This chapter introduces Daniel and his three friends, and describes how he was taken into exile in
Babylon, having been selected to be trained to serve in the Babylonian court.
Following his victory at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC, Nebuchnezzar’s Babylon became the
dominant world power. The Battle of Carchemish was one of the significant events in the history of the
Ancient Near East. It marked the defeat of the final remnant of Assyria, and the moment when Babylon
became world empire by defeating the army of Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. It also marked the end of the Hittite
empire, which had originally covered much of modern Turkey and reached down towards Israel. The battle
of Carchemish is mentioned in the Old Testament and by Josephus:
Concerning Egypt, about the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah (Jer 46:2)
After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, King Neco of Egypt went up to fight at
Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah went out against him. (2 Chr 35:20)
Josephus described the event as follows:
Now in the fourth year of the reign of Jeroiakim, one whose name was Nebuchadnezzar took the
government over the Babylonians, who at the same time went up with a great army to the city
Carchemish, which was at Euphrates, upon a resolution he had taken to fight with Neco, king of
Egypt, under whom all Syria then was. And when Neco understood the intention of the king of
Babylon, and that this expedition was made against him, he did not despise his attempt, but made
haste with a great band of men to Euphrates to defend himself from Nebuchadnezzar; and when they
had joined battle, he was beaten, and lost may ten thousand (of his soldiers) in the battle. So the king
of Babylon passed over the Euphrates, and took all Syria, as far as Pelusium, excepting Judea. (Ant
Jehoiakim ruled over Judah from 609 BC to 598 BC. Some scholars have claimed that there is a contradiction between the dating given Jer 46 from that in Dan 1:1. This is explained in more detail in the Introduction to Daniel. After the Battle of Carchemish, Judah became a vassal of Babylon, and Jehoiakim had to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. "The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power" (v2) is a significant statement, as the popular understanding would be that Yahweh, the God of Israel, had been defeated by the gods of Babylon because Judah had been defeated. By contrast, the OT understanding is that Judah had been defeated because of their continued disobedience and unfaithfulness to the covenant, and that Yahweh remains sovereign over all. This is an important theme of the Book of Daniel, that God controls the rise and fall of nations, including Judah.
The Vessels from the Temple (v2)
When the Babylonians captured and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, they took the sacred vessels
used for the sacrifices from the temple to Babylon (2 Kg 25:13-17, 2 Chr 36:18, Dan 1:1), where they placed them in the house of their gods (Ezra 1:7). This would be to demonstrate that their god, Marduk, was more powerful than Israel’s god, because the armies of Babylon had conquered and destroyed Jerusalem and its temple. Evidently they took the sacred vessels because there was no idol to take, and the ark of the covenant had been destroyed, or had disappeared. The sacred vessels were the best they could find. During Belshazzar’s Feast, Belshazzar commanded that these vessels be brought into the banquet so all his guests could drink out of them, including his concubines (5:2). A more detailed study of this concept is given on the Holy War page.
Promising young men taken from Jerusalem (1:3-7)
It was common practice for conquering powers to take promising young men, particularly those of
royal or noble birth, from the conquered nation, so they could be educated and trained to become part of the Babylonian civil service, serving in the king’s court (v5).
Daniel and his three friends were given new names. To give a person a new name demonstrated that
you had power and authority over them, so this was frequently done in empires such as Babylon. Soon after
these events, in 598 BC, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem a second time, taking King Jehoiachin away
to Babylon and placing his uncle on the throne as a puppet king. The uncle was called Mattaniah, but
Nebuchadnezzar changed his name to Zedekiah (2 Kg 24:17), to show that he ruled only under the authority
of the Babylonians, who he had to submit to or face the consequences.
The Hebrew names of these four young men each contained the name of God. Because Nebuchadnezzar believed that he had been able to conquer Jerusalem because Marduk, and other gods of the
Babylonians, were more powerful than Israel’s God, the new names of these four young men contained the
names of Babylonian gods, as shown in the table below. Nebuchadnezzar later declared that Daniel was
named Belteshazzar after the name of his god (4:8).
||“God is my judge”
||“May Bel protect his life”
||“Yahweh has been gracious”
||“I am very fearful (of a god)”
||“Who is what God is”
||“I am of no account”
||“Yahweh has helped”
||“Servant of Nebo (the shining one)”
In the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul is a clay prism from ancient Babylon, known as the Hofkalender, listing government officials in Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Three of these have names very similar to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, although it is impossible to prove they are the same people. One is Arbenebo, Official of the Royal Prince, equivalent to the Aramaic name Abednego. Another name on the list is Hannunu, Commander of the king’s merchants. This name may be the Babylonian equivalent for the Hebrew name Hananiah. Another name found on the list is Meshaku, Official to Nebuchadnezzar, which is very similar in pronunciation to Meshach.
The test of faithfulness to Yahweh (1:8-17)
These young men were assigned a daily portion of the royal rations of food (v5). We can be sure that
the food served in the royal court would be rich sumptuous food of the highest quality and luxury. However, being a Gentile kingdom, the animals would not have been killed according to the laws of the Israel, and the blood would not have been drained out, making it unclean for Jews to eat. Also forbidden in the Torah was the eating of certain animals, including the pig, horse, camel and shellfish (Lev 3:17, 11:1-47), all of which probably were eaten in the palace of the Babylonian king. We should also recognise that an important aspect of the covenant was to eat together, so for Daniel and his friends to eat at the king’s table would imply a covenental relationship between them and the king, which Daniel probably was trying to avoid. Through all his long life, Daniel was committed to remain faithful to God and his law, always trusting in God while he had the serious challenge of being a faithful Jew living in a pagan land, serving in the courts of a series of pagan kings. To avoid disobeying the food laws in the Torah, it was safer and more practical for them to avoid eating meat altogether.
Through all the book, the author continually emphasises the wisdom that Daniel had been endowed
with by God (eg. 1:4, 17), which enabled him to exercise great tact when dealing with pagan kings and their officials, without compromising in the slightest way. Daniel made a commitment before God not to defile himself with unclean food, even while serving in the court of Nebuchadnezzar (v8). He also trusted in the sovereignty of God, as shown by God giving him favour and compassion from the palace master (v9). When Daniel made his request to be excused from the rich and unclean food, the palace master was afraid that the king would notice that Daniel and his three friends would appear to be less healthy than if they ate the rich food (v10). If that happened, the palace master’s head would be endangered, it would cost him his life.
Daniel suggested a test, that they ate only vegetables and drank only water for ten days (v12),
trusting that God would keep them healthy as they obeyed his law. God was faithful, and after the ten days, Daniel and his friends appeared more healthy than the other young men. God gave great wisdom and
knowledge to Daniel and his three friends, and Daniel was given insight into visions and dreams, which
become such an important part of the rest of the Book of Daniel.
At the end of their three-year training, by 602 BC, they were brought into the presence of King
Nebuchadnezzar (v18), and appointed into the king’s court where Daniel remained until the first year of
Cyrus, sixty-three years later in 539 BC (v21). God had given Daniel and his friends such favour that their wisdom and knowledge far exceeded that of the Babylonian magicians and enchanters (v20). This also
becomes a significant theme through the book, that God gave Daniel wisdom, and that wisdom was far
superior to Babylonian wisdom.