Chapter one of the book of Daniel, consisting of 21 verses, recounts how Daniel and his three friends, Mishael, Hannania and Azariah found themselves as captives in Babylon. Today you may not see this place called Babylon on the world map because over time names of places and political activities change. However, we know that Babylon used to be in that region of the world we know today as Iraq. In ancient times the Greeks called the region Mesopotamia. The term means “between the rivers.” As shown on the map below the two rivers were Euphrates and Tigris. The region was also known by other people as the land of Shinar.
The term “Fertile Crescent” is also used to describe Mesopotamia. This term is a good description of what the land actually was. The region used to experience the flooding of the two rivers. The flood waters caused rich clay soil to be deposited around the area causing it to become fertile and a great attraction for agriculture. It is because of this that this region always attracted invaders and immigrants. But one time there arose a powerful ruler in this region who managed to overcome the nearby small nations and brought them under his control. The nation of the Jews was not spared in these conquests of Babylon.
Babylon (see map above) was a city situated on the Euphrates River. However, its power extended around much of the Mesopotamian region. When Daniel and his three friends found themselves among captives taken to this power-centre of the then world, they were fortunate to find themselves among the chosen few to be trained in science, administration and linguistics of Babylon. This was both a blessing and a temptation. In the end their faith triumphed and this opened a door to closer acquaintance and favour with the mighty king.
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim”
The book of Daniel opens with these words:
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.
Critics have found fault with facts presented in this verse. They have argued that Daniel 1:1 clearly contradicts Jeremiah 25:1. Daniel 1:1 states that “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.” This is different from the record of Jeremiah 25:1 (which they regard as an authentic historical writing) which states, “The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, that was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.” On this basis Daniel is dismissed as being erroneous in its narration of historical events. But, as shown in what shortly follows, this is a case of being obsessed with trying to find error where there is none. A simple consideration of some facts reveals no contradiction between Jeremiah’s record and Daniel’s.
Consider this simple illustration of two persons, X living in Zambia, and another, Y, in the Philippines, communicating by telephone:
Person X picks up the phone and calls Y to inform him about an incident. At the end of their conversation X notes in his diary that the communication with Y happened at 9 AM. Y on the other end recorded that the communication occured at 3 PM. Many years later someone wants to verify this incident and concludes that the record of Y is unreliable because of the discrepancy of the stated time!
It is not difficult to see the stupid mistake the investigator makes in the above simple illustration. His investigation is only based on the written details of 3 Am and 9 PM without considering the factor of the time difference that separates persons X and Y. The similar error is what has been made by Daniel’s critics. Let me explain.
An important note to be aware of is that at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, Judah was under the control of Pharao-nechoh of Egypt.
It is this Egyptian king who actually put Jehoiakim into power, as his vassal ruler over Judah (2 Kings 23:34-35). It was in the third year of Jehoiakim that Nebuchadnezzar went from Babylon. This was during (but towards the ending of) the third year of Jehoiakim. Before he could reach Jerusalem he was engaged in a war with Pharao-nechoh (recorded in Jeremiah 46:2). By this time Jehoiakim was in his fourth year. After overcoming Pharao-nechoh Nebuchadnezzar proceeded to lay siege of Jerusalem. Thus, to Jeremiah, living in Jerusalem, the Babylonian king came in the fourth year of Jehoiakim. An interesting thing to note is that Daniel actually used the word “went” in Daniel 1:1. The English translation of the King James Version Bible used the word “came”. In Hebrew the word used is “bo” which also means to “go”. This is more correct as it is only natural for Daniel, living in Babylon at the time he wrote his record . So, for Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar went (i.e. left Babylon). But for Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar came (i.e. into Jerusalem).
The sins of Israel
During the reign of Josiah, there was so much hope that Jews would return to the faith of their forefathers. Previously the nation had degenerated into idol worship. So terrible was the situation that even worship vessels of a pagan god Baal had found themselves in the Jewish temple. During the reign of the young king, Josiah, upon reading words out of the book of the Law which had been lost but was now found, he instituted aggressive reforms to restore people back to true worship: “the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove, and for all the host of heaven: and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them unto Bethel. And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven” (2 Kings 23:4-5). The record of Kings states that “unto him [Josiah] was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart” (2 Kings 23:25).
Sadly, however, Josiah’s reforms were only short-lived. He reigned for 31 years. After his death his son Jehoahaz was made king. This king’s manner of ruling was so different from his father. He was evil. He only ruled for three months and it was that time when Pharao-nechoh dethroned him, putting the other son of Josiah, Eliakim, to rule instead. Pharao-nechoh changed the name of Eliakim to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim was equally evil and never regarded the Word of God. He ruled as a vassal king for the Pharao-nechoh.
In the fourth year of Jehoiakim, as was foretold by Jeremiah the prophet (Jeremiah 25), Nebuchadnezzar, overcame Pharao-nechoh and proceeded to besiege Jerusalem. Daniel recorded the unfortunate events that had transpired:
2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.
Yes, God had delivered His people into the hands of a Gentile ruler. This event should teach us one important thing concerning our relationship with God. God chose Israel not because they were a superior race. Neither did He choose the nation out of mere favouritism. Times and again, when they broke His covenant, He let the Gentile nations have an upper hand over them. At this point we read in Daniel God even let the Babylonian king get the vessels of the temple. See, no matter how consecrated those vessels were, they became vain when people’s hearts were not consecrated. More important to God was the vessel of people’s hearts. God’s holiness is not preserved in man-made objects but in the heart of man. When man’s heart becomes full of iniquity, the vessels he can use for worship, such as musical instruments or other forms of vessels, become vain. Like Paul admonishes, “the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Tim.2:19).
Now, no matter how iniquity may flourish, there are always God’s people somewhere who stand for what is right. When judgement occurs, God always protects them. This is what happened to Daniel, Mishael, Azariah and Hananiah:
3 And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes;
4 Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.
In these verses we see the political strategy Nebuchadnezzar may have been using to effectively subdue kingdoms. From the defeated kingdoms he selected young intelligent men who could be educated into the sciences and business administration of Babylonian affairs. As we see in next chapters of the book, he used these men to rule over various regions of his immense empire. During their training these men were to be well taken of.
5 And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.
Being young people it should have been easy to re-school them. Scholars have said Daniel and his three friends must have been teenagers when they were taken into Babylon. And being insulated away from the daily struggles of a typical captive, it should have been easy to buy their loyalty. But it wasn’t so; the devoutness of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah was both sincere and firm. Sincere, because even when they were in a different environment, far away from that of fellow believers, they still lived faithfully before God. This is not so with many people: there are many who do not sin not because of true righteousness of heart but because there is simply no opportunity of being in an environment which is away from people who could catch them in acts of sin. But as for Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, they were so firm and consistent in their faith that even when their names were changed to that of pagan gods – Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, respectively – they did not change their true identity of faith in Yahweh:
6 Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah:
7 Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego.
Living in Babylon was quite unpredictable for the four men. At one time its celebration and at another anxiety of who is about to be killed.
First test of faith
Faith is not faith until it is tested (cf. James 1:2-4). With every blessing that comes there is also a test in disguise in waiting. Many people often get so excited at the blessing that they lose sight to see the test. Here was Daniel and his friends experiencing a rare privilege. Despite having lived at a time when many Jews were so compromised in their faith, the four young men had lived faithfully. After the Babylonian invasion, there are many Jews who remained to suffer the consequences of the besiege in Jerusalem as others were taken into captivity. But as for the four young men, it seemed such a great reward of their faith to have been specially chosen to study in the special school of Nebuchadnezzar. Now, that blessing came with being served Gentile meats and wines. These were forbidden for the Jews. But wasn’t this an extension of the blessings they were already experiencing? Had God not permitted it? Not so. Many times there is a thin line between truth and error; between integrity and compromise. It takes a discerning eye to see where the streak of light has ended and darkness has begun. It is for this reason that Saint Paul admonished believers saying, “ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh” (Galatians 5:13). Sadly, many Christians today – in the manner of their conduct, worship, singing, and dressing – have gone past grace into disgrace! This was not so with Daniel and his three friends, they purposed to never defile themselves:
8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Fortunately, Daniel must have had a gentle and likable demeanour which made him fall in favour with the prince of the eunuchs, charged to look after the affairs of the students:
9 Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.
However, the ‘odd’ behaviour of abstaining from delicious foods worried the prince. If they looked frail before the king, he would be in trouble for not having sufficiently taken care of them. Babylon was not like modern democratic societies where human rights take centre-stage; such a negligence of duty would carry an ugly death-penalty of cutting off one’s head. The prince of the eunuchs expressed his concern:
10…I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.
Daniel and the three friends believed that their abstinence wasn’t a mere religious ritual to an imaginary god. They served a living God who would protect and guard them against danger. They believed that even if they ate vegetables and only drunk water, Yahweh’s favour would be on them to retain their countenances. They requested that they be tested with a simple diet for ten days after which they should be examined. This was done and at the end of the days, their faith triumphed!
11 Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,
12 Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.
13 Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.
14 So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.
15 And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.
16 Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.
Soon afterwards Daniel’s life and that of his friends would soon dramatically change, from being Jewish captives to rulers.
Daniel’s beginning to rise to power
During their three years of study Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah excelled in their studies. God endowed them with knowledge and skill of understanding. Daniel had a special gift of seeing visions and dreams:
17 As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
At the end of their three years course, the four men came out distinct, ten times better than all other students. Daniel and his friends were wiser than the astrologers, sorcerers, and soothsayers of Babylon. These were famed careers in Babylon. People who rose to such ranks were called Wise Men. Babylon had its set standards of education to qualify people into this rank. However, God had his standard of judging. He equipped Daniel and his friends with so much wisdom, bringing them in favour with the Babylonian king.
18 Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar.
19 And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king.
20 And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.
As later events show in the book, it was God’s will for Daniel to rise to high positions of power over the provinces of Babylon. His prophecies became so renowned and revered in that region of the world. Hundreds of years later some Wise Men saw a star which was a sign of the coming of Him who would rule the world according to the prophecies of Daniel. They travelled to Jerusalem to witness the long foretold prophecy. If only Jews had paid a little attention to the prophecies of Daniel they would have known the time of the coming of their long-awaited messiah.
Daniel lived up to the first year of King Cyrus but his prophecies went on getting fulfilled:
21 And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus.
Download PDF Copy of Daniel 1
Next: Daniel Chapter 2