The Book of Daniel follows the lives of Daniel and his friends as they live in exile in a far away land. It starts with the beginning of the Babylonian captivity and moves on through the fall of Babylon and into the reign of the Persian empire. The book is known for its inspirational stories as well as its amazing prophecies.
The first half of the book is mostly stories, while the second half of the book is mostly prophecy. The book was either written by Daniel himself, at the end of his life, or by a contemporary who collected his stories and put them together. That is the traditional view. However, an alternative dating has risen that suggests it was written later in the name of Daniel. Some scholars who have found the accuracy of Daniel’s predictions hard to digest have tried to date the writing of the book to the Maccabean era around 165 BC. However, there is a LOT of evidence that this alternate theory is wrong and it was indeed written by Daniel in the sixth century BC. At the end of this study, I will make a more detailed post on the particulars of this debate, for those of you who are interested in those kinds of things, but for now, just realize that it is debated and there are many reasons to believe that the traditional date is correct. Over the last few years many archaeological discoveries have given support to the traditional dating. However, even for people who think it was written in 165 BC it is still an amazing book. That is because many of the prophecies predict events that occur after that. That is why I am putting the debate to the side and moving on into the book.
Chapter 1: Setting the stage in history
Daniel starts with a historical update to explain how Daniel and his friends arrived in Babylon.
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoi’akim king of Judah, Nebuchadnez’zar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoi’akim king of Judah into his hand, 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 placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.” (Daniel 1:1-2 RSV)
Daniel grew up during a time when Judah was in complete rebellion against God. At this time, Judah was all that was left of the former kingdom of Israel and it had become a land of false idols. If you walked the countryside of Judah you would find pagan altars scattered all over the place. In fact, as you passed through Judah, you wouldn’t see much of a difference from what you saw in the pagan countries. Even the Passover was being neglected. The king of Judah was warned time and time again by his prophets, led by Jeremiah. They warned the king to turn the nation back to God, but the king refused to listen to them. Judah had severely broken its covenant with God, but God was patient with them. God tried again and again to get them to turn back to him, but nothing worked, and they were about to run out of time.
There was a new power on the horizon. The next powerful world empire was expanding and conquering. The leader of this great, new empire would soon become the leader of most of the known world. Of course, this was the Babylonian Empire and this was King Nebuchadnezzar. As this new power rose, the other powers of this time, Egypt and Assyria, combined forced to try to stop the Babylonians. The Egyptians and the Assyrians met the Babylonian army led by Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish where they were routed. Because of this, Assyria ceased to exist as an independent power and Egypt retreated back to. . . well. . . Egypt, and was no longer a significant force outside of Africa. This gave the entire Ancient Near East to the Babylonian Empire. The history is somewhat unclear at this point, but in the year 605 BC, after the Battle of Carchemish, the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and Judah surrendered without a fight. At this time, Judah become a puppet state of Babylon. Apparently, the worst part of this arrangement was that as the Babylonians left they carried the most promising young people who they could find back to Babylon with them. This included Daniel and his friends.
A few years later the Jews rebelled against Babylonian rule. This caused the Babylonians to return to the city of Jerusalem and this time Nebuchadnezzar was angry. He burned the entire city of Jerusalem to the ground. Then he took the survivors with him back to Babylon. In fact, if you go to Jerusalem today, you can still see stones that bear the scorch marks from the fires set by the Babylonians. This was one of the darkest moments in Israelite history.
They should have known what was coming. Way back in Deuteronomy they were warned what would happen to them if they broke the covenant. Remember that Deuteronomy is a book of Moses that was written centuries before these events. Deuteronomy chapter 28 says:
“But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. . . . Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all the day; and it shall not be in the power of your hand to prevent it. A nation which you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors; and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually; so that you shall be driven mad by the sight which your eyes shall see. The LORD will smite you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head. “The LORD will bring you, and your king whom you set over you, to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known; and there you shall serve other gods, of wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword, among all the peoples where the LORD will lead you away.” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 32-37 RSV)
Can you see how the events of chapter one were a fulfillment of this warning? God was saying that if they did not obey, their sons and their daughters would be given to another people, and there would be nothing that they could do about it, but watch. This happened exactly as it was predicted in Deuteronomy. An army approached the city that they could not defeat and they helplessly watched as their best youths, (including Daniel) were taken from them. Then, later, the rest of the prophecy was fulfilled as the Babylonians came back and destroyed the entire city of Jerusalem, and just like the prophecy said, the king and all of the king’s people were taken into exile, to a nation that didn’t exist when Deuteronomy was written. In this far away location, they did serve other gods, of wood and stone, as we will see in chapter 3. Everything that was predicted in Deuteronomy really happened. We see another prediction of this in Isaiah. Isaiah says,
“At that time Mer’odach-bal’adan the son of Bal’adan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezeki’ah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezeki’ah welcomed them; and he showed them his treasure-house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezeki’ah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezeki’ah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And whence did they come to you?” Hezeki’ah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezeki’ah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.” Then Isaiah said to Hezeki’ah, “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 are born to you, shall be taken away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (Isaiah 39:1-6 RSV)
Here, we see the Lord predicting, through his prophet Isaiah, that the people would be taken to Babylon. This gave more specific information to the general predictions that were made in Deuteronomy. This time the country is mentioned by name. It also mentions how the Babylonians would take the precious items with them back to Babylon which they did. Once again, just like Deuteronomy, these words were written well before the events happened.
The Brainwashing of the young men
Let’s move along in Daniel.
“Then the king commanded Ash’penaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, handsome and skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to serve in the king’s palace, and to teach them the letters and language of the Chalde’ans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the rich food which the king ate, and of the wine which he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hanani’ah, Mish’a-el, and Azari’ah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshaz’zar, Hanani’ah he called Shadrach, Mish’a-el he called Meshach, and Azari’ah he called Abed’nego.” (Daniel 1:3-7 RSV)
Verse 3 gives us some important information about this group of boys. They were from the royal family and the nobility. This shows that Daniel had been brought up with manners and with a quality education. Verse 4 tells us that these boys were without blemish. They were intelligent, competent and even handsome! These were the best of the best.
So why would Nebuchadnezzar want these boys trained? What was his incentive to give expensive food and a quality education to these young exiles? Apparently, Nebuchadnezzar wanted some talented young men from the conquered territories to serve him as diplomats. He wanted to turn these young men into loyal Babylonians who would help him deal with his conquered subjects. Therefore, the whole point of taking Daniel to Babylon was to brainwash him, to cause him to forget his old values, his old faith, and his old God. They wanted him to become a Babylonian, to worship the Babylonian gods, and to become a part of the Babylonian culture. That was the whole point of taking him.
Nebuchadnezzar used four methods to turn the young Israelites into Babylonians.
1) They took him away from his positive influences. Notice that they didn’t take his family with him into exile to take care of him. His family had obviously raised him to be a Godly teenager. So the Babylonians took him away from his positive influences. It was time to find out how he would do with nobody there to watch him.
2) They gave him a new identity. They changed his name. They said, “You are no longer Daniel, the Israelite, you are now Belteshaz’zar, the Babylonian!” This is the new you! You might as well accept it! New name, new person.
3) They gave him new temptations. Temptations can come in many different forms, but in chapter one, they came in the form of a new diet. The king knew that the Israelites were forbidden from eating certain foods. This gave the king the perfect weapon to get them to give up their old lives and their old God. He surrounded them with the best food in the land. He gave them food fit for a king. In fact, the food was literally from the king’s table. How tempting must that have been?
4) They indoctrinated Daniel, they taught him a new language, new literature, and new ways of looking at the world. The king tried to take the Godly worldview and replace it with the pagan worldview. This education would have included mathematical texts, the Akkadian language which was used in Babylon, economic data, and history. This would also include religious documents, fables, omen texts about devils and evil spirits, astrology, and other superstitions.
Under all of this pressure, think about how easy it would have been for Daniel and his friends to say, “The God that we believed in was just defeated in Jerusalem, and here we are surrounded by this awesome food, here we are surrounded by Babylonian prostitutes, in the court of the most powerful king in the world, in the most powerful city in the world, a city that had 300 foot high walls, walls that were 85 feet thick, where the famous Ishtar Gates were being built. A city that was so big and so awesome that it had the mighty Euphrates river running right through it.” They could have said, “We have the best food, we have a new identity, a new way of looking at life, our families aren’t here watching us anymore! ” I mean, come on! How tempting is all of that? Would you even blame them for giving in? Most people in today’s world wouldn’t blame them at all. You talk about peer pressure!!!! Can you just hear the peer pressure from the other captives? Can you hear it?. . . . . .”Come on Daniel. You’re 600 miles from home. Your parents aren’t watching you anymore. Look at this food, look at these women, look at this powerful city. This is the future and you can be a part of it. You can be a part of the greatest empire that the world has ever seen. Just forget your old God. He let your family be killed. He let Jerusalem be destroyed. Look at this place. Come on, just give in. . . just eat the food.” This had to be some tremendous peer pressure. So what did Daniel do? Let’s find out!
“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s rich food, or with the wine which he drank; therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs; and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear lest my lord the king, who appointed your food and your drink, should see that you were in poorer condition than the youths who are of your own age. So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had appointed over Daniel, Hanani’ah, Mish’a-el, and Azari’ah; “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s rich food be observed by you, and according to what you see deal with your servants.” So he hearkened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days.” (Daniel 2:8-14 RSV)
At first glance, Daniel makes a simple request. After all, he just wanted some different food! No big deal, right? Actually a number of factors made this a pretty courageous act.
1) To refuse the royal diet could have been taken as an insult to the king and as an act of direct disobedience to Nebuchadnezzar’s orders.
2) Pressure from Daniel’s peers would have made the decision difficult. We have to assume that everyone else was doing it. By choosing this course of action, Daniel and his friends were setting themselves apart from the others. This would have made them different and strange.
3) Such unusual behavior could have jeopardized their chances for advancement in the regime. They had the opportunity to have prominent, secure roles in the greatest empire in the world.
4) The quality of food would have been extremely attractive. It was the best food in the land. I know all about how tempting good food can be!
So the choice made by Daniel wasn’t as easy as it looks. He could go along with the crowd. Have a prominent part in this new world power. He could enjoy the food and the security of this massive city? Or he could throw all of that away and stay true to what his heart told him was the truth. Daniel had a choice and he chose God. When his faith was under attack, when his faith was under fire, he chose God. He cleverly worked out a way where he wouldn’t have to eat the king’s food. He worked out a way where he could stay true to what God wanted. We only know of three other guys who were willing to do this with him. Let’s go ahead and read the end of this chapter.
“At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s rich food. So the steward took away their rich food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all letters and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnez’zar. And the king spoke with them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hanani’ah, Mish’a-el, and Azari’ah; therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus.” (Daniel 2:15-21 RSV)
The results were in and God rewarded Daniel. Notice that the text gives all of the credit to God. God rewarded him. God rewards faith. He really does. There is something about faith under fire, about faith when it is not easy, that causes God to take notice.
This is who I am!
There are two points from this chapter that I believe are the takeaway points. First, God lives not only in Jerusalem, but in Babylon. These boys had been brought up to believe that God lived in Jerusalem, in the temple. They were sent to a foreign land which was surrounded by foreign gods who were supposedly in control of Babylon, but they were soon to discover that the God of Israel was also at home in Babylon. Every generation has discovered this. No land is foreign to God. God is wherever he chooses to be. God dwells in Jerusalem, but is also at home in Babylon. God dwells in the United States, but he also dwells in Afghanistan. God is everywhere and is in control
The Second and most important point of this chapter is Daniel knew who he was and he decided that NOBODY was ever going to change him. He was not going to change no matter what the circumstances were! So this chapter asks us to look in the mirror. This chapter places a mirror right in front of us. Think about these questions as you look into this mirror. What is that part of you that nobody could ever change? What is that part of you that you would never compromise no matter what the circumstances were? Even if you were dragged 600 miles away, what is that part of you that would be unchangeable?
You see, that part of you that would not change no matter what. . . that is who you really are. So who are you? What is that part of you that is unchangeable? What is that part of you that makes you, you? It is so easy for us, in our cozy little Sunday School classes, in our cozy little churches, with our family, and our friends next to us, to say that we are unchangeable, but this chapter asks us something different. This chapter asks, what if someone took you from your family and friends? What if someone canceled your Sunday School class and closed the church? What if someone changed your name? What if someone changed what you ate? What if someone changed what you did for a living and gave you a different profession? What if someone taught you a new language, read to you about different worldviews, and read to you about different gods? What if they surrounded you with beautiful men or beautiful woman, and what if you knew that there was nothing to go home to because it had been burned to the ground! Would it change who you are? What is that part of you that wouldn’t change?
If we’re honest with ourselves, even without all of the things that Daniel faced, we can be really good at blending in with our surroundings. We’re great at changing who we really are, based on who’s around us, and who’s watching us.
There was a preacher who was worried about one of his older, youth members. Even though this teenager was a devout Christian, the preacher was worried about the next summer, because the teenager was leaving to work on a cruise ship. The pastor knew that It would be tough because days off on these ships would be like a big party. And this ship was known for its drinking, gambling, partying, and womanizing. It would be a hard place for any Christian to work, but it would be especially hard for a teenage Christian. This young man was basically going into exile, miles away from home, just like Daniel. So the teenager left, spent the summer there, and when he got home his pastor expressed sympathy for how hard it must have been, standing up for his faith. But do you know what the youth said, “It wasn’t hard at all, because they never found out that I was a Christian. I just kept it a secret.” When he was in exile, when his faith was under fire, this young man completely blended in with his surroundings.
Unlike that modern teenager, Daniel knew that part of him that would not change based on his surroundings. Do you know what that was?. . . . Daniel was a servant of God. Daniel loved God. He wasn’t defined by where he lived. He was defined by his relationship with God. Daniel was taken 600 miles away from home and he was STILL Daniel, the servant of God. You could surround him with a completely different set of people and he was STILL, Daniel, the servant of God. You could take him away from his family, from his friends, from his occupation, and he was STILL, Daniel, the servant of God. You could change his diet, teach him new literature, teach him a new language, surround him with false idols, and he was STILL Daniel, the servant of God. That’s who he was!!! Daniel knew who he was. In the next few chapters the world will throw everything that it has at Daniel to try to get him to change, but Daniel knew who he was.
So here is the lesson for us today. We can go to church and do all the right things while we are there. We can say that we’re Christians. We can go to Sunday school class, we can sing along with Christian songs on the radio, we can say a blessing when we sit down for dinner, but none of that matters if we’re just going to change with our surroundings.
As Christians, we need to be able to say to the rest of the world, THIS IS WHO I AM! There is something about me that will never change. THIS IS WHO I AM! I am a follower of Jesus Christ. You can move me 600 miles away from home. You can take me away from my family and my friends. You can move me to the most powerful city in the world. BUT THIS IS WHO I AM. You can change my diet. You can change my name. You can teach me a new language. You can put me on that cruise ship for a summer. You can put me in a class with an atheist professor who wants to brainwash me. BUT THIS IS WHO I AM. A follower of Jesus Christ. You can take me away from my Sunday School class. You can take down the crosses. You can close all of the churches. You can ban nativity scenes in neighborhoods. You can take away my worship space. BUT THIS IS WHO I AM. Christians could become a small minority, where we are laughed at, and ridiculed. BUT THIS IS WHO I AM. I am a servant of Jesus Christ. I love him. And I’m not ashamed of him. THIS IS WHO I AM!
That is what this chapter in Daniel wants to make us say. This chapter makes us look in the mirror and proclaim to the rest of the world that this is who we are! And nobody can take it away from us! No matter what!
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Here is a link to the sermon that accompanies this post: Faith under fire sermon series: Part 1, “This is who I am!“
1) What are some modern temptations that would be similar to the food that was offered to Daniel? Why are these temptations similar?
2) Do you see other Christians giving into these temptations? Are today’s reasons for giving in similar to the reasons that other exiles might have used to eat the king’s food?
3) God seemed to reward faith by giving Daniel the ability to interpret dreams. This will be a great blessing in the next chapter. Can you think of any other examples in Scripture where God rewarded faith? Why do you think faith is so important to God?
4) In this chapter, Daniel is clearly under a lot of pressure to compromise his faith. In what ways are Christians pressured to compromise their faith in today’s world?
5) What message does it send to the rest of the world when Christians compromise what they believe, or what the Bible teaches?
6) How has this chapter of the Bible spoken to you?