In the Imperial Court

God gave the kingdom of Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, but He also equipped Daniel and his companions for service in the court of Babylon

Roman Ruins Photo by Nicole Reyes on Unsplash
In the opening paragraph of 
Daniel, Babylon is called the “land of Shinar,” an echo of the story of the “tower of Babel” from the Book of Genesis. In Daniel’s time, the Babylonian Empire was not a new political creature - it had an ancient pedigree. The royal city in which he found himself was nothing less than the latest incarnation of the World-Power - [Rome - Photo by Nicole Reyes on Unsplash].

Unwittingly, the king of Babylon was attempting to reverse the judgment of Yahweh against ancient Shinar by gathering all nations and cultures under his rule. Representatives from different national groups and conquered peoples were taken routinely to Babylon where they were educated in its “language” and wisdom.

ACCORDING TO GOD’S PLAN. The first chapter sets the chronological range for the visions and events chronicled in Daniel, and it presents the key theological proposition of the book - GOD IS SOVEREIGN AND RULES OVER THE KINGDOMS OF THIS AGE – (Daniel 2:20-22):
  • (Daniel 1:1-2) – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon to Jerusalem and laid siege against it; and the Lord gave into his hand Jehoiakim king of Judah and a part of the vessels of the house of God, and he brought them into the land of Shinar into the house of his gods, and the vessels brought he into the treasure-house of his gods.”
Yahweh was active in the affairs of the nations, and He had placed the powerless Jewish captives inside the imperial court at Babylon to achieve His redemptive plans for Israel and the nations.

The first verse sets the stage - In the “third year of the reign of Jehoiakim,” that is, about the year 605 B.C. The career of Daniel would continue until the “first year of King Cyrus,” at which time a combined force of Medes and the Persians conquered Babylon (539-538 B.C. - Daniel 1:21).

In 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem after defeating Egypt and the Assyrian Empire at the Battle of Carchemish. At that time, he removed some of the vessels of Yahweh from the Temple in Jerusalem and selected men from the Judean royal house to be educated in Babylon for service in his government.

With the conquest of Jerusalem, the political independence of Judah ceased. The city and Temple were ransacked, and the upper echelons of Judean society removed to Mesopotamia. Thus, Daniel found himself a powerless exile working in the civil service of the World-Power - (Daniel 9:1-2).

GOD ENABLES BABYLON TO CONQUER. According to the passage, God “gave” the king of Judah and the vessels of the Temple “into the hand” of Nebuchadnezzar. From a human perspective, this was disastrous, nonetheless, it was in accord with the purposes of Yahweh. The Hebrew verb rendered “gave” or nathan is applied several times in the chapter to the ordering of events by Yahweh - (Strong’s - #H5414).

The Babylonian ruler removed the vessels to the land of “Shinar,” and like the “Tower of Babel” incident, he attempted to unite all people under one language, religion, and culture. However, the “Most-High God” used the situation to accomplish His purposes – (Genesis 10:1011:1-9Daniel 1:43:1-5).

THE EDUCATION OF DANIEL. The intent was to educate the Jewish exiles in the wisdom, literature, and the language of the “Chaldeans.” In Daniel, the latter term refers to the learned men of Babylon. This group practiced astrology, and in later history, the term ‘Chaldean’ became synonymous with “astrologer” - (Daniel 2:2-105:7-11).
  • (Daniel 1:3-8) – “Then did the king give word to Ashpenaz, the chief of his eunuchs, that he should bring in of the sons of Israel, even of the seed royal, and of the nobles, youths in whom was no blemish, but comely of countenance and skillful in all wisdom, and possessed of knowledge and able to impart instruction, and who had vigor in them to stand in the palace of the king, and that they should be taught the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed them the provision of each day upon its day out of the delicacies of the king and out of the wine which he drank, and so to let them grow three years, and at the end thereof, that they should stand before the king. Now there were among them out of the sons of Judah Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; and the ruler of the eunuchs gave them names; yea, he gave to Daniel the name of Belteshazzar, and to Hananiah of Shadrach, and to Mishael of Meshach, and to Azariah of Abed-nego. But Daniel laid it upon his heart that he would not defile himself with the delicacies of the king, nor with the wine which he drank, therefore sought he of the ruler of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.”
The Judeans selected for imperial service were males, ones “in whom was no blemish” (m’ūm). This is the same term used for the ritual purity required for Levitical priests (“No man of the seed of Aaron the priest that has a blemish (m’ūm) shall come near to offer the offerings of Yahweh” - Leviticus 21:16-21).

The exiles were “prudent,” a characteristic noted of the righteous Jews described in the later chapters of the book. They were to be instructed in “the tongue of the Chaldeans,” an Aramaic dialect employed in the imperial government. Fluency was necessary to function in the civil service - (Daniel 11:33-35, 12:1-4).

Ancient Babylon
The Hebrew name ‘Daniel’ means “
God is my judge,” ‘Hananiah’ means “Yahweh is gracious,” ‘Mishael’ is ‘‘who is like God,” and ‘Azariah’ means “Yahweh helped.” The assignment of Babylonian names was intended to honor the gods of the empire. ‘Belteshazzar’ means “Bel protects.” Bel was the Babylonian equivalent of Baal or “lord,” and it was applied to the Mesopotamian god Marduk, the chief deity of the city.

Shadrach may mean, “command of Aku,” the Sumerian Moon-god. The meaning of Meshach is uncertain.  Abednego means the “servant of Nebo,” the patron deity of Nebuchadnezzar and the Mesopotamian god of wisdom, literature, and science.

Upon their arrival in Babylon, the “king appointed them a daily provision of his food and of the wine that he drank to nourish them three years.” This was a great honor, and not to be rejected without suffering serious consequences.  Daniel was concerned that partaking of these “delicacies” would affect his ritual purity adversely. The precise reason for this is not stated. Though the objection may have been to eating meats categorized as “unclean” under the Levitical regulations; more probably, the issue was eating food offered to idols.

Wine was included in the king’s provisions, but wine was not ritually unclean under the Levitical rules. This points to the concern being the avoidance of food and drink offered to idols.  Routinely in Babylonian rituals, food consumed in the royal court was offered first to the Babylonian gods in their sanctuaries before it was served at the royal table.

THE “CHALDEANS”. This group included priests and officials educated in Mesopotamian literature, its cuneiform script, astrology, and other forms of divination. Elsewhere in Daniel, the term is not used in any ethnic sense. “Chaldean” originally denoted a tribe from southeastern Mesopotamia that migrated to the region centuries earlier.

The “learning of the Chaldeans” included the ancient languages of Mesopotamia - Sumerian and Akkadian - along with astronomy, natural history, metallurgy, philosophy, and mathematics.

DANIEL’S TEST. God “gave” (nathan) Daniel favor before the “prince of the eunuchs,” who granted his request to abstain from the royal provisions for a trial period of ten days.
  • (Daniel 1:9-16) – “But, although God had brought Daniel into lovingkindness and tender compassion before the ruler of the eunuchs, yet said the ruler of the eunuchs to Daniel: I do fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink, for why should he see your faces more sad than those of the youths of your own age? So should you bring me under the penalty of my own head to the king. Then said Daniel to the overseer whom the ruler of the eunuchs had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: I pray you, prove your servants ten days, and let them give us vegetable food that we may eat, and water that we may drink: then let our countenances be looked upon before you, and the countenances of the youths who have been eating the delicacies of the king, and as you will see, deal with your servants. So then, he hearkened to them, according to this word, and proved them ten-days; and at the end of ten days their countenances appeared more comely and fatter in flesh than any of the youths who had been eating the delicacies of the king. Thus, it came about that the overseer continued taking away their delicacies, and the wine appointed them to drink, and kept on giving them vegetable food.”
The eunuch’s positive response was due to the intervention of Yahweh: He “gave” Daniel “kindness and compassion in the sight of the prince of the eunuchs.” God also “gave” the exiles “knowledge and prudence in all learning and wisdom” and also gave Daniel “understanding in all visions and dreams.” Thus, Daniel became the pattern for people of discernment, the men of “understanding” who would shine in Israel’s darkest hour - (Daniel 11:33-35).

Nebuchadnezzar examined the youths and found they excelled in “every matter of wisdom and understanding.” “And Daniel continued even unto the first year of King Cyrus.” That is, until 538 B.C.  This establishes the length of Daniel’s ministry: from the third year of King Jehoiakim to the first year of Cyrus the Great – 605 to 538 B.C.

IN REVELATION. The story of Daniel’s “test” is alluded to in its letters to Pergamos, Thyatira, and Smyrna. In the cities of Asia, believers were tempted to “eat meat offered to idols,” and otherwise, to compromise with idolatry.

The “Devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you MAY BE TRIED; and you shall have TRIBULATION TEN DAYS.”.  The Greek verb rendered “try” is peirazō (Strong’s - #G3985), the same term used in the Greek Septuagint version of Daniel 1:12-14 - (Revelation 2:8-10).

Just like Daniel, first-century Christians often found themselves at the mercy of pagan officials, therefore, they were called to “become faithful unto death,” and thereby, they would receive the “crown of life.” In Revelation, Daniel serves as the model of faithfulness in trials and testing before Roman magistrates for the beleaguered churches of Asia.




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