Commentary on Daniel 1 (Daniel Resolves to Obey God in Babylon)

The traditional view of the book of Daniel is that it was written by Daniel or an associate of Daniel and completed around 530 BC. Some biblical scholars are skeptical that Daniel wrote the book and they attribute it to a second century BC Jew writing during the Maccabean revolt. More will be said about this in a subsequent blog post.

Assuming Daniel actually wrote the book, his purpose was to encourage the Jewish exile community. He reminded them that God is in control of everything and that in the future God would restore His people.

Daniel is also unique because it is the first example of apocalyptic literature in the Bible. Stephen R. Miller, in vol. 18, Daniel, The New American Commentary, explains what the apocalyptic genre is.

Canonical apocalyptic should be viewed positively as a method (or genre) employed by God to ‘unveil’ wonderful truths to his people. What is unveiled by apocalyptic? Two truths stand out. First, apocalyptic grants the world a glimpse of God himself. In Daniel and other apocalyptic works, God is portrayed as sovereign, just, and powerful. He is in control of the universe and the lives of individuals. Second, canonical apocalyptic works unveil the future, not in order to satisfy idle curiosity but as a source of comfort and encouragement to the saints during their time of need.

Daniel is taken to Babylon during the second deportation of Jerusalem in the year 605 BC. Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaria, are evidently part of the royal family, or members of important noble families in Jerusalem. Because they were young (likely under sixteen years of age), intelligent, and physically healthy, they were selected by King Nebuchadnezzar to be trained as royal advisors. Training would typically take about three years and included being thoroughly educated and indoctrinated in Babylonian language, culture, and literature. Stephen Miller provides more details about their education:

They learned to speak and write the language of Babylon, which was a form of Akkadian known as Neo-Babylonian. Akkadian was written in cuneiform, which was made up of wedge-shaped characters, commonly engraved on clay tablets. Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of these texts. Daniel and his friends would have known several other languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, and, later, Persian.

The chief court official, Ashpenaz, who is administering their education, gives them Babylonian names which they were expected to use going forward. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah became Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Why change their names? Iain Duguid, in Daniel, Reformed Expository Commentary, explains:

In place of their good Hebrew and Yahwistic names, Daniel (‘God is my judge’), Hananiah (‘the Lord is gracious’), Mishael (‘Who is what God is?’), and Azariah (‘The Lord is a helper’), they were assigned pagan, Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (1:7). These Babylonian names invoked the help of the Babylonian gods, Marduk, Bel, and Nebo, rather than Israel’s Lord.

As part of their training, the four Hebrew youths are fed the same food as the king. This was to presumably keep them healthy because the king would eat only the finest food. Daniel and his four friends, however, did not want to eat the king’s food because it was forbidden by the Mosaic Law. In what sense was the royal food forbidden? Stephen Miller offers the following:

At least two factors would have caused these religious Jews to be reluctant to eat the king’s food. First, many of the foods eaten at the Babylonian court (e.g., pork and horseflesh) would have been unclean according to the law of Moses (cf. Lev 11 and Deut 14), either inherently or because they were not prepared properly; for example, the blood might not have been drained from the meat (cf. Lev 17:13–14). To eat such foods would have been a sin for an Israelite and would have rendered the individual ceremonially unclean before God.

Second, the meat and wine would have been undesirable because a portion of it was (at least on occasions if not always) first offered sacrificially to the Babylonian gods before being sent to the king and was therefore associated with idolatrous worship. Although wine was not forbidden by the Jewish law, Daniel’s aversion to drinking it probably is to be explained by its use as a libation in these pagan rituals.

Daniel asks permission of Ashpenaz to eat only fruits, vegetables, grains, and bread, and only drink water, but Ashpenaz is reluctant to agree to his request because he fears the king will have him killed if he is malnourishing the king’s Hebrew trainees.

So Daniel then moves down the chain of command and proposes to the steward who is overseeing them a ten-day test. If Daniel and his friends look healthy after ten days, the steward would allow them to continue with their preferred diet. The steward agrees and indeed, after ten days, they are healthier looking than the other trainees who are eating the king’s food. Thus they are allowed to continue their diet.

As chapter 1 ends, we learn that God gifts the four Hebrew youths with extraordinary knowledge and wisdom. God also gives Daniel the ability to interpret visions and dreams. When the three years is over, the king tests them and he finds them to be superior to all of the other trainees. They are all given the privilege of serving the king as his advisors. As time moved on, they proved themselves to be Nebuchadnezzar’s most valued advisors. Daniel would remain in the king’s court for decades, serving several different rulers. Daniel was blessed with a long life, probably living for 85-90 years.

Although Daniel and his friends refused to defile themselves with the king’s food, they still accepted jobs in the pagan king’s service. What can we learn from Daniel’s decisions in this chapter? Iain Duguid writes,

They did not refuse to work for the Babylonians, perhaps because they recognized the hand of God in their situation. They understood the word that the Lord gave through Jeremiah, that those whom he had sent to Babylon should labor there for the blessing of the place in which they found themselves (Jer. 29:4–7). As far as possible these young men sought to work within the system in which they had been placed, being good citizens of Babylon as well as of heaven. They didn’t kick against the challenging providence of God, but rather accepted it as their present calling, with all of its trials, pains, and limitations. This reminds us that our calling is not to form Christian ghettoes that are isolated from the world around us. On the contrary, we should be active in pursuing the common good of the community in which God has placed us, whatever challenges may face us.