by Mike Ratliff
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with 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 he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, 4 youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. 6 Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego. Daniel 1:1-7 (NASB)
The northern Kingdom of Israel was in one form of apostasy or another during its entire existence. It’s first king, Jeroboam, did not want his people going back to Jerusalem to worship God at the Temple. So, he created golden calves in Bethel and Dan. He rejected the Levites as priests by creating a non-Levitical priesthood serving this false worship. In 722 B.C. the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom. The people who survived were deported and scattered all over the then known world. However, the southern Kingdom of Judah was not much better. Over the centuries its Kings became progressively worse and worse until Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, caused such horrible apostasy within the people that it was only a matter of time before God caused judgment to fall on them just as He had the Northern Kingdom. However, Mannaseh’s grandson, Josiah, was a King who followed after God with His whole Heart. He cleansed the Temple and restored genuine worship. He led the people into a proper relationship with their covenant God. It was during His reign that the people celebrated Passover and the other festivals correctly as no one before them. It is as if Josiah’s reign is a welcome respite in a long dreary line of somewhat good kings and many bad ones. Josiah knew the Lord and reigned in light of that. His heart was totally wrapped around His relationship with God.
It was during his reign that Daniel’s parents were probably born and grew up. They raised their son Daniel to worship the Lord alone. His faith was strong like Josiah’s. He knew God and God knew Him. However, Josiah was killed and replaced with one of his sons who reverted back to the apostate ways of the kingdoms around Judah. As a result, God raised up the Babylonian Empire in the late 7th Century B.C. Nebuchadnezzar was the second king of Babylon. In 605 B.C he conquered Jerusalem. Daniel was probably around 15 years old at this time. He was kidnapped from his noble family, taken to Babylon to be trained and indoctrinated in the Babylonian culture to be of use to the King in dealing with the Jews who had been deported as he was.
Look at the passage I placed at the top of this post. We find that Daniel is not alone. He had three friends named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah along with many other youths all from Judah. The King assigned their diet to be from the food he ate and the wine he drank. All of these youths were to be trained over 3 years then be examined. Part of their indoctrination into Babylonian culture was to have their names changed. Daniel means, “Good is my judge.” His new name was Beleshazzar, which means, “Bel Protect the King.” Bel was a Babylonian god. Hananiah means, “the Lord is Gracious.” His new name was Shadrach, which means, “Command of Aku.” Aku was another Babylonain god. Mishael means, “Who is like the Lord?” His new name was Meshach, which means, “Who is what Aku is?” Azariah means, “The Lord is my Helper.” His new name was Abed-nego, which means, “Servant of Nego.” Nego, another Babylonain god, was also called Nebo.
Things look tough for these young men. They are away from their families and are being indoctrinated into an alien culture that does not know the Lord. In fact, since the Babylonians conquered the Judeans, they would consider their gods superior to the Lord. Again, it looks as if these young men will have to submit to their new masters into pagan worship and lifestyles. However, God had other plans.
8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. 9 Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials, 10 and the commander of the officials said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.” 11 But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.” Daniel 1:8-13 (NASB)
What wisdom for one so young! What did he do? He resolved in his heart to not defile himself by eating unclean food or drinking unclean wine. His heart was captive to God and His ways. Do you suppose that this resolve, perhaps, came as a result of some serous prayer time with his friends about this? What did God do as a result? God gave Daniel favor with those placed over him. Did Daniel arrogantly demand his rights? Did he angrily demand his way? No! He humbly approached those over him whom God had given him favor and compassion in their sight. Daniel proposed a test of ten days of he and his friends eating only vegetables and drinking water. He boldly submitted to the steward’s judgment. If their appearance was worse than those eating the unclean food then they would obey those in authority over them. This is quite bold. How often do we trust our God like this? How often do we hold back in unbelief and, therefore, disobedience? However, God is faithful!
14 So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food. 16 So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables.
17 As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams.
18 Then at the end of the days which the king had specified for presenting them, the commander of the officials presented them before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s personal service. 20 As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm. 21 And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king. Daniel 1:14-21 (NASB)
As a result of these four young men’s commitment to their obedience to God, they were blessed with health, learning, wisdom, understanding, and excellence so that king Nebuchadnezzar found them to be far better to be in his service than all the magicians and enchanters who were in his kingdom. That should not surprise us should it? After all, God did this. He gave them this ability. He blessed them and they remained obedient to Him. Those who could not measure up to them were pagan conjurers. It is no wonder that Nebuchadnezzar could see the difference.
What do we learn from this that is applicable for us? Shouldn’t we take all our issues to God first like these young men did? Also, we should rely on God and His solutions for everything while humbly submitting to whatever it is. This is refreshing in these horrible times of open conflict at every level in our time.
As I was going through this passage I was reminded of another hero of the faith that I expect to see in Heaven and can’t wait to meet. His name is William Tyndale. He disobeyed the Roman Catholic Church that ruled the Church in England by translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English then printing that translation and providing it to as many people as possible. When he was captured in Belgium along with an associate he did not try to escape even though the person who was captured with him easily did so. After that, he was put in prison in a very small, wet, dark cell for 16 months until his trial and execution at the hands of the Roman Catholic Inquisition. He was charged with heresy for teaching that salvation is by grace through faith alone not by any works at all. He was charged with heresy for denying that Christ was physically present in the Mass. They tied him to a stake, strangled him then burned his body to ashes. He humbly submitted to all this declaring that he was willing to go through anything that was God’s will.
May we seek our Lord’s will in all things and understand that we can only do good works through the Grace of God according to His will.
Soli Deo Gloria!