Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem during the third year of King Jehoiakim's reign. The people of Judah received a reprieve during the reign of Josiah, but after he died the people returned to their idolatrous ways and Judah entered into political unrest as one national crisis followed another. When King Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem, God handed Judah over to him and some of the vessels belonging to the house of God. King Nebuchadnezzar took the vessels and some hostages from the royal family and the nobility as a sign of Judah's surrender and his power. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his chief eunuch to select young men that were royal or noble by birth, physically and intellectually superior, and competent to have the poise and precision needed to stand in the presence of the king of Babylon. The captives would be subjected to thorough training, education, and indoctrination. Their courses would include literature, language, and the culture of the Chaldeans. These men were in training to be upper-level administrators and advisers to the king of Babylon. The purpose of the curriculum was to change their worldview and undermine their value system. The young men selected for this rigorous program would receive a daily portion of food and wine from the king's table which would change the way these men lived and challenge their dietary laws and customs. The program would last for three years and then they would stand before the King for final approval. Four men, in particular, are named: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. These men were given new names that honored the gods of Babylon and dishonored them and their families as well as the Lord.
Daniel's name was changed, but his character was not, and he was unwilling to compromise his beliefs. He resolved that he would not disobey the Lord even if it cost him his life. He approached the chief eunuch and asked for an exemption with the king's food. God gave Daniel favor, and the chief eunuch had compassion on Daniel. Daniel's decision was based on religious grounds, not physical. The food these men were offered was unclean and detestable because it had been offered to idols. The royal official was hesitant in granting Daniel's request because it could cost him his life if Daniel and his friends did not progress well on their diet. Daniel asks the chief eunuch to test them for ten days, during which he and his friends would only eat vegetables and drink water. At the end of the ten days, these men would be compared to the rest of the men who are the prescribed regimen. Daniel and his friends were not necessarily vegetarians, but they would have difficulty finding meat that met the requirements of the Mosaic law. God gave Daniel favor with this official, and he agreed. This man had no reason to agree to their terms; this was the hand of God who rules over all people and nations. Ashpenaz examined Daniel and his friends after ten days and to his delight, he found them to be better in appearance than any of the others. The change in appearance was not the result of the right diet; it was the evidence of God's power and his grace toward those who obey him. Ashpenaz granted their request, and they were exempted from eating the king's food and drinking the king's wine. God blessed these men further by giving them the ability learn, skill in literature and wisdom, and Daniel was given understanding when it came to visions and dreams. Three years passed and these captives were subjected to an alternative worldview. Their faith and convictions held to the end, and when they were presented before the king, no one else was comparable. They entered into the king's service and proved to be better than all the magicians and enchanters in the kingdom. Daniel would stay in Babylon and serve until the first year of King Cyrus.
Things To Consider:
- What do we learn about the activity of God in the affairs of his people?
- Why did God give Jerusalem over to Nebuchadnezzar?
- What do we learn about adversity and suffering from the lives of Daniel and his friends?
- What kind of faith do you think was required to ask for special treatment from his captors?
- Why are biblical convictions necessary?
- What does the text imply about the other Hebrew young men?
- How difficult do you think it was to stand for your faith before captors and peers that had acquiesced in their circumstances?
- Where can you see God's providence in this passage?
- Why do you think people attribute Daniel and his friends' appearance to a diet sometimes?
- Why do you think God endowed them with so many abilities?
- What do you think this taught Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans about the one true God?
- How did God use captives to inform a nation?