Daniel’s Training in Babylon (1:1–21)
1–2 Daniel was deported to Babylon during Nebuchadnezzar’s first invasion of Judah in 605 B.C. (2 Kings 24:1); this took place in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign according to Babylonian reckoning.1 Daniel writes that the Lord delivered Jehoiakim in to Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (verse 2). It is the Lord who raises up kings and then puts them down; even the most powerful earthly rulers are but instruments in God’s hands. If God “delivered” the Jews into the hands of the Babylonians, He would also deliver the Jews out of their hands when the proper time came. Through out the book of Daniel, we are shown the absolute sovereignty of the God of Israel.
3–7 The Babylonians customarily brought the leading citizens of a conquered country back to Babylon to serve in the government; in this way, the Babylonians would benefit from their service and the conquered nation would be further weakened. Daniel and three of his friends were among the captured Israelites who were enlisted to serve in the king’s palace. But first they had to be trained; they needed to conform to the customs of Babylon and leave their Jewish ways behind. They were even given new names—Babylonian names; Daniel was given the name Belteshazzar2 (verses 6–7).
8–16 Daniel realized that eating food from Nebuchadnezzar’s table (verse 5) would involve breaking the food laws laid down by Moses; furthermore, the meat and wine would have first been offered to a Babylonian god before it was even placed on the table.
Daniel and his friends could have just eaten the king’s food and not bothered with Jewish dietary laws. They could have said: “We’ll follow the Babylonian religion outwardly but continue to be Jews inwardly”—an impossibility for anyone of true faith.3 But Daniel and his friends resisted those thoughts; their faith was true. Nebuchadnezzar could change their home,their dress, their names, and their curriculum; but he could not change their hearts. These four friends, at great personal risk, determined to trust God. And because they stood for God in this first test early in their lives, God “stood for them” in the tests that were to come. The decisions we make in our early years often determine the course of our lives thereafter.4
Notice that God caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel (verse 9); but Daniel also acted in a polite and humble manner. Instead of rebelling against the official, Daniel thought of a solution—a “way out” for both of them. Of course, it would take God to make it work, but that’s exactly where Daniel placed his faith. And after ten days of eating only vegetables, Daniel and his friends looked healthier than those who had eaten the king’s food (verse 15). Daniel proved the proverb true: When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him (Proverbs 16:7).
17–20 For three years these four young men studied and prepared for the king’s service. God gave them knowledge and understanding, but they also had to apply themselves (verse 17). Certainly some of the things they had to study did not agree with God’s word—just as students today often have to study things they do not agree with. At the end of their study Daniel and his friends had more knowledge and understanding than any of the “wise men” or magicians in Babylon (verse 20); the four young Israelites were ten times more valuable to Nebuchadnezzar than anyone else! In particular, Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds5 (verse 17); this God–given ability would prove especially important, as we shall see in the chapters ahead.
21 Daniel remained in Babylon until the first year of King Cyrus of Persia. Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. Initially he made Darius the Mede ruler over Babylon (Daniel 5:31), but one or two years later Cyrus himself took the throne. Even in the third year of Cyrus, Daniel was still alive and receiving revelations from God (Daniel 10:1). Altogether, Daniel’s faithful service to the Lord in Babylon lasted nearly seventy years, and he was able to witness the return of the exiles to their homeland in Judah.