‘Daniel 1 sets the stage for the rest of the book, especially for events in chapters 1–6. Daniel 1:2, which notes that the temple vessels were taken to Babylon, prepares us for chapter 5, where King Belshazzar profanes them, bringing judgment on himself. Daniel 1:17, which mentions Daniel’s skill in dream interpretation, anticipates chapters 2 and 4, where he displays that skill (and also chapter 5, where he interprets the handwriting on the wall). There are also ties between Daniel 1 and later parts of the book. “The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into” the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar, presumably because of sin (Dan 1:2). Later, Daniel confesses his sin and the sin of his people (Dan 9:4–19). In that passage, he clearly indicates that disobedience brought about the exile. Daniel is one of the wise (Dan 1:4; NIV “showing aptitude”) to whom God gave “understanding” (Dan 1:17). The final vision of the book elevates those who are “wise” (Dan 11:33, 35; 12:3, 10), using words from the same Hebrew root.’ (Nelson)
Dan 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah – This is according to Babylonian reckoning. Jer 25:1, referring to the same incident, uses Jewish reckoning. The siege took place in 605 BC.
Nelson finds a historical discrepancy here: ‘where the text recounts an invasion of Judah and deportation by Nebuchadnezzar in 606, the third year of Jehoiakim (1:1). This is in conflict with Kings and Chronicles as well as Babylonian records, which report the first deportation as taking place in 597.’
Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it –
Immediately, in the first two verses, we are introduced to a key theme of this book: ‘Man proposes, God disposes’. Note the horizontal perspective: Nebuchadnezzar…came to Jerusalem and besieged it. But note also the vertical perspective in v2: ‘And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand.’
The account of the conflict between Babylon and Jerusalem, the city of this world and the city of God, reaches its climax in Rev 14:8; 17:5; 18:2-24. As Ferguson says, the conflict may be traced back to the Garden of Eden, Gen 3:15, reaches its climax in the conflict between the ‘dragon’ and the ‘woman’ of Rev 12:4f, and is resolved in the events pictured in Rev 17-18.
‘Babylon and Jerusalem represent the two cities to which men and women belong. They symbolize the two loyalties of which Scripture speaks in many different word pictures: two gates, two ways, two masters. As such, Babylon and Jerusalem are permanently opposed to one another.’ (Ferguson)
Dan 1:2 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.
The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand – LIt. ‘The Lord gave…’. The same expression occurs in v9 and v17. Beneath the surface of human activity, God is in control.
As Davis remarks: ‘you would never find that kind of statement in a historical work today. For one thing, we do not have the divine revelation needed to make such a statement, but neither, for the most part, do we have historians with a theocentric world view who would be willing to say—or admit—such a thing.’
From the outset, then, the book makes it clear that any success that Nebuchadnezzar might have is, ultimately, not due his own strength or ability, but due to God’s sovereign hand.
As Ferguson observes, in verse 1 the situation is described in terms of secular history; in verse 2 in terms of biblical theology.
Greidanus concurs: ‘A modern historian would say that Judah fell because it was over-powered by the most powerful nation on earth. A Babylonian priest would have said that the powerful gods of Babylon simply overpowered the God of Israel. But our text gives us a totally different perspective on Judah’s tragedy: “The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into” Nebuchadnezzar’s power.’
‘Nebuchadnezzar’s capture of Jerusalem and looting of the temple to take some of its vessels to the treasury of his gods (Dan 1:1) might imply the superiority of Babylon’s gods. Daniel 1:2 immediately counters this. Yahweh “gave” the king of Judah and the temple into Nebuchadnezzar’s power, for reasons not specified until Daniel 9.’ (Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, p121)
But if the present chapter is all about loyalty to God, is not God himself being disloyal to his people, when he delivers them into the hand of a foreign power? God’s hand is seen in his judgements, as well as in his mercies. Either way, we are taught in Scripture to learn the the sovereign God is at work, even when appearances seem to be totally contrary. God’s action here has been likened to that of those parents who finally run out of patience with a rebellious son, and send him away from home. They do so, not out of anger, but out of love. He has refused all gentler attempts at helping him to mend his ways. So now a more drastic remedy must be tried.
Although Daniel and his friends could in no we be held personally responsible for the sins of their people (they were mere teenagers, after all) Daniel is found confessing the sins of his nation in Dan 9:11.
‘In the fall of Jerusalem prophecy was fulfilled (e.g. Isa 39:6-7; Jer 21:3-10; 25:1-11) and the judgments of God’s covenant (of which the prophets had warned) were inaugurated (i.e. Dt. 28:36-37, 47-49, 52, 58). The exile was a judgment on Jehoiakim’s reign, (2 Chron 36:5-7) but the rot had set in long before. (2 Kings 24:1-4) To outward appearances Nebuchadnezzar was triumphant, and God’s name shamed (the placing of the temple articles in the treasure-house of his god marking the triumph of the pagan deity Nabu over Yahweh). In reality, however, nothing is outside the divine rule (cf. Isa 45:7; Eph 1:11) as Nebuchadnezzar himself was eventually brought to recognize. (Dan 4:35) In Daniel the experience of Joseph is repeated.’ (Gen 45:4-7; 50:20) (NBC)
…some of the articles from the temple of God…to the temple of his [Nebuchadnezzar’s] god in Babylon – By this action Nebuchadnezzar intended to show his utter superiority over the people he had conquered, and the utter superiority of his gods over theirs.
These articles are mentioned because of their importance in the narrative of Dan 5. The temple in Babylon served in part, then, as a museum, showing off the vast collection of booty collected from the vanquished nations. Many such artefacts may be viewed today in museums across the world.
As Lennox observes: ‘Nebuchadnezzar’s action can therefore be understood as relativizing the absolute. By taking symbols that were designed to point to the one true God, Creator of heaven and earth, and placing them at the same level as cultic symbols of other gods, Nebuchadnezzar, whether he realized it or not, was demoting God from his absoluteness and making him just one of any number of other possible deities.’ (Against the Flow: The inspiration of Daniel in an age of relativism)
According to outward appearance, God appears to dwell in his temple in Judah, and not in the pagan temple in Babylon. But God does not dwell in houses made by human hands. He is not limited to by any human boundaries. Three times in this chapter (Dan 1:2,9,17) we are shown God’s quiet and often unexpected sovereignty in a foreign land. God is not only over all (Dan 2:28); he is also in all.
Davis comments here on the Lord’s humble sovereignty. It is known only to those who know and understand the first three words of this verse: ‘the Lord gave’. There is every indication here that the Lord is unable to protect either his things (the articles from the temple) and by the same token is unable to protect his people. ‘So the Lord knew how it would ‘look’ when he gave his king, his people, his temple utensils into Babylon’s power. Pagans would be singing, “Praise Marduk, from whom all blessings flow.”‘ Just the same humble sovereignty was shown by Jesus who, though divine, allowed himself to be treated as a slave and to suffer an accursed death, Phil 2:6-8.
‘How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?’ is the agonised question of Psa 137:4. And this is the question posed, and answered, in this chapter.
Dan 1:3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility-
Some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility – Some of the most capable Israelites were chosen for re-education in all things Babylonian. The aim would have been to strengthen Babylonian society while simultaneously weakening the Israelites.
The Babylonian exile happened in three stages. ‘First, in 605 B.C., the Babylonians took young men of nobility, including Daniel and his three friends (Dan 1:1–6). Eight years later the Babylonians took a large group of the elite: King Jehoiachin, his officials, the royal family, the warriors, artisans, and smiths (2 Kings 24:10–17). Finally, in 587 B.C., they took all the remaining Jews except for the poorest people. They destroyed the walls of Jerusalem and burned God’s holy temple to the ground (2 Kings 25:1–21).’ (Greidanus)
Dan 1:4 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.
He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians – ‘Babylon was far more than a religious centre. It was a commercial and intellectual hub as well. Many of its temples had substantial libraries; and there were centres devoted to the study of law, astronomy and astrology, architecture, engineering, medicine, and art. In modern terms, it was a thriving university city.’ (Lennox, John C. Against the Flow: The inspiration of Daniel in an age of relativism).
Christians today face a similar test, for Satan wants them to be ‘conformed to this world’, Rom 12:1-2. As Baldwin observes: ‘These young men from Jerusalem’s court needed to be secure in their knowledge of Yahweh to be able to study this literature objectively without allowing it to undermine their faith.’
These young men would experience many changes: a new home, a new education, a new diet, and new names. This was an attempt to thoroughly socialise (‘re-programme’) them into the beliefs and practices of their new culture. We today are similarly bombarded with incentives to swim with the tide.
On the question of ‘language’, Lennox comments:- ‘The wave of relativism now swamping Western thinking has increased the pressure to drop certain words from our languages and replace them with others that drive forward the secularist agenda of deconstructing the very nature of human beings and the society we live in. For instance, some words tend to fall foul of political correctness: truth, commandment, dogma, faith, conscience, morality, sin, chastity, charity, justice, authority, husband, wife; whereas a host of other words and concepts take centre-stage: rights, non-discrimination, choice, gender equality, plurality, cultural diversity. These profound changes arise from a postmodern deconstruction of truth, which involves removing truth from the objective realm to the subjective, and thus effectively relativizing it.’
Dan 1:5 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.
They were to be trained for three years – Cf. v18. Nelson finds a chronological discrepancy here, in that according Dan 2:1, 48f, Daniel and his friends were promoted after two years.
‘The Babylonians were trying to change the thinking of these Jews by giving them a Babylonian education, their loyalty by changing their names, and their lifestyle by changing their diet.’ (The Handbook of Bible Application, p128)
It is clear that Daniel and his friends subjected themselves to the Babylonian education in the spirit of Jer 29:1-14. Not for them a ghetto mentality: they participated fully in the social, cultural, and intellectual life of their new country. But though they played a full part in the life of Babylon they never forgot Jerusalem. God’s people today are to seek the welfare of ‘the city’ (Jer 29:7) while remaining faithful to ‘the city which is to come’ (Heb 11:10; 13:14).
Dan 1:6 Among these 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.
With Jer 29:10-14 in mind, John Lennox writes: ‘In times of stress and upheaval it is profoundly reassuring to know that the God who is ultimately sovereign over global history is not aloof or remote from the ups and downs of our personal trajectory. God has plans, individual plans, for those who trust him. It certainly did not look like that as the four teenagers stumbled out of Jerusalem, watching (as we may imagine them) through tear-dimmed eyes as the anxious faces of their distraught parents receded into the distance. In those poignant moments they may not have felt that God was going to give them a future and a hope. But eventually he did.’ (Against the Flow: The inspiration of Daniel in an age of relativism).
The old names point to their ‘old’ God; the new names to the gods of the Babylonians. Greidanus: ‘They had beautiful Hebrew names that godly parents might meaningfully give their children. All four names testify to Israel’s God, Yahweh. Daniel means, “El (God) is my judge.” Hananiah means, “Yah (Yahweh) has been gracious.” Mishael means, “Who is what El (God) is?” and Azariah means, “Yah (Yahweh) has helped.”…These young men need to be cut off from their past and cut off from their God. Their identity needs to change from Israelite youths to Babylonian wise men. So the palace master replaces the beautiful Hebrew names with Babylonian names with references to Babylonian gods…Daniel he called Belteshazzar,” which probably means “May Bel protect his life”—Bel means “lord,” referring to the Babylonian head god, Marduk. “Hananiah he called Shadrach,” which means “The command of Aku,” the moon god, or “The command of Marduk,” the head god. “Mishael he called Meshach,” which may mean, “Who is what Aku is?” And, finally, “Azariah he called Abednego,” which means “Servant of Nebo,” the Babylonian god of wisdom and agriculture. Instead of serving Yahweh, the God of Israel, from now on these young men are in the service of Babylon and its gods.’
‘This name-changing was no innocent action. It was an early attempt at social engineering, with the objective of obliterating inconvenient distinctions and homogenizing people, so that they would be easier to control. Throughout history such attempts have often been marked by the undermining of human dignity. A contemporary example of this phenomenon is political correctness which, though originally intended to avoid offence, has become an intolerant suppressor of open and honest public discussion.’ (Lennox)
Dan 1:8 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.
Daniel resolved not to defile himself – We may assume that this was not a snap decision, but rather the outcome of considerable prayer, reflection, and discussion between the four teenagers.
‘The Babylonians could change Daniel’s home, textbooks, menu, and name, but they could not change his heart. He and his friends purposed in their hearts that they would obey God’s Word; they refused to become conformed to the world. Of course, they could have made excuses and “gone along with” the crowd. They might have said, “Everybody’s doing it!” or “We had better obey the king!” or “We’ll obey on the outside but keep our faith privately.” But they did not compromise. They dared to believe God’s Word and trust God for victory. They had surrendered their bodies and minds to the Lord, as Rom 12:1-2 instructs, and they were willing to let God do the rest.’ (Wiersbe)
Later, two times of testing will recorded: the fiery furnace, ch 3, and the lion’s den, ch 6. ‘In each of these experiences, Daniel and his friends won the victory, but the very first victory was the foundation for the other victories. Because these Jewish boys were faithful to God while they were yet teenagers, God was faithful to them in the years that followed.’ (Wiersbe)
Daniel’s determination not to ‘defile’ himself finds an echo in 1 Pet 2:11f.
Charnock warned against the danger of justifying sin by its seeming potential to do good: ‘Daniel might have argued, I may wind myself into the king’s favour, do the church of God a great service by my interest in him, which may be dashed in pieces by my refusal of this kindness; but none of these things wrought upon him. No providences wherein we have seeming circumstances of glorifying God, must lead us out of the way of duty; this is to rob God one way to pay him another.’ (Quoted in Beeke & Jones, Puritan Theology, p170)
Believers today need God-given wisdom in order to distinguish between those aspects of the surrounding culture which may be embraced, and those which must be resisted.
He asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way – Note Daniel’s ‘gentleness and respect’ (1 Pet 3:15). ‘He does not suddenly bang the table in the dining hall and demand alternative food as a right (in the name of his religion, human rights, or anything else). He politely asks Ashpenaz in private.’ (Lennox)
Dan 1:9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,
Here is the second instance of the ‘God gave…’ construction.
The God who determines the destiny of nations, vv1f, also overules in the lives of individuals.
‘Daniel is presented here as a model of faithful witness in the attractiveness of his life, the graciousness of his resistance (he asked, 8; Please test, 12) and the way in which his deportment evoked the favour and sympathy of the official (9) and the agreement of the guard (14).’ (NBC)
Dan 1:10 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.”
Dan 1:11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 2 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.
Having been refused by the higher official, Daniel now seeks the help of a lower official. He politely suggests that they should conduct a controlled trial – ‘the first we read of in history’ (Lennox).
‘How much better is it with those that retain their integrity in the depths of affliction than with those that retain their iniquity in the heights of prosperity!. (MHC)
Dan 1:13 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.”
Dan 1:14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
Dan 1:15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.
This is not to say, of course, that such obedience to God (and disobedience to the surrounding culture) will always lead to such temporal blessing. May God give us grace, so that when our lives are threatened, we can reply with the three young men: “The God we serve is able to save us…But even if he does not…we will not serve your gods” (Dan 3:17f).
Dan 1:16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
Dan 1:17 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.
God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning – Of course, this does not mean that God simply poured information into their heads, without personal effort on their part. Much of this knowledge would have been contrary to God’s word, yet the youngsters, by God’s enabling, came out top of the class. Students may be faced with a similar situation in today’s universities, when they may be expected to learn many ideas that do not accord with the revealed mind of God. With God’s help, they can seek academic excellence while retaining their Christian distinctiveness with courtesy and wisdom.
‘The specific gift entrusted to Daniel was to make him not only a trusted adviser to Nebuchadrezzar but also a channel of revelation, as the next chapter begins to prove.’ (Baldwin)
Dan 1:18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar.
Dan 1:19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service.
They entered the king’s service – Davis comments on the irony that although the nation has been subjugated to Babylon, yet its young men have now been promoted to high office, held in higher esteem than ‘all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom’ (v20).
Dan 1:20 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.
There is no suggestion that Daniel ever engaged in occult practices. It is clear that his education had taught him about them, and equally clear that he relied entirely on prayer to the all-knowing God.
Dan 1:21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
The period spanned is 605 to 539 – virtually the entire period of the exile. Daniel must have been but a youth at the beginning of the story, and an old man 70 years later.
This comment ‘is thought by critics to be contradicted by Dan 10:1. But the point here is not to provide the date of Daniel’s death; it is theological, not simply chronological. The first year of Cyrus (538 BC) marks the beginning of the restoration era. (2 Chron 36:22-23) The point is that Daniel lived to see the actions of Nebuchadnezzar reversed. When the king of Babylon was long dead, God’s servant continued to live and his people were restored. Thus, we are prepared for the conflict narratives which follow and for the book’s visions of the final triumph of the kingdom of God.’ (NBC)
‘Who was Cyrus? He was the king of Persia who began reigning in 539 BC. Nebuchadnezzar then has passed from the scene (kings always seem to die). And what of Babylon? It fell. To whom? To Cyrus and the Persians. Do you see? Mighty Babylon of verses 1–2 (or 1–20) has fallen but God’s servant continues.’ (Davis)
Daniel would face other, and sterner tests in the future (Dan 6). But his faithfulness was rewarded in the following ways:-
- in the short term, he found favour with the royal household
- in the medium term, he lived to see the end of exile
- in the long term, he found rest, and received the promise that ‘at the end of the days’ he would rise to receive his allotted inheritance’ (Dan 12:13)
We are not promised success in the short or the medium term. To be sure, we may take to heart Peter’s reassurance: ‘Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?’, but we must note too that he immediately goes on to acknowledge that we may ‘suffer for what is right’. But even this comes with blessing (1 Peter 3:13). Daniel 11:33 acknowledges that God’s people may ‘fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered.’