“Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good–looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding, and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans…. Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.”
Daniel 1:3–4, 6
Man values physical beauty and superior human capabilities, whereas God values spiritual character.
As King Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem, he received word that his father had died. So he returned to Babylon, leaving Jehoiakim, king of Judah, in power. To ensure the king’s loyalty, Nebuchadnezzar instructed Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to take some hostages from among the royal families of Israel. Among those selected were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was to train these young hostages in the ways of the Babylonians (Chaldeans), then press them into service as his representatives among the Jews. There were an estimated fifty to seventy–five hostages, each of whom was young (probably in his early teens), handsome, and without physical defect. In addition, each had superior intellect, education, wisdom, and social graces.
Being among such a select group of people could have led to pride in Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. But self–glorification meant nothing to them. Their priority was to serve their God with humility, integrity, and fidelity. Nebuchadnezzar could look on them favorably, train them in the ways of the Chaldeans, and offer them power and influence in his kingdom, but he could never incite their pride or diminish their allegiance to the Lord.
Like Babylon, our society is enamored with physical beauty and human capabilities. However, let your focus be on spiritual character and using for God’s glory the talents and abilities He has given you.
Suggestions for Prayer: Thank the Lord for the special gifts He has given you. ✧ Prayerfully guard your heart against subtle pride, which undermines spiritual character.
For Further Study: Read Daniel 4:28–36. How did God deal with King Nebuchadnezzar’s pride? ✧ What was the king’s response (see v. 37)?
1:1–7 The scene is the court of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon following his attack on Jerusalem in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign. Nebuchadnezzar ordered several Jewish young men to be prepared to serve him as men of wisdom and knowledge. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Their Chaldean names were Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. As part of their preparation, they were to eat of the king’s delicacies and drink of his wine. These foods probably included meats that were unclean, according to the OT law, or perhaps they were connected with idol worship.
There is a seeming discrepancy between verse 1 and Jeremiah 25:1. Here Nebuchadnezzar is said to have besieged Jerusalem in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign. The Jeremiah passage says that the fourth year of Jehoiakim was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar. This may be explained by the difference between Jewish and Babylonian reckoning.
3–7 This unit introduces the protagonists of the story line of the book of Daniel. Four young men taken captive from Judah are identified by name as among those Israelites belonging to the royal family and Hebrew nobility deported to Babylonia (v. 3). All four bore theophoric names (v. 6) associating them with the God of the Israelites: “Daniel” (“God is my judge”), “Hananiah” (“Yah[weh] has been gracious”), “Mishael” (“Who is/what is God?”), and “Azariah” (“Yah[weh] has helped”).
The name “Ashpenaz” (v. 3) is an attested proper name in Aramaic known from an incantation bowl dating to ca. 600 BC (cf. Collins, Daniel, 134). The name is associated with “lodging” in some manner and may mean “innkeeper.” His title, “chief of [the] court officials,” indicates a position of oversight vested with some degree of royal authority (since he was in a position to make a decision concerning Daniel’s request concerning food rations without appealing to a superior; v. 8). Ashpenaz probably served both as a type of chamberlain overseeing the accommodations (i.e., “room and board”) for the captives and headmaster in terms of supervising the education of the captive foreign youth and approving them for “graduation” into the civil service corps upon completion of their prescribed period of training.
The policy of incorporating capable foreign captives in the civil service corps as officials of the king was widespread in the ancient world (cf. BBCOT, 730). Such practice had the benefit of depleting the leadership ranks in subjugated territories as well as harnessing that administrative potential in civil service to the ruling nation. Wiseman (Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 81) has suggested that in Babylonian practice such “diplomatic hostages” were sometimes educated for eventual return to their homeland as loyal supporters of the Babylonian regime. This training or education was essentially a programmatic indoctrination of the captives in the worldview of a conquering nation (see Lucas, 53). The reprogramming included studies in the language and literature of the host nation (v. 4), a special diet, and training in royal protocol (v. 5). The goal or desired outcome was reorientation of the exiled individual in the thoughts, beliefs, and practices of the suzerain nation.
Typically, this reorientation included a change of name symbolic of the loyalty of the subject to a new king, his nation, and his gods. Accordingly, Daniel and his three friends became (v. 7): “Belteshazzar” (“Bel [i.e., Marduk, the supreme god of the Babylonian pantheon] protects his life”), “Shadrach” (perhaps “command of Aku” [i.e., the Sumerian moon-god] or “I am fearful of Aku”), “Meshach” (perhaps “Who is what [the god] Aku is?”), and “Abednego” (“servant of the shining one” or “servant of Neg[b]o” [i.e., Nabu, son of Marduk and patron deity of the scribal guild]; cf. Goldingay, 18, on naming and renaming in the OT).
Two things stand out in the passage: the exceptional qualifications of the young men chosen for the civil service training and the extensive nature and duration of that diplomatic training. Concerning the former, it is likely that Daniel and his friends were teenagers when they were taken captive from Judah and exiled to Babylonia, the presumption on the part of the Babylonians being that young boys generally would be more teachable and would be in a position to give more years of fruitful service to the state. Natural good looks and physical prowess were commonly associated with leadership in the biblical world (cf. 1 Sa 9:2; 16:18). The three expressions referring to intellectual capabilities (v. 4, “aptitude for … learning, well informed, quick to understand”) should probably be regarded as synonyms for “gifted learners” rather than signifying distinctive aspects of the human intelligence (cf. Miller, 61). The cumulative effect of the triad simply stresses the emphasis King Nebuchadnezzar placed on inherent intellectual ability.
According to Wiseman (Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 86), Babylon prided itself on being the “city of wisdom,” a title that earlier belonged to Assur as the capital of Assyria. The schools of King Nebuchadnezzar’s day would have continued to copy “sign lists … word lists, paradigms and extracts of legal terminology … religious documents of all kinds … fables, and omens of various categories including those about devils and evil spirits … as well as texts of possible historical interest.” The language of the Babylonians (v. 4) would have been the Akkadian dialect known as Neo-Babylonian. Beyond this, Daniel and his friends would have known several other languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, and probably Persian.
Akkadian was a cuneiform writing system made up of wedge-shaped characters, commonly etched on clay tablets. The language was cumbersome and required learning hundreds of symbols, many with multiple syllabic values. Collins (Daniel, 140) has observed that length of Babylonian education varied depending on the specialization of the student (in some cases from ten to eighteen years). He further comments that the three-year instructional program for Daniel and his friends seems “unrealistically short for anyone who had no previous training in Akkadian letters.” Those who have studied the Akkadian language might be inclined to agree!
Mastery of Akkadian was accomplished by copying simple exercises set forth by an instructor, then advancing to the copying of important literary texts, and finally to the composition of original documents of various sorts. As Baldwin, 80, notes, to study Babylonian literature was “to enter a completely alien thought-world.” This Mesopotamian worldview was polytheistic in nature, superstitious in character, and pluralistic in practice. Lucas (Daniel, 53) summarizes that “the learning process intended for these Judean exiles was thus one of induction into the thought-world and culture of Babylonia.” This makes all the more remarkable the fact that Daniel and his friends were able to devote themselves to the study of Babylonian language and literature without compromising their faith in Yahweh and their Hebrew worldview. Baldwin, 80, aptly reflects, “evidently the work of Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk had not been in vain.” Likewise, the Christian church needs individuals of faith who are “students” of the “language and literature” of modern culture both for the sake of effective gospel outreach (cf. Ac 17:22–28) and for discerning the spirits in terms of maintaining sound doctrine (cf. 1 Jn 4:1).
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1078–1079). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Hill, A. E. (2008). Daniel. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 49–50). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.