For more study see commentary on Daniel 1.
The book of Daniel is one of the most fascinating books in all of the Bible. It contains some of the most recognized Bible stories taught to children, some of the deepest and most confusing prophecies in all of the Bible, and the most amazing view of history – from God’s perspective. The broad view of Daniel should serve as a reminder that God is in control of our lives in that He watches out for us. But He is also in control of history, setting events into motion at exactly the right time to carry out His plan.
Daniel’s prophecies about future events and empires are considered so accurate that liberal critics have claimed that the book could not have been written prophetically but 400 years later after the rise of the Roman Empire around 150 BC. Conservative scholars hold that Daniel was an actual person and that this book was an account of the events that transpired while he was in Babylon. This is the perspective I hold to and will be teaching from.
Daniel is written in two different languages, Aramaic and Hebrew. Aramaic was the language of Babylon and it continued to be the language spoken by the Jews even through the time of Christ. Scholars still read and understood Hebrew but Aramaic was the trade language that was spoken by the Jews. The rest of the Roman world by that time spoke Greek however and for this reason the New Testament is written in Greek rather than Hebrew or Aramaic.
Daniel is also written from two perspectives. Daniel is a humble servant who was carried off into captivity as a young teenager. But Daniel also addresses the highest and most mighty men in history. Daniel 4 is actually written in part by King Nebuchadnezzar, the man who God Himself described as king of kings.
Because Daniel is a historical book every bit as much as it is one of prophecy, we need to understand its place in history. To do so, we must go back about 120 years before the time of Daniel. In 722 BC Israel was invaded by the Assyrians. This was not a sudden or surprise event. God had warned the Israelites that it was coming and had called for their repentance but they had failed to listen. So the Assyrians came in and wiped out the northern kingdom of Israel.
120 years later, the remaining southern kingdom, Judah, found itself in the same predicament. They had been repeatedly warned by their prophets that the Babylonians would come and carry them away. But they did not heed the prophets and they failed to repent. In 605 BC the first wave hit the kingdom. Numerous people were carried off as prisoners of war, including those of the royal household. In 597 BC a second wave of attacks yielded similar results. Finally in 586 BC Jerusalem was completely destroyed and reduced to rubble. The magnificent temple of God was looted and everything was destroyed.
There was one huge difference between the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 and the destruction of the southern kingdom by the Babylonians in 586. The Babylonians carried the people back to Babylon as prisoners of war. There the Israelites maintained their identity. The Assyrians just took over the land. They lived among the Israelites and married into their families. The result was a new nationality that you’re probably familiar with – the Samaritans. The Samaritans were half Israeli, half Assyrian and thus despised by “true” Israelites of Jesus’ day.
The book of Daniel begins sometime after the first invasion of 605 BC and this is where we will open in Daniel 1.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
It is natural to wonder why God would allow His people to fall under such a fate. It would seem that God should protect His people at least in order to protect His name. The truth was that they were no longer His people and the Israelites themselves had profaned His name by polluting the land with idols. God does not need to protect those who are His followers in name only.
Jesus describes a similar situation in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
This does not mean or imply that people are going to be rejected by Christ because they didn’t live a Christian enough life. In fact, it is just the opposite. There are many people who believe that they are saved because they live a good, Christian life. They are doing good deeds and even acknowledge Jesus. But while they acknowledge Jesus, they don’t actually know Him and have never asked for forgiveness of their sins. They are working to gain their salvation when there is nothing that can be done to earn one’s salvation.
The same thing has happened to the Israelites. They believe that they are safe simply because they are the children of God. They acknowledge God exists but they have no interest in repenting or doing anything about their sins. And it’s not like they weren’t warned. Jeremiah 25:8-12 is just one of the prophecies concerning the fall of Jerusalem.
Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years. But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate for ever”
Jeremiah’s prophecy comes true and Daniel is among the first group who is carried away to Babylon.
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 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.
6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
One of the classic lines in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is “What is in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” There is significance in names however, just as Romeo and Juliet tragically discovered. Naming something denotes authority. Adam and Eve named the creatures of the earth because they had been given authority over them. When a couple marries, the wife takes the husband’s name because he has been given authority over her. Revelation tells us that we will be given new names by Christ.
Don’t get hung up on the word authority here because it is a two way street that we won’t delve into. It is not to command although in Nebuchadnezzar’s case that was true. Authority implies responsibility as well. As we’ll see in a moment Nebuchadnezzar had authority over Daniel and his friends but he also gave them the best that he had.
The new names that Nebuchadnezzar gives is significant though.
DANIEL (God is Judge or God is my Judge) changed to
BELTESHAZZAR (The god Bel favors).
HANANIAH (Beloved of Yahweh) changed to
SHADRACH (Illuminated by the Sun God).
MISHAEL (Who is as God) changed to
MESHACH (Who is what the Moon God is).
AZARIAH (Yahweh is my help) changed to
ABEDNEGO (Servant of Nebo/Marduk).
These four young men are set up with a question of who they will follow, their God or the gods of Nebuchadnezzar.
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. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but 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.”
11 Daniel 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. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
The naming issue is far from the only test that Daniel and his friends would face however. Their lifestyle is immediately put to the test. It sounds like Daniel is advocating a vegetarian lifestyle but I don’t believe that is the point. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians or Jews are forbidden to eat meat. For that matter, lamb was a required part of the Passover meal. Most likely the problem was the type of meat that was being offered or the way it was prepared.
Even to this day Jews don’t eat certain kinds of meat, pig products first and foremost. Likewise they were forbidden from eating any meat with the blood still in it. The idea of certain animals being unclean has been removed from Christianity as Peter was told in Acts 10:15 “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
Nevertheless, we know today about the dangers of eating raw or undercooked foods. Ecoli and bacteria can reside in meat that hasn’t been cooked properly. Remove refrigeration from the picture and one can quickly see how eating meat with blood still in it could be unhealthy.
One can see how this temptation would have been easy for Daniel and his friends to fall into. They are away from home and away from their parents. They are not going to get into trouble for doing what they believe is wrong. In fact, if they don’t go along with the group they could get into trouble. Nevertheless, Daniel is willing to hold to his beliefs. More than this, he is willing to put his beliefs and God to the test.
We should not frivolously put God to the test. This means that God doesn’t need to prove Himself to us. But Daniel isn’t asking for proof for himself, he’s asking for God’s help in standing up for his beliefs. In this instance, God comes through in a big way.
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
If you’ve ever gone on a diet, you know that ten days is not a lot of time to make progress. If you really set yourself to it you can lose a few pounds in ten days. In this case though, the difference is apparently incontrovertible that the guard is willing to stake his career (and probably his life) on the fact that Daniel’s food is better. Whatever happened, God was at work. Either He made the difference readily apparent miraculously, or He used natural means to accomplish the task. All it would take is one undercooked pork chop to sicken the rest of the men and Daniel and his friends would clearly look more healthy.
Daniel is rewarded by God for his faith and by Nebuchadnezzar for his skill.
17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
We must remember that God holds the key to wisdom. Whenever Daniel was called upon, he never pretended that he was great and wise but always acknowledged that God was the one who gave wisdom. It is easy for people in positions of authority to believe that they have accomplished something great and to forget that God is in control of it all.
Daniel never forgot who was in control. This was one of the reasons that he could stand up to temptation and rely on God to keep him safe. Throughout the book of Daniel we’ll see God’s love and protection as He reveals time and time again that He is in control.