First Babylonian Deportation;Introduction to the Book of Daniel (2 Kings 24:1a; Daniel 1:1-17) July 1-2
Continuing on from our previous reading regarding the Babylonian victory at Carchemish and the southward flight of the Egyptian forces, "the Old Testament suggests that Nebuchadnezzar followed them as far south as Egypt [pushing them out of Syria and Judah] and that he forced Jerusalem to pay tribute and yield prisoners, including Daniel the prophet. [The kingdom of Judah was thereby taken from Egypt and incorporated into the Babylonian Empire].... All this took place in a matter of a few weeks, for by August 15, 605, Nabopolassar had [unexpectedly] died and Nebuchadnezzar had to return at once to Babylon [to secure his succession]. As the author of Kings indicates, Jehoiakim remained a loyal subject to the Babylonians for the next three years (605-602)" (Eugene Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, 1987, pp. 450-451).
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus preserved this account regarding Nebuchadnezzar from the Chaldean priest and historian Berosus, who wrote around 290 B.C.: "Meanwhile, as it happened, his father Nabopolassar sickened and died in the city of Babylon, after a reign of twenty-one years. Being informed ere long of his father's death, Nabuchodonosor settled the affairs of Egypt and the other countries. The prisoners—Jews, Phoenicians, Syrians, and those of Egyptian nationality—were consigned to some of his friends, with orders to conduct them to Babylonia, along with the heavy troops and the rest of the spoils; while he himself, with a small escort, pushed across the desert to Babylon. There he found the administration in the hands of the Chaldeans and the throne reserved for him by their chief nobleman. Being now master of his father's entire realm, he gave orders to allot the captives, on their arrival, settlements in the most suitable districts of Babylonia. He then magnificently decorated the temple of Bel and the other temples with the spoils of war" (quoted by Edwin Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 1983, pp. 185-186). Here, then, is the time frame for our current reading, providing the context for the opening chapter of the book of Daniel.
Daniel was a remarkable man. His life and ministry spans the entire duration of Judah's 70-year captivity in Babylon. We will see him rise to high office in the administration of both the Babylonian and Persian Empires and yet maintain his faith and obedience to God despite persecution and trial. The story of Daniel in the lion's den is one known from childhood throughout the Judeo-Christian world.
But Daniel's story begins here. Since Nebuchadnezzar's invasion "took place in 605 bc, and Daniel was at that point placed in the category of 'young men' to be educated (Dan. 1:4), he would probably have been 15-20 years old. That would make his date of birth around 625-620 bc during the middle of the reign of the last godly king of Judah, Josiah (640-609 bc; 2 Chron. 34-35)" ("Daniel," Paul Gardner, ed., The Complete Who's Who in the Bible, 1995, p. 122). Indeed, Josiah may have been a great influence on the young Daniel. In fact, Daniel 1:3 says that those who were carried to Babylon to be educated included some of the nobles, even royalty. Josephus states that Daniel and his three famous friends were all members of the royal family (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 10, chap. 10, sec. 1). This is even more reason to suspect Josiah's influence—and perhaps the influence of Josiah's friend, the prophet Jeremiah.
Although Daniel served for around 70 years in the royal palaces of four great gentile kings (compare Daniel 1:21), we are given little information about his civil duties. The book that bears his name is not a complete chronicle of his life but is actually a short collection of different documents, most of them written by Daniel but one surprisingly authored by Nebuchadnezzar (i.e., Daniel 4). The only definite details we have about Daniel are the incredible and inspiring stories relating to his spiritual life and messages.
The book of Daniel is well-known for the remarkable prophetic visions and narratives contained within it. Yet, notes The New Bible Commentary: Revised, "in the Hebrew Bible the book of Daniel is found in the third division, the 'Writings,' rather than in the second, in which the prophetical books occur. The reason for this is not that Daniel was written later than these prophetical books. In some lists, it may be noted, Daniel was included in the second division of the Canon" (introductory notes on Daniel). The same source suggests that Daniel is classed among the Writings because Daniel himself did not hold the office of a prophet—that is, a mediator between God and the nation, declaring God's words as God declared them to him—even though he had the gift of prophecy, being spoken of in the New Testament as a "prophet" in that limited sense (see Matthew 24:15). This, however, does not seem quite right. Daniel does appear to have been a prophet in the true sense of the word even though angels were sometimes used to bring messages to him from God. Indeed, it would seem odd for Christ to refer to him as a prophet if he were not really a prophet.
Why the inclusion with the Writings then? The style and approach of the book seems to be more at issue. The prophetic books alternate between warnings of chastisement for disobedience and promises of blessings for obedience. While Daniel contains numerous prophecies, the approach is not one of promises and warnings. It is laid out as a series of inspiring stories and rather detailed prophetic narratives. Then again, perhaps Daniel should be classed among the Prophets as some suggest. Either way, we cover the book here in time order mainly because of the historical perspective it provides on the other biblical books we are currently covering.
But not everyone, it should be mentioned, accepts the validity of the book of Daniel as being contemporary with these other books. "For various reasons," says The New Open Bible's introduction to Daniel, "many critics have argued that Daniel is a fraudulent book that was written in the time of the Maccabees in the second century b.c., not the sixth century b.c. as it claims. But their arguments are not compelling:
"(1) The prophetic argument holds that Daniel could not have made such accurate predictions; it must be a 'prophecy after the events.' Daniel 11 alone contains over one hundred specific prophecies of historical events that literally came true. The author, the critics say, must have lived at the time of [the Syrian invader of Judea] Antiochus Epiphanes (175-163 b.c.) and probably wrote this to strengthen the faith of the Jews. But this argument was developed out of a theological bias that assumes true prophecy cannot take place. It also implies that the work was intentionally deceptive.
"(2) The linguistic argument claims that the book uses a late Aramaic in [chapters] 2-7 and that the Persian and Greek words also point to a late date. But recent discoveries show that Daniel's Aramaic is actually a form of the early Imperial Aramaic. Daniel's use of some Persian words is no argument for a late date since he continued living in the Persian period under Cyrus. The only Greek words are names of musical instruments in chapter 3, and this comes as no surprise since there were Greek mercenaries in the Assyrian and Babylonian armies. Far more Greek words would be expected if the book were written in the second century b.c.
"(3) The historical argument asserts that Daniel's historical blunders argue for a late date. But recent evidence has demonstrated the historical accuracy of Daniel. Inscriptions found at Haran show that Belshazzar reigned in Babylon while his father Nabonidus was fighting the invading Persians [a matter we will look at more in our reading of Daniel 5]. And Darius the Mede (5:31; 6:1) has been identified as Gubaru, a governor appointed by Cyrus."
In the end we will no doubt conclude as Josephus does regarding Daniel's fulfilled prophecies: "And indeed it so came to pass, that our nation suffered these things under Antiochus Epiphanes, according to Daniel's vision, and what he wrote many years before they came to pass. In the very same manner Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them. All these things did this man leave in writing, as God had showed them to him, insomuch that such as read his prophecies, and see how they have been fulfilled, would wonder at the honor wherewith God honored Daniel" (Book 10, chap. 11, sec. 7).
Training in Babylon (2 Kings 24:1a; Daniel 1:1-17)
Daniel 1 opens with what appears to be a chronological inconsistency. Jeremiah gave the battle of Carchemish as occurring in the "fourth year of Jehoiakim" (Jeremiah 46:2). But in Daniel 1, Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of Judah—which definitely came after the battle of Carchemish—is said to have occurred in the "third year of the reign of Jehoiakim" (verse 1).
As most commentators agree, the problem is due to a different way of counting years. Some account for the difference this way: In Jeremiah's system, a king's first year was counted as the calendar year he assumed the throne (even if there was only part of a year left) while, in Daniel's, the first year was counted from beginning of the next full calendar year. Others account for the difference this way: Jeremiah used a spring-to-spring reckoning of calendar years while Daniel used a fall-to-fall reckoning. In any case, Jeremiah and Daniel both referred to events that transpired in 605 B.C.—which was Jehoiakim's fourth year by Jeremiah's reckoning and Jehoiakim's third year by Daniel's.
Verse 2 emphasizes the fact that Nebuchadnezzar did not really take Judah—but that God "gave" it into his hand. And this was because of God's judgment on His people. The items taken from the temple later appear on the night of Babylon's fall (see Daniel 5). Eventually, they will be brought back to the Promised Land following Judah's exile (see Ezra 1:7).
Daniel is also taken from Judah at this time. "Soon after arriving in Babylon Daniel and some of his young comrades were selected by Ashpenaz, a court official, to be trained in the arts and sciences of Babylonia. The apparent goal was to prepare them to be members of the diplomatic corps who could someday represent Babylonia's interests, perhaps in Palestine itself" (Merrill, p. 484). Ashpenaz was chief of the eunuchs (Daniel 1:3). "In ancient Middle Eastern monarchies, royal harems were typically superintended by men who had been emasculated and were considered reliable to serve in that capacity. A eunuch was often regarded as a privileged official. He enjoyed the personal friendship of the king, and his advice was frequently sought. Some have speculated that Daniel and his friends were eunuchs or at least that they were set apart to advise the king (v. 9), but there is no specific statement in the book to this effect" (The Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 3). In verse 9, we do see that Daniel and his friends were answerable to the chief eunuch. And in Isaiah 39, the prophet Isaiah had told Hezekiah that some of his descendants would "be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon" (verses 5-7). But as to whether this included Daniel and his three friends, we can't be sure.
"When Daniel began the three-year programme of training for those who would enter King Nebuchadnezzar's service (Dan. 1:5), he (and his Jewish friends, v. 6) was given a Babylonian name, Belteshazzar (v. 7), which means something like 'Bel (a Babylonian god), protect his life' [or perhaps "protector of Asshur"—that is, of Assyria—as some scholars reckon "Asshur" (Assyria) to have been a common suffix among the Assyrians and then among the Babylonians who took control of their territory, as is later explained in the Bible Reading Program comments on Jeremiah 50]. Since the name is not merely the Babylonian form of Daniel ["God Is My Judge"], and it specifically incorporates the name of a Babylonian deity in place of that of the Jewish God (i.e. the 'El' suffix in Daniel), it seems that the renaming was part of a systematic, comprehensive reorientation of the students to embrace fully all aspects of the dominant Babylonian society" ("Daniel," Gardner, p. 123).
The name of Hananiah ("The Eternal Is Gracious") was changed to Shadrach (perhaps meaning "I Am Fearful of the God" or "Rejoicing in the Way"). The name of Mishael ("Who Is What God Is?") was changed to Meshach (possibly "Shadow of the Prince" or "Guest of the King"). And the name of Azariah ("Helped of the Eternal") was changed to Abed-Nego ("Servant of [the god] Nebo" or "Servant of Splendor [the Sun]").
In Babylon they were all to be taught the language of the Chaldeans. Interestingly, a large part of the book of Daniel is written in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Aramaic was the language of international communication in the empires of Assyria, Babylon and Persia. It's probable that Daniel, likely having grown up in a royal household, would have already spoken Aramaic as well as Hebrew.
"The full nature of the educational process that Daniel went through after arriving in Babylon is not clear, though its rigour and broad outline can be surmised reasonably well. Daniel and his friends were trained among the best and brightest of the empire (Dan. 1:4). By God's enablement (Dan. 1:17) they proved not only to be far superior to all the other students (v. 19), but also to 'all the magicians and enchanters' (v. 20) in the kingdom. The subject matter is said to have been 'the language and literature of the Babylonians.' However, v. 17 expands the scope to 'all kinds of literature and learning'" (p. 123). "The wisdom of the Chaldeans consisted of sciences current at the time, including the interpretation of omens, communicated through astrology, the examination of livers, kidneys, and other entrails, and the examination of organs and flight patterns of birds" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 17).
Thankfully, Daniel and his friends were well grounded in the truth of God before receiving such an education. This should serve as a model for young people today embarking on a college career. Liberal academia today is rife with an anti-God, anti-biblical, pro-evolution, pro-humanist agenda. But if a strong commitment to God and a proper understanding of His truth are already present—and remain present—an education in the world's universities need not be corrupting.
Of course, it is one thing to merely learn about pagan matters. It is another thing to participate in wrongdoing. Daniel and his friends would not cross that line. For instance, they would not allow themselves to be defiled with the "king's delicacies" nor with the wine he drank. There were evidently multiple problems here. First, it is likely that the food included animals that God declared to be unclean (see Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). Even the clean meat may not have been properly drained of blood and trimmed of fat (see Leviticus 3:17; 7:22-27). But what was wrong with the wine? Sometimes animal-based products are used in winemaking as clarifying or fining agents, such as eggs or even blood, to make wine clear (see Caroline Pyevich, "Why Is Wine So Fined?," Vegetarian Journal, Jan.-Feb. 1997, online at http://www.vrg.org/journal/vj97jan/971wine.htm). It is possible that this was also done in ancient times. It could also be that the king's wine was dedicated in pagan ritual so that drinking it would give the appearance of participating in idolatry on some level (compare Deuteronomy 32:37-38; 1 Corinthians 10:20-33). Probably much of the meat had been similarly dedicated as sacrifices, so that Daniel and his friends could not consume even the clean meat with blood and fat removed. Therefore, a vegetarian diet was the only reasonable option—as vegetables were apparently not offered in sacrifice. This was certainly a much simpler matter than declaring to the Babylonians all the requirements meat had to meet before they could eat it—which likely would have availed nothing anyway.
Notice how Daniel handled the situation. He respectfully approached his supervisor with a request (verse 8). This is always the way to approach such matters—for example, when asking an employer for time off of work to observe God's festivals. If the request is denied, then a stronger approach will need to be taken—but we should always show tact and respect. Daniel presented a way to make their particular situation work out, trusting God to back it up, which God did. Perhaps the vegetables included beans and nuts, providing them with sufficient protein in their diet. Or God could have simply enhanced their physical appearance and well-being while doing the opposite with everyone else. After all, 10 days doesn't seem like much time to make a huge difference by itself. We can't know with certainty exactly what happened. What we do know is that the refusal of Daniel and his friends to disobey God prepared them for future greatness as true witnesses for the one true God in a powerful pagan culture.