Daniel 1:1-4, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god. Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king's descendants and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans.”
Daniel 1:5-7, “And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king's delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king. Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego.”
As we set the stage for today’s study… I want to begin by imagining what this entire scenario was like for these four Hebrew teenagers: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Like most of the people living in the city of Jerusalem during this time period, there is no question these “young men” knew what was happening in their world.
While the text provides zero biographical information about any of them, within the context of verse 3 we know they all hailed from some of the wealthiest, most well-connected families in all of Judah. Though we can’t say with absolute certainty, it’s worth mentioning Rabbinical tradition presents Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah as actually being “some of the king's descendants” possessing a lineage to David through King Hezekiah.
Whether or not there is any truth to this, we do know for sure that — in addition to being good-looking — these boys were smart, knowledgable, perceptive, quick to reason, and gifted in all wisdom. As we noted last Sunday they were the best Judah had to offer!
It’s hard to believe these teens were current on world affairs. Babylon had quickly risen to global power following their victory over the wicked Assyrians. The Babylonian army was earning the reputation of being as ferocious as was their king infamous.
Furthermore, I’m sure the table conversation over the last few months had centered on Jehoiakim and how his recent geopolitical maneuvering had tragically blown up in his face!
Convinced the Egyptians would prevail, Jehoiakim doubled crossed Nebuchadnezzar. Now that the Egyptian armies had been completely decimated, everyone fears Judah may be in the crosshairs. Jehoiakim’s miscalculation had placed everyone’s life into jeopardy.
Imagine the buzz on the Jerusalem street when word finally arrives that scouts positioned throughout the Judaean wilderness have confirmed the Babylonians were indeed marching their direction! People are rightly frightened and genuinely anxious. What would happen? How bad would it get? Naturally, there’s a run on toilet paper at the local Wal-Mart.
Then one morning everyone’s fears are realized. Peering off into the distance, the armies of Nebuchadnezzar extend out as far as the eye could see! Everyone knew Jerusalem was in no position to withstand a prolonged siege or defend herself against the might of Babylon. You might say the Night King had arrived and Winterfell’s fall was only a matter of time.
Everyone was heartened when they heard Nebuchadnezzar had proposed a deal to spare Jerusalem and the surrounding region. In exchange for what was to be a total loss, this pagan king requested two things he’d take with him to Babylon: “Some of the articles” of the Temple, along with a group of young men who’d be trained “to serve in his palace.”
Though this was obviously better than the alternative, for the families of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah their initial relief abruptly turns into abject horror when they receive word their sons had been selected by “Ashpenaz, master of eunuchs!”
As I mentioned in the lead in for this story last Sunday, Nebuchadnezzar’s time in Judah was cut suddenly short. In August of 605 he receives word his father has passed away. Immediately, his army breaks camp, they collect their spoils, and proceed to make the 700 mile journey across the desert back to Babylon where Nebuchadnezzar will be formally crowned king. Geographically, Babylon was due east. As such, this trip would require you through trek through Jordan, Northern Saudi Arabia, and most of present day Iraq.
Imagine being a teenager forcibly ripped from your home! No amount of begging or pleading is going to change your fate. Running was impossible. Hiding was pointless. No sum of money was going to get you out of this predicament. Nebuchadnezzar had given Ashpenaz an order, you’d been selected, and now you had no choice but to comply.
As you’re being escorted from your home by these foreign invaders, you know there’s a good chance you will never see or speak to your parents again — same with your siblings. You say your goodbyes through many tears and final embraces. You savor the moment.
From your home the guards lead you through the city streets in chains. Not only is this display a show of force, but it becomes apparent life as you knew it is over. Exiting one last time through familiar gates, down the Kidron Valley, and up the Mount of Olives you take one final look back in order to capture Jerusalem and the Temple in your minds eye.
With each and every step further away everything you’ve ever known grows more and more distant. Never again will you be able to go worship God at the Temple. You’ll never be able to celebrate Passover or any of the other festivals with your family, friends, and community. And to make matters worse… You have no idea what your future is about to look like living in this foreign city of Babylon serving in the courts of this pagan king.
Though it’s difficult to say how long this 700-mile walk across shifting sands and desert terrain took — a few weeks at best, please know the first thing these Hebrew captives would have noticed, as they approached Babylon in the distance, was the shear size of the city and the breadth of the walls. These Judaean's had never seen anything like it.
Situated in the fertile basin where the Tigris and Euphrates merge before dumping into the Persian Sea, the ancient city of Babylon was a marvel. Historical depictions coupled with recent archeological digs indicate the city occupied an area of about 200 square miles or 128,000 acres. For a modern context this would make the city roughly the size of Chicago!
Amazingly, not only would Nebuchadnezzar fortify the outer wall with two additional inner layers, but writing in the 5th-century BC, Greek historian Herodotus described the walls as being 40 feet tall and so wide you could have a chariot race 4 horses deep on top. With these incredible fortifications plus the continual supply of water that flowed through the heart of the city in the form of the Euphrates, Babylon was believed to be impenetrable!
Entering the city from the west through the Ishtar Gate, the next thing that would have caught these young men’s attention were the incredible buildings littering the metropolis. It’s been estimated Babylon had in upwards of 153 temples with the largest being an eight teared ziggurat dedicated to the Babylonian god Marduk which towered some 26-stories.
You couple these structures with ancient marvels like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and you’re just beginning to scratch the surface as to what these young men were experiencing.
Babylon was the greatest city on earth. She exuded power, but also oozed sophistication. For many years, even under the Assyrians, Babylon had been the seat of all culture and learning. Again, imagine being one of these Jewish teens walking into such a place!
According to verse 4 these men were not on a vacation visit. They’d been hand-selected, taken captive, and brought back to Babylon — specifically “to serve in the king’s palace.”
That said, in order to serve effectively and prove themselves useful to Nebuchadnezzar, it was crucial these Hebrew teens learn both the “language and literature of the Chaldeans.” Obviously, they needed to be able to speak as well as to write in Chaldean.
To accomplish this aim verse 5 says, “And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king's delicacies (literally his food) and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king.”
Fundamentally, the strategy being described was crafted to accomplish one central goal… Transform these young Hebrew men into Babylonians! The reasoning rested on the idea that if a young man found a better home in Babylon and embraced being Babylonian there would no longer be any incentive to cause a problem. For this particular reason Nebuchadnezzar targeted teenagers who are typically very impressionable.
Notice the very first thing Nebuchadnezzar does with them… He knows these boys had been ripped from their homes a few weeks earlier and forced to cross a desert by foot. He also knows they are likely experiencing a measure of culture shock. As Jews in Babylon they feel like aliens visiting a foreign world. They’re overwhelmed. To compound matters they don’t speak or understand the language. It turn they’re afraid, anxious, and uncertain.
Imagine this all playing out… After a brutal journey you finally arrive in the city. While you’re fully expecting to be thrown into a dungeon or some kind of prison for hostages, you’re shocked when they instead lead you to the king’s palace. Ashpenaz instructs you to clean up, and because your clothes are worse-for-wear you’re given a fresh set of linens. Sure, it’s in a Babylonian motif, but you’re just thankful to be clean and clothed.
At this point they take you through the palace corridors bringing you into a massive dining room the likes you’ve never seen before. Not knowing why you’re there or what’s about to happen, to your disbelief they instruct you to take a seat. Then without warning the doors swing open, the table is filled with the king’s food and wine, and you’re told to dive in!
Instantly your fears ease and anxieties subside. This was not what you were expecting. Not only were they presently allowing you to fill your empty, aching belly with the “king’s delicacies,” but Ashpenaz explains you will be given a “daily provision” moving forward. You can’t help but ask yourself how many people back home ever got to eat this well?
Yes, nothing could change the anger and animosity you feel towards these people. They’d forcibly taken everything from you against your will! And yet, oddly your resentment softens. Maybe King Neb wasn’t that bad after all. Sure, you were still a foreign captive, but just maybe your life in Babylon might end up being “pretty pretty good” after all!
Understand the brilliance of Nebuchadnezzar’s approach… In order to ease these young men into a process whereby he plans to transition them into becoming Babylonian, the first thing he does is he lets them live like kings! “Guys, I know you miss home, but your new life here in Babylon is going to be awesome! Don’t be afraid. There’s no need to resist. Chill out, kick back, and enjoy yourself. You have good food to eat and even better wine to drink.” What’s sly about his tactic is Nebuchadnezzar creates a dynamic where their new life required a complete dependency on him! Verse 5, “And the king appointed for them.”
After easing their fears, gaining their trust, all the while making their lives dependent on him, this transformation process would continue with their speech. With time their Hebrew would be exchanged for Chaldean. Additionally, over the course of these three years of training, they would learn Babylonian law, be taught a new set of social norms and customs, and be completely immersed into a new culture and way of living.
Aside from these things, we read in verse 6, “Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. To them the chief of the eunuchs Ashpenaz gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah — Shadrach; to Mishael — Meshach; and to Azariah — Abed-Nego.” In changing their names a lot is happening…
For starters, when you keep in mind the entire goal behind these things was to make them Babylonian, it makes obvious sense why they would give them new names in the Chaldean tongue — Hebrew was not a common language in the ancient world. And yet, what might at first seem logical was in actuality much more sinister than you might think.
In ancient cultures names served two interesting functions. Names not only identified a person, but a name would also serve to define the essence of who that person was going to be. It’s why naming someone was so important. In the act of defining who a person was and their future, you were exhibiting dominion over that individual.
Let me give you two examples to illustrate what I mean… In Genesis 17, after promising to provide a son in his old age, God changes Abram’s name from “exalted father” to Abraham which meant “father of many.” Later on in Genesis, after wrestling with Jacob at the end of Genesis 32, God asks him, “‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob.’ And the Lord said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob (heal-catcher or supplanter), but Israel (one governed by God); for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
In giving “Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” new names two things were happening. Aside from giving them a name in the predominate language of Babylon, they were first stripping them of their Hebrew identity. These men would no longer be identified as being Hebrew, but instead Babylonian. From a purely psychological standpoint this renaming was an instrumental tool for accomplishing the entire stated objective.
And yet, it goes much deeper than this… In demonstrating dominion over them by giving them new names, Ashpenaz was seeking to redefine who they would be moving forward.
“Daniel” means “Yahweh is Judge.” — “Belteshazzar” means “May Bel Protect.”
“Hananiah” means “Yahweh is gracious.” — “Shadrach” means “Illumined by Marduk.”
“Mishael” means “Who is like the Lord.” — “Meshach” means “Who is like Aku.”
“Azariah” means “Yahweh is our Helper.” — “Abed-Nego” means “Servant of Nebo.”
Ashpenaz does more than strip them of their Hebrew identities. He replaces them with a Chaldean alternative that paralleled their divine meaning! It’s as though he’s saying, “Since our gods conquered yours, they now have dominion over you!” You see the final stage in the transition of these Hebrew men coming to identify themselves as being Babylonian was changing the gods they served and worshipped.
In case you missed it, this man Ashpenaz, who’d been given the job of overseeing and training these men was known as “the master or chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s eunuchs.” In ancient times it was completely customary for kings to take the young men who would serve in their courts and have them castrated. Not only would this keep them from sleeping with any of the women in the king’s haram, but their inability to procreate and have children of their own would mitigate any chance of them acting in a self-serving manner.
While we’re not given any specifics details, the very context of “Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” being selected and trained by Ashpenaz, who just so happened to be the “chief of the eunuchs,” for the express purpose of serving in the “king’s palace,” coupled with the fact we’re never told these men marry or have children — leads to no other conclusion than at some point these Hebrew men were castrated and made eunuchs.
What makes this worth our consideration is that castrating these Hebrew teenagers was not just about making them fit to serve in the king’s palace. Though everyone serving in such a role experienced a similar fate, castration would have taken on a different level of meaning for these Hebrew men. Since their circumcised genitalia was an expression of their religious beliefs, I believe removing it likely coincided with their renaming for the reasons mentioned.
Not only does Ashpenaz take from them their God-given names and replaces them with tributes to the Babylonian deities, but in the barbaric act of removing their circumcised manhood he’s telling them, “You’ve been conquered. Our god’s prevailed. In fact, you can look and see the artifacts used in your temple now being used in ours! From this point forward your faith in the God of your fathers no longer matters! You now serve them.”
So let’s sum up where things stand… Daniel and his friends have been ripped from their homes and families and taken 700 miles away to Babylon. Upon their arrival they can’t help but be in awe of the opulence and splendor of the city. To their surprise, they’re treated as the honored guests of the king who opens up his table to them. He’ll be their provider for the next three years as they learn the “language and literature of the Chaldeans.”
At this point Babylon had an appeal! She was modern, the ultimate demonstration of might, the seat of all learning and technological development. Nebuchadnezzar was truly building a heaven on earth — a utopia of sorts. Once more, these men would be on the inside. They’d eat the king’s food and drink the best wine. They’d be movers and shakers.
And yet, the appeal of Babylon and plan to make them Babylonian hit a big snag for Daniel. In Daniel 1:8 we read, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.”
One of the interesting things about the Book itself is an assumption literally everyone seems to make as they approach this particular verse. The assumption is “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself,” because he was that good of a kid!
I will concede that within throughout the tale Daniel’s character is impeccable. With the exception of Joseph, Daniel is one of the only men in the Old Testament in which nothing bad is ever said. No sin. No indiscretions. No bad decisions. His integrity is unassailable.
Aside from this fact lending to the belief Daniel must have always been such an outstanding young man, the argument further centers on the premise Daniel had been raised by Godly parents who imparted to him his Godly character. Again, the assumption leading up to verse 8 is Daniel made a decision to stand firm on the convictions he already possessed.
I would ask… What if this wasn’t the case and the motivation for his decision in verse 8 came from an entirely different place? Up front there are a few problems with this universal assumption. For example text provides zero insight into Daniel’s upbringing. His parents are not mention nor is any biographical information or family lineage provided.
The other problem with this assumption is that — if true — it would make Daniel an extreme outlier for that time period of Jewish history. Let me explain… As is the traditional belief, let’s say Daniel is 17 in the year 605 when he’s taken to Babylon.
This would place his birth all the way back in the year 622 BC or the 18th year of the reign of the Godly King Josiah. Daniel is born the very year the Word of God is rediscovered, they throw this huge Passover celebration, and Josiah institutes sweeping reforms. (2 Kings 22)
What’s important to keep in mind about the reign of Josiah and his reforms is how truly short-lived they were. While maybe these events influenced Daniel’s name, don’t forget during his upbringing in Jerusalem the Prophet Jeremiah is actively ministering.
Now why does that matter… The Scriptures are crystal clear that for the 40 years Jeremiah is speaking for the Lord not a single person listens to him, converts, or repents. Instead, the prophet is hated, persecuted, and scorned. My point is that if Daniel’s parents were Godly people, they were far outside the norms of that day. During the reign of Jehoiakim and the ministry of Jeremiah, no one was Godly!
If, instead of operating under this assumption Daniel was always such an innocent kid, you believe Daniel was likely your typical rebellious teenager living in Jerusalem when he’s unexpectedly taken into exile, verse 8 takes on a whole new wrinkle.
Like everyone else involved Daniel is in Babylon caught up in the tide of what was going on until we read, “But Daniel purposed in his heart.” The idea behind this word “purposed” is Daniel resolved within himself, he made up his mind, gathered his convictions. In the Hebrew the word literally means to pull it together. In this moment, Daniel makes a decision!
So what happened to cause such a reaction? First, he’s been taken from Judah and placed into Babylonian exile! While he likely didn’t believe it in the moment and probably scoffed along with everyone else, during that long walk from Jerusalem to Babylon, Daniel couldn’t help but conceded the prophet Jeremiah had been right all along. This had been the hand of God. In a twist of irony Daniel’s name served to remind him “Yahweh is Judge.”
Secondly, his transformation from being a child of God to a Babylonian servant was close to completion. They’d changed his speech and dress. Gave him access to the king’s delicacies. Immersed him in Babylonian thought and culture. They stripped from him his Hebrew name and identity replacing it with one that recognized the dominion of a pagan diety. The very sign in his flesh that was to remind him of his faith had been cut off.
Daniel is in a very dangerous place. He’s no longer in a land of promise. He’s been exiled to Babylon via the judgment of God. A choice would have to be made sooner than later or the choice would be made for him if he dithered. On one side of the equation there was a lure to Babylon. Life apart from God had an appeal. The king’s delicacies looked great.
On the flip side to this it was true taking any kind of stand would be dicy. Could he really afford to make demands? Could there be blowback? And once more was there even a point in taking a stand? He was in exile because of God’s judgment. If God was threw with him and his life, then wouldn’t it be wise to make the most of things? Was God threw with him? Did he have a future? Could God still use his life to make an impact?
One of the interesting components about the timing of Daniel’s life growing up in Jerusalem is that Josiah had brought back to the forefront of the national conscious the Law. As Daniel considers that his plight had been predicted long before via the warnings of God recorded in Leviticus 26, I believe the continuation of that same passage weighed heavily on his heart and in the end likely influenced the decision he makes in verse 8.
Speaking to the very people who’d be taken away in exile during the judgment, God makes this statement, “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me, and that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt… because they despised My judgments and because their soul abhorred My statutes.
Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God.”
I know there is a measure of conjecture to my thesis, but I believe when Ashpenaz stripped Daniel of his name, gave him a pagan substitute, and then took from him the sign in his flesh as to the covenant he had with his God — something inside the young man clicked. He knew this was the moment a decision had to be made and a line drawn in the sand.
Daniel’s own sin had contributed to his judgment. He was in exile because God was using the Babylonians to enact punishment. However, Daniel also knew from the testimony of God’s Word that even in exile God had promised His grace was still available. As He’d said in Leviticus 26, “IF they confessed their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers (owned their faults)… Their unfaithfulness… How they walked contrary to God (or in opposition to Him)… If their uncircumcised hearts were humbled… And they accept their guilt” God promised not only to “remember His covenant,” but to not “cast them away!”
From my perspective verse 8 doesn’t record the resolve of a Godly kid who doesn’t want to defile himself. Instead, it’s the record of Daniel’s conversion. “But Daniel purposed in his heart” is the moment he repents, says enough is enough, and makes the decision to return to his a covenant relationship with the LORD. We’ll get to this next week, but this explains why Daniel refuses to eat the “king’s delicacies.”
In taking this stand Daniel has no idea what will happen next, but he acts on a belief in God’s Word, faith the His promises were sure, and trusts that God’s grace won’t let him down. Spoiler for our next study… In verse 8, “But Daniel purposed in his heart…” And then in response we read in verse 9, “Now God brought Daniel into the favor and goodwill of the chief of the eunuchs.” I love how the ESV translates this verse, “And God gave Daniel GRACE and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.”
As we close out our time together, I want to leave you with this final thought… While “Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” will be referred to by their Babylonian names throughout this book by the pagan players, they will never ever refer to themselves using such terms! In fact, on four different occasions, Daniel will write, “And I, Daniel!”
Babylon was into name-calling and rebranding. They believed changing the names of these young men would in turn transform their identity. And yet, “Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” refused to play along. You see their identity was found — not in the names Babylon tried to impart to them, but in the names God had given them from birth!
Christian, this world is also into name calling because it wants to influence the way you see yourself. But know… The very moment you were Born Again when the Holy Spirit filled your heart in response to the faith you placed in Jesus and His sacrifice, God bestowed to you a new name to help you understand your new nature and identity.
While we find ourselves living in Babylon — a culture also into name-calling, never forget God has declared that we are “saints, citizens of heaven, ambassadors of Christ, disciples of the Master, the elect of God, friends of Jesus, heirs, instruments of righteousness, kings and priests, lights in the darkness, pilgrims and strangers, the redeemed, Temples of the Living God, undefiled, vessels of mercy, new creations in Christ Jesus!”
While you and I might presently find ourselves living in Babylon as well, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah became useful to the Lord and were blessed primarily because they refused to let Babylon define who they were… God had made them His children which is the one thing this world can never take away from any of us!
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