June 5 – Integrity Stands on Principle

“And the king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service…. But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.”

Daniel 1:5, 8

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Godly integrity is built upon the foundation of biblical authority.

From the world’s perspective, King Nebuchadnezzar had much to offer his Hebrew captives: the best food, the best education, and high positions in his kingdom. But Daniel’s perspective was quite different. He did not object to receiving a pagan education because God had given no direct prohibition against that, and a Babylonian education had much to offer in the areas of architecture and science. But as with anyone receiving a secular education, Daniel would have to exercise discernment in sorting out the true from the false and the good from the bad.

It was when Daniel was asked to violate a direct command from God that he drew the line and took his stand on biblical principle. That’s the character of godly integrity. It bases decisions on the principles from God’s Word, not on mere preference, intimidation, or peer pressure. Seemingly Daniel had every reason to compromise: he was young, away from home, and facing severe consequences if he defied the king’s order. Yet he was unwavering in his obedience to God.

Although Daniel couldn’t obey the king’s order, he handled the situation in a wise and respectful manner by seeking permission to abstain from eating what God had forbidden. From his example we learn that standing on principle will sometimes put us at odds with those in authority over us, but even then we can love and respect them.

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Suggestions for Prayer: Pray for those in authority over you who may want you to do things that would displease the Lord. ✧ Pray for wisdom and grace to maintain a loving attitude toward them while still standing on biblical principles.

For Further Study: Read Acts 5:17–29. How did the apostles respond to the authorities who commanded them to stop preaching the gospel?[1]


THE STEADFAST FIDELITY OF DANIEL AND HIS COMPANIONS (Chap. 1)

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.

1:8–12 Daniel nobly refused to eat them. He asked if he and his friends could eat vegetables and drink … water instead. Ashpenaz, the chief of the eunuchs (not understanding Jewish customs nor their God), was horrified at this idea, noting that his own head would be endangered if the plan didn’t work! After all, he was responsible for them.

1:13–21 Daniel’s request was nonetheless granted. At the end of the probationary period of ten days, they stood before … the king and proved to be ten times better than all the wise men of Babylon. They were therefore accepted by the king. God graciously gifted them with knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom, and to Daniel he granted understanding in all visions and dreams.[2]


A Young Man Decides

Daniel 1:3–21

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in 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.

Among these 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.

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.

At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the two greatest reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, each issued commentaries on Daniel. Luther produced two studies, published in 1524 and 1544. Calvin produced one, published in 1561. It is a striking fact that in spite of Luther’s great popularity, which continues to this day, Luther’s books on Daniel have never been translated into English, while Calvin’s massive work, running to a thousand pages in the original Latin, was available in English within ten years.

Why has the text of Calvin’s commentary proved so popular? There may be many reasons, but most people feel that it is because of the passionate and moving way in which the great expositor linked the times of the exiled Daniel to his own.

Calvin lived in an age of ecclesiastical and political warfare in which many thousands suffered greatly for their faith. In Germany in 1546, Charles V began a war to stamp out Lutheranism. In France, between 1540 and 1544, Francis I attempted the same thing, massacring the Waldensians as part of his misconceived program. In 1545 he burned twenty-two villages and killed three thousand men and women. Others were sent to the galleys. In 1562, the year after Calvin’s commentary appeared, the eight Wars of Religion began, the destruction of which was so great that Europe did not recover for two centuries. Thousands became exiles during this period. Many fled to Switzerland where Calvin, who was himself an exile, lived.

Calvin’s commentary breathes with compassion for these people, and as a result it has always appealed to those who consider themselves exiles in a strange land. Indeed, it appears even more broadly than this. For Daniel was a man of God in worldly Babylon, and Christians are always God’s people in the midst of those who do not honor and in fact oppose their divine King.

Calvin dedicated his book to the “pious Protestants of France” and urged Daniel upon them as a great encouragement.

I have the very best occasion of showing you, beloved brethren, in this mirror, how God proves the faith of his people in these days by various trials; and how with wonderful wisdom he has taken care to strengthen their minds by ancient examples, that they should never be weakened by the concussion of the severest storms and tempests; or at least, if they should totter at all, that they should never finally fall away. For although the servants of God are required to run in a course impeded by many obstacles, yet whoever diligently reads this book will find in it whatever is needed by a voluntary and active runner to guide him from the starting point to the goal; while good and strenuous wrestlers will experimentally acknowledge that they have been sufficiently prepared for the contest.… Here then, we observe, as in a living picture, that when God spares and even indulges the wicked for a time, he proves his servants like gold and silver; so that we ought not to consider it a grievance to be thrown into the furnace of trial, while profane men enjoy the calmness of repose.

A Secular Environment

In order to understand Daniel we must realize that the Babylon to which Daniel and his three friends were taken was a secular, worldly place, as I attempted to show in the last study, and that their initial experiences there were intended to blot out of their minds the remembrance of the true God and their homeland. We see this in several ways. For one thing, Nebuchadnezzar ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to choose young men who would be easily molded by their new environment. Again, he attempted to lure them with the delicacies of food the great city of Babylon could provide.

Chiefly we notice Nebuchadnezzar’s intentions in the altering of the young men’s names. The Hebrew names of these young men were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They were changed to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It should be immediately evident to anyone with even a limited knowledge of Hebrew that the Jewish names of these men each contains a name of God and has a spiritual meaning. Daniel and Mishael both contain the syllable el, which means “God” and is the basis of the frequently appearing (plural) name Elohim. Daniel means “God is my Judge.” Mishael means “Who is like God?” The other two names, Hananiah and Azariah, both contain a shortened form of the name Jehovah. Hananiah means “Jehovah is gracious.” Azariah means “Jehovah is my helper.” The very names of these men were reminders of their heritage and a challenge to them to remain faithful to the Lord. But now, deported into a strange, pagan land, their names are changed. And the names they are given all contain a reference to one of the false gods of the ancient Babylonians, Aku and Nego. It was a way of saying that these who had been servants of the Jewish God were now servants and worshipers of the gods of the pagan pantheon.

Yet the change accomplished nothing. Nebuchadnezzar changed the men’s names, but he could not change their hearts. They remained faithful to the true God of Israel, as the story shows.

I apply that to our own age. One thing the world seems always to try to do—it has happened in the past, and it is happening in our own time—is to take Christian words and rework them to convey the world’s ideas. I suppose it is one of the devil’s subtlest tricks. It happens in liberal theology. “Sin” used to mean rebellion against God and his righteous law or, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (A. 14). But today it means ignorance or merely the kind of oppression that is supposed to reside in social structures. “Jesus” is no longer the incarnate God who died for our salvation, but rather our example or what might even be termed an evolutionary peak of the human race. “Faith” is awareness of oppression and beginning to do something about it, and so on. Of course, in the secular world the readjustment of words is even more ridiculous and extreme, as the recent use of the term “born again” in advertising slogans shows.

This is a great danger, I admit. But although it is a danger, if the truth of what is behind these words remains strong in the minds and hearts of those who really know the truth, then the vitality of the faith will remain regardless of the world’s corruptions. Christians will persevere because God will strengthen them to stand against the culture.

Daniel’s Decision

The most important verse in the first chapter of Daniel is verse 8, which says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.”

What is your reaction to that? Remember that Daniel was a young man at this time. We know from the later development of the story that he lived for a very long time beyond this—through the rule of four emperors. He was probably in his nineties when he died. So at this point he was probably between fifteen and seventeen. It was at this young age that he was taken away from his own country and culture, plunged into the strange but exciting life of the great world capital, and lured to loyalty by the best of all possible educations and by provision of the very food served to Nebuchadnezzar. Yet Daniel refused to partake of this food. As I say, what is your reaction to that? Do you find it a very little thing? Do you see Daniel’s decision as the immaturity and foolishness of youth? Would you have acted as Daniel and his friends did in these circumstances, or would you have gone along with your great benefactor’s desires? Would you have said, “After all, why should we live by Jewish dietary laws while in Babylon? Let’s eat and drink. It’s just a small thing”?

Well, it was a small thing. Yet that is just the point. For it is in the small matters that great victories are won. This is where decisions to live a holy life are made—not in the big things (though they come if the little things are neglected), but in the details of life. If Daniel had said, “I want to live for God in big ways, but I am not going to make a fool of myself in this trivial matter of eating and drinking the king’s food,” he never would have amounted to anything. But because he started out for God in small things, God used him greatly.

I have titled this chapter “A Young Man Decides” because it is particularly in youth that the most significant and life-forming decisions are made. Are you a young person? Then you should pay particularly close attention to this point. Most young people want their lives to count, and most Christian young people want their lives to count for God. Youth dreams big. That is right. You should dream big. But youth is also often impatient and undisciplined, and young people are tempted to let the little things slide. You must not do that if you are God’s young man or God’s young woman. God will make your life count, but this will not happen unless you determine to live for him in the little things now. You know what Jesus said: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). Being wholly given over to God now is the essential and best possible preparation for future service.

Why We Must Be Holy

In the last chapter I pointed out that Daniel is a story of the struggle of the world’s people and culture against God’s people and God’s culture, and it is. But it is also a story of men who lived for God by choosing the path of personal discipleship and holiness. This is no contradiction, because it is only such persons who actually embody the spiritual standards of “the city of God.” It is only these who make any lasting difference in the world.

A great evangelical bishop of England, John Charles Ryle, wrote a classic study of holiness in which he urged holiness upon all who call themselves Christians. After some opening passages in which he describes holiness as separation to God, devotion to God, service to God, being of one mind with God and wanting God’s will—Ryle went on to show why holiness, the kind of holiness exercised by Daniel, is so necessary. He listed eight reasons.

  1. “We must be holy, because the voice of God in Scripture plainly commands it.” Peter wrote, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:14–16). This is not optional. God did not say, “I would like you to live a holy life; but if you are not too excited about that particular lifestyle, don’t worry about it. We’ll work on something else.” God said, “Be holy, because I am holy.” We must be holy because the holy God commands it.
  2. “We must be holy, because this is the one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world.” You say, “But I thought Jesus came to save us from our sins.” Yes, he did come for that. But the Bible also says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25–27). Many Christians think they would like the benefits of salvation without the obligation to live for Christ, but they cannot have them because Christ came to make them holy just as much as he came to save them from the penalty of their sins. If you are fighting against holiness, you are fighting against nothing less than the purpose of God in the Atonement.
  3. “We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” How is that so? Well, James in his letter speaks of two kinds of faith: a living, saving faith and a dead faith that saves no one. The devils have a dead faith; that is, they believe there is a God and that Jesus is his Son, sent to save his people. But they do not trust him personally. They do not live for him. A living faith does live for him and therefore shows itself in good works. That is why James says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).

Ryle used this point to comment on so-called “death-bed” conversions, judging that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred these “conversions” are illusory. He said, “With rare exceptions, men die just as they have lived. The only safe evidence that we are one with Christ, and Christ is in us, is a holy life.”

  1. “We must be holy, because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” Jesus was quite plain on this point. He said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15); “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (v. 21); “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” (v. 23); “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). How could the point be more clearly spoken? If you love Jesus, you will obey him; you will be holy. If you do not obey him, you do not love him—whatever your profession. Do you love Jesus? We have a chorus in which we sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus,” but you do not love him if you do not do what he says.
  2. “We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God.” Do you remember how Jesus made this point when he was talking with the Pharisees? They claimed to be children of Abraham and therefore in right standing before God. But Jesus said, “If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the things Abraham did” (John 8:39–40). Paul said the same thing in Romans, noting that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). The Spirit of God does not lead you to sin. The Spirit of God does not lead to disobedience. If you are led by God’s Spirit, you will lead a holy life, and the evidence of that holy life will be sound evidence that you are God’s son or daughter.
  3. “We must be holy, because this is the most likely way to do good to others.” Many people today have some desire to do good to others, and many of our social and benevolence programs are an expression of that praiseworthy desire. But I ask, “Do you help others by advancing a low moral standard—one that is easy for them to live up to? Do you help others by whittling down the righteous standards of the Old Testament law or the New Testament precepts? Not at all! You help others by upholding the highest possible standards and above all by living according to those standards yourself. There are several places in the New Testament in which the godly conduct of a believer is said to be the best hope of doing good to someone else. For instance, Peter writes, “Wives, … be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (1 Peter 3:1–2). No doubt many besides husbands have been won to Christ by the consistent, holy behavior of some Christian.
  4. “We must be holy, because our present comfort depends much upon it.” Not all suffering is directly related to a suffering person’s sin. Christ’s words about the man born blind (John 9:3) should disabuse us of attempts to make that an easy, one-to-one relationship. But although all suffering does not come directly from one’s sin, the reverse is true: All sin produces suffering.

We do not think this way naturally. In fact, we think just the opposite. We come up against one of God’s commandments, think that we would like to do something else, and immediately reason that if only we could do what we really want to do we would be happy. We think that we would be absolutely miserable obeying God. That was the devil’s argument in his temptation of Eve, but it is as diabolical now as it was then. To heed it is to forget whence our good comes. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). If we turn from this good, we do not turn to happiness but away from it.

  1. “Lastly, we must be holy, because without holiness on earth we shall never be prepared to enjoy heaven.” The author of Hebrews wrote, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Revelation speaks of heaven, saying, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).

Can I Be Holy?

The objection I am likely to get is that these points are all very well and good but that it is just not possible for you to live a holy life in your circumstances. “If I did the right thing in my job, I’d lose it,” you say. Or, “None of my friends would speak to me.” Or, “I’d never get ahead.” Or, “I just can’t be holy; I’ve tried it and I fail.”

If you are thinking this way, let me turn back to Daniel, who was not only resolved not to defile himself with the king’s food and wine but was also willing to put the matter to the test and prove God able in his circumstances. Daniel said to the guard who had been appointed over him, “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” (Dan. 1:12–13).

The guard agreed to this test, and at the end of the ten days the young men looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. Moreover, it was not only in their appearance that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah excelled. They also excelled in knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. The text concludes by noting that at the end of the three years of training, when the king brought his young protégés in for testing, Nebuchadnezzar “found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (v. 20).

Do not say, “If I live for God, I’ll lose out.” You may lose out on some of the things the world offers, which are not good for you anyway, but you will experience a richness of God’s bounty. The Bible says, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).[3]


The Main Characters (1:3–7)

Commentary

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).[4]


The Plot (1:8–17)

Commentary

8–17 The plotline of a story unfolds in the arrangement of events recorded in the narrative. The basic ingredient of a good story plot is conflict moving toward resolution. The opening scene of Daniel reports such conflict. The conflict for Daniel and his three friends is an ideological or moral conflict dilemma. This type of conflict usually occurs within the protagonist(s) of the story and generally focuses on issues of worldview and ultimately “good” versus “evil.” Specifically, the issue here is the royal food and wine that Daniel and his friends were required to eat and drink (v. 8). The rejection of the royal food by Daniel and his friends foreshadows further episodes of conflict as the story of the Hebrew captives progresses, conflicts with other characters (e.g., the Babylonian wise men; 3:8–12; 6:1–5), and physical danger in the form of execution by fire (3:11) and exposure to wild beasts (6:7).

The expression Daniel “resolved” (v. 8) is an idiom expressing a deliberate act of the will motivated by a deep-seated personal conviction (Heb. śîm + lēb, “to set the heart”; cf. NASB’s “Daniel made up his mind”). The word “defile” (Heb. gāʾal) occurs fewer than a dozen times in the OT and may refer to moral or ceremonial impurity (e.g., Isa 59:3; Mal 1:7, 12). Wallace, 42–43, observes that Daniel believed “faith in God and the forgiveness of God had made him clean”—clean from the idolatry and moral pollution of the surrounding world. To eat the king’s food would compromise God’s forgiveness and draw him back into the very same “world” from which he had been cleansed.

The royal food rations posed a problem for Daniel and his friends for several possible reasons. First, the law of Moses prohibited the obedient Hebrews from eating certain types of food, and there was no assurance that such fare would be left off the menu (cf. Lev 11; Dt 12:23–25; 14). Yet the Mosaic dietary restrictions do not include wine, also rejected by Daniel and his friends.

Second, the royal food rations would have probably been associated with idol worship in some way (either by the food’s having been offered to idols or blessed by idolatrous priests). Yet Daniel and his friends do not refuse all the royal food rations (as though only meat and drink but not “vegetables” were dedicated to the Babylonian gods). On both counts the royal food would have been regarded as ritually unclean on theological grounds, and hence the eating of such food would constitute an act of disobedience against Yahweh and his commands.

Beyond this, it is possible that Daniel simply interpreted the eating of the royal food rations as a formal demonstration of allegiance to the Babylonian king. Baldwin, 83, and Felwell, 40, suggest that Daniel’s motivation for rejecting the king’s menu was political in the sense that eating the royal provisions was tantamount to accepting the lordship of the Babylonian king, whereas Daniel and his friends owed loyalty to Yahweh alone as their “king” (cf. 3:17–18; on the issue of cultural assimilation see BBCOT, 731). But again, Daniel and his friends do agree to certain provisions of royal food, thus weakening the argument of political allegiance to King Nebuchadnezzar by virtue of the “meal custom” of the biblical world. Longman, 53, suggests that the food-rations test was essentially a means by which Daniel and his friends might demonstrate that their healthy physical appearance (and hence their intellectual gifts) was the miraculous work of their God—not King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace food or the Babylonian pantheon. As J. H. Sims (“Daniel,” in A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. L. Ryken and T. Longman [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993], 333–34) points out, whatever the motivation for rejecting the royal food rations, the greater issue theologically is that of divine nurture versus human nurture—on whom or what will the Hebrews rely for sustenance in their captivity?

The question of conformity to the surrounding culture was of paramount concern for the Diaspora Hebrews. To what degree, if any, should the displaced Israelites make accommodation to the surrounding dominant culture? What place was there for the Hebrew distinctives of religious monotheism and ethical absolutism based on the law of Moses in the religious pluralism and moral relativism of the Gentile superpowers? Rather than react in open defiance of the king’s decree, Daniel and his friends arranged a compromise with Ashpenaz and his appointed guardian (vv. 10–14). The alternative to eating the king’s food was a “rations test,” with the Hebrew captives to be fed a diet of vegetables and water (v. 12), against the control group of those young men eating the royal provisions (v. 13). Goldingay, 20, interprets the “ten-day” testing period pragmatically as a standard round number of days that would not arouse the suspicion of Ashpenaz’s superiors and yet be long enough for the effects of the test to be observed.

The example of nonconformity by Daniel and his friends became a model for the Israelite response to Gentile culture in later Judaism. For example, the characters of both Judith and Tobit are portrayed as pious Jews who observe strict adherence to the Mosaic law in the books of the apocryphal OT literature that bear their names. Separation from Gentile culture was an important component in an emerging “Diaspora theology” for the Hebrews during the intertestamental period. By the time of the NT, the Jewish worldview was tainted with attitudes of particularism, exclusivism, and superiority in reaction to the influences of Hellenism.

This “Judaism against Gentile culture” paradigm made Jesus’ apparent laxity toward the Mosaic law and his accommodation to Gentile culture difficult to interpret and accept. The church, as the counter-culture agent of God’s kingdom in the world, has no less difficulty in discerning and practicing what Jesus meant when he instructed his followers that though they were in the world, they were not to be of the world (Jn 17:14–18; see the discussion of the Christian’s interface with culture employing Niebuhr’s classic Christ and culture paradigms in Longman, 62–69).

In the process we learn that God’s providential rule of history is not restricted to nations and kings, as God caused Ashpenaz, the chief official, “to show favor and sympathy to Daniel” (v. 9). The passage is reminiscent of Joseph, who “found favor” in Potiphar’s eyes (Ge 39:4), and Esther, who “pleased [Hegai] and won his favor” during her preparations for the royal beauty contest (Est 2:9). The repetition of the verb “gave” (Heb. nātan; GK 5989) echoes God’s deliverance of King Jehoiakim to the Babylonians (v. 2). The NIV’s “God had caused” (v. 9) fails to convey the full theological freight of the original (cf. NASB, “Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion …”). Literally, “God gave Daniel for favor and mercies before the chief official.” Even as God gave Jehoiakim to the Babylonians for judgment, God gave Daniel to Ashpenaz for grace.

This language of divine intervention is in keeping with the theme of Daniel established in the opening verses, namely God’s sovereignty. As Seow, 27, notes, “the sovereignty of God is thus affirmed; the theological paradox of judgment and grace is maintained … God is the narrator’s ‘lord’ … God is at work and ever providing.” In fact, God’s testing and providing are key themes of the OT and justify his name as “Yahweh Yirʾeh” or “Jehovah Jireh” (“The Lord Will Provide,” Ge 22:14).

The four Hebrews passed the rations test, actually emerging “healthier and better nourished” than their counterparts, whose diet consisted of the royal food (v. 15). For the third time in the chapter we read that God “gave” (Heb. nātan; v. 17). In this instance, as a result of their resolve not to defile themselves with the royal food, God granted Daniel and his friends “knowledge and understanding” (v. 17a). The term “knowledge” (Heb. maddāʿ) implies academic learning (cf. v. 4, “quick to understand”), and the word “understanding” (Heb. haśkēl) suggests both “aptitude for learning” (cf. v. 4) and insight with respect to prudence or sound judgment.

In other words, the food rations episode offers practical commentary of sorts on Proverbs 1:7a: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (cf. Ps 111:10). Baldwin, 84, has summarized that even small acts of faith and self-discipline, when undertaken out of loyalty to godly principle, set “God’s servants in the line of his approval and blessing. In this way actions attest faith, and character is strengthened to face more difficult situations.” (But see Goldingay, 20, who denies the cause-and-effect relationship between faithfulness and reward.) The added statement in v. 17b that Daniel received a special divine endowment to understand or interpret visions and dreams foreshadows those “more difficult situations” he will face in the key role he plays as interpreter of dreams and seer of visions in the rest of the book.[5]


Foreshadow of the Outcome (1:18–21)

Commentary

18–21 The conclusion of the first court story is a fortuitous one for Daniel and his three friends. After their three-year program of study in the “arts and sciences” of Babylonia, the Hebrews appear before King Nebuchadnezzar for an interview and subsequent appointment to posts of civil service (v. 18). All four pass their oral examination with “honors” and are deemed by the king to be superior to all the other wise men of the kingdom in “wisdom and understanding” (v. 20). The expression “ten times better” is a common idiom in the OT for expressing hyperbole in dialogue (e.g., Ge 31:41; Nu 14:22; Ne 4:12).

Induction into the civil-service corps of the king meant candidates had to be “qualified to serve in the king’s palace” (v. 4). Once the qualifications of the four Hebrews were certified, they “entered the king’s service” or received administrative appointments as civil servants (v. 19). The same word (lit., “stand,” ʿāmad) is used in both statements to express the idea of entering the king’s service. To “stand” before the king is an idiom for serving the king (cf. 1 Ki 10:8; 12:8) and connotes both loyalty to the crown and adherence to royal protocol and etiquette (cf. Miller, 61).

The purpose of the final section of the first court story is twofold. First, we learn that there is a difference between learning as an “acquired skill” and wisdom as a divine gift (v. 20; cf. v. 17). Daniel and his friends learned the secret lore of the Babylonian magicians and priests, but they clearly understood the God of Israel to be the source of all knowledge and wisdom (cf. 2:20). The rest of the court stories of Daniel give testimony to the four Hebrew captives’ reliance on God as the fountainhead of knowledge and wisdom, unlike their Babylonian counterparts, who relied on occultic arts and all the gods and demons associated with Babylonian religion (e.g., 2:20–23, 28; 4:18, 24; 5:12). Much like Joseph, who served Pharaoh in Egypt, Daniel and his friends recognized that it is God in heaven who reveals mysteries to his faithful servants (2:28; cf. Ge 40:8; 41:16).

Russell, 32, sums up the outcome of the king’s examination of the Hebrew apprentices by noting that “even in this highly skilled field [i.e., Babylonian ‘arts and sciences’] Daniel and his friends were so obviously better than them all! By the goodness of God they could beat the Babylonian experts at their own game. The secrets of Babylon were no secrets to Yahweh who made them known to whomsoever he willed.” The experience of Daniel and his friends anticipates the instruction of the apostle Paul about the “only wise God” (Ro 16:27) and his son Jesus the Messiah, who is the “wisdom from God” for the Christian (1 Co 1:30).

Second, the chronological notice in v. 21—attached as an addendum to the opening court story explaining how Daniel and his friends came to be royal officials in Babylonia under King Nebuchadnezzar—attests to the “staying power” of Daniel (cf. Wallace, 47–48). The first year of King Cyrus of Persia is dated to 539 or 538 BC, depending on the source consulted. This means Daniel held an administrative post in the royal court of Babylon for more than sixty years, and his time spent in Babylonian captivity was nearly seventy years (given his deportation in 605 BC; cf. 1:1). Earlier the prophet Jeremiah had predicted that the Hebrew captivity would cover seven decades (Jer 25:11–12; 29:10). The reference to the accession year of Cyrus to the throne of Babylon probably marked the end of this enforced exile of the Hebrews by the Babylonians (so Goldingay, 27; Lucas, 56).

In reality, Daniel’s longevity testified both to God’s sovereignty over the nations and his faithfulness to his people Israel. Even as Daniel outlasted the kings of the Babylonian Empire, so God’s people were sustained in captivity and eventually permitted to return to their homeland of covenantal promise (2 Ch 36:22–23; Ezr 1:1–4). Likewise, the presence of the Israelite named Daniel in the royal court of seven Babylonian monarchs and the first king of Persia was a tangible reminder that God is the one who sets up kings and deposes them (Da 2:21).[6]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1078–1079). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Boice, J. M. (2003). Daniel: an expositional commentary (pp. 19–25). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] 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. 48–50). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] 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. 51–54). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] 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. 54–56). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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