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Daniel 1:1-21 – Given Over and Given Blessing


Daniel 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).


Daniel 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.

Daniel 1:1-21


Four Young Israelites at the Babylonian Court

1In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2The 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.

Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4young 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. 5The 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. 6Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. 7The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

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. 9Now God allowed Daniel to receive favour and compassion from the palace master. 10The 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.’ 11Then 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. 13You 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.’ 14So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. 15At 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. 16So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; 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, 19and 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. 20In 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. 21And Daniel continued there until the first year of King Cyrus.

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