The Book Daniel is, on one level, the story of a young Jewish man taken into exile in Babylon. In Babylon, he faced many trials with faith in God. If you grew up in church, you may remember sepia prints that pictured Daniel in the lion’s den or his three friends in the fiery furnace. The first six chapters of the book are a narrative of these and other events.
Chapters 7 through 12, though set in the same context as the first six, are less a narrative and more an apocalypse. It is a revealing of the events of the future culminating in an end to the conflict of this age.
On one level, we will study Daniel’s faithfulness in trial and persecution. On a deeper level, we will study God’s sovereignty as the ruler of all things, faithful to deliver his saints and working in history to accomplish his goals. To live faithfully in exile, you have to believe in God’s faithfulness. In that process, we will see that Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s work and history, bringing salvation and deliverance to his saints.
The news is full of stories of the Islamic State these days. It is a group of radical Muslims who are taking over parts of Iraq and Syria, committing acts of extreme violence to do so. Imagine that they came to your country and conquered it. Imagine that many people were killed. Finally, imagine that you were taken prisoner and shipped to the Middle East to live in a country with different customs and a different religion. That was exactly Daniel’s situation. How would you remain faithful? You would do it the same way that you persevere through every trial you presently have. You believe that God is in control (sovereign) and that he will deliver you from evil.
So, let’s dive in!
Daniel in Exile
In the first two verses, Daniel gives us a precise date and context for the story. Nebuchadnezzar was in the process of conquering the Middle East. The Egyptians and Assyrians went to fight him at Carchemish, hoping to stop him and maintain their own power.
Carchemish was located at what is now the border between Turkey and Syria, on the west bank of the Euphrates. Nebuchadnezzar defeated Egypt, though. Jeremiah 46 is the Word of the Lord on the subject. The defeat of Egypt was an act of judgment of God against Egypt.
Unfortunately, Nebuchadnezzar kept moving after his victory, attacking Jehoiakim the king. 2 Kings 24 tells us Jehoiakim was a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar, but rebelled against him. Nebuchadnezzar won that battle also. He took vessels from the temple of the Lord and put them in the temple of his god, Marduk. Nebuchadnezzar also took many captives, especially among the upper class. Daniel was taken captive.
Remember that exile was the final act of punishment for Israel’s violation of the covenant, as set forth in Leviticus 26. God did what he said he would do if Israel violated the covenant. He was true to his word.
God was also true to his word spoken through Isaiah. When Hezekiah sought protection from Babylon rather than then Lord, and showed the Babylonians the treasures of the palace and temple, Isaiah said Hezekiah’s descendants would be carried off to the palace of the king of Babylon and his treasures all taken away. (2 Kings 20:16-18)
This was a terrible time for Daniel and his companions. His city and country were in ruins. He was a prisoner in a hostile, foreign land. He saw the holy vessels of the Temple taken and placed with a pagan god. But God was still working.
1 Kings 24 and Daniel 1 both portray the defeat of Jerusalem as a judgment of God. 1 Kings 24:3 says “surely this came upon Judah at the command of the LORD, to remove them out of his sight”. Daniel 1:2 says the LORD gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. So, from the very beginning of the book, we see the Lord portrayed as the one who directs the affairs of nations and people to accomplish his will.
It may not sound comforting that God sent his people into defeat, destruction and exile. But it actually is. If the Israelites went into captivity through happenstance, there would not be much hope. But if the God would said he would send them into exile for their sin did so, keeping his word, they could believe he would keep his word and restore them to their land and rebuild their temple.
If Jerusalem and Judah remained destroyed, the story of redemptive history would be difficult to imagine. Yet, we see, in the midst of this chaos, God had a plan and purpose that he would accomplish. He began this with a group of young men.
God Sets His Plan In Motion
The king liked to utilize the best and brightest of the conquered people in his service. So, he instructed his Chief Eunuch to pick our some young men for this purpose. The young men were to be of nobel birth, good looking, smart and educated. He had them educated in the literature and language of the Chaldeans, or Babylonians. (4) He had them fed with the same food he ate. He was trying to change them from good Jewish boys to Babylonian men. In American, this is often done by colleges.
We actually have many samplings of Babylonian writing. They wrote on clay tablets. They wrote their literature in Akkadian but their commercial documents in Aramaic. They spoke Aramaic at court with the king. Parts of Daniel are written in Aramaic.
The Chief Eunuch gave the men Babylonian names since they would serve in the Babylonian court. He gave them names that played off of their original names by using the name of a pagan god. Each of their original names contained some for of the word for God. Daniel’s name meant “my judge is God. He was renamed Belteshazar, which means “may Bel protect his life”. Bel is another name for Marduk. Hannahiah means “Yahweh is gracious”. Shadrach means “the command of Aku”. Aku was the Sumerian moon god. The Babylonians had many gods.
Mishael means “who is what God is?”. Mesach means “who is what Aku is?”. Azariah means “Yahweh has helped”. Abednego means “servant of Nebo”, another Babylonian god. As with the education program, the king wanted to erase their Jewish identity and replace it with a Babylonian identity. In our case, Satan works to erase our Christian identity and replace it with a worldly identity.
So we see that, as God went about his redemptive work, he used four young men, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azeriah, all from Judah, to accomplish his work. Daniel is the leader and most prominent, of course.
Daniel Remains Pure
Although the king provided rich food to the young men, Daniel deemed the food to be defiling. The passage does not tell us why. The word “defile” usually involves some violation of the Old Testament dietary laws, such as not eating pork. Note that this is not an endorsement of a diet plan. It is Daniel saying I will not conform to the ways of the Babylonians, I will remain a faithful Jew. I will trust in God’s faithfulness to take care of me.
I think there is also a reflection of Hezekiah’s sin here. Daniel did not want to rely on the provision of the Babylonian king as Hezekiah had sought the protection and provision of Babylon, bringing judgment on Israel. (2 Kings 20:17) Instead, Daniel chose only naturally growing food, vegetables, and naturally occurring drink, water. He depended on God’s provision rather than Babylon’s, at least symbolically.
We should remember that we are citizens of heaven and exiles here on earth. Like Daniel, we should live according to the standards of our country, heaven, not of the culture around us. (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 2:11)
It was also a stand against self interest. The Eunuch could have bounced Daniel and his friends out of the program and let them live in poverty like the rest of the exiles. But, for Daniel, faithfulness to God was the only important thing.
God was working in this situation also. Verse 9 tells us God gave Daniel favor and compassion with the chief of the Eunuchs.
Daniel also demonstrated the wisdom God gave him. The Chief Eunuch did not want to let Daniel change his diet. He was afraid Daniel and his friends would look less nourished and strong than the rest of the men and that it would cost the Eunuch his life. (10) So, Daniel proposed a 10 day test, confident that the Lord would honor it. And, indeed, he and his friends looked better and fatter than the others at the end of 10 days. They looked so much better that the steward put everyone on the same diet. (16)
Daniel Rises To The Top
God blessed these faithful men with great talents so that he could use them in his service. He gave them learning and skill in literature and wisdom. They learned Babylonian literature and knowledge and they were wise. God gave Daniel even more talents. particularly, he gave Daniel understanding of visions and dreams. This talent will figure greatly into the course of this book. These talents caused the king to look upon the men with favor.
There is an interesting note about that. God is sovereign, but chooses often to work in answer to the prayers of his people. When Solomon prayed to dedicate the temple he constructed for the Lord, he prayed that, if the people should go into captivity, that God would grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive. (1 Kings 8:50) God granted that prayer many years later with Daniel and his friends.
When the three year training period was over and the young men all had to stand before the king, these four stood out from the rest in their abilities. They were the top of their class by a great margin. They were also more wise than the magicians there in Babylon by ten times. (18-20)
You might remember that the Egyptian pharaohs employed magicians to interpret dreams. (Genesis 41:8) When they could not interpret pharaoh’s dreams, God gave that ability to Joseph to accomplish his work. Satan counterfeits the work of God, but God always triumphs over Satan.
Verse 21 tells us that Daniel remained in the king’s court all through the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, his son Belshazzar to the reign of Cyrus, the king of the Medes and Persians, who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. Daniel had been there 66 years by that time. That is quite a career. Cyrus issued the decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Daniel lived in Babylon for the entire time of the captivity. Kings came and went. God’s faithful servant endured.
Chapter 1 sets the stage for the remainder of the book, telling us how Daniel got into the court of the king of Babylon and how God gifted him to be used to accomplish God’s plan of redemption.
I realize in writing this lesson that most of us are not Daniels. Most of us assimilate into our cultures as most of the Jews assimilated into Babylon. I am grateful that my salvation, and yours, does not depend on my being a Daniel. Jesus came to save the unworthy. So, while I strive to be like Daniel, I often fail. Thanks be to God who loved me and saved me in my failures. His grace is awesome, my work is not. Put your trust in God, who is always faithful.