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23 December 2018

In the Imperial Court (Daniel 1:1-21)

Neo-Babylonian Empire - Wikipedia.org

Babylon is named the “land of Shinar,” an echo of the Tower of Babel incident and the founding of Babylon (Genesis 11:1).
 This incident is reflected again in the third chapter of Daniel where Nebuchadnezzar gathered all nations to pay homage to the image he had “set up” in the Plain of Dura.
The Neo-Babylonian Empire was not a new political innovation; it had an ancient pedigree. The royal city in which Daniel now stood was the latest incarnation of a world empire that had existed since the beginning of civilization.
In Genesis 11:1-9 God stopped the completion of a high tower in Shinar, which resulted in the diversification and distribution of language groups across the earth. This story provides the origins of Babylon from the biblical perspective.
The description in Daniel’s opening paragraph builds on the Genesis story, the time when “the whole earth was of one language and one speech.” The descendants of Noah migrated to Mesopotamia to dwell “in the land of Shinar.” The name is probably the Hebrew equivalent of ‘Sumer.’
The people of Shinar began to build a city with a high tower to “reach the heavens and thus make us a name, lest we be scattered across the whole earth.” This parallels the Sumerian culture in which cities featured temples built on ziggurats, tiered mounds that formed the highest points in a city. Dedicated to its chief deity, a town’s activities were centered on its central temple.
God originally commanded Adam to ‘multiply, replenish and subdue the earth.” This same command was reiterated to Noah after the Flood (Genesis 1:289:1). But mankind chose instead to move to Mesopotamia to build a new civilization centered in Shinar and to make a name for itself.  In the Hebrew Bible, the city of Babylon is characterized by its presumptuousness (e.g.Isaiah 14:13-1463:12-14Jeremiah 32:20).
If humanity united under one language, the wickedness of mankind would know no bounds, but by confounding their languages God caused the nations to spread throughout the earth. Moreover, He thwarted the first attempt to establish a centralized world-power. Babylon’s idolatrous ambition was delayed.
The Bible calls the city ‘Babel,’ the place where “Yahweh confounded the language of all the earth.” The name may be related to the Hebrew word balal or “confusion,” though in the ancient Akkadian language of Mesopotamia bab-ili or ‘Babel’ means “gate of god.”
In the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar attempts to reverse God’s ancient judgment against the land of Shinar.  Nebuchadnezzar gathers different ethnic groups, cultures, and nations to Babylon where representatives of the nations are educated in the language and customers of Babylon, the speech of the latest manifestation of the world-power.
Nebuchadnezzar was renowned as a builder who restored temples, constructed city walls and palaces and erected high towers.  He claimed to be the builder of “great Babylon” was not an empty boast (Daniel 4:30).
The story of Nimrod is found in the ‘Table of Nations’ in Genesis (10:8-12), a man linked to the origins of Mesopotamian civilization and the founder of several chief cities (e.g., Babel, Asshur, Nineveh). He became “mighty one in the earth.” The “mighty men or name” or gibborim before Noah’s flood consisted of men that established fearsome reputations through violent exploits (Genesis 6:4; 11-13).
Nimrod was also a “mighty hunter before the face of Yahweh.” This description denotes not God’s approval of him but, instead, Nimrod’s opposition to Yahweh. The name Nimrod is derived from the Hebrew word mārădor “we will revolt.”
Nimrod founded a kingdom in what later became Assyria. He was also possibly an early ruler of the city-state of Babylon.  Nimrod is used elsewhere to typify despotic rulers who oppress God’s people (e.g., Micah 5:6).
Parallels in Daniel
In the Genesis story of Babylon, the “whole earth spoke one language” as men began to dwell in Shinar. They built a city and tower of “great height” in the plain of Shinar to mark their achievements and prevent humanity’s dispersal.
In the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar brought captives from Judah to Babylon, the great city he built. There the exiles were educated in the language of the Chaldeans to help administer Nebuchadnezzar’s vast empire.  What the original inhabitants of Babel had failed to complete, Nebuchadnezzar completed.
Nebuchadnezzar “set up” a golden image of exceptional “height” in the “plain of Dura,” then decreed that “all peoples, races, and tongues” should render homage to it.  He gathered representatives from every province and nation “to the dedication of the image.” The whole earth would be united under Nebuchadnezzar and his image (Daniel 3:1-8). The parallels are deliberate.  Just as the earlier inhabitants united to build a city and high tower, so the king of Babylon presumed to unite all humanity under his authority and idolatrous image of great height.
 Likewise, at the height of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar boasted how his own might “built” the great city, Babylon. Immediately an angelic figure pronounced judgment for this presumptuousness. For “seven seasons” he was driven out from Babylonian society to live like an animal in the field. Only when he acknowledged God’s sovereignty was Nebuchadnezzar restored to his throne (Daniel 4:1-37).
Overview of Chapter 1
The first chapter sets the chronological range of Daniel’s service in Babylon and presents the book’s key theological proposition:  God is sovereign and rules over the kingdoms of this age.  God is active in the affairs of nations and intervenes in the course of history to accomplish His purposes, though in unexpected ways and with unlikely human agents. 
God placed powerless Jewish captives in the royal court of Babylon to achieve His redemptive plans. This chapter introduces subjects that are developed in the rest of the book. For example, God gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams. This anticipates his later success at interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
The first verse of Daniel sets the stage:  in the “third year of the reign of Jehoiakim” or 605 B.C. The prophet’s career lasted until “the first year of King Cyrus” when Medo-Persia conquered Babylon (1:21), that is, approximately 539-538 B.C.
In 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem after his victory over Egypt and the remnants of the Assyrian Empire at the Battle of Carchemish (upper Euphrates River).
At that time, he removed some of the Temple’s vessels from Jerusalem to Babylon where he placed them in his god’s sanctuary (Marduk). Nebuchadnezzar also sent a select group of the Judean royal house to Babylon to be educated for governmental service.
Daniel’s ministry and civil service career spanned the same seventy-year period as Judah’s captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 25:1-1429:10-12Daniel 9:1-2). Judean independence ceased, Jerusalem and the Temple were ransacked, and the upper echelons of Judean society removed to Mesopotamia, and Daniel found himself at the center of the Empire.
God Enables Babylon to Subjugate Judah
In the opening paragraph God “gave” the king of Judah and the vessels of the Temple into the hand of the king of Babylon. This was disastrous from a human perspective but in accord with God’s purposes for His people and the nations. The Hebrew verb rendered “gave” (nathan) occurs three times in this first chapter to refer to the divine ordering of events (verses 2, 9, 17).
Nebuchadnezzar took the vessels of the Temple to the land of “Shinar.” Like the Tower of Babel incident, the Babylonian king attempted to unite all people under one language, religion and culture (Genesis 10:1011:1-9Daniel 1:43:1-5).
Education of Daniel (1:3-8)
Daniel and the other captives were to be educated in the wisdom, literature, and language of the “Chaldeans.” This term refers to the caste of learned men in Babylon well-versed in divination and astrology (Daniel 2:2-103:84:75:7-11).  In later history, the name “Chaldean” became synonymous with “astrologer.”
The Judeans selected for the Babylonian court were males “in whom was no blemish” (m’ūm), the same ritual purity required for the Levitical priests of God’s Tabernacle. “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 Jewish exiles were particularly “prudent” or “wise” (sakal), a characteristic noted of righteous Jews in the tribulations described in later chapters by Daniel. The “prudent among the people will instruct many” (11:33-35); the “prudent will shine as the brightness of the firmament” (12:3).
The Jewish exiles were instructed in “the tongue of the Chaldeans,” an Aramaic dialect employed by the imperial government of Babylon. Fluency was necessary to function in the Empire’s civil service.
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 reassignment to them of Babylonian names was meant to honor the gods of the Empire. Belteshazzar (Daniel) means “Bel protects.” “Bel” is the equivalent of Baal (“lord, master”) and was applied to the Mesopotamian god, Marduk, chief deity of the city. Shadrach may mean “the 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 god of wisdom.
Upon their arrival in Babylon, the “king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s food and of the wine that he drank to nourish them three years”; a great honor not to be rejected, at least not without paying serious consequences.  Daniel was concerned that partaking of the king’s delicacies would affect his ritual purity. The precise reason for his concern is not stated; possibly he did not wish to eat meats categorized “unclean” under the Levitical purity laws, or perhaps this was about food offered to idols. But the concern about ritual purity is clear enough (“Daniel purposed that he would not pollute himself with the king’s delicacies”).
Wine was included in the king’s provisions, which was not ritually unclean under the Levitical code. This suggests the more likely concern was to avoid food and drink that had been offered to idols.  Food consumed in the royal court was routinely first offered to Babylon’s gods before being served to the king’s retinue.
The “Chaldeans”
“Chaldean” were priests and officials educated in Mesopotamian literature, its cuneiform script, astrology and other forms of divination, which is how the term is applied elsewhere in Daniel. The book does not use the term in its older ethnic sense (2:2-52:103:84:75:7-11). “Chaldean” originally denoted a tribe from southeastern Mesopotamia that migrated to Babylon (e.g., Jeremiah 24:525:1250:1051:24).
The “learning of the Chaldeans” included the ancient languages of Mesopotamia, Sumerian and Akkadian, as well as astronomy, natural history, metallurgy, philosophy, and the sexagesimal numbering system (base 60) inherited from the Sumerians. Daniel demonstrates knowledge of the latter in chapter 3 where “Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold sixty cubits high and six cubits wide” (3:1). This demonstrates that Daniel was familiar with the culture of Babylon from the sixth-century B.C. 
Daniel’s Test
God “gave” Daniel favor before the “prince of the eunuchs.” This official granted his request to abstain from the royal provisions, but only for a trial period of ten days.  (1:12-14). Meat and wine were routinely offered to Babylonian deities before being consumed at court. To participate in religious-based meals would acknowledge the false gods of Babylon and compromise Daniel in idolatrous rituals.
The positive response of this official was due to God’s intervention; He gave Daniel “kindness and compassion in the sight of the prince of the eunuchs.”  During the ten-day trial, the appearance of Daniel and his companions improved, in contrast to the other youths in training who did consume the royal provisions. Because of Yahweh’s gracious intervention, Daniel ate ritually pure food rather than the royal delicacies that had been defiled through contact with idols.
Daniel’s Approval
God “gave” Daniel and his friends “knowledge and prudence in all learning and wisdom.” To Daniel, He also gave “understanding in all visions and dreams.” The ability to interpret dreams is demonstrated in subsequent chapters. Daniel becomes the pattern for people of discernment, they of “understanding” who shine in Israel’s darkest hour (Daniel 11:33-3512:312:10). Nebuchadnezzar then examined the youths and found they excelled in “every matter of wisdom and understanding, even ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his realm” (1:20).
Through His gifts, God’s exiled sons exceeded all the wisdom of Babylon. Although Daniel was educated in the ways of the “Chaldeans,” in the rest of the book he is never identified with this group or classified as a magician, enchanter or astrologer. While the learned men of Babylon were stymied by the king’s dreams, God supernaturally revealed their contents and meanings to Daniel.
Until the First Year of Cyrus
 “And Daniel continued even unto the first year of King Cyrus” (1:216:2810:1). The first year of Cyrus’ reign over Babylon began in 538 B.C.  This sets the range of Daniel’s ministry; from the third year of King Jehoiakim to the first year of Cyrus after the downfall of Babylon, 605-538 B.C. (Daniel 5:30-31).
In the Book of Revelation
The book of Revelation alludes to this story in its letters to the churches at Pergamos, Thyatira, and Smyrna. Some believers were tempted to “eat meat offered to idols” and otherwise to compromise with idolatrous practices (Revelation 2:12-172:18-29). Christians in Smyrna refused to do so and were rewarded with further trials. 
The “Devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days” (2:10).  The Greek verb for “try” is peirazō, the same one used in the Greek Septuagint version of Daniel 1:12-14.
Just as Daniel was vulnerable in a pagan royal court, so Christians in Smyrna found themselves at the mercy of pagan magistrates. Rather than flight or armed resistance, Christians were exhorted to “become faithful unto death” and thus receive the “crown of life.” Daniel’s perseverance and reliance on God’s provisions is presented as a pattern of faithful endurance to the churches of Asia.

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