Daniel makes the official list of Bible heroes (Hebrews 11:33). Surviving a night in the companionship of hungry lions was enough to seal his reputation. But long before he was dropped into the lions’ den, Daniel’s faith endured a hostile environment.
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuch to allow him not to defile himself. – Daniel 1:8
Daniel began his diary as a young man carried into captivity against his will. He was probably 16 years old or so at the time. Taken away from his family, from most of his friends and from the land in which he grew up as a boy, Daniel faced an uncertain future. He was transported more than 700 miles from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Daniel soon discovered the life planned for him and his friends. They were selected as young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand. In Babylon (Chaldea), they would embark on three years of intense education under royal supervision. They would eat the king’s food and prepare to serve the king.
They were given new names. Daniel became Belteshazzar. In those times the names of captives were often changed to avoid the significance of their original names and prevent embarrassment for a pagan king. Daniel’s name, for example, means “God is my judge.” If a pagan king (who often saw himself as divine) used Daniel’s Hebrew name, he would also be admitting something he didn’t want to admit! Similarly, Daniel’s friends Mishael (“Who is like God?”), Azariah (“Yahweh, our help”), and Hananiah (“Yahweh is gracious”) weren’t allowed to keep their names but became Meshach, Abednego and Shadrach. These new names related to the pagan gods of the Chaldeans (Babylonians).
Daniel decided he could not go along with all the king’s arrangements. He was willing to accept training in agriculture, law, astronomy, astrology and math. He learned the language of his captors. He was even willing to serve the king. But he drew a clear line at anything that would “defile” him (v. 8).
He was not proud, cocky or belligerent. He approached Ashpenaz, the king’s chief eunuch, politely. But he knew what he believed, and he knew why he believed it. He presented his case persuasively: “Look, I can’t eat this food because, well, first of all, this food is prepared with ingredients that could well be forbidden to me in the Law. Secondly, this food is probably not prepared in a kosher way.”
He suggested to the eunuch a no-risk, reasonable alternative—a trial period during which Daniel and his friends would eat only vegetables and water. As a result, Daniel wound up with a powerful ally: “And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” (v. 9). Daniel was living for God, and God was in turn helping Daniel to live for Him. At the end of ten days, the four friends looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.
God rewards faithfulness. Daniel’s diary records at least three ways God rewarded the faithfulness of Daniel and his three Hebrew friends. The first has already been mentioned: they were rewarded with health. God blesses physically those who live for Him. It’s not that the faithful never get sick. But today those who live by faith usually are not afflicted with STDs, fetal alcohol syndrome, drug overdoses, etc.
Second, God also blessed them intellectually (see v. 17). They exhibited healthy bodies and healthy minds. James reminds us that God is the source of wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (James 1:5).
Third, God gave Daniel the ability to understand visions and dreams (see v. 17). This relates to spiritual insight. As we see this play out in chapter 2, Daniel’s gift parallels Joseph’s (Gen. 40–41). These men did not seek to interpret visions on their own. They understood that meaning comes from God.
When Daniel and his friends finally were presented to the king, they impressed him. They stood out (see v. 20). The king questioned them, and they demonstrated they were in a league of their own. That’s because they were drawing on wisdom that was not their own or based on the limited wisdom of the Chaldeans. They were depending on God, and that made a remarkable difference. These young men clearly understood that when they did what was right, God would reward their actions. He rewarded them physically, intellectually and spiritually. The life of Daniel demonstrates to anyone willing to pay careful attention that God ultimately blesses everyone who does what is right.
Daniel has several unique features among Old Testament books. The first half of the book deals with historical matters; the second half of the book deals with prophetic matters. The central theme of Daniel is that God is sovereign over the nations. God can cause one nation to rise and another nation to fall. Both the world and world events are in God’s hands.
Daniel is also an apocalyptic book. That simply means that Daniel was written partly from the perspective of future events. Daniel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New Testament are the clearest biblical examples of apocalyptic writing. They unveil events that God is going to bring about in the future.
Daniel was written in two different languages. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but Daniel is a unique exception. The middle sections of Daniel, from 2:5 to 7:28, were written in a sister language of Hebrew—Aramaic. That was the language of diplomacy in the Middle East, the equivalent of English’s role in the modern world.
The purpose of the Book of Daniel is to show God’s faithfulness. The immediate audience for the book was God’s people in Persia and Israel. But God remains faithful to readers of Daniel today—much of Daniel was written as hopeful prophecy, and we now read it as hope-filled history. That is why the parts that remain prophetic—the parts that deal with the times of the Gentiles—give us reason for hope in God’s faithfulness.
As you read Daniel 1:1–21, consider these questions:
1) As you begin this study of Daniel, what understanding do you bring with you about the contents and purpose of this book?
2) How would you describe Daniel’s most difficult challenge among all the changes that were imposed on his life by his captivity and deportation?
3) How quickly do we see Daniel’s recognition of God’s role in the events of life in this chapter? (see v. 2). Why is this significant?
4) What were the most memorable or significant parts of your own childhood over which you had little or no control? How did you respond to those events?
5) What resolutions have you made (such as not to smoke or use drugs) that will influence your future health?
6) In what ways have you experienced the three kinds of benefits that flow into the lives of those who are living for God?
7) How is your life a collection of evidences of God’s blessing?
Copyright by Woodrow Koll. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.