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.
Dan 1:2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.
This is a picture of Babylon who has just defeated Judah and is taking away spoils from Jerusalem, including many of the holy items that were in the temple.
Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.
I think understanding the context will help us better understand the Book of Daniel, and get the most of this study, so I will take some time to describe it.
There were two main powers in the area at this time. Egypt, which had been a political power for a long time, in fact, it was probably one of the earliest political powers in the world, and the Neo-Babylonian kingdom, which was somewhat newer, but nevertheless very strong. It is Nebuchadnezzar, king of Neo-Babylonia who we see defeating Israel here.
These two powers, Egypt and Babylon, were fighting amongst each other as well. And at the same time Babylon was trying to expand its Empire.
Babylon had previously taken the northern parts of Israel captive at this time, and so Judah was all that was left of Israel, and was naturally very scared of Babylon. Because of this fear Judah made some political arrangements with Egypt to protect them against Babylon. This arrangement was against the explicit warnings of God through the prophets. God wanted Israel to trust in Him and turn from their sin, not look for protection from their enemies.
Just before this time, Egypt marched to Babylon planning on defeating their only rival for power in the area. The battle’s name was the Battle of Carchemish, which we know about from a tablet called the “Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle” currently housed in the British Museum.
The Babylonians proved too strong for Egypt, and the Egyptian army took flight. Nebuchadnezzar, who at that time is only a general, not yet the king, though he is a prince and heir to his father’s throne, pursues Pharaoh Neco’s fleeing Egyptian army and wipes them out, making the Neo-Babylonian Empire the only game in town, so to speak.
Historians are not sure if it was on Nebuchadnezzar’s way down to Egypt or on his way back from pursuing Neco’s army that he besieged Israel, but besiege it he did in 605 BC.
This could be for a number of reasons: it could have been simply for the spoils that they would get from sacking Jerusalem, but it could also have been a kind of punishment because of Judah’s political arrangement with the Egyptians. Either way it was now clear that such a seige would not bring repercussions from the Egyptians.
This is the first time Babylon besieged Judah. The Neo-Babylonians will do this two more times, which will ultimately end in Jerusalem’s utter destruction.
And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand
This suggests that this attack, though terrible, was part of God’s plan.
The prophets would warn Judah during this time, after they were initially defeated, telling them not to rebel against the Babylonian rule, that it was part of God’s plan.
But they rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, which ended up causing the last two sieges as well as Jerusalem’s utter destruction.
With some of the articles of the house of God
We will hear more about these items later in the book. Apparently Nebuchadnezzar put them away not to be used, perhaps in a type of museum, but one of his descendants, Belshazzar, will take them out for use at the last Neo-Babylonian party in history.
In addition to these, the Babylonians also take another kind of treasure back to Babylon with them, that is the people of Israel, including the author of this book, Daniel.
Dan 1:3 Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles.
King’s descendants and some of the nobles
A prophecy is actually being fulfilled in this verse.
Hezekiah was warned by Isaiah that some of his descendants would be dragged off to Babylon and made Eunuchs (Isaiah 39:7.) This was because of Hezekiah’s having looked to Egypt to save him and Judah as opposed to God, as well as many other things. The mentioning of the king’s descendants being carried off here is certainly part of that fulfillment.
Dan 1:4 young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans.
Dan 1:5 And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king.
Nebuchadnezzar’s tactic here is probably a wise one from the world’s standpoint. He is taking children who will help, as it says: serve in the king’s palace. This is a lot like Genghis Khan or similar leaders that really valued talent and looked for it in the people that they conquered.
The idea of taking the young people was probably because they would be easier to indoctrinate into the Babylonian ways, as well as being less likely to rebel.
Dan 1:6 Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
Dan 1:7 To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego.
It could be said that they had to change these names because their other names were Jewish, and had specific references to Yahweh in them.
For example, the name Daniel has “El” in it, which is God in Hebrew. It means “God is my judge.”
Hananiah, had “Yah” in it, another name for God, and so on.
Whatever the reason was, they changed their names. Each of their new names has something to do with a Babylonian god.
Dan 1:8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
So what was he not defiling himself with here? Daniel gives a spiritual reason why he didn’t want to do this to the chief eunuch. He didn’t make excuses and say something like “I have health problems.” This right off the bat begins to show us something of Daniel’s character: he was bold about his faith.
The reason he didn’t want to eat the food provided was almost certainly because the food was not kosher. Under the Mosaic law, they not only had to refrain from eating certain types of meats, but even meats that were allowed had to be killed in a certain way. Even if the meat provided was kosher, it was probably sacrificed to idols, which was a common Babylonian practice. All of these were the defilements that Daniel was trying to avoid.
I think one of the greatest lines in this whole chapter is that Daniel purposed in his heart not to do this.
This is the idea of repentance, or changing your mind. Choosing in your heart not to be defiled with sin is how one protects oneself from sin.
This was probably a dangerous thing for Daniel to do because he could have been branded as uncooperative. He was refusing the king’s menu, and Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a guy you said no to.
Daniel was being bold here, but at least one of the reasons that he could be so bold and make this request is because of the next verse.
Dan 1:9 Now God had brought Daniel into the favor and goodwill of the chief of the eunuchs.
Daniel, like Joseph before him, was given favor with his captors, and they saw something in him that they liked. The text tells us that the reason for that was supernatural; that is that God had brought Daniel into their favor.
Daniel and Joseph have a lot in common. They’re the only two ‘big’ characters in the Bible in which nothing bad is spoken of about them.
They both interpreted dreams to the king, which gave them favor with the king, and ultimately great government jobs in which they managed huge sections of their respective empires.
They were both people who lived through incredibly difficult circumstances but stayed faithful to God and knew He was with them.
Dan 1:10 And the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces looking worse than the young men who are your age? Then you would endanger my head before the king.”
The eunuch is afraid to do as Daniel asks because he doesn’t want to be punished by Nebuchadnezzar if they don’t turn out to be as healthy as Daniel thinks that they will be.
This eunuch was right to be afraid of Nebuchadnezzar. From what we know about Nebuchadnezzar, he was a very ruthless guy.
He would burn people alive. He would turn people’s houses into “ash heaps.”
He threatened to kill every single adviser he had because they wouldn’t tell him the correct interpretation of his dream! In short, he’s a guy that you don’t want to mess with or your head would be rolling in no time at all.
So I can sympathize a bit with the eunuch’s concerns here.
Dan 1:11 So Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,
Dan 1:12 “Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.
Dan 1:13 Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king’s delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants.”
Dan 1:14 So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days.
Dan 1:15 And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies.
Dan 1:16 Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
It’s pretty self-evident what happened there. Daniel convinced the eunuch to give them a shot for ten days, and at the end of the ten days Daniel and his friends were indeed healthier than the others and the mission was a success.
Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies
I used to think that the other captives were probably mad at Daniel for this, because the delicacies were taken away. But I don’t think it was like that at all. The reason is because the other captives in this three-year program were most likely Jews taken at the same time as Daniel, though we cannot be certain of that.
If that is the case, however, then this was probably a great victory; they were now able to essentially eat a kosher diet in Babylon and not defile themselves.
Dan 1:17 As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
I think what is being spoken of here is not necessarily their book learning that they got from this program, though that is true. But here it says that God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning.
It could simply mean that God helped them with their academic studies, but because it also says that God gave Daniel understanding in visions and dreams, I believe that this verse is speaking of a supernatural gift that God had given Daniel and his three friends.
It’s interesting how God blesses His people here.
In Daniel’s life He gave him gifts of interpreting these dreams, which would ultimately be an extremely significant part of Daniel’s ministry to the king. Nebuchadnezzar realizes that Daniel’s God is bigger than his god because of this ability that God gave Daniel.
I think that this illustrates the talents and abilities that God gives each of us have a purpose and that we should use our talents in ways that glorify God.
Dan 1:18 Now at the end of the days, when the king had said that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar.
Dan 1:19 Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king.
Dan 1:20 And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm.
So we find that God’s helping them with their studies and giving those spiritual gifts had won them favor with the king in a big way. This idea that Nebuchadnezzar interviewed them is interesting because the word there actually denotes an intense interrogation.
There was a kind of test where you would go before Nebuchadnezzar and he would grill you with the questions or other tests.
It says they were found ten times better. The phrase there literally means “10 hands”, and it doesn’t necessarily mean 10 times better. It just is used to denote many times more than, not necessarily or specifically 10.
The magicians and astrologers
This appears to be two different job descriptions.
Like many other nations of the day, like Egypt, Babylon had a lot of occult practitioners as regular members of the king’s entourage.
Dan 1:21 Thus Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus.
King Cyrus was the name of the king who conquered Babylon many years later.
Daniel lived to be 85 or 90 years old, but this verse isn’t necessarily talking about when Daniel died. After citing the various meanings for the word “continued” and interacting with other arguments, Stephen Miller of the New American Commentary writes:
“Apparently the writer’s point was that Daniel lived throughout the entire Neo-Babylonian period (the exile) and continued into the reign of Cyrus (when the Jews were released from captivity), thus outliving his Babylonian masters.”1