Daniel 1:1-21 – Given Over and Given Blessing
SummaryDaniel and three other exiles were called upon to serve directly the king who had captured them (1:3-4). They were willing to serve the public in this new and strange land, but were determined to remain faithful to God, even in the seemingly small matter of food (1:8-16). God blessed them in their loyalty; they were able to serve in the new land better than anyone else (1:20).
AnalysisDaniel and his associates are seen to be among the exiles from Judah and Jerusalem taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. They were not merely "taken"; God gave them into the power of Nebuchadnezzar (1:1-2). In this case, God does not just show up once trouble starts. God gave Judah and Jerusalem over to Nebuchadnezzar. God gave "favor and compassion" to Daniel via the palace master (1:9). God gave "knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom" (1:17) to Daniel and his three associates. The provision made to them is a harbinger of the provision God will make in the subsequent stories when the threats intensify. The time references (1:1-2 and 1:21) span the full period of exile away from the land of Judah.
The book of Daniel does not describe the conditions of the exile. There is no hint of the despair caused by the displacement paralleling that expressed in Psalm 137. There clearly are depictions of threat brought on by the stupidity and pride of the rulers that Daniel and his associates serve, but they are not conditions that are inherent to being exiles. The threats are experienced individually, not as a social grouping. We hear nothing about the other Judean exiles. With God's gifts, it is possible to survive and even thrive, and thus there is no mention of a yearning to return to Judea. God's guiding and blessing presence is not tied to a specific geography. The hopes of the Daniel exiles are not expressed, for example, in the vocabulary of Jeremiah 30-31 or Isaiah 40-55. Further, the restoration of the temple and its liturgy, as in Ezekiel 40-48, is not on the horizon.
Daniel joins Jeremiah and Ezekiel in opposition to idolatry, but in terms of specific practice Daniel centers on prayer. In addition, Daniel 1 focuses on food and drink, something not noted as a distinguishing issue in prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. Nothing in the rest of the Old Testament suggests a diet of vegetables. The point is to distinguish Daniel and his associates from the rest of the king's employees without their refusing to participate in the functions of the institutions that governed the place in which they live.
Place was, nevertheless, important. God had given Jerusalem and Judah into Nebuchadnezzar's power. Daniel's current place of residence was not of his own choosing nor was it an accident of history. Nebuchadnezzar's power over Daniel was, according to the opening verses of this chapter, a derived power. It was granted by God, and in subsequent chapters stories will be told of kings operating without acknowledging a power superior to their own. Daniel and his friends will suffer in these moments of royal presumption. The book will model human fidelity to God, but that will be overshadowed by the focus on God's sovereignty over all, including stupid and tyrannical kings. Human fidelity is germane and required, but more important is God's defeat of all forms of evil generated by human power. The latter theme arches across the entire book. Giving Judah and Jerusalem into the power of Nebuchadnezzar was how Israel experienced God's sovereignty against itself. After the first two verses, however, the theme is articulated to sustain human fidelity and to promise deliverance when exile morphs into persecution in the later times depicted in the visions of the last half of the book. In persecution, God's sovereignty is ultimately a promise that counterforces will not prevail.