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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 1

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-21


"His loyalty he kept, his faith, his love."-MILTON

THE first chapter of the Book of Daniel serves as a beautiful introduction to the whole, and strikes the keynote of faithfulness to the institutions of Judaism which of all others seemed most important to the mind of a pious Hebrew in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes. At a time when many were wavering, and many had lapsed into open apostasy, the writer wished to set before his countrymen in the most winning and vivid manner the nobleness and the reward of obeying God rather than man.

He had read in 2 Kings 24:1-2, that Jehoiakim had been a vassal of Nebuchadrezzar for three years, which were not, however, the first three years of his reign, and then had rebelled, and been subdued by "bands of the Chaldeans" and their allies. In 2 Chronicles 36:6 he read that Nebuchadrezzar had "bound Jehoiakim in fetters to carry him to Babylon." {Jeremiah 22:18-19; Jeremiah 36:30} Combining these two passages, he seems to. have inferred, in the absence of more accurate historical indications, that the Chaldeans had besieged and captured Jerusalem in the third year of Jehoiakim. That the date is erroneous there can hardly be a question, for, as already stated, neither Jeremiah, the contemporary of Jehoiakim, nor the Book of Kings, nor any other authority, knows anything of any siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian King in the third year of Jehoiakim. The Chronicler, a very late writer, seems to have heard some tradition that Jehoiakim had been taken captive, but he does not date this capture; and in Jehoiakim’s third year the king was a vassal, not of Babylon, but of Egypt. Nabopolassar, not Nebuchadrezzar, was then King of Babylon. It was not till the following year (B.C. 605), when Nebuchadrezzar, acting as his father’s general, had defeated Egypt at the Battle of Carchemish, that any siege of Jerusalem would have been possible. Nor did Nebuchadrezzar advance against the Holy City even after the Battle of Carchemish, but dashed home across the desert to secure the crown of Babylon on hearing the news of his father’s death. The only two considerable Babylonian deportations of which we know were apparently in the eighth and nineteenth years of Nebuchadrezzars reign. In the former Jehoiachin was carried captive with ten thousand citizens; {Jeremiah 27:20} in the latter Zedekiah was slain, and eight hundred and thirty-two persons carried to Babylon. {Jeremiah 52:29 2 Kings 25:11}

There seems then to be, on the very threshold, every indication of a historic inaccuracy such as could not have been committed if the historic Daniel had been the true author of this Book; and we are able, with perfect clearness, to point to the passages by which the Maccabean writer was misled into a mistaken inference. To him, however, as to all Jewish writers, a mere variation in a date would have been regarded, as a matter of the utmost insignificance. It in no way concerned the high purpose which he had in view, or weakened the force of his moral fiction. Nor does it in the smallest degree diminish from the instructiveness of the lessons which he has to teach to all men for all time. A fiction which is true to human experience may be as rich in spiritual meaning as a literal history. Do we degrade the majesty of the Book of Daniel if we regard it as a Haggada any more than we degrade the story of the Prodigal Son when we describe it as a Parable?

The writer proceeds to tell us that, after the siege, Nebuchadrezzar-whom the historic Daniel could never have called by the erroneous name Nebuchadnezzar-took Jehoiakim (for this seems to be implied), with some of the sacred vessels of the Temple, {comp. Daniel 5:2-3} "into the land of Shinar, to the house of his god." This god, as we learn from Babylonian inscription, was Bel or Belmerodach, in whose temple, built by Nebuchadrezzar, was also "the treasure-house of his kingdom."

Among the captives were certain "of the king’s seed, and of the princes" ("Parthemim"). They were chosen from among such boys as were preeminent for their beauty and intelligence, and the intention was to train them as pages in the royal service, and also in such a knowledge of the Chaldean language and literature as should enable them to take their places in the learned caste of priestly diviners. Their home was in the vast palace of the Babylonian King, of which the ruins are now called Kasr. Here they may have seen the hapless Jehoiachin still languishing in his long captivity.

They are called "children," and the word, together with the context, seems to imply that they were boys of the age of from twelve to fourteen. The king personally handed them over to the care of Ashpenaz, the Rabsaris, or "master of the eunuchs," who held the position of lord high chamberlain. It is probably implied that the boys were themselves made eunuchs, for the incident seems to be based on the rebuke given by Isaiah to the vain ostentation of Hezekiah in showing the treasures of his temple and palace to Merodach-baladan: "Behold the days come, that all that is in thine house shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylon.". {Isaiah 39:6-7}

They were to be trained in the learning (lit. "the book") and language of Chaldea for three years; at the end of which period they were to be admitted into the king’s presence, that he might see how they looked and what progress they had made. During those three years he provided them with a daily maintenance of food and wine from his table. Those who were thus maintained in Eastern courts were to be counted by hundreds, and even by thousands, and their position was often supremely wretched and degraded, as it still is in such Eastern courts. The wine was probably imported. The food consisted of meat, game, fish, joints, and wheaten bread. The word used for "provision" is interesting. It is "path-bag," and seems to be a transliteration, or echo of a Persian word, "pati-baga," a name applied by the historian Deinon (B.C. 340) to barley bread and "mixed wine in a golden egg from which the king drinks."

But among these captives were four young Jews named Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

Their very names were a witness not only to their nationality, but to their religion. Daniel means "God is my judge"; Hananiah, "Jehovah is gracious"; Mishael (perhaps), "who is equal to God?" Azariah, "God is a helper."

It is hardly likely that the Chaldeans would have tolerated the use of such names among their young pupils, since every repetition of them would have sounded like a challenge to the supremacy of Bel, Merodach, and Nebo. It was a common thing to change names in heathen courts, as the name of Joseph had been changed by the Egyptians to Zaphnath-paaneah, {Genesis 41:45} and the Assyrians changed the name of Psammetichus II into "Nebo-serib-ani," "Nebo save me." They therefore made the names of the boys echo the names of the Babylonian deities. Instead of "God is my judge," Daniel was called Belteshazzar, "protect Thou his life." Perhaps the prayer shows the tender regard in which he was held by Ashpenaz. Hananiah was called Shadrach, perhaps Shudur-aku, "command of Aku," the moon-deity: Mishael was called Meshach, a name which we cannot interpret; and Azariah, instead of "God is a help," was called Abednego, a mistaken form for Abed-nebo, or "servant of Nebo." Even in this slight incident there may be an allusion to Maccabean days. It appears that in that epoch the apostate Hellenising Jews were fond of changing their names into Gentile names, which had a somewhat similar sound. Thus Joshua was called "Jason," and Onias "Menelaus." This was done as part of the plan of Antiochus to force upon Palestine the Greek language. So far the writer may have thought the practice a harmless one, even though imposed by heathen potentates. Such certainly was the view of the later Jews, even of the strictest sect of the Pharisees. Not only did Saul freely adopt the name of Paul, but Silas felt no scruple in being called by the name Sylvanus, though that was the name of a heathen deity.

It was far otherwise with acquiescence in the eating of heathen meats, which, in the days of the Maccabees, was forced upon many of the Jews, and which, since the institution or reinstitution of Levitism after the return from the Exile, had come to be regarded as a deadly sin. It was during the Exile that such feelings had acquired fresh intensity. At first they do not seem to have prevailed. Jehoiachin was a hero among the Jews. They remembered him with intense love and pity, and it does not seem to have been regarded as any stain upon his memory that, for years together, he had, almost in the words of Daniel 1:5, received a daily allowance from the table of the King of Babylon.

In the days of. Antiochus Epiphanes the ordinary feeling on this subject was very different, for the religion and nationality of the Jews were at stake. Hence we read: "Howbeit many in Israel were fully resolved and confirmed in themselves not to eat any unclean thing. Wherefore they chose rather to die, that they might not be defiled with meats, that they might not profane the holy covenant: so then they died." (Macc. 1:62, 63).

And in the Second Book of Maccabees we are told that on the king’s birthday Jews "were constrained by bitter constraint to eat of the sacrifices," and that Eleazar, one of the principal scribes, an aged and noble-looking man, preferred rather to be tortured to death, "leaving his death for an example of noble courage, and a memorial of value, not only unto young men, but unto all his nation." In the following chapter is the celebrated story of the constancy and cruel death of seven brethren and their mother, when they preferred martyrdom to tasting swine’s flesh. The brave Judas Maccabaeus, with some nine companions, withdrew himself into the wilderness, and "lived in the mountains after the manner of beasts with his company, who fed on herbs continually, lest they should be partakers of the pollution." The tone and object of these narratives are precisely the same as the tone and object of the stories in the Book of Daniel: and we can well imagine how the heroism of resistance would be encouraged in every Jew who read those narratives or traditions of former days of persecution and difficulty. "This Book," says Ewald, "fell like a glowing spark from a clear heaven upon a surface which was already intensely heated far and wide, and waiting to burst into flames."

It may be doubtful whether such views as to ceremonial defilement were already developed at the beginning of the Babylonian Captivity. The Maccabean persecution left them ingrained in the habits of the people, and Josephus tells us a contemporary story which reminds us of that of Daniel and his companions. He says that certain priests, who were friends of his own, had been imprisoned in Rome, and that he endeavoured to procure their release, "especially because I was informed that they were not unmindful of piety towards God, but supported themselves with figs and nuts," because in such eating of dry food (as it was called) there was no chance of heathen defilement. {Josea "Vit." Comp. Isaiah 52:11} It need hardly be added that when the time came to break down the partition-wall which separated Jewish particularism from the universal brotherhood of mankind redeemed in Christ, the Apostles-especially St. Paul-had to show the meaningless nature of many distinctions to which the Jews attached consummate importance. The Talmud abounds in stories intended to glorify the resoluteness with which the Jews maintained their stereotyped Levitism; but Christ taught, to the astonishment of the Pharisees and even of the disciples, that it is not what entereth into a man which makes him unclean, but the unclean thoughts which come from within, from the heart. And this He said , i.e. , abolishing thereby the Levitic Law, and "making all meats clean." Yet, even after this, it required nothing less than that Divine vision on the tanner’s roof at Joppa to convince Peter that he was not to call "common" what God had cleansed, {Acts 10:14} and it required all the keen insight and fearless energy of St. Paul to prevent the Jews from keeping an intolerable yoke upon their own necks, and also laying it upon the necks of the Gentiles.

The four princely boys-they may have been from twelve to fourteen years old-determined not to share in the royal dainties, and begged the Sar-hassarisim to allow them to live on pulse and water, rather than on the luxuries in which-for them-lurked a heathen pollution. The eunuch not unnaturally demurred. The daily rations were provided from the royal table. He was responsible to the king for the beauty and health, as well as for the training, of his young scholars; and if Nebuchadrezzar saw them looking more meagre or haggard than the rest of the captives and other pages, the chamberlain’s head might pay the forfeit. But Daniel, like Joseph in Egypt, had inspired affection among his captors; and since the prince of the eunuchs regarded him "with favour and tender love," he was the more willing to grant, or at least to connive at, the fulfilment of the boy’s wish. So Daniel gained over the Melzar (or steward?), who was in immediate charge of the boys, and begged him to try the experiment for ten days. If at the end of that time their health or beauty had suffered, the question might be reconsidered.

So for ten days the four faithful children were fed on water, and on the "seeds"- i.e. , vegetables, dates, raisins, and other fruits, which are here generally called "pulse." At the end of the ten days-a sort of mystic Persian week-they were found to be fairer and fresher than all the other captives of the palace. Thenceforth they were allowed without hindrance to keep the customs of their country.

Nor was this all. During the three probationary years they continued to flourish intellectually as well as physically. They attained to conspicuous excellence "in all kinds of books and wisdom," and Daniel also had understanding in all kinds of dreams and visions, to which the Chaldeans attached supreme importance. The Jews exulted in these pictures of four youths of their own race who, though they were strangers in a strange land, excelled all their alien compeers in their own chosen fields of learning. There were already two such pictures in Jewish history, -that of the youthful Moses, learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and a great man and a prince among the magicians of Pharaoh; and that of Joseph, who, though there were so many Egyptian diviners, alone could interpret dreams, whether in the dungeon or at the foot of the throne. A third picture, that of Daniel at the court of Babylon, is now added to them, and in all three cases the glory is given directly, not to them, but to the God of heaven, the God of their fathers.

At the close of the three years the prince of the eunuchs brought all his young pages into the presence of the King Nebuehadrezzar. He tested them by familiar conversation, and found the four Jewish lads superior to all the rest. They were therefore chosen "to stand before the king"-in other words, to become his personal attendants. As this gave free access to his presence, it involved a position not only of high honour, but of great influence. And their superiority stood the test of time. Whenever the king consulted them on matters which required "wisdom of understanding," he found them not only better, but "ten times better," than all the "magicians," and "astrologers" that were in all his realm.

The last verse of the chapter, "And Daniel continued even unto the first year of King Cyrus," is perhaps a later gloss, for it appears from Daniel 10:1 that Daniel lived, at any rate, till the third year of Cyrus. Abn Ezra adds the words "continued in Babylon ," and Ewald "at the king’s court." Some interpret "continued" to mean "remained alive." The reason for mentioning "the first year of Cyrus" may be to show that Daniel survived the return from the Exile, and also to mark the fact that he attained a great age. For if he were about fourteen at the beginning of the narrative, he would be eighty-five in the first year of Cyrus. Dr. Pusey remarks: "Simple words, but what a volume of tried faithfulness is unrolled by them! Amid all the intrigues indigenous at all times in dynasties of Oriental despotism, amid all the envy towards a foreign captive in high office as a king’s councillor, amid all the trouble incidental to the insanity of the king and the murder of two of his successors, in that whole critical period for his people, Daniel continued. " ("Daniel" pp. 20, 21).

The domestic anecdote of this chapter, like the other more splendid narratives which succeed it, has a value far beyond the circumstances in which it may have originated. It is a beautiful moral illustration of the blessings which attend on faithfulness and on temperance, and whether it be a Haggada or a historic tradition, it equally enshrines the same noble lesson as that which was taught to all time by the early stories of the Books of Genesis and Exodus. {Comp. Genesis 39:21 1 Kings 8:50 Nehemiah 1:1 Psalms 106:46}

It teaches the crown and blessing of faithfulness. It was the highest glory of Israel "to uplift among the nations the banner of righteousness." It matters not that, in this particular instance, the Jewish boys were contending for a mere ceremonial rule which in itself was immaterial, or at any rate of no eternal significance. Suffice it that this rule presented itself to them in the guise of a principle and of a sacred duty, exactly as it did to Eleazar the Scribe, and Judas the Maccabee, and the Mother and her seven strong sons in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes. They regarded it as a duty to their laws, to their country, to their God; and therefore upon them it was sacredly incumbent. And they were faithful to it. Among the pampered minions and menials of the vast Babylonian palace-undazzled by the glitter of earthly magnificence, untempted by the allurements of pomp, pleasure. and sensuous indulgence-

"Amid innumerable false, unmoved, unshaken, unseduced, unterrified, Their loyalty they kept their faith, their love."

And because God loves them for their constancy, because they remain pure and true, all the Babylonian varletry around them learns the lesson of simplicity, the beauty of holiness. Amid the outpourings of the Divine favour they flourish, and are advanced to the highest honours. This is one great lesson which dominates the historic section of this Book: "Them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed." It is the lesson of Joseph’s superiority to the glamour of temptation in the house of Potiphar; of the choice of Moses, preferring to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than all the treasures of Egypt and "to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter"; of Samuel’s stainless innocence beside the corrupting example of Eli’s sons; of David’s strong, pure, ruddy boyhood as a shepherd-lad on Bethlehem’s hills. It is the anticipated story of that yet holier childhood of Him who-subject to His parents in the sweet vale of Nazareth-blossomed "like the flower of roses in the spring of the year, and as lilies by the water-courses." The young human being who grows up in innocence and self-control grows up also in grace and beauty, in wisdom and "in favour with God and man." The Jews specially delighted in these pictures of boyish continence and piety, and they lay at the basis of all that was greatest in their national character.

But there also lay incidentally in the story a warning against corrupting luxury, the lesson of the need for, and the healthfulness of,

"The rule of not too much by temperance taught."

"The love of sumptuous food and delicious drinks is never good," says Ewald, "and with the use of the most temperate diet body and soul can flourish most admirably, as experience had at that time sufficiently taught."

To the value of this lesson the Nazarites among the Jews were a perpetual witness. Jeremiah seems to single them out for the special beauty which resulted from their youthful abstinence when he writes of Jerusalem, "Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphires." {Lamentations 4:7}

It is the lesson which Milton reads in the story of Samson, -

"O madness! to think use of strongest wines And strongest drinks our chief support of health, When God, with these forbidden, made choice to rear His mighty champion, strong above compare, Whose drink was only from the liquid brook!"

It is the lesson which Shakespeare inculcates when he makes the old man say in "As You Like It,"-

"When I was young I never did apply Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood, Nor did not with unblushful forehead woo The means of weakness and debility; Therefore mine age is as a lusty winter, Frosty, yet kindly."

The writer of this Book connects intellectual advance as well as physical strength with this abstinence, and here he is supported even by ancient and pagan experience. Something of this kind may perhaps lurk in Pindar; and certainly Horace saw that gluttony and repletion are foes to insight when he wrote, -

"Nam corpus onustum Hesternis vitiis animum quoque praegravat una, Atque afligit humo divinae particulam aurae."

Pythagoras was not the only ancient philosopher who recommended and practised a vegetable diet, and even Epicurus, whom so many regard as

"The soft garden’s rose-encircled child."

placed over his garden door the inscription that those who came would only be regaled on barley-cakes and fresh water, to satisfy, but not to allure, the appetite.

But the grand lesson of the picture is meant to be that the fair Jewish boys were kept safe in the midst of every temptation to self-indulgence, because they lived as in God’s sight: and "he that holds himself in reverence and due esteem for the dignity of God’s image upon him, accounts himself both a fit person to do the noblest and godliest deeds, and much better worth than to deject and defile, with such debasement and pollution as sin is, himself so highly ransomed and ennobled to a new friendship and filial relation with God."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Daniel 1". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/daniel-1.html.
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