Four Young Israelites at the Babylonian Court
Setting the time: The prophet Daniel lived in the sixth century before the birth of Jesus. During this approximate period:
· Construction on the Acropolis began in Athens.
· Mayan civilization flourished in Mexico.
· Aesop wrote his fables.
· Confucius and Buddha lived.
· Greek art began to truly excel.
· The Greeks introduced the olive tree to Italy.
· The Phoenicians made the first known sea journey around Africa.
In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods.
This deportation is described in 2 Kings 24:10-16 —
At that time the officers of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem and laid siege to it, and Nebuchadnezzar himself came up to the city while his officers were besieging it. Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his attendants, his nobles and his officials all surrendered to him.
In the eighth year of the reign of the king of Babylon, he took Jehoiachin prisoner. As the Lord had declared, Nebuchadnezzar removed the treasures from the temple of the Lord and from the royal palace, and cut up the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple of the Lord. He carried all Jerusalem into exile: all the officers and fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans—a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left.
Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. He also took from Jerusalem to Babylon the king’s mother, his wives, his officials and the prominent people of the land. The king of Babylon also deported to Babylon the entire force of seven thousand fighting men, strong and fit for war, and a thousand skilled workers and artisans.
3 Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
Babylonian literature was written in wedge-shaped characters impressed with a stylus on soft clay tablets that were later fired to make them permanent. Thousands of these tablets have been discovered by archaeologists. The Babylonians worshiped many gods, and their culture was filled with magic, sorcery, and astrology. The common language of Babylon was Aramaic. (The Reformation Bible)
5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. 6 Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. 7 The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
We could call this indoctrination. The king wants to change their allegiance from their God and their Hebrew culture to himself and the Babylonian way of life.
8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. 9 Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. 10 The palace master said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12 “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.”
Daniel requested to be excused from the king’s table. He made a polite request, showing discretion. (Note to Christians: Making a stand for Jesus Christ does not mean we must be obnoxious.) Daniel saw the situation through the steward’s eyes and addressed his legitimate concerns. He wouldn’t let the chief of the eunuchs pay the price for the Hebrews’ consciences. Daniel was willing to put himself and his faith in God to the test.
14 So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. 16 So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
Recently certain diet plans based on this and other portions of the book of Daniel have become popular. “The Daniel Fast” and “The Daniel Plan” aim to bring people to a healthier lifestyle and a closer walk with God. Far be it from me to discourage that! Yet I would give a word of caution (Don’t expect miracles! Exercise is key!) and some further explanation. Click HERE for an article that tells more about this portion of Scripture, from my good friend and Biblical scholar, Lois Tverberg.
17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom;
A good prayer for school-age children and grandchildren: God, give them intellectual development and true learning!
Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.
18 At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, 19 and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king’s court. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. 21 And Daniel continued there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Babylon fell to Cyrus in 539 B.C., or 66 years after Daniel had been taken captive to Babylon. Daniel lived through the entire period of the Babylonian captivity. (The Reformation Bible)
Daniel and his friends show us that inner conviction can overcome any outer pressure, and that God-honoring convictions yield God-given rewards.
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone,
Dare to have a purpose firm,
Dare to make it known.
HERE is the Mennonite Hour Men’s Quartet singing this song by Philip Bliss (1838-1876). Bliss wrote many well-known hymns, including Almost Persuaded, Hallelujah, What a Saviour!, Let the Lower Lights Be Burning, Wonderful Words of Life, and the tune for Horatio Spafford’s It Is Well with My Soul.