Daniel, the Prophet, a Man Greatly Beloved
Read Daniel Chapter 1
The first chapter of Daniel is a very significant preface to this important prophetic book. If Daniel's personal history had run in the same course as the majority of the young prisoners and he had merged in with life in Babylon, God would not have disclosed the outline of Gentile history to him, and we would probably never have heard of him. This man was born in 624 B.C. He was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha who probably visited Persia, but never came to the knowledge of the true God. To the one is revealed the truth of God's supremacy over events and man's rebellion, while the other turns to darkness and founds a system of deep spiritism, which holds millions in its foul grip even now.
The Word of God as recorded in 2 Chronicles 36 had been fulfilled and the discipline of God executed upon a rebellious nation. The Babylonians had come into Jerusalem to conquer and to enrich their treasuries. They were the rod of Jehovah's wrath against Judah (Isa. 13:5). This was in 606 B.C. It was a turbulent year for many. The long succession of kings of Judah had fully tested God's patience towards them and now only the severest discipline would deal with their idolatry and rebelliousness.
The vessels were carried away into captivity. How touching to consider that those things which had been dedicated to the service of God were now in the grasp of the heathen and being held for the sinister religion of the Babylonians.
A selection is made of the noble captives, and these were probably destined to rule as puppet governors over their fellow Jews. It is not an unknown ploy in the history of tyrants. It should be noted however that God had made a prior selection. Daniel was known to God from before his birth, and chosen for service before the events that now unfold. His birth into the aristocratic family, as well as his pathway up to this point, were all mapped out in the mind of God. Nevertheless these times were to be very turbulent for the youth. He experienced the siege and plunder of Jerusalem, the intrusion into and destruction of God's temple, as well as separation from home and family. These events would bring Daniel into the deepest exercise.
Daniel was sent to the Babylonian university to learn and read the language and literature of the Chaldeans. The teens and early twenties are years fraught with special danger. These youths had been taken captive and were now far from home and parental control and influences. The educational system of Babel was not designed to train young men to be spiritual, godly men. It had an altogether different agenda. Its purpose was to train men for its own empire and aggrandisement; to make them good Babylonians. Young people need to be aware of this today. The educational system of this world does not exist to make them good Christians.
The king of Babylon is a picture of the sovereign of this world-Satan. He not only controls the education of those within his domain but also their nourishment. He is their provider. If we wish to take our place in the great system of this world we will find much that suits our natural appetite. Every taste and inclination is catered for, whether it be in education, entertainment, society, employment, or even religion. The whole world lies in the lap of Satan. We need to be aware of this and have a due assessment of it as an entire system at variance with the mind of God and contrary to His Christ.
The original names of Daniel's companions are often forgotten and only the Babylonian names which they were given, remembered. The meanings of their original names, as far as we can ascertain, are:-
Daniel: God is my judge.
Hannaiah: Jah is gracious. Compare this with John.
Mishael: Who is like unto God? A name akin to Michael.
Azariah: Jah is my helper. This is akin to eliezer or Lazarus.
At this point I would like to suggest that the Lord's people follow the faithful ones in Bible days who clothed their children with names of dignity. How often we see worldly names without any spiritual meaning given to Christian children. Names of popular celebrities and the like are altogether unfitting for those walking in the light of God's Word. The parents of these four youths evidently looked up to God in respect of their new-born babies and, in spite of the ruin of the day, gave names of great beauty which were expressive of their own faith. Perhaps they little realised the heritage they were bestowing upon their offspring when each was named. The names would be a precious reminder to their bearers in difficult days to come, of God's interest in His people.
It may be well if we try to remember the Hebrew names of the young captives. The system they were in could not cope with variants of that nature and thus it was determined that they should be renamed. This was a studied insult to their faith as well as a blasphemy against the true God. By giving new names the Babylonians expressed their ownership of these slaves. The new names did not give God the glory (Acts 12:23). Compare the new names and consider their dreadful meaning:
Daniel: God is my judge. Bel-teshe-zzar: Bel (Marduk)
protect his life
Hannaiah: Jah is gracious. Shadrach: Command of Aku
(Moon god of Babylonia)
Mishael: Who is like unto God? Meshech: Who is like Aku?
Azariah: God is my helper. Abed-Nego: Servant of Nego
or Nabu (a secondary deity).
Perhaps the son of Nebu
This was a very difficult time for these teenagers. They were forcibly taken away from home, and perhaps made to march the hundreds of miles to the alien land of the idolaters. They were taken away from their religious centre, and from parental control. They had to endure all this, and probably many other horrors, in their impressionable years. It is enough for the young to have to cope with the mental and physical changes connected with adolescence, with the attendant temptations and snares, but these young Judaeans had to cope with very much more.
Their environment, education, language and names may be changed, but once God has done a work in the heart there is a new life which can answer to God's command. In many ways these young men exhibit the features of a remnant having the same faith as those who had lived in brighter and better days.
This verse brings us to the major crisis in Daniel's life. It occurs early on, and if he had turned aside here his name would probably have been unknown. He would just have been one of the many who passively accepted the new situation. "Well, that's all right back home, but here no one will know about it. You can do what you please! You should think of yourself, your future." Such pressures and plausible arguments are set before the young today. Is it not likely that similar enticements were held out before Daniel? But Daniel was determined to obey God's Word. The reason for his faithfulness was that he had God's word in his heart. That alone can be the source of true strength in the young Christian (1 John 2:14). What the Bible said is all that mattered to this captive. Its supreme authority held sway over his life.
He was away from home, from his godly parents, the temple, and bereft of virtually every human support. He resolved to do God's will, and so proceeded to take an extraordinary course, simply and solely because the Scriptures required him to do so. Again he would have faced a personal conflict. Appeals to common sense would have been set before him. "Don't make a fuss in public. What you believe in private is all right, but don't make a show of it. Adapt yourself to your new circumstances; times are different now. You have no option!" It is true that a man with an open Bible does not have an option. In this respect Acts 5:29 is very clear: "We ought to obey God rather than men!" In the face of all that the adversary might say against such a course, Daniel came to the right decision in his heart. Daniel might have to stand alone but stand he would. Have you made such a decision?
This eighth verse is a full one! "He would not defile himself." Are there young men today whose conduct is governed by such a purpose? This is really the true and essential feature of the Nazarite of Numbers 6-separation from what the world has to offer. Who among my younger readers would refuse the dainties or rich fare set before them in such circumstances? But as one concerned, not with his stomach but with God's will and pleasure, Daniel determines to refuse the king's meat.
The king is an apt figure of the one who wants to feed your mind with the fare of this world. The food of this world is what the natural man enjoys and from which he gains all his nourishment. He draws all his sustenance and strength from what satan offers. But that portion is destructive of the spiritual life. Today the god of this world sets his food before us through every kind of media. Satan wants to feed the mind with trash and filth. The Christian is to conduct his life as if he were a Nazarite, walking a path of separation unto God.
The verses which follow also suggest important aspects of the christian's life. As in Joseph's case centuries before (cf. Gen. 39:4, 21) Daniel's enemies show him some pity and consideration. This brings out in a very real way the fact that, "When a man's ways please the LORD, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. 16:7).
The eunuch was unwilling to lose his life on their account, but when faith is operative grace opens a way forward for it amidst the obstacles. Melzar is approached and agrees to give them pulse for a trial period. Daniel was a righteous man who lived by faith and who trusted His God to vindicate him in this matter.
In the bright days of the kingdom under Solomon it had been possible, at least outwardly, to comply with many of the requirements of the law. But they were brighter and better days when there was more piety and adherence to the Word of God. Then it was easier! But now all was in ruins it was not so easy to take such a path. Perhaps, when circumstances are so opposed and hostile to us, we are apt to get depressed and might be tempted to give up as hopeless all attempts at being faithful. But is it honouring to the Lord to cease to try to maintain what is due to Him and consistent with His Word? Such a cowardly path was not to be taken by one like Daniel. Faith can and must still be exercised and the pathway of obedience taken.
Daniel was consistent in what constituted for him practical separation from the world. We too ought to be marked by a decided refusal to receive anything from this world. When we are in that state we are able to receive from God. Genesis 14:23 and 18:17 furnish us with an early example of this principle. Daniel passed the test of the ten days and God made him and his friends to succeed in their purpose. the truth of that Scripture, "Them that honour Me I will honour" (1 Sam. 2:30) received another triumphant illustration. Daniel's piety was great gain-in fact he was ten times better (v. 20b). Of course there was responsibility and dedicated hard work in his studies, but in everything he looked to his God to sustain him in the circumstances. The faithful conduct of the four youths meets with God's approval and they are found superior to all the king's servants who had been educated in the dark sciences of this world.
From daniel especially we would draw an important lesson. Essentially the book of Daniel is a prophetic book. Do you want to appreciate the secrets of the prophetic word? Do you want to understand God's thoughts and purposes? It is simple: read His Word and act upon what you find there. Walk with God and not with the world, and then your eyes will be enlightened. "The secret of the LORD is with them that fear Him" (Psa. 25:14).
But not only did their obedience bring reward, it prepared them for coming days. In trials and exercise they would learn the character of their God. "The people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits" (Dan. 11:32) and so it was.
Daniel continued unto the first year of Cyrus. Scripture actually records that he exceeded that. He started well in his youth and continued in long service to God under heathen monarchs. The good start was very commendable, but continuance and a good conclusion is also expected of us. May God also grant us grace whereby we might serve Him acceptably. Paul gave Timothy this word and it well suits our study here, "But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:14-15).