The book of Daniel is a mix bag of inspirational stories of how the people of God took a stand against the pagan culture that surrounded them but even more than that, it serves as a prequel to the book of Revelation where we even find prophecies concerning The Son of Man.
Although our modern Bibles places Daniel along with the books written by the other prophets, but if we look at the events that occurred in the book, it should be placed before the books Ezra and Esther, right after the book of Kings. The author of the book is most likely Daniel himself, recalling his time in Babylon which included the visions that both he and Nebuchadnezzar dreamt. Not only does the book have two distinct literary styles but also two different languages with the first and the last five chapters being written in Hebrew and the middle section of the book written in the more popular Aramaic.
In the book of Genesis, we read about the tower of Babel and how God had scattered the nations. From those scattered nations, He chose the tribe of Israel to fulfil His promise made to Eve for our redemption. The book of Kings ends with the great Babylonian king (Nebuchadnezzar II) marching towards Jerusalem and destroying the coveted city along with it’s most famous attraction, Solomon’s temple.
However, the book of Daniel takes us to a couple of decades before the events of 2 Kings 25, to a new Babylon, now ruled by the Chaldeans, the same people that Abraham had left behind when he first heard God’s voice. But through their constant rebellion, Abraham’s descendants had managed to find their way back to Babel.
The King of Kings
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 delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand …Daniel 1:1-2
Right at the very start of the book the author lets us know about the exploits of the mighty king of Babylon but also lets us know that there is a King of kings that allowed all this to happen. It is not God who abandoned His people but through their constant disobedience the Israelites left no place for God in their lives and God’s protection was lifted from them, allowing the ‘holy land’ to be captured and made a mockery of.
No matter who is in power in our present day political landscape, we must understand that God is always in control and above any of these earthly kingdoms. That will also be the central theme throughout the book of Daniel, as we see different kings rising up to challenge the King of kings only to be subdued into submission or death.
So in the late seventh century B.C., Nebuchadnezzar raided the city of Jerusalem and took with him articles of value from the temple of Solomon. In the ancient world, after successfully winning a war, the victorious king would usually place the articles from the temple of the besieged nation in the temple of his own gods. Even Saul tried to do the same with the winnings of his wars only to be rebuked by God.
This was perhaps meant to be a thanksgiving offering for bringing victory in battles or served as a proof to the people in their land of the superiority of their own gods over other gods. God eventually killed Belshazzar (son of Nebuchadnezzar) when he used these articles to serve wine at one of his parties (Daniel 5).
Nebuchadnezzar even took many of the nobles and royals from Jerusalem as captives back to Babylon. This was the fulfilment of what Isaiah prophesied to king Hezekiah.
The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.2 Kings 20:17-18
Nebuchadnezzar kept them at his own palace, most probably castrated and under the supervision of Ashpenaz (the master of his eunuchs), where they were to be trained for the next three years before entering the king’s service.
Another common practice in those days, perhaps to reprogram and utilize the elite among the exiles. Having control of the nobles would also maintain political stability in the region. Ashpenaz took our four protagonists under his wings and gave them new Babylonian names.
|Daniel||Yahweh is my judge||Belteshazzar||Bel protect the prince|
|Hananiah||Yahweh has acted graciously||Shadrach||Aku’s command|
|Mishael||Who can compare to Yahweh||Meshach||name of a Chaldean god|
|Azariah||Yahweh has helped||Abednego||servant of Nabu|
The captives were usually given a new identity to help them forget their homeland. Other instances are when the Persians called Hadassah as Esther and Zaphenath-Paneah was the Egyptian name given to Joseph by Pharaoh. Renaming is usually someone making a claim, like with rulers and their kingdoms. God allowed Adam to name all the animals (including Eve) to establish his dominion over them, similarly this was perhaps a way for these earthly kings to enforce their authority on their new recruits.
It is hard to believe that Daniel and his friends, who protested to even eating the food from the king’s table were fine with these names, especially since they were meant to honor the pagan gods of Babylon. But Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah found favor in the eyes of the chief official and when he offered them food from the royal table to keep them healthy and fit to match up to their competitors, they were able to take their very first stand.
But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this wayDaniel 1:8
The food presented to them could have been offered to idols before being given to them or perhaps these were not in keeping with Mosaic laws that the four friends strictly followed. But as we see Jesus saying in Matthew 15, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
If they had eaten this food, the wisdom that God had given them would have been credited to the Babylonian cuisine and their spiritual teachings. The praise that will come out of the mouths of the Babylonians will not be meant for God but for their own pagan ways and that will be something that will defile Daniel and his friends.
To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kindsDaniel 1:17
The world will think that their dietary restrictions are what set them apart, like they think that Samson’s hair was the reason for his strength or David’s harp had magical powers but we know that God was enabling these men with what they needed to further His plan. God bestowed His blessings on the four men and everyone could see the difference as the king found no one equal to them. God lifted the four friends from prisoners to the king’s court and all four flourished in their new homes.
In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. And Daniel remained there until the first year of king CyrusDaniel 1:20-21
Even though we keep chasing evil, God’s love chases after us and brings us back among the ninety-nine. If we take a stand for God, He will surely take a stand for us. Jesus died on the cross for all of us, in spite of our betrayal towards our Creator.
God stands for us even through our betrayals, why would He not stand for us when we are with Him. Our definition of ‘Stand’ might not be aligned with God and that could be the reason for our disappointment. We need to keep our trust on God and not succumb to the pressures of this world and its pagan ways. Otherwise, just like the Israelites, we too will keep returning to our Babel.