Daniel was of noble birth, if not one of the royal family of Judah. He was carried captive to Babylon in the fourth year of Jehoiachin, B. C. 606, when a youth. He was there taught the learning of the Chaldeans, and held high offices, both under the Babylonian and Persian empires. He was persecuted for his religion, but was miraculously delivered; and lived to a great age, as he must have been about ninety-four years old at the time of the last of his visions. The book of Daniel is partly historical, relating various circumstances which befel himself and the Jews, at Babylon; but is chiefly prophetical, detailing visions and prophecies which foretell numerous important events relative to the four great empires of the world, the coming and death of the Messiah, the restoration of the Jews, and the conversion of the Gentiles. Though there are considerable difficulties in explaining the prophetical meaning of some passages in this book, we always find encouragement to faith and hope, examples worthy of imitation, and something to direct our thoughts to Christ Jesus upon the cross and on his glorious throne.
The captivity of Daniel and his companions. (1-7) Their refusal to eat the king's meat. (8-16) Their improvement in wisdom. (17-21)
Verses 1-7 Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, took Jerusalem, and carried whom and what he pleased away. From this first captivity, most think the seventy years are to be dated. It is the interest of princes to employ wise men; and it is their wisdom to find out and train up such. Nebuchadnezzar ordered that these chosen youths should be taught. All their Hebrew names had something of God in them; but to make them forget the God of their fathers, the Guide of their youth, the heathen gave them names that savoured of idolatry. It is painful to reflect how often public education tends to corrupt the principles and morals.
Verses 8-16 The interest we think we make for ourselves, we must acknowledge to be God's gift. Daniel was still firm to his religion. Whatever they called him, he still held fast the spirit of an Israelite. These youths scrupled concerning the meat, lest it should be sinful. When God's people are in Babylon they need take special care that they partake not of her sins. It is much to the praise of young people, not to covet or seek the delights of sense. Those who would excel in wisdom and piety, must learn betimes to keep the body under. Daniel avoided defiling himself with sin; and we should more fear that than any outward trouble. It is easier to keep temptation at a distance, than to resist it when near. And we cannot better improve our interest in any with whom we have found favour, than to use it to keep us from sin. People will not believe the benefit of avoiding excess, and of a spare diet, nor how much they contribute to the health of the body, unless they try. Conscientious temperance will always do more, even for the comfort of this life, than sinful indulgence.
Verses 17-21 Daniel and his fellows kept to their religion; and God rewarded them with eminence in learning. Pious young persons should endeavour to do better than their fellows in useful things; not for the praise of man, but for the honour of the gospel, and that they may be qualified for usefulness. And it is well for a country, and for the honour of a prince, when he is able to judge who are best fitted to serve him, and prefers them on that account. Let young men steadily attend to this chapter; and let all remember that God will honour those who honour him, but those who despise him shall be lightly esteemed.
Daniel 1:1-21 . THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY BEGINS; DANIEL'S EDUCATION AT BABYLON, &C.
1. third year--compare Jeremiah 25:1 , "the fourth year; Jehoiakim came to the throne at the end of the year, which Jeremiah reckons as the first year, but which Daniel leaves out of count, being an incomplete year: thus, in Jeremiah, it is "the fourth year"; in Daniel, "the third" [JAHN]. However, Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 25:1 , 46:2 ) merely says, the fourth year of Jehoiakim coincided with the first of Nebuchadnezzar, when the latter conquered the Egyptians at Carchemish; not that the deportation of captives from Jerusalem was in the fourth year of Jehoiakim: this probably took place in the end of the third year of Jehoiakim, shortly before the battle of Carchemish [FAIRBAIRN]. Nebuchadnezzar took away the captives as hostages for the submission of the Hebrews. Historical Scripture gives no positive account of this first deportation, with which the Babylonian captivity, that is, Judah's subjection to Babylon for seventy years ( Jeremiah 29:10 ), begins. But 2 Chronicles 36:6 2 Chronicles 36:7 , states that Nebuchadnezzar had intended "to carry Jehoiakim to Babylon," and that he "carried off the vessels of the house of the Lord" thither. But Jehoiakim died at Jerusalem, before the conqueror's intention as to him was carried into effect ( Jeremiah 22:18 Jeremiah 22:19 , 36:30 ), and his dead body, as was foretold, was dragged out of the gates by the Chaldean besiegers, and left unburied. The second deportation under Jehoiachin was eight years later.
2. Shinar--the old name of Babylonia ( Genesis 11:2 , 14:1 , Isaiah 11:11 , Zechariah 5:11 ). Nebuchadnezzar took only "part of the vessels," as he did not intend wholly to overthrow the state, but to make it tributary, and to leave such vessels as were absolutely needed for the public worship of Jehovah. Subsequently all were taken away and were restored under Cyrus ( Ezra 1:7 ).
his god--Bel. His temple, as was often the case among the heathen, was made "treasure house" of the king.
3. master of . . . eunuchs--called in Turkey the kislar aga.
of the king's seed--compare the prophecy, 2 Kings 20:17 2 Kings 20:18 .
4. no blemish--A handsome form was connected, in Oriental ideas, with mental power. "Children" means youths of twelve or fourteen years old.
teach . . . tongue of . . . Chaldeans--their language and literature, the Aramaic-Babylonian. That the heathen lore was not altogether valueless appears from the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses; the Eastern Magi who sought Jesus, and who may have drawn the tradition as to the "King of the Jews" from Daniel 9:24 , &c., written in the East. As Moses was trained in the learning of the Egyptian sages, so Daniel in that of the Chaldeans, to familiarize his mind with mysterious lore, and so develop his heaven-bestowed gift of understanding in visions ( Daniel 1:4 Daniel 1:5 Daniel 1:17 ).
5. king's meat--It is usual for an Eastern king to entertain, from the food of his table, many retainers and royal captives ( Jeremiah 52:33 Jeremiah 52:34 ). The Hebrew for "meat" implies delicacies.
stand before the king--as attendant courtiers; not as eunuchs.
6. children of Judah--the most noble tribe, being that to which the "king's seed" belonged (compare Daniel 1:3 ).
7. gave names--designed to mark their new relation, that so they might forget their former religion and country ( Genesis 41:45 ). But as in Joseph's case (whom Pharaoh called Zaphnath-paaneah), so in Daniel's, the name indicative of his relation to a heathen court ("Belteshazzar," that is, "Bel's prince"), however flattering to him, is not the one retained by Scripture, but the name marking his relation to God ("Daniel," God my Judge, the theme of his prophecies being God's judgment on the heathen world powers).
Hananiah--that is, "whom Jehovah hath favored."
Shadrach--from Rak, in Babylonian, "the King," that is, "the Sun"; the same root as in Abrech ( Genesis 41:43 , Margin), inspired or illumined by the Sun-god."
Mishael--that is, "who is what God is?" Who is comparable to God?
Meshach--The Babylonians retained the first syllable of Mishael, the Hebrew name; but for El, that is, GOD, substituted Shak, the Babylonian goddess, called Sheshach ( Jeremiah 25:26 , 51:41 ), answering to the Earth, or else Venus, the goddess of love and mirth; it was during her feast that Cyrus took Babylon.
Azariah--that is, "whom Jehovah helps."
Abed-nego--that is, "servant of the shining fire." Thus, instead of to Jehovah, these His servants were dedicated by the heathen to their four leading gods [HERODOTUS, Clio]; Bel, the Chief-god, the Sun-god, Earth-god, and Fire-god. To the last the three youths were consigned when refusing to worship the golden image ( Daniel 3:12 ). The Chaldee version translates "Lucifer," in Isaiah 14:12 , Nogea, the same as Nego. The names thus at the outset are significant of the seeming triumph, but sure downfall, of the heathen powers before Jehovah and His people.
8. Daniel . . . would not defile himself with . . . king's meat--Daniel is specified as being the leader in the "purpose" (the word implies a decided resolution) to abstain from defilement, thus manifesting a character already formed for prophetical functions. The other three youths, no doubt, shared in his purpose. It was the custom to throw a small part of the viands and wine upon the earth, as an initiatory offering to the gods, so as to consecrate to them the whole entertainment (compare Deuteronomy 32:38 ). To have partaken of such a feast would have been to sanction idolatry, and was forbidden even after the legal distinction of clean and unclean meats was done away ( 1 Corinthians 8:7 1 Corinthians 8:10 , 1 Corinthians 10:27 1 Corinthians 10:28 ). Thus the faith of these youths was made instrumental in overruling the evil foretold against the Jews ( Ezekiel 4:13 , Hosea 9:3 ), to the glory of God. Daniel and his three friends, says AUBERLEN, stand out like an oasis in the desert. Like Moses, Daniel "chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" ( Hebrews 11:25 ; see Daniel 9:3-19 ). He who is to interpret divine revelations must not feed on the dainties, nor drink from the intoxicating cup, of this world. This made him as dear a name to his countrymen as Noah and Job, who also stood alone in their piety among a perverse generation ( Ezekiel 14:14 , 28:3 ).
requested--While decided in principle, we ought to seek our object by gentleness, rather than by an ostentatious testimony, which, under the plea of faithfulness, courts opposition.
9. God . . . brought Daniel into favour--The favor of others towards the godly is the doing of God. So in Joseph's case ( Genesis 39:21 ). Especially towards Israel ( Psalms 106:46 ; compare Proverbs 16:7 ).
10. worse liking--looking less healthy.
your sort--of your age, or class; literally, "circle."
endanger my head--An arbitrary Oriental despot could, in a fit of wrath at his orders having been disobeyed, command the offender to be instantly decapitated.
11. Melzar--rather, the steward, or chief butler, entrusted by Ashpenaz with furnishing the daily portion to the youths [GESENIUS]. The word is still in use in Persia.
12. pulse--The Hebrew expresses any vegetable grown from seeds, that is, vegetable food in general [GESENIUS].
13-15. Illustrating Deuteronomy 8:3 , "Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord."
17. God gave them knowledge--( Exodus 31:2 Exodus 31:3 , 1 Kings 3:12 , Job 32:8 , James 1:5 James 1:17 ).
Daniel had understanding in . . . dreams--God thus made one of the despised covenant-people eclipse the Chaldean sages in the very science on which they most prided themselves. So Joseph in the court of Pharaoh ( Genesis 40:5 , 41:1-8 ). Daniel, in these praises of his own "understanding," speaks not through vanity, but by the direction of God, as one transported "CONTENTS OF THE BOOK."
18. brought them in--that is, not only Daniel and his three friends, but other youths ( Daniel 1:3 Daniel 1:19 , "among them all").
19. stood . . . before the king--that is, were advanced to a position of favor near the throne.
20. ten times--literally, "ten hands."
magicians--properly, "sacred scribes, skilled in the sacred writings, a class of Egyptian priests" [GESENIUS]; from a Hebrew root, "a pen." The word in our English Version, "magicians," comes from mag, that is, "a priest." The Magi formed one of the six divisions of the Medes.
astrologers--Hebrew, "enchanters," from a root, "to conceal," pactisers of the occult arts.
21. Daniel continued . . . unto . . . first year of Cyrus--( 2 Chronicles 36:22 , Ezra 1:1 ). Not that he did not continue beyond that year, but the expression is designed to mark the fact that he who was one of the first captives taken to Babylon, lived to see the end of the "SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY." In Daniel 10:1 he is mentioned as living "in the third year of Cyrus." See Margin Note, on the use of "till" ( Psalms 110:1 , 112:8 ).