Daniel 1. One Small Victory.
Key Notes: End of Israel's Monarchy. God at work in the enemy's palace. Food and drink make a difference. The Babylonian Academy. Diet in ancient Middle East.
The book of Daniel is the account of a young Hebrew prince and his friends who were deported to Babylon in 606BC, at the end of the Davidic monarchy. Judah and Jerusalem would be destroyed in twenty years (586BC) but he and his friends were providentially removed and given duty in God's Foreign Service. Daniel rose to political prominence and spiritual power, surviving the domination of Nebuchadnezzar and the fall of the Babylonian Empire. He was a politican and continued to serve in the Medo-Persian government which replaced Babylon.
The book is divided into two parts. The first six chapters are the personal adventures of Daniel and his three friends as captives of the Babylonians. The last six chapters are visions of the future. The first six chapters are relatively easy narratives. The last six are rich in symbolic language and as is the case with all future-oriented material, the subject of much controversy. It is rather like taking a tiger by the tail--the tail is small and unthreatening--but we will end up at the jaws where we will have plenty of difficulty. The end of Chapter 9 presents an insoluble problem. Hang on. It will be exciting.
Some historical background. By 605BC the empire of David and Solomon that in 900BC stretched from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates River had shrunk to a small enclave in Judah around Jerusalem.
The Egyptians controlled the Mediterranean Coast up to the Euphrates.
The Assyrians occupied Syria and northern Israel.
However, Babylon rose up against the Assyrians under Nebuchadnezzar. He conquered their capital, Asshur, then took Ninevah in 612, and drove west to take Carchemish from the Egyptians at the headwaters of the Euphrates. It was a decisive battle. (605BC). Nebuchadnezzar then swept south, conquering Syria, Israel, Jerusalem and most of Egypt. He was master of the then-known world. His brutality is well-documented. (Jer.29:22; 39:6–7)
Dan. 1:1–4 In the 3rd year of Jehoiakim King of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took Jerusalem, the Temple treasury, and skimmed the cream of Judah's nobility: handsome young men, skillful, knowledgeable, apt to learn, and competent to serve. Nebuchadnezzar also took the men of valor, all the craftsmen and smths, leaving only the poor of the land behind. (IIK.24:14–16). Thus he preserved the best of Israelite society in exile.
1:5–7 Nebuchadnezzar incorporated the best minds of the captured nation to be his advisors. They would eat his food and spend three years in the royal academy. Four boys--probably 12–15 years old--were singled out. Their Hebrew names were changed to Babylonian. The translation of these names is controversial and does not add although they have been immortalized in song: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
1:8–16 Daniel decided to try to get control of one small aspect of their lives--food. ("Judaism is about food".) Why the King's food would be defiling is not clear. Was it routinely offered to idols? We do know that the Babylonians ate pig and horse--forbidden to the Jews.
God gave Daniel the affection of the chief of the eunuchs. He asked for vegetables and water in place of meat and wine and offered a controlled trial.. The steward would compare the four of them against the rest of the students--perhaps a dozen--after a ten day test period.
After ten days they looked better. They had won their point.
1:17–21 God gave these four special intelligence, and Daniel also had skill in understanding visions and dreams. Dreams and visions were very important to the Babylonians as we shall see, so God was fitting Daniel for a strategic work. He records the interpretation of seven dreams or visions.
At the end of their three years of training they were presented to the King and he found them much better than his Chaldean advisors who were magicians and enchanters. God's children should always outshine shamans and fakes.
Daniel had a political appointment that lasted for about 65 years.
In his own country of Judah , Daniel was forbidden to practice "abominations" such as divination, sorcery and charms (Deut.18:10). He was forbidden even to mention the name of a false god. (Ex.23:13). In Babylon he could not refuse on pain of death. (Dan.2:5–7). How could he, a mere boy, be free of defilement in this overwhelming cultural avalanche? How could the sons of the ungodly kings of Judah have any spiritual life in a pagan country and under continuous observation?
With the help of God and his three friends, he asked for his choice of the available food. Not only was it a very small request, but he would try to prove that this vegetarian diet was more healthy, therefore giving the King the advantage of a better servant.
In ten days they looked better. Does abstinence from wine and meat lead to visible changes in the human body in ten days? Perhaps. Wine every day for ten days might be visible in a young face. But I think their morale took a sudden jump. They knew that God was helping them. They could smile. They had won a concession. They had taken the successful first step in a spiritual warfare. They would not win the Empire but they would effectively represent God and His purposes in a pagan environment.
Their curriculum included Aramaic alphabet and grammar (1:4). It probably also included
*Mathematics and astrology. The Babylonians made great advances in astronomy. They discovered the rhythms of moon and stars. They found that the planets-- "celestial wanderers-- were "in sympathy", in disciplined and harmonious movement. They could calculate their movements in advance and also in retrospect. They thought the movements of stars and planets could be the clue to the riddle of human destiny. (A Study of History, A.Toynbee, Oxford,1947; pp.174–5).
* Religion. Anu, Enlil, and Ea headed the pantheon of gods, including sun and moon gods. Marduk was Nebuchadnezzar's personal favorite.
*Legends, and myths.
* Music, hymns, prayers, incantations, omens, magic, sorcery and charms.
* Glass-making and other crafts.
*Government, economics, diplomacy, and war.
A list of the last eight kings of Judah before the fall of Jerusalem.
*Hezekiah 715BC was a godly reformer, and is remembered for his victory over Sennacharib of Assyria in the siege of Jerusalem. IIK.18–20; Isa.36–39
*Manasseh 686BC was a wicked and brutal king of Judah. God at this time decided that Judah must be sent into exile--put "in the cooler" . IIK.21:1–18
*Amon 642BC was no better but lived only a short time. IIK.21:19–26
*Josiah 640BC was also a godly and zealous reformer who restored the Temple worship. He unwisely tried to interfere with Pharaoh Necoh who was going up the coast to fight Nebuchadnezzar and was killed in battle.( 609BC). IIK.22–23:30
*Jehoahaz 609BC was captured by Pharaoh and replaced by his brother Jehoiakim. IIK23:31-
*Jehoiakim 609BC was also a violent and wicked king. He was advised by Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, who had the thankless job of witnessing to a hardened people destined for destruction. Jeremiah 26 records the reaction to Jeremiah's prophecy that Jerusalem would be taken and that Judah should not resist. He was called a traitor. In Jeremiah 36 Jehoiakim was given a written prophecy from Jeremiah and the king sliced the manuscript in pieces and burned it in the fire. It was during his reign that Daniel was deported. IIK.23:36–24:7
* 597BC He presided over Nebuchadnezzar's second rape of the city. IIK.24:8–17
*Zedekiah 597BC rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and the city fell in 587 for the last time. The monarchy was over and Israel would not be free for thousands of years. IIK.24:18–25:17
FOOTNOTE: What would the Hebrew princes have to eat without meat? They would not be malnourished. Available foods in their time included
Grains: wheat and flour, barley, millet; parched grains
Bread, (the staff of life); flat bread, cakes
Lentils, beans, cucumbers, melons, onions, chickpeas
Figs, dates, nuts (pistachios, almonds), pomegranate, grapes, olives
Dill, cumin, rue, salt, mustard, coriander, vinegar, garlic, mint, cinnamon
Milk, curds, cheese, butter
[Meat: birds, cattle, sheep, goats, deer, eggs, fish]
Rice and chicken came in NT times.
Apricots came from China around 100AD.
Citrus, other fruits, apples, tomatoes, squashes came to the Middle East later.
Sugar, corn and potatoes came from the New World centuries later.
(IVP Handbook of Life in Bible Times;’86; p.125–145)