I. Daniel’s Deportation and His Faithfulness to God (Daniel 1:1-21)


I. Daniel’s Deportation and His Faithfulness to God (1:1-21)

1:1-7 Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah in 605 BC was the first of his three invasions and deportations that ended in the exile of Judah. This early invasion resulted in his taking back to Babylon some of the vessels from the house of God (1:2), probably to show his dominance over Judah, and also some young men from the royal family and from the nobility (1:3). Among these was Daniel. He and his three friends (1:6-7) were perhaps teenagers at the time, which makes Daniel’s story all the more remarkable. He was a person of exceptional character and capability. The royal plan was to train him and the others to be Nebuchadnezzar’s court advisers (1:4). But, along the way, Daniel would face a crisis of worldview and truth that would pit him against the most powerful human king and kingdom on earth.

It’s important for our overall study of Daniel—especially for the later chapters when Daniel reveals his great prophetic themes—to pause here and note that the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar and the deportation of the people to exile in Babylon began what Jesus called “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). This period beginning with the Babylonian exile is still in effect today, and will continue until Jesus Christ returns at the end of the great tribulation, frees Israel from its Gentile oppressors, and establishes his millennial kingdom. God revealed much of this coming history to Daniel, so this will become prominent later in the book.

For his new role in Babylon, Daniel was to learn the Chaldean language and literature and receive a Babylonian name: Belteshazzar (1:4, 7). His name and the names of his three friends, then, were changed to reflect the names of Babylonian gods. This detail is important because a name in the ancient world was more than a designation. Frequently in Scripture, God tied the name of someone to the character or even to the legacy of that person.

When the leaders of Babylon sought to alter Daniel’s worldview, they knew they needed to begin with his identity. So, they removed from him any reference to the God of Israel. Thus, he was no longer to be called Daniel—“God is My Judge”—but Belteshazzar—“Bel Protect Him.” Every aspect of Daniel’s education and identity, in fact, was designed to remind him that he needed to operate from a Babylonian worldview. But, while Daniel could do nothing about his outward circumstances or the name forced upon him, in the integrity of his heart he knew that he served only one King and held to one worldview. And Daniel would find many opportunities to demonstrate his allegiance to a kingdom agenda that didn’t come from Nebuchadnezzar.

1:8 It didn’t take long before Daniel had his first opportunity to follow God in the midst of a pagan culture. He determined that he would not defile himself with the king’s food. This decision was made to avoid violating the law of Moses regarding the foods the Jews were not to eat. The law explicitly taught, for instance, that they could not eat foods offered to idols (see Exod 34:15). Though he was serving a pagan king, Daniel resolved not to disobey God.

1:9-13 There were risks to Daniel’s desire not to defile himself. The chief eunuch (named Ashpenaz, 1:3) worried that it would cost him his life if Daniel and his friends didn’t eat the assigned food and became unhealthy. Daniel, therefore, appealed to the guard who was responsible for him and proposed a test (1:11-12). Daniel asked that he and his friends be given a diet of vegetables and water and that their health be observed (1:12-13). Note that God did not show up for Daniel until after he made this decision to obey.

1:14-16 God granted Daniel favor with the guard, who agreed to the conditions for a period of ten days (1:14). When the test was over, Daniel and his friends were not merely healthy, they were healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food (1:15)! Round one went to Daniel and his friends (1:16). God had honored their faithfulness to him. This is the first of many occasions in the book of Daniel when he was blessed and rewarded for being true to God in a pagan society.

There was a lesson here for Daniel’s earliest readers. Israel had disobeyed God and suffered for it in exile, but God stood ready to bless his people when they obeyed and trusted him. There’s a lesson here for Christians, too. We live in a fallen world, and we’re called to be good citizens in it. Often, though, being good citizens requires rejecting the world’s way of doing things and honoring God instead. What we need today are godly people who will offer society divine alternatives. Daniel did more than just refuse the king’s food. He offered the chief eunuch another option in the matter—God’s kingdom alternative.

1:17-21 God gave these four men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom (1:17). Though these Jewish men were the ones in exile, God would show himself to be superior through them. When the Babylonian king interviewed them . . . no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They were the cream of the crop, the best of the best. They attended the king, and he consulted them in matters of wisdom and understanding. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t merely find their counsel helpful, he found them ten times better than anyone else in his kingdom (1:19-20). In terms of ability, they stood head and shoulders above all of the so-called wise men of Babylon. That’s because, even though they were living in an earthly kingdom, their allegiance was to a heavenly King.