The first chapter of Daniel begins amidst a disastrous backdrop for the Jews with Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieging Jerusalem. However, the Holy Spirit made it clear that this was the Lord’s doing: “the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God" (1:2a; emphasis mine). Furthermore, the royal house of Judah had plenty of warning. Over a century earlier, before there even was a Babylonian empire, Isaiah prophesied to King Hezekiah:
“Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (Isaiah 39:5b–7)
After this first siege (there would ultimately be three), Nebuchadnezzar brought some of the vessels from the temple to Babylon, “to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god" (1:2b). In the mind of Nebuchadnezzar, he and his god had conquered the “god” of Judah. Although, curiosity may have set in on Nebuchadnezzar, because unlike the other nations he conquered, there were no images of this god to take home.
Nebuchadnezzar then shrewdly commanded his chief eunuch to take some of the best and brightest youth from the Judean royal family, make them eunuchs (as Isaiah foretold), and enroll them into His royal Babylonian “gifted” program. They were to be:
- indoctrinated with a good Chaldean education
- privileged to eat and drink daily from the king’s buffet
- given a name change
After this program was complete they would forget their history and native allegiances. They would be ready to assist in controlling Judea according to Babylon’s wishes.
The Christian youth of today that have to face public schools and secular (many called “Christian”) colleges and universities, are in the same boat. There is an attempt to condition them to become global citizens as the world is returning to a unified system that will ultimately be headquartered in Babylon again.
Here is how the demonic plan unfolds. (Note the progression of these elements.)
Educational Indoctrination is the critical foundation, the success or failure of which determines all other outcomes. Biblical moral standards, scientific truths, logic, and so on are ignored so that an entirely new “reality” can be crafted.
Mixing of Clean and Unclean comes shortly after. Once God is removed from the mind, then the flesh can feed on an expanded diet of the king of this world’s foods. This leads to viscous attacks on the soul of the eater.
Name Change is the end game. Satan wants nothing more than to have his stamp on your soul. He ultimately wants to eliminate every trace of your God-given identity—the stamp God’s Spirit has for you. He has another name for you that will reflect your enslavement in his order.
The situation of national humiliation for Judah and the servitude of the royal youth would appear to be a total disaster to the Biblically uninformed observer. However, at each distinct point, God was laying the groundwork for His glory, blessings for the faithful remnant, and the next phase of His prophetic plan for Israel and the gentile world.
God is Always Working
The chapter began with Nebuchadnezzar, upon conquering Jerusalem, thinking that his god was superior to the God of Judah. However, by the time God would get done with Nebuchadnezzar years later, his final declaration would be: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Daniel 4:37). God converted him.
Then there was the loss of the golden vessels from the temple. Yet, these vessels ended up being seeds sowed towards Babylon’s ultimate fall. Sixty-six years later, King Belshazzar (a lesser sort of a man than his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar) would ultimately lose the kingdom and his life in one night, after deciding to drink wine from them and praising “the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (Daniel 5:4).
Then there was the testing of God’s faithful remnant, notably Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in Babylon’s International Youth Academy. These four would ultimately rise to the top of their class. Here is where we must focus.
God is intensely committed to those who are intensely committed to Him. I did not say that He is intensely committed to those who do not make mistakes. No, I repeat, He is intensely committed to those who are intensely committed to Him. If you are not sure whether you have an intense commitment to Him, then you probably do not. If you are intensely committed to Him, then your commitment has, or soon will be, tested.
Daniel’s commitment was tested soon after he was enrolled in the youth academy. Apparently, the academy had a great cafeteria. The youth were to eat and drink the same as the heads of state. However, for the Hebrew youth, the food and wine that was being served was not inline with the commandments God had given them in the law. We are not provided details, but the king’s cook likely served all sorts of unclean animals and likely with some measure of blood and/or fat that the Jews were forbidden to eat. The meat may also have been a product of sacrifices to Babylonian gods. Later in the book, we find wine being drank by Babylonian royalty as part of the worship of other gods (5:1–4).
It is here that we have the most important verse for our learning in this first chapter: “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank." Knowing what God wanted, and given his intense commitment to Him, Daniel knew that he had to turn down the food and wine, whatever the cost.
There is something very important here for Christian parents to grasp. As a teenager, or perhaps even a little younger, Daniel needed to be (1) doctrinally, (2) relationally, and (3) practically ready to face the world. By this I mean:
- Doctrinally - he needed to know God’s Word
- Relationally - he needed to have a personal relationship with God
- Practically - he needed to be able to act by faith on what he knew to be right.
The “practical” aspect comes from the first two. Acting by faith comes from knowing the Spirit of God and knowing what is right comes from knowing God’s Word.
Parents cannot make a child do these things, but they are responsible for (1) teaching God’s Word, (2) providing the right environment, and (3) providing an example of a life of faith. All three aspects are critical. All three aspects are nurtured by discipline. Moreover, parents should realize that teenagers that are leaders, like Daniel, will take others, like Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, with them—on the right or wrong path. (These three followers would later stand on their own when Daniel was away.) Your child may grow up to influence a great many other children in your community.
Parents should glean from this first chapter the fact that children must be ready doctrinally, relationally, and practically by the time they are a teenager. This takes serious resolve by parents. Sadly, many are in a position where they have been deceived into a “dumbed down” way of thinking that teenagers are still in some sort of discovery process on these basics. Yet, when it comes to everything else—like math and sports—they are expected to be accomplished. This reflects the compromise of the parents.
Daniel asked his boss to allow him not to defile himself. This was likely his first line of defense. If necessary, his asking would have become a refusal. As typically happens when one resolves to stay true to the Lord, those in authority get ruffled when their own job security and standing in this world become threatened. Then Daniel, inspired by God, declared:
“Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” (1:12–13)
Daniel’s boss “listened to them” and thus agreed. God blessed Daniel’s resolution to maintain cleanliness by giving him “favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.”
There are three aspects here to God blessing Daniel in this situation that are overlooked.
First, is Daniel’s relational skills. He conducted himself with respect and kindness towards others. God blessed this also, notably when He gave him “compassion” in the sight of his boss.
The attitude of many Christians sets them up for disappointment in their relationships with others. At my first job out of college, I remember this guy who would sit at his desk and read the Bible when his work was caught up. One day he was sitting there with his head back and eyes closed in his chair. I started poking fun at him for sleeping on the job. He sharply and angrily responded back to me, “I’m praying!” This was before I was walking with the Lord. Needless to say, that guy had zero witness. If you want to pray with your eyes closed, I don’t recommend doing it six feet from the highly trafficked copier machine in the middle of the workday.
Second, Daniel had to take a bold action. God gave him “favor,” but he had to take an action of faith. Daniel had to put forth a proposal. Daniel’s boss did not recommend the ten day vegetable diet and it was unlikely that he could have, because the proposal included a strategy that went entirely against the norms of that day. Do not expect lost people to put forth Godly proposals. Expect the Spirit of God to empower you to do it. This reminds me of Joseph, when he declared to Pharoah:
“Now therefore let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” (Genesis 41:33–36)
What do we read next? “This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?’ (Genesis 41:37–38; emphasis mine).”
Third, Spiritual strength and boldness is a blessing of being “clean”. This is an understanding that the Spirit of God has specifically impressed upon me this year. One does not go from prison or the school cafeteria one day to the throne of the then most powerful person in the world the next, and tell them what needs to be done, without possessing (1) a deep moral integrity that demands respect and, more importantly, (2) the subsequent empowerment of the Spirit of God unleashing His servant for the fulfillment of God’s eternal purposes.
The key ingredient of the life of Daniel and Joseph was their steadfast commitment to the Lord, as exemplified by their cleanliness from this world. If we are ever going to be religious or dogmatic about anything, it should be that of keeping ourselves “unstained from the world” (James 1:27). He who won’t be changed by the world has the potential to change it.
It turned out that after ten days Daniel made his boss look pretty good. The Judean youths were healthier looking than all those who ate the king’s food.
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were progressing well on their path to glorify God. Despite all the counter influences, they remained true to their God and His laws. It was now time for God to give them unique wisdom, skills, and gifts. Most notably, Daniel was given “understanding in all visions and dreams.” With the advantage of already knowing the highlights of Daniel’s life, we can truly weigh the vast importance of this statement. Proverbs 18:16 tells us, “A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before the great.” This saying was never more true than in the life of Daniel.
The time came for the graduation ceremony of the Babylonian International Youth Academy. During the reception the youths were brought before King Nebuchadnezzar. The king found the wisdom and understanding of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to be incomparable to that of the astrologers, channelers, diviners, magicians, necromancers, and other occult fruitloops in his administration. (This was likely another reason why he was growing increasingly tired of the latter, as we shall see in part two.) The empowerment of the Holy Spirit was beginning to magnify God’s servants.
There are some people in authority who truly want to excel and make a difference, and not just enrich themselves. They are receptive to people with wisdom and new ideas to complement their objectives. King Nebuchadnezzar was one of these types. God strategically positions His servants to influence such leaders.
It is important to recognize that there are two levels of gifts given by God. The first is more foundational and paves the way for the second. God first gives a man wisdom and understanding in the practical and professional aspects of his life. This causes him to gain respect and notoriety amongst his peers. Once he earns their trust in practical matters, they will begin to receive him in spiritual matters. Jesus himself went through this process. Regarding his teens and twenties, we are told: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). All this came before a single miracle. God then gives the gifts of the Spirit to be used for His divine purposes and to glorify His name.
As we conclude part one, we see that the gifts of God were beginning to elevate those who were deeply committed to Him. They were also preparing the groundwork for God to be supernaturally glorified and the lost to be converted.