The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Daniel 1

Dan 1:1

See Lesson, Prophet, the.

See Lesson, Daniel, taking a stand for God.

As the skeleton is to the body, so Daniel is to prophecy.

Dan 1: This chapter introduces the main character of the book: (1) Historical background (vv 1,2); (2) Nebuchadnezzar's training program for promising youths (vv 3-7); (3) Daniel's resolve to please Yahweh (vv 8-13); (4) The success of the test (vv 14-16); (5) God's blessing of Daniel and his friends (vv 17-21).

THE THIRD YEAR OF THE REIGN OF JEHOIAKIM: The date of this deportation by Nebuchadnezzar (605 BC), as Daniel recorded it, was the third year of King Jehoiakim's reign. However, Jeremiah wrote that the first year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign was the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign (Jer 25:1; cf Jer 46:2). Many critics of Daniel have seized upon this apparent contradiction and have tried to discredit this prophecy.

Probably the reconciliation of this lies in this point: Daniel wrote from the Babylonian viewpoint and Jeremiah from the Jewish. It would have been only natural for Daniel to do so since he spent virtually all of his life in Babylon. The Babylonians considered the first year of their kings' reigns as the accession year. That "year" might last only a few days or weeks. The first regnal year, the first full year of their reign, began with the first day of the new civil year. For the Babylonians this was the first of Nisan (late March and early April).

On the other hand, Jeremiah was writing from the Jewish perspective. During the reigns of Jehoash to Hoshea the Jews also followed the accession-year system (as described above). However the Jews began their civil years on the first of Tishri (late September and early October). This explanation harmonizes these references.

Dan 1:2

AND THE LORD DELIVERED JEHOIAKIM... INTO HIS HAND: To Daniel, it is perfectly clear: the Sovereign LORD, Yahweh of Israel, is responsible for this despoiling of His Land. He is in control of all circumstances and events. This world-view permeates all of Daniel's writings.

ALONG WITH SOME OF THE ARTICLES FROM THE TEMPLE OF GOD: Carrying off the vessels from a conquered people's temple was a way that ancient Near Eastern kings expressed their victory over that nation, particularly its gods (Dan 5:3-4). Therefore Daniel began this book by reminding his readers that it was not only Israel's king who suffered defeat at Nebuchadnezzar's hands, but also Yahweh had experienced humiliation. He then proceeded to vindicate Yahweh with all that follows.

Only some of the vessels from the temple were taken to Babylon at the time Daniel was taken captive. Later, all the remaining vessels were taken there (see 2Ch 36:18). These temple vessels will play a prominent role in the events of Dan 5.

BABYLONIA: Literally "Shinar", as in AV and NIV mg. "Shinar" is a term for the land, which is more generally known as Babylonia; "Shinar" often connotes a place hostile to God and faith in God (Gen 10:10; 11:2; 14:1; Isa 11:11 [NIV mg]; Zech 5:11 [NIV mg]). Shinar was where Nimrod built the first city (Gen 10:10), where the Tower of Babel was constructed (Gen 11:2), and where wickedness is ultimately to be banished (Zech 5:5-11).

Dan 1:3

TO BRING IN SOME OF THE ISRAELITES FROM THE ROYAL FAMILY AND THE NOBILITY: Nebuchadnezzar's empire was rapidly expanding. He needed men of great ability to fill positions of power and responsibility in his administration. It was therefore his "enlightened" policy to identify and employ the best minds in his kingdom in government service regardless of their national or ethnic origin. We do not know how many other Jews and Gentiles were the classmates of Daniel and his three friends. However, they were evidently the only ones who expressed a desire to observe the Jewish dietary laws, and to keep separate from the rich foods of the Babylonians -- which may possibly have been dedicated to idols as well (v 8; cp, generally, Exo 34:15; Lev 11; Deu 8:3; Deu 14; Pro 20:1).

"Why did Daniel have no difficulty with becoming a part of the government which defeated his own nation and destroyed the temple? Two reasons are immediately evident. First, the Jews had sinned, the judgment of Judah had been prophesied, and the defeat of Jehoiakim by Nebuchadnezzar was at the hand of God (Dan 1:2). The sovereign God who raises up kings and puts them down (see Dan 2:21) is the one who gave Judah into the hands of the Babylonians.
Second, to seek Babylon's well-being was to be obedient to God's instructions, as given by the prophet Jeremiah: 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, "Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens, and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare" ' (Jer 29:4-7)" (Deff).

Dan 1:4

YOUNG MEN WITHOUT ANY PHYSICAL DEFECT: Were Daniel and his three friends were castrated and made eunuchs? Josephus (Ant 10:10:1) implied that they may have become eunuchs: "He [Nebuchadnezzar] also made some of them [the most noble of the Jewish children] to be eunuchs; which course he took also with those of other nations whom he had taken in the flower of their age, and afforded them their diet from his own table, and had them instructed in the institutes of the country, and taught the learning of the Chaldeans..." The Heb "saris" ("official": v 3) can mean both "court official" (Gen 37:36) and "eunuch" (Isa 56:3).

But this possibility seems unlikely since there is no direct evidence of this in the text. These youths were without defect. If Nebuchadnezzar wanted youths without defects, it seems unreasonable that he would then turn around and give them a major defect (cp Lev 21:17).

HE WAS TO TEACH THEM THE LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE OF THE BABYLONIANS: The three-year program of study that Daniel and his three companions underwent involved study of the literature and language of the Babylonians, or Chaldeans. "The Babylonian sages combined many of the functions fulfilled by wise men, prophets, and priests in Israel, though they are to be distinguished from those... functionaries who were more especially concerned with the temple and its ritual. They were the guardians of the sacred traditional lore developed and preserved in Mesopotamia over centuries, covering natural history, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, myth, and chronicle. Much of this learning had a practical purpose, being designed to be applied to life by means of astrology... hepatoscopy and the study of other organs, rites of purification, sacrifice, incantation, exorcism and other forms of divination and magic" (Goldingay, cited in Const).

Evidently what these young men studied was the history and literature of this ancient part of the world. This included the old Akkadian and the ancient Sumerian cultures from which Babylonia had developed. Learning the language of a people is one of the best ways to absorb the world view of its people. Thus Nebuchadnezzar was seeking to acculturate these youths and to make them thoroughly Babylonian.

Why does Daniel not object to this schooling? Is it because he has already been thoroughly trained in the Hebrew scriptures -- so that the Babylonian culture really poses no serious threat?

Cp Moses' early education: "Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action" (Acts 7:22).

THE BABYLONIANS: Lit, "Chaldeans". The term "Chaldean" has a double meaning in Daniel. In some places, including here, it refers to ethnic southern Babylonians (Dan 3:8; 5:30; 9:1). In others, it describes a class of astrologers and priests that emerged from the ethnic Chaldeans (Dan 2:2,4-5,10; 4:7; 5:7,11).

Dan 1:6

DANIEL: Daniel's name probably means, "My judge is God."

HANANIAH: Sig "Yahweh has shown grace,"

MISHAEL: Sig "Who is what God is?"

AZARIAH: Sig "Yahweh has helped."

Dan 1:7

THE CHIEF OFFICIAL GAVE THEM NEW NAMES: The new names assigned them all included or referred to various Babylonian gods: Bel, Aku, and Nego (a possible variant of Nebo). This renaming is an obvious effort to blot out one of the distinctive marks of the Jews. Also, the practice of changing names was a way to express sovereign control over others.

These new names would have also encouraged these youths to think of themselves as part of the culture in which they were living rather than the culture from which they had come (cp Gen 41:45).

So why didn't Daniel and his three companions resist this effort to rename them? Certainly Daniel was aware of an OT precedent for a heathen king giving a new (foreign) name to a Hebrew in his service. Pharaoh gave Joseph the name "Zaphenath-paneah" (Genesis 41:45). He knew also that Joseph did not reject this name, nor is there even so much as a hint that God considered the name defiling to Joseph.

Dan 1:8

"The command of the king, that the young men should be fed with the food and wine from the king's table, was to Daniel and his friends a test of their fidelity to the Lord and to His law, like that to which Joseph was subjected in Egypt, corresponding to the circumstances in which he was placed, of his fidelity to God (Gen 39:7..)" (KD).

TO DEFILE HIMSELF WITH THE ROYAL FOOD AND WINE: Undoubtedly the meat and wine that they refused had been offered to the Babylonian gods (Marduk [or Bel], Nebo, Ishtar, etc) since it came from the king's table (2Ki 25:29).

Dan 1:9

GOD HAD CAUSED THE OFFICIAL TO SHOW FAVOR AND SYMPATHY TO DANIEL: He received a favorable response (Heb "chesed", loyal love, and "rahamim", compassion) when he proposed a ten-day dietary test. Notice that it was Yahweh who moved the overseer's heart (1Ki 8:50; Psa 106:46), another indication of God's sovereignty.

Dan 1:10

I AM AFRAID OF MY LORD THE KING: He probably felt that, if he did not feed Daniel and his companions the same food as the others, and if they began to appear malnourished, then the king would have his head!

Dan 1:12

TEST YOUR SERVANTS FOR TEN DAYS: To allay the official's fears (v 10), Daniel proposes a relatively brief test. Only 10 days would not be enough time to do irreparable damage; so presumably the effects could be reversed after the 10 days test.

Cp words to ecclesia at Smyrna: "You will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev 2:10).

"It could have cost their lives but despite that threat they pressed on determined to give God first place. In religious circles we very often hear that we must put God first. It gets drummed into us. But here is a very practical example -- not a lesson -- of some young men who did just that and were blessed because of it. It shows us that we can stand up and be counted for God and that when we do, God will reward us for it.

"Daniel and his three friends determined not to defile themselves with the food of the Babylonians. They wanted to stay holy to God and to put God first in their lives. This must have been a tough move. By standing apart they were going against the wishes of the most powerful man in the world, they were standing alone when all their friends were going with the flow, and their lives were on the line for just suggesting it. But because they put God first, God blessed them, so that even in their ten-day trial period, they looked healthier and better nourished than any of their equals. God also gave them more wisdom and knowledge than anyone else.

"So let us always put God first in both the small things and in the big things, and may God bless us for it" (RP).

Dan 1:15

The proposal was accepted. It would seem God divinely intervened not only making the condition of Daniel and his friends markedly superior, but in a very short period of time. Daniel's proposal not only preserved the purity of these four Jews, but it did so in a way that benefited their superiors. After all, if Daniel and his friends were so obviously superior to the rest, the king would give some of the credit to those in charge of them.

Dan 1:17

TO THESE FOUR YOUNG MEN GOD GAVE KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING OF ALL KINDS OF LITERATURE AND LEARNING: In addition to favor with their overseers, God gave Daniel and his three friends the ability to master the subjects they studied and wisdom in these matters (cf Jam 1:5). They may have thought that Nebuchadnezzar had designed their curriculum, but really God had. Like Moses and Paul, Daniel had an excellent educational background and an unusually brilliant mind (Acts 7:22; Phi 3:4,5).

God was working in the lives of the disobedient to bring them to repentance. He was at work in the lives of the faithful (like Daniel and his friends) to bless and prosper them, even while in captivity in Babylon. God had not forsaken Daniel and his friends; He was in control. God had given Jehoiakim and Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar (v 2). He had granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of Ashpenaz (v 9). Now He gave Daniel and his friends wisdom and knowledge which surpassed that of all others!

AND DANIEL COULD UNDERSTAND VISIONS AND DREAMS OF ALL KINDS: Visions and dreams were the primary means God used to communicate His revelations to prophets in the OT (Num 12:6). From the writer's perspective, Daniel qualified for the blessing of receiving this special gift by choosing to remain loyal to God's will. The parallel with Joseph is again obvious.

Dan 2; 4; 5; 7 -- 12 validate this claim. There we read of no pagan divining but straightforward prophetic revelation, some in direct answer to prayer. Daniel could write this of himself without boasting because he obviously credited God with giving him his abilities.

Dan 1:19

"There will be times when we must choose between pleasing God or pleasing men. In such times we must choose to serve God and not men. Though sometimes tempted to forget and even forsake this goal, let us strive to please God and men, the ideal placed before us not only here, but elsewhere: 'Now the boy Samuel was growing in stature and in favor both with the Lord and with men' (1Sa 2:26). 'When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him' (Pro 16:7). 'And the child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him' (Luke 2:40). 'And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men' (Luke 2:52)" (Deff).

Dan 1:20

TEN TIMES BETTER THAN ALL THE MAGICIANS AND ENCHANTERS IN HIS WHOLE KINGDOM: The fact that Daniel called these other officials "magicians" (Heb "hartummim", astrological diviners) and "conjurers" (Heb "assapim") has raised questions about whether the four Hebrew youths practiced occult arts. If they refused to eat non-kosher food because of religious conviction, they undoubtedly would not have participated in divination and magic, which the Mosaic Law also expressly forbade (Deu 18:10-12). Probably we should understand, quite generally, that they excelled in the matter of offering wise advice to their king.

TEN TIMES BETTER: An idiom meaning many times better (cp Gen 31:7,41; Num 14:22; Neh 4:12; Job 19:3).

Dan 1:21

AND DANIEL REMAINED THERE UNTIL THE FIRST YEAR OF KING CYRUS: Cyrus' first year as king of Babylon was 538 BC. Thus Daniel's ministry as a government official spanned approximately 65 years (cp Dan 6:28).

Two dates bracket this first chapter, the year that Daniel went to Babylon as a captive and the year that his career ended. The content of this chapter focuses on the key to Daniel's remarkable career. He purposed to remain faithful to God's will even in a relatively minor matter. God blessed that commitment and gave this already gifted and diligent young man additional talents and opportunities with which to serve Him. The chapter introduces the rest of the book, which contains such remarkable revelations that the reader might question their validity without this introduction to the prophet himself.
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