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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Daniel 1

 

 


Verse 1

Chapter 1 Daniel Is Established At The Court of Babylon.

‘In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to Jerusalem and besieged it.’

Here the dating is based on the Babylonian system of dating by which the opening part-year after a king’s accession was thought of as ‘the year of accession’ (compare 2 Kings 25:27), and the first full year of the reign (and therefore the second year of his reign in Israelite eyes ) was called the first year. To someone established at the court of Babylon this would be natural after a comparatively short time. Thus elsewhere in Scripture reference is made to this same year as the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim, using the Israelite system of reckoning Jeremiah 25:1; Jeremiah 25:8-14; Jeremiah 46:2). The date was 605 BC.

‘Came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to Jerusalem and besieged it.’ Strictly Nebuchadnezzar was not king at the time of his besieging of Jerusalem. He became king later in the year when his father Nabopolassar died. But the description is read back so as to identify clearly who was being spoken about. Note also that it is said that ‘he besieged it’ not that he took it. A long siege would have been necessary to take this strong city and Nebuchadnezzar was interrupted by news of his father’s death, which necessitated his return to Babylon to establish his position. The city was never taken at the time, although terms were agreed.

Ezekiel calls him Nebuchadrezzar, which is in fact closer to the Babylonian name Nabu-kudurri-usur, while Nebuchadnezzar is closer to the Greek form Nabochodonosor and is a variant form. His early career is described in the Babylonian records known as ‘the Babylonian Chronicle’ which give us valuable information for dating various events.


Verse 2

‘And the Lord gave Jehoiakim, king of Judah, into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God. And he carried them into the land of Shinar to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.’

The siege was sufficiently fierce to enable him to persuade Jehoiakim to make submission, possibly by offering milder terms. He was bought off with part of the temple treasures, taking with him selected young men, possibly as hostages for good behaviour.

Note that it was ‘the Lord’ (adonai) who caused the submission of Jehoiakim. He it was Who was in charge of overall events. It was not that Yahweh was defeated, Nebuchadnezzar was as much subject to His will as Jehoiakim.

The vessels taken were carried off to the ‘land of Shinar’, an ancient name for Babylonia (Genesis 10:8-10; Genesis 11:1-9), reflecting its belligerence and idolatry. There they were put in the house of his favourite god, probably Marduk, in the treasure house. Treasure houses were regularly connected with temples. The treasures would be placed there as a thankoffering to the god for giving victory, but would still be available to the king.


Verse 3-4

‘And the king spoke to Ashpenaz, the master of his palace servants (officers, nobles, eunuchs), that he should bring in certain of the children of Israel, even of the seed royal and of the nobles, youths in whom was no blemish, but well favoured and skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, and understanding learning, with the ability to serve in the king’s palace and to teach them the letters and tongue of the Chaldeans.’

The selected captives taken back to Babylon were looked on fairly favourably because they were treaty hostages rather than defeated foe. Jerusalem had not been captured, it had compromised and yielded. They were all young men from the nobility, young men of education, who it was considered would fit in in court circles. The rather exaggerated description, the kind often used of promising young men, has in mind not only how things were but also how things would turn out. They were promising graduates. They were ‘skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, and understanding learning’. They had had the best education of the day, and certainly this was how Daniel would turn out to be. The words may well have been quoted from a court memorandum. By incorporating these young men into the court Nebuchadnezzar hoped to seal the treaty. This whole event was prophesied by Isaiah 39:7, where the prophet foresaw the rise of Babylon and the consequences for Judah.

Ashpenaz - the meaning of the name is uncertain, but it has been found in non-Biblical texts. The word that is sometimes translated ‘eunuchs’ actually has a wider meaning (it was used of the married Potiphar - Genesis 37:36) indicating palace servants, chief men, nobles, officers, although they would include eunuchs among them who had charge of the harems. The fact that these young men were ‘without blemish’ is against any idea that they were made eunuchs. The king liked to be surrounded by ‘perfect’ young men, not sing-song voices. ‘The master’ - or Rab - was a title regularly applied to Babylonian high officials (e.g. 2 Kings 18:17; Jeremiah 39:3).

‘Children of Israel’, the ancient name for all Israel. By the time that this was written any strict distinction between Judah and Israel had ceased to be. Ezekiel also spoke of the people of Jerusalem and Judah as the children of Israel.

‘Youths.’ Probably of about fourteen or fifteen. Thus in the eyes of the day recognised adults.

‘Of the children of Israel, (even) of the seed royal and of the nobles.’ Some would see this as signifying different groups, the captive children of Israel, royal offspring (‘the seed of kingship’) and nobles from various countries. But the Israelite hostages would certainly include royal seed and the sons of nobles. However they were certainly introduced into a group which included other royal seed and nobility.

‘And to teach them the letters and tongue of the Chaldeans.’ They were to learn the ancient Babylonian wisdom, the ancient cuneiform scripts, the ancient Akkadian language, and the lore of the magicians and astrologers; what passed for great wisdom in the ancient Near East, a well rounded education.


Verse 5

‘And the king appointed for them a daily portion of the king’s food, and of the wine that he drank, and that they should be nourished for three years, that at the end of that period they might stand before the king.’

The young men were put in the care of Ashpenaz so that they could be developed into strapping young men. Every luxury in food and drink was to be theirs. This was in a sense a period of probation and no doubt some might drop out. ‘Three years’ could signify any period from about one and a half years (part of a year, a year, and part of a year) to the full three. Basically they had to go though a complete course of training. The final purpose was that they might become trusted and well favoured courtiers. Both appearance and learning was considered important for a young, budding court official.

‘A daily portion of the king’s ‘food’ (an old Persian word meaning ‘assignment’, the food allocated by the king through his high officials), and of the wine that he drank.’ It was the ancient custom that such favoured people should eat and drink what the king ate and drank. It was a sign of high favour.


Verse 6-7

‘Now among these men were, of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. And the prince of the palace servaants, (nobles, chief officers, eunuchs) gave them names, to Daniel he gave the name of Belteshazzar, and to Hananiah of Shadrach, and to Mishael of Meshach, and to Azariah of Abednego.’

The new name was given to them to bring home to them that they were now Babylonians and to give them a new status, and were now servants of the gods of Babylon. They had been ‘adopted’ by the court and their future lay with the king. Giving them names connected with the gods of Babylon was intended to be a compliment. The original names meant something like, - Daniel (‘El (God) has judged’), Hananiah (‘Yahweh has been gracious’), Mishael (‘who is as El (God)’), Azariah (‘Yahweh has helped’) - although we must not be over-dogmatic about the meaning of names. All were connected with the God of Israel.

The new names were connected with Babylonian thought. Daniel’s with Bel. See Daniel 4:8. Some think his name was Belti - sar - usur - ‘may the lady (wife of Bel) protect the king’. Others that it was possibly only so by sound, for they see the name as signifying ‘protect his life’ - balatusu-usur - but that is how names were used. It was probably intended to signify ‘Bel protect his life’). Hananiah’s with Marduk (of which Shadrach was a deliberate corruption) and Azariah’s with Nebo (Nego being a deliberate corruption. The name was probably intended to suggest ‘servant of Nebo’). Meshach is unidentified, it may be a deliberate corruption of Sheshach, a cypher for Babylon. Playing with names was popular amongst all cultures. Compare the sons of Jacob whose names were all given as suggestive of some idea by a play on words (Genesis 29:31 to Genesis 30:24)

Theoretically these men had now been taken from Yahweh and given to the gods of Babylon. The Babylonians were soon to be disillusioned.


Verse 8

‘But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s meat, nor with the wine that he drank, therefore he requested of the prince of the chief officers that he might not defile himself.’

What was happening to him clearly came as a shock to Daniel. There was no knowing how the meat was slaughtered nor what much of the food consisted of. With the strict Israelite dietary laws much of it would be ‘unclean’, and this would therefore be shocking to a well brought up Israelite. This was no doubt a major part of Daniel’s case with the prince. But the matter went further than that, for this objection would not have included the wine. He was perhaps concerned not to live in luxury when his own people were, as far as he knew, going through a hard time (compare 2 Samuel 11:11) But a main concern would have been in the thought that the king’s food was openly dedicated to the gods, and thus that to partake of it without question was to be seen as submitting to those gods. However, he could hardly put that case to the prince! But we can imagine the mental struggle that he found himself facing. He wanted to be faithful to his God, and he did not want to seem to be acknowledging idols. To a devout and faithful Yahwist both facts were important.

There is a lesson here for us too. He who is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is much.


Verse 9

‘Now God made Daniel to be viewed with favour and compassion in the sight of the prince over the palace servants.’

God was to be seen as present and active in what was happening. It was He Who won Daniel favour with this great prince.

Notice the use of ‘God’ with the article, and not Yahweh (compare also ‘Lord’ in Daniel 1:2 and see Daniel 2:47), because Daniel was in a foreign country, a typical Pentateuchal usage. Here He was ‘the God of Heaven’, supreme over all. It was not covenant country.


Verse 10

‘And the prince of the palace servants said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord, the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces as worse likeable (more gloomy) than the youths who are of your own age. In that you would put it on my head before the king.”

The prince was quite frank with him. It put him in a dilemma. Much as he might wish to, he dared not do as Daniel asked, or else he himself would be punished and even possibly his own head might be forfeit. To him ‘good eating and drinking’ were the secret of health. It had worked before. Perhaps it was he in fact who referred them to the steward who had immediate watch over the youths and was probably highly experienced at dealing with such problems.


Verses 11-13

‘The Daniel said to the steward whom the prince of the chief officers had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah “Put your servants to the test, I pray you, for ten days, and let them give us vegetables (‘what is sown’) to eat and water to drink, then let our faces be looked at before you, and the faces of the youths who eat of the king’s food. And deal with your servants in accordance with what you see.’

Having been discouraged by the prince Daniel proposed a test to the steward (supervisor, guard) who had immediate charge over them. Let them for a period of a few days (‘ten’ often means ‘a number of’) be given vegetables and grain (compare Isaiah 61:11 - ‘things sown’) to eat, and water to drink, and then let them be compared with the other youths. Then they would be happy to stand by any decision made. This was not a question of a vegetarian diet, but of a diet which would not include anything ritually ‘unclean’, and which would not be from the king’s table, thus having been dedicated to the gods. The steward might well be willing for such a short trial, which could be stopped at any time, because, unlike the more important prince, he could keep his eye on things all the time, and it may be that he had some sympathy with their position. It could do little harm. (Underlings are often willing to be more flexible than those with direct responsibility. They can pass the buck).


Verse 14-15

‘So he took notice of what they said and put them to the test for ten days. And at the end of ten days their faces appeared fresher, and they were fatter in the flesh, than all the youths who ate of the king’s food.’

So he did what they asked. The result of the test was that they gave a better overall impression facially than those who ate the king’s food. They looked fresher and more full-faced than the others. By observing God’s law given in the Torah they had demonstrated its truth. Given the effects of overindulgence we can quite appreciate how this might be, but it is possible that we are intended to see this whole affair as being the result of a revelation from God to Daniel by means of a dream or vision (Daniel 1:17).


Verse 16

‘So the steward took away their food, and the wine that they should drink, and gave them vegetables.’

Having seen the effects of the diet the steward was willing to continue it. From then on he refrained from giving them the kings’ food and wine, and gave them grain and vegetables with water. (This presumably only applied to the four).


Verse 17

‘Now as for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom. And Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.’

Not only were their complexions continually clear and full but their minds were also, for the four grew in wisdom and knowledge. Their minds were alert and they absorbed their lessons well. We are probably to see in this that they also grew in the knowledge of God and His ways, for that is the true wisdom. But Daniel especially was blessed. He had a special gift as regards visions and dreams. He had the makings of a seer (compare Numbers 12:6; Isaiah 1:1), as he had already demonstrated. Right from the beginning he was being prepared for his extraordinary career.

This was an age of visions and dreams, especially in Babylon. Men attained high position by their ability to interpret them, for great store was laid on those who were seen as having this ability. But many of the interpretations were facile and men-pleasing, and few could discern the false from the true, as Nebuchadnezzar was very much aware. So in this highly charged environment God gave Daniel full understanding of them. He was able to discern what was real and what was not. It was a special gift from God so that he could bring God’s word to this idolatrous court.

There is a lesson here in all this for all young people that they should make full use of any opportunity that God gives them to advance their education. Had these young men been too ‘spiritual’ to do so they would have missed out on the future that God had for them.


Verses 18-20

‘And at the completion of the days which the king had appointed for bringing them before him, the prince of the chief officers brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king had discussions with them and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Misahel and Azariah. And 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 that were in all his realm.’

The final test came when they were all brought in before the king. He was not so concerned with how they looked but with what they had learned. And as he listened to the four he was impressed by their knowledge and wisdom. ‘Ten times better’ must clearly not be taken too literally. It is a typical exaggeration.

The point is probably twofold. Firstly that their remarkable wisdom and understanding shone through, so that as Nebuchadnezzar listened to them, their breadth of knowledge, and their discernment and ability to seize on what was most important, and interpret it, impressed him. He felt as he heard their answers that he had never met the like, even among his own magicians and enchanters, those men with their seeming knowledge of mysterious arts.

And secondly that in fact his opinion of his own enchanters and magicians was not very high. He thought of them sceptically as men with limited vision and understanding. There is here the very definite suggestion that they did not impress him, as will come out in the next chapter.


Verse 21

‘And Daniel continued, even to the first year of Cyrus the Persian.’ The ‘first year of Cyrus the Persian’ was an epochal day in the lives of the children of Israel, ranking possibly with the day of the giving of the Law at Sinai, for it probably means the year in which he became king over Babylon, and thus the year when the Babylonian dynasty ceased, and Israel’s deliverance and ability to return from exile was announced. It refers to that year in which Cyrus made his decree that announced the end of the exile and that stated officially that the people could return home (Ezra 1:1).

So this verse is declaring that from the day of his acceptance by Nebuchadnezzar Daniel continued to have standing in the Babylonian court right up to its end in its overthrow at the hands of Cyrus, sixty six years or so after his being taken from Jerusalem. And for much of the time he was respected and admired by the kings of Babylon. He had a worthwhile career. It is also telling us that he lived through the whole of the exile until the decree that ended it. (Those events were considered far more important than his death. It is saying nothing about what followed those events, and in Daniel 10:1 we learn that Daniel was still alive in the third year of Cyrus).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Daniel 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/daniel-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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