psychological coping strategy. It is so named as the result of a botched bank robbery and hostage taking situation in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. Individuals who are abused or kidnapped, and Daniel’s circumstances fit both of those definitions, may develop it. Fear or terror might be most common in these situations, but some individuals begin to develop positive feelings toward their captor or abuser. This is not new. It is something being relied on to take place by the Babylonians.
The idea behind the idea is, for Babylon, simple. Take the hostages from home and eliminate any option of them ever being able to go back home. At this time in the Middle East, part of this also included castration. This physical alteration would help encourage hostages to not to want to go home. For the type of roll they would be fulfilling in their new jobs, this could also helped to fulfill a primary job requirement.
Let’s look at the head official who has been assigned the duty of Babylonianization of the young men brought from Judah. Ashpenaz is this official. He is the chief eunuch of the court, possibly implying he is looking for recruits to also become eunuchs of the court.
They Did What to Them?
In modern terminology, a eunuch is a castrated male. In ancient Near Eastern society, eunuchs often served as high-level court officials. It is not entirely clear whether ancient words translated “eunuch” always referred to castrated men or whether they also could refer to high-level court officials regardless of their physical state. Either way, eunuchs served as advisers to the monarch and acted as military commanders in the Babylonian Empire (e.g., 2 Kgs 25:19). (Ziechman 2014)
For a young Jewish man, if this is one of the conditions of continued employment in Babylon, it is devastating. According to the Torah, it would result in a permanent separation from the Temple and the people. In Deuteronomy 23:1 we learn that “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD.” (ESV)
Encouragement in Advance
For Daniel and all the other young men who were selected for this “training opportunity,” this requirement, if it was part of the deal, alone would be alarming. Daniel grew up during the revival of Josiah. As part of his early training, he may have also been made aware of something Isaiah said about being made a eunuch. I think this was prophetically given to encourage those would later find themselves in this very situation.
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (ESV)
Flavius Josephus relates in his history some of the detail of what took place.
(186) But now Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, took some of the most noble of the Jews that were children, and the kinsmen of Zedekiah their king, such as were remarkable for their beauty of their bodies and comeliness of their countenances, and delivered them into the hands of tutors, and to the improvement to be made by them. He also made some of them to be eunuchs; (187) which course he took also with those of other nations whom he had taken in the flower of their age and afforded them their diet from his own table, and had them instructed in the institutes of the country, and taught the learning of the Chaldeans; and they had now exercised themselves sufficiently in that wisdom which he had ordered they should apply themselves to.
(188) Now among these there were four of the family of Zedekiah, of most excellent dispositions, the one of whom was called Daniel, another was called Ananias, another Misael, and the fourth Azarias: and the king of Babylon changed their names, and commanded that they should make use of other names. (Josephus 1987, 10.186-188 278-279)
Job Requirements from Nebuchadnezzar
From this passage the Hebrews think that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were eunuchs, thus fulfilling that prophecy which is spoken by Isaiah regarding Hezekiah: “And they shall take of thy seed and make eunuchs of them in the house of the king (E) of Babylon” (Isa. 37:7). If however they were of the seed royal, there is no doubt but what they were of the line of David. (Jerome 1958, 20)
Looking again at verse 4 we pick up on the standards for service in the court of the king. What was being sought were “youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court…” (Daniel 1:4a, NASB95) What was being sought; good potential politicians.
These young men, boys actually, were physically altered. This was done without their permission. Then they were placed into an accelerated study program.
They were admitted to the University of Babylon and placed into a study program to learn all things Babylonian. The intent, forget about YAHWEH, forget about the God who let you down. Learn about the god or gods who are more powerful by becoming fully conversant with the gods of Babylon. This is simply a part of the process to be able to meet the primary job description for being part of the wise men of the Babylonian court.
The University of Babylon
Included in the brain dump that would take place; everything you ever wanted to know about the gods worshiped by Babylon. All their stories, really myths, too. In addition, there would also be training in the sciences, as understood by the Chaldeans, and the history of the world. This would be a history of the world from the Babylonian perspective. The Babylonian view would include the interaction of various gods from the Babylonian pantheon as a significant part of their history. Bottom line, all these nice Jewish boys were now being trained to be nice Babylonian idolaters.
They were being squeezed into the culture of Babylon. It was the school’s primary responsibility to this. This is not so much different from one of the purposes of public schools today. The number one institution with responsibility for achieving compliance with the culture of today, public schools.
The current culture is diametrically opposed to the worldview that includes the Bible. A Biblical worldview is anathema to the public schools. It is avoided at all costs in favor of humanist views of reality. Why are we surprised when our young people graduate from public school and become good pagans. That is what they have been trained to do.
For Daniel and his friends, this means training and education that, in many cases, would also be diametrically opposed to the worldview of what a good Jewish boy would normally learn. They would be trained to be good pagan gentiles.
Cultural Molding and Shaping
They had been captured by a foreign power and forced to submit to its state run schools. Today, we have not been captured by a foreign power, but we are living in a culture with a worldview that is opposed to a Biblical worldview. Our culture has been captured by foreign ideas, foreign religions, and demonic doctrines. When we allow our children to be subjected solely to state run schools, where they are subjected to and captured by these ideas, images and philosophies without any parental feedback; then we should not be surprised when we discover when they grow up that they make good pagans and turn away from the Lord. The training program in the public schools today has not altered much from what Daniel and his friends went through.
Paul had this in mind in his letter to the Colossians.
“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.” (NLT)
Some of the Curriculum
For Daniel and all of the exiled young men, in order to be trained in the literature of the Chaldeans means they were trained in the Baal Cycle, the stories of Gilgamesh and the Apkallu. As Jews, they knew the Apkallu to be another name for the Nephilim. They were bad news as they would know from Genesis 6. The Babylonians had a different take on that.
Based on a tradition that goes back to the 3rd millennium, the term apkallu is used for legendary creatures endowed with wisdom, seven in number, who existed before the flood. In the myth of the ‘Twenty-one Poultices’ the ‘seven apkallū of Eridu’, who are also called the ‘seven apkallū of the Apsu’, are at the service of Ea (Enki). Ea is called the ‘sage among the gods’ (apkallu ilı̄) and the title was also used of his son Marduk. A variety of wisdom traditions from the antediluvian period were supposedly passed on by the apkallū.
We learn from the ‘Etiological Myth of the Seven Sages’ that the apkallū were “of human descent, whom the lord Ea has endowed with wisdom”. The tradition of the apkallū is preserved in the bı̄t-mēseri ritual series and also by Berossus. The seven sages were created in the river and served as “those who ensured the correct functioning of the plans of heaven and earth” (muštēširū uṣurāt šamê u erṣeti). Following the example of Ea, they taught mankind wisdom, social forms and craftsmanship. The authorship of texts dealing with omens, magic and other categories of ‘wisdom’ such as medicine is attributed to the seven apkallū. Gilgamesh, “who saw everything” (ša naqba ı̄muru), is credited with having brought back knowledge whose origin was before the flood (ša lām abūbi) and on a cylinder seal he is called “master of the apkallū”. (Greenfield 1999, 72-73)
The god that Nebuchadnezzar worshipped was Marduk, there would have been training about that too.
Marduk’s earliest beginnings seem to be as the local god and patron of Babylon. Already in the Old Babylonian period, he was incorporated into the Mesopotamian pantheon and considered to be the son of Enki/Ea and a member of the Eridu circle. It has been argued that Marduk became the son of →Ea because both he and Asalluḫe were gods of exorcism. Especially since Asalluḫe seems originally to have been the messenger of Ea and not a god of exorcism as such, it is more reasonable to assume that the connection with Ea arose from the desire to link Babylon and Marduk with Eridu, its traditions, and its god Ea. (Abusch 1999, 543)
The Whole Gang
There was a whole pantheon that had to be learned. Looking just at the theology of the Hammurabi law stele they would learn that “One by one, these call upon the gods Annum, Enlil, Ninlil, Ea, Shamash, Sin, Adad, Zababa, Ishtar, Nergal, Nintu, Ninkarrak, also the cosmic quadernity, the astral triad with the weather god, the war god Zababa and the light-dark Nergal. When we consider that the mother goddess is listed under three different names, it is indeed ten that remain out of the twelve names. Interestingly, Marduk and Nabu are missing in the invocations; therefore, the concept of the ten count cannot go back to Hammurabi’s theologians, but must be older and must come from a different city than Babylon.” (von Soden 2018, Kindle Location 161)
Part of the training package for the exiles would have included training in topics such as above, topics which simply were not true. Of course, we know that does not happen today in the public schools. Right?
Solomon stated the differences between the education system of Babylon and that of our humanistic culture today quite well. Ecclesiastes 1:9–10 “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.” (ESV)
Evidently what these young men studied was the history and literature of this ancient part of the world. This included the old Akkadian and the ancient Sumerian cultures from which the Babylonian had developed. Learning the language of a people is one of the best ways to absorb the world view of its people. Thus, Nebuchadnezzar was seeking to acculturate these youths and to make them thoroughly Babylonian. (Constable 2003, Da 1:3)
The Not So Hidden Agenda
The intent of the Babylonian court was to thoroughly indoctrinate these young Jewish men into all things Babylonian. Those individuals who became the most Babylonian, in terms of learning, would be those who would move onto service in the court. For Daniel and his friends, this will become a serious point of contention, yet it also something we can learn from for dealing with what we see taking place around us today.
They will encounter an alienation from all they know and a temptation to love and embrace Babylon. To love the luxury, food, culture and learning afforded by this new world. This is the same danger being confronted by young men and women who have been raised in the church and educated in what it is the world has to offer. It is not all bad. Daniel and his friends would learn that as well. But the danger is real. John provided some insight into that danger.
1 John 2:15–17
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (ESV)
There is a tension that existed then for Daniel and his friends and exists today for us, be in the world but not of the world.
Food and Names
Part of the process of alienation Babylonian style, also included feeding them well, and renaming the exiles with theophoric names to encompass the Babylonian pantheon of gods, excluding names that may have included the name of YAHWEH before. This is a complete re-education process that is taking place.
“The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego.” (NASB95)
We read this today and tend to miss what is really going on. This is indoctrination, or, to use a different term, internment with re-education. This is something we have seen currently taking place in the world. For example, when the Viet Nam War ended, the North did the exact same thing, they called them re-education camps. This a concept still popular in China today.
Of course, we do not do that here in the US do we?
Start listening to the voices out there
Some with anti-Christian hostility hope that through education those who practice conservative forms of Christianity will gain the insight needed to escape their religion’s harmful influence. (Yancey and Williamson 2015, Kindle Location 2147-2148)
Babylonian Re-Education Camps
Here are the steps used by Babylon.
- Step One – alienate them from the familiar
- Step Two – alter them or their perception of reality
- Step Three – re-educate them in “truth”
- Step Four – make them comfortable
- Step Five – give them new identities
A Story in Names
Here are the names from and what they met prior to being given new names.
- Daniel = one who delivers judgment in the name of God
- Hananiah = gift of the LORD; graciously given of the LORD.
- Mishael = Who is what God is;
- Azariah = Jehovah has helped. (Smith and Cornwall 1998, 27,58,95,176)
Their names were changed to:
- Belteshazzar = Bel, protect his life; the lord’s leader.
- Shadrach = Rejoicing in the way.
- Meshach = Agile; expeditious. biting; waters of quiet. Who is what thou art(?)
- Abednego = servant of light; servant of splendor; (Smith and Cornwall 1998, 2,35,172,213)
Even in the process of being renamed, Daniel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, arranges the names and new names to add to the story.
The Story in the Renaming
But in verse 7, the impact of the old and new name:
- Daniel/Belteshazzar = one who delivers judgment in the name of God the lord’s leader
- Hananiah/Shadrach = gift of the LORD; graciously given of the LORD. Rejoicing in the way
- Mishael/Meshach = Who is what God is; expeditious
- Azariah/Abed-nego = Jehovah has helped servant of light. (Smith and Cornwall 1998, 27,58,95,176)
What do these young men have in their favor? Other than simply being alive…today. “Culturally speaking, these teenagers had everything going against them.” (Simpson 2000, 12)
Revival in a Time of Apostasy
Their parents grew up during a time of revival. They were born near the end of that revival, but it was after a time that saw apostasy and idolatry like never before. The apostasy was still there. Even though the King was for the Lord, no one else other than some immediate family, joined with him. For some members of the tribe of Judah, they were serious about living for and serving YAHWEH.
Why does all of this seem so familiar to us. This happened thousands of years ago, but there is this thread of familiarity that runs through it. It really is quite simple. “Satan uses a similar strategy against believers today, wanting to indoctrinate us into the world system. Satan wants us to:
- Identify (name) us in reference to the world.
- Feed us what the world offers.
- Educate us in the ways of the world. (Guzik 2013, Da 5:1-7)
Babylon and the ruling elite of the empire were relying on the youth and enforced alienation on these young men to obtain compliance with what they wanted to see in their lives. Anyone who said “no” to all being done to them would probably have had a very short life and been executed. Daniel and his friends, as with many young men, were stubborn, but wise. They wanted to remain loyal to YAHWEH, but also realized they weren’t in Jerusalem anymore. As loyal followers of YAHWEH who wished to remain loyal to Him, they also were provided with His wisdom. They decided to test rebellion, but only a little. This is not the same Daniel who later was thrown in the lions den, but this is his next step in faithfulness. It is all around the question of “how to stay kosher?”
“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.” (NASB95)
A Decision, A Step of Faith
We are not told how long the internal conversation took. We are not told how many times Daniel and his three buddies talked about the proposal. How many other teenage boys were there, total, in the group? We do not know, but we do know that four made a decision after, I am sure, prayer and discussion among themselves.
How many of the entire group that were there remained faithful? Again we do not know, but four did. We know that “their dedicated Hebrew parents, who loved God and their children, had laid a spiritual foundation that did not collapse in the pagan culture of Babylon.” (Simpson 2000, 12)
Daniel decided. His decision was one that the Hebrew says was made in his inner self, one that in spite of everything going on and the pressure of his peers and the king, was simple. He decided he would stay pure at least in what it was he ate. Even with that decision, he still deferred to the authority over him and asked for the decision to be tested. Wisdom was being used.
יִתְגָּאַ֛ל yit gā·ʾǎl, which comes from gā·ʾǎl. It means “unclean, defiled, i.e., pertaining to being in a ceremonially unclean state and so not acceptable as covenantal behavior; defile, i.e., cause to become ceremonially unclean; unclean, defiled; defile himself; stained, i.e., pertaining to a discoloration on an object such as clothing or body, which is not warranted or on purpose, and so be in a dirty or spotted condition.” (Swanson 1997)
Daniel decides to make a big deal about a little thing – food. Why? We can guess, but the scripture is silent on the point. The only hint we have is the word Daniel chose to use – defile (yitgaal.)
Perhaps three different kinds of defilement would have taken place if Daniel and his three friends had yielded to this one temptation.
First, the meat prepared for them to eat would have already been sacrificially offered to a Babylonian god. Eating the meat, then, would have been equivalent to recognizing and honoring these Babylonian gods, while at the same time, for all practical purposes, denying the claims that Jehovah made.
Second, the meat may have included portions from animals that Jews were forbidden to eat. The Jewish regulations about eating certain types of animals and not eating other kinds applied to the Jewish believer whether he was in Jerusalem or in Babylon.
Third, the Babylonian chefs were obviously not preparing food in keeping with the regulations that God had given to the Hebrew people. To eat improperly prepared food was as wrong for a Jew as it was for him to eat forbidden meats. (Simpson 2000, 13)
Daniel and his friends would be familiar with Torah. They would know what it says in Leviticus. Remember, Josiah’s revival was the result of the reading and taking seriously the words of Torah.
Daniel and his friends would know Leviticus 19:2 “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” (ESV)
How do you do that in Babylon? How do you remain holy when it is your job to learn all things Babylonian? Learning is not the same as doing. That is a connection many today miss. Daniel and his friends determined they were going to be the best learners possible. They had determined to exceed and by doing so have their lives point to YAHWEH. We are going to see that in the pages of this book.
But Why Food?
Getting back to food. That really was all they had left. Leviticus 20:25–26 told them “You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” (ESV)
They decided to remain faithful in the light of everything else around them. This was not a politically correct move and it was one which could wind up being a serious impediment to any life continuation program. It was a step of faith. We shall see how God uses them based on a little faithfulness.
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