In 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, besieged the city of Jerusalem. The king of Judah at the time was Jehoiakim. Nebuchadnezzar took “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 1:2b). Though this military invasion looked like Babylon was in control and had defeated the Lord, this chapter reveals the Lord is the One in control. This event only occurred because “the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah” into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (Dan 1:2). As you read through the events that transpire in this passage, know that God is sovereign (Job 42:2; Psalm 103:19, 115:3; Isa. 46:9-10).
The Rigorous Babylonian Brainwashing (1:3-7)
King Nebuchadnezzar had captured a select group amongst the Jewish people. The first thing we see is the command (Dan 1:3-4a). The king commanded Ashpenaz “to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility” (Dan 1:3). Furthermore, they were to be “youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace” (Dan 1:4a).
Next, we see the course (Dan 1:4b-5). Now that the students had been chosen, enrolments were closed and the course begins. The students would participate in a rigorous three-year training program that would include learning “the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Dan 1:4b). In addition to this “the king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank.” Participation in this would reveal affirmation and companionship with all that the king stood for.
Finally, we are introduced to the class (Dan 1:6-7). There were many young men placed into this rigorous training, but 1:6 gives us four names, “Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.” These were four young Jewish boys who will be remembered forever for their courage and unwavering commitment to the Lord. Another part of their training was a name change. Your name represented who you were and what you believed. The name changes mentioned here reveal the brainwashing these men undertook. Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge” received the name “Belteshazzar”, which means “Bel protect his life.” Hananiah, whose name means “Yahweh is gracious” was changed to “Shadrach” meaning “the command of Aku”. Mishael which means, “Who is what God is?” was changed to “Meshach” meaning “who is what Aku is?” And finally, Azariah had his name changed to “Abed-nego” which means “servant of Nebo”. The intention was to convert these Jewish men into Babylonians. But as we will see in a moment in the words of Boice, “Nebuchadnezzar changed the men’s names, but he could not change their hearts.”
That is the background and context in which these young men find themselves. They have lost their homes, families, personal comforts, and identities. How do they respond?
The Response of Daniel and his Friends (1:8-16)
Despite the difficulty Daniel and his three friends experienced, this narrative reveals exceptional character qualities in these young men. What the reader sees is the faithful response to the sovereign working of God. The clear implication in this text is that Daniel knew that he is in Babylon because God has placed him there. It is by God’s doing, regardless of what the human circumstances were. As a result, Daniel and his friends displayed integrity (Dan 1:8a) and faith (Dan 1:8b-16) in all situations. These are the actions of young men who understood the sovereignty of God. With great care and sensitivity Daniel requests that him and three friends are able to avoid the king’s food. He proposes a trial diet for ten days. God moved the heart of Ashpenaz to grant this request (Dan 1:14), and at the end of this trial period they looked better and healthier than their peers (Dan 1:15). For this reason, Ashpenaz allowed them to continue to do this for the rest of their training (three years). In normal circumstances such a diet would lead to malnutrition, so it must be concluded that, “such reversal of the laws of nutrition would require a miracle.”
The Reputation of Daniel and his Friends (1:17-21)
As a result of their faithful response to the situation they were in, God granted Daniel and his three friends a good reputation (Dan 1:17). At the end of the three-year training program, Ashpenaz presented them to king Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 1:18). There was none that even compared with Daniel and his three friends as they were viewed as ten times better than their peers (Dan 1:19-20). Regardless of the situation Daniel found himself in, he displayed excellence. He did not complain, drag his feet or put in a halfhearted effort because he didn’t want to be there. Rather, Daniel did his best because he knew that it was the Lord who “gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into” the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. By God’s grace “Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king” (Dan 1:21) which extends Daniel’s leadership well into his eighties or even nineties.
Daniel and his three friends were in a difficult situation and they didn’t know what the outcome would be. However, there was one thing they did know. They knew that God was in control.
Give God the praise and thanksgiving knowing that your situation is not out of His plan and trust Him as you faithfully serve Him.