I have to admit that trying to keep the chronology of Israel’s history is a bit like juggling balls. There were so many books being written at about the same time, it’s difficult to keep every thing straight. At the same time, I must say that all of this has been quite illuminating. I’m sure I’ve read or heard before of the timing of the book of Daniel, but it still came as a surprise to me to realize that the early events of Daniel came before Judah’s ultimate fall during the reign of Zedekiah. Even knowing it happened before then, I somehow had it in mind that his exile came in the time of Jehoiachin, the second to last king of Israel. But according to Daniel, Babylon’s siege of Jerusalem started in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign (he lasted a total of 11 years as king), and Daniel was probably taken in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign.
Anyway, Daniel and a number of Jews from the royal family and nobility were taken to Babylon. Basically Nebuchadnezzar wanted the best of the best from the land of Judah, as well as from the other lands he had conquered. The idea was two-fold. Strip the conquered areas of any potential threats, while strengthening his own kingdom. And so Daniel and his friends were taken and indoctrinated with the Babylonian culture.
To try to get these captives immersed in their new surroundings, they were also given new names. Daniel and his friends all had names which honored God, but each were given new names that honored the Babylonian gods. It’s interesting that today, most people remember Daniel’s friends names by their Babylonian names, while somehow, Daniel’s name has stuck with us. I suppose it’s because Daniel used his own name throughout the entire book, while using the Babylonian names to refer to his friends.
But early on, Daniel and his friends were faced with a choice. And it was seemingly a very minor one, whether to eat the food that they were being served. It was food that came from the king’s table, and it was supposedly a way to honor those being trained for the king’s service. But there were two problems. First, they probably violated the dietary laws God had given to the Israelites. And second, the food had probably been offered to idols first.
It would’ve been easy for Daniel and his friends to say, “Well, we’re far from home. God seems to have abandoned us. He let us get captured by these people. When in Rome… (or more accurately, “When in Babylon….”).
But it says in verse 8,
Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.
He talked to the official in charge of him and his friends, showing some God-given wisdom and tact in doing so (something we all need, but don’t always have), and as a result, was given a ten day test period to do things God’s way. When they passed the test, the official let them eat as they wished. The result?
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…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. (17,19-20)
What can we take from this?
How resolved are you to do what is pleasing in God’s sight? Think of the pressure that Daniel and his friends were under. Pressure from the Babylonians. Pressure from their friends who had compromised their beliefs. Pressure from the lusts of their own flesh, and the pride of life.
Yet these things did not shake them. They committed themselves to serving God no matter what? And God blessed them for it.
Are you resolved to follow God in the face of peer pressure? In the face of temptation? Let us be like Daniel and his friends, resolved to follow God no matter the cost. And know that if we do so, we will ultimately find his blessing in our lives.