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, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. Daniel 1:1-2
The third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah marks the first of three sieges of the holy city by the Babylonians. After the Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C., in which the allied armies of Egypt and Assyria were soundly destroyed by the Babylon forces, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, resulting in tribute being paid by King Jehoiakim.
Note that it was the Lord (Adonai) that delivered the king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.
But in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Leviticus 25:4
Israel never observed this regulation. This act of disobedience, as well as, intermarriage, idol worship and other sins of the nation, resulted in the people being taken into captivity. The Lord used the sword of Babylon to punish the rebellious acts of his disobedient people.
Some of the articles from the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem were carried off to the treasure house in the temple of Nebuchadnezzar’s god in Babylon. The treasures of kingdoms were often deposited in a temple, to be under the protection of its god. It is also a statement by the conquering king that his god or gods are superior over the one worshipped by the defeated monarch.
The temple of Bel-Merodach in Babylon was a structure of great magnificence. Herodotus gives us a description of this temple: “In the midst of the sacred area is a strong tower built a stadium in length and breadth; upon this tower is another raised, and another upon it, till there are eight towers. There is a winding ascent made about all the towers. In the middle of the ascent there is a resting-place, where are seats on which those ascending may sit and rest. In the last tower is a spacious shrine, and in it a huge couch beautifully bespread, and by its side is placed a table of gold. No statue has been set up here, nor does any mortal pass the night here.”
It wasn’t that the gods of Babylon were superior to Yehovah the God of Israel, but because the people of Judah failed to listen to the prophets of Yehovah and repent, that the LORD delivered the king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. Daniel 1:3-5
Ashpenaz was the chief of King Nebuchadnezzar’s eunuchs. His orders were to select young men from among the royal family and the nobles of Israel who were to be trained for three years in order to serve in King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace.
To qualify for service to the king, these young men had to be physically attractive, knowledgeable in many subject areas, and perceptive. They had to excel as students and have keen retentive minds. Not only did they have to become fluent in speaking the Chaldean language, but educated in Babylonian literature, history, and philosophy, mathematics, the knowledge of the stars as well as learn architecture and military skills.
They would be fed the same rich food and wine that the king himself was served, so that their bodies as well as their minds were well nourished.
Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. Daniel 1:6-7
The Hebrew name Daniel means, “God is my judge.” The Hebrew names of Daniel’s friends were Hananiah (חֲנַנְיָה), “Yah (Yahweh or Yehovah) is gracious”, Mishael (מִישָׁאֵל), “Who is like God?” and Azariah (עֲזַרְיָה), “Yah has helped”, but by the king’s decree they assigned Chaldean names, so that Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach and Azariah became Abednego.
The heathen names given to Daniel and his companions are not as easily interpreted as their Hebrew names, but probably they were given in a gesture to credit to the heathen gods of Babylon the victory over Israel and to further divorce these young men from their Hebrew background. Daniel is given the name of Belteshazzar, identical to Belshazzar and meaning “protect his life,”or preferably “May Bel protect his life” Bel was a god of Babylon.
Hananiah was given the name of Shadrach. This name may be a reference to the compound of Sudur, meaning “command,” and Aku, the moon-god. Therefore the name would mean “command of Aku.” Other translators believe the name Shadrach may be a perversion of Marduk, a principal god of Babylon.
Mishael is given the name of Meshach. This probably was a contraction of Mi-sha-aku meaning, “who is what Aku (the moon-god) is?”
Babylon is modern day Iraq. Ancient Babylonians worshipped the moon-god. Modern day Iraqis worship Allah who is the moon-god.
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 way. Daniel 1:8
There may have been more than one reason that eating from the king’s table would have caused a Jew to be defiled. Leviticus 17:10-12 makes it clear that the Israelites were prohibited from eating blood:
“‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.”
In Deuteronomy 12:23-24 the LORD commands the Israelites to drain the blood from the meat they will eat:
But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water.
The pagans not only failed to drain the blood from the meat they were going to consume but also ate animals that were declared unclean for Israelites.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud. Leviticus 11:1-3
The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you. Leviticus 11:6-8
If Daniel ate what was served to King Nebuchadnezzar, both eating unclean animals and meat that was not drained of its blood would have defiled him.
In addition, a portion of the meat as well as a portion of the wine would have first been offered to their idol “Bel.” If Daniel ate and drank this meat and wine he would be giving his tacit approval to the practice of idolatry.
Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.” Daniel 1:9-10
Ashpenaz was ordered to teach the language and literature of the Babylonians to the young Israelite men that he had chosen for service to his king. They were selected for their physical attractiveness and mental acuity. He was concerned that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah would look undernourished and be hampered mentally by not eating their assigned food and drink. If they looked worse than the other captives, the chief official could be put to death for failing to perform his duties.
Although Ashpenaz feared for his life, God caused him to show favor and compassion to Daniel. When Daniel asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself with the royal food, Ashpenaz could have flatly refused Daniel’s request. Instead, he shared his concerns and the possible consequence for granting his permission to Daniel.
Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. Daniel 1:11-14
In an effort to obey the Torah and not defile themselves; this ten day period was a time of testing for these Jewish young men and could have been a matter of life and death. They denied themselves by not eating meat and drinking wine and were content with nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.
For those who follow the Torah, there is a ten day period that is observed annually in which it is commanded that a person denies oneself, and according to tradition, is a matter of life and death.
The LORD said to Moses, “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the LORD by fire. Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God. Anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people. I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a Sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your Sabbath.” Leviticus 23:26-32
Rosh Hashanah (Yom Teruah – The Day of Trumpets) is held on the first day of the seventh month. Ten days later, on Tishri 10, the Day of Atonement is observed.
The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are commonly known as the Ten Days of Awe. During the Ten Days of Penitence (in Hebrew, Asseret Yemey Tshuva, which, literally translated, means ten days of return),
Yom Kippur is the most holy, most solemn day for the Jewish people. It is the last day of the High Holy Days which began on Rosh Hashanah. Many Jewish people spend the entire day in the synagogue, praying and fasting in the hope that their sins will be forgiven and that they will be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life for the coming year.
At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. Daniel 1:15-16
In Deuteronomy 28, the first fourteen verses speak of blessings for fully obeying the LORD God and obeying all His commands. Daniel and his three companions were captives in a foreign land, yet at great personal risk, were willing to be obedient to the LORD their God. At the end of the time of testing, they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. As Joseph prospered in the Land of Egypt because the LORD was with him, so shall Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah prosper in the Land of Babylon.
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 kinds. Daniel 1:17
Again we see a parallel in Daniel’s life to Joseph in Egypt. Joseph was taken captive and sold as a slave. Joseph had been given dreams by God and God gave him the interpretation of his dreams as well as the dreams of the Pharaoh. The purpose of Joseph’s ability was to place him in a position of authority and influence and for the saving of many lives. Daniel’s gift of understanding visions and dreams of all kinds would eventually elevate him to a position of authority and influence as well.
At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 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. Daniel 1:18-20
After a period of three years of training, Ashpenaz presented Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah to Nebuchadnezzar. His chief official would have had to have made arrangements with the king beforehand, and not only obtained Nebuchadnezzar’s permission to bring his charges into the king’s court, but have a pre-arranged appointed day and time for this meeting.
Imagine the dread with which those young captives must have anticipated knowing that they must stand before the terrible conqueror who had destroyed the allied armies of Egypt and Assyria and had overthrown all who ventured to oppose him. Failing the emperor’s oral examination could have resulted in being sold in the slave market or even death for the young men. But because of their obedience to God, His favor upon them, and their diligence in their studies, they excelled in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them.
And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus. Daniel 1:21
And Daniel continued serving in the court of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar and his successors until the monarchy passed from the Chaldeans to the Persians under the rule of Cyrus. Due to Daniel’s integrity and abilities, he continued in his position of authority after the fall of the Babylonian Empire and during the days of the Persian Empire.