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Daniel From a Different Direction
Chapter 1: Captive Youths
605 BC: Daniel and his three friends are taken captive into Babylon
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.
We will start our story with the four Hebrew captives, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, their capture in Jerusalem, and training in Babylon. In our next chapter, we will return to verses 1 and 2 and focus on Nebu’ (Nebuchadnezzar) military conquest of Palestine and his early career.
We read in Daniel chapter 1:3-5
Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
Did this really happen? Can it be verified? Well, in 1991, a small tablet was found, The Nebo-Sarsekim tablet, and transcribed in 2007. Here is what it says:
[Regarding] 1.5 minas [0.75 kg] of gold, the property of Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch, which he sent via Arad-Banitu the eunuch to [the temple] Esangila: Arad-Banitu has delivered [it] to Esangila. In the presence of Bel-usat, son of Alpaya, the royal bodyguard, [and of ] Nadin, son of Marduk-zer-ibni, Month XI, day 18, year 10 [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Reynolds 2007).
This event occurred in 594 BC and not at the time Daniel and his friends were captured, and we cannot determine if Ashpenaz and Nabu-sharrussu-ukin are the same person. What is crystal clear is that Nebu did have a position of “chief of the eunuchs” who was in charge of getting the plunder from the defeated city to storage in the Temple of Marduk or the Esangila. We have further confirmation from the Prophet Jeremiah, a contemporary of Daniel in Jeremiah 39:3:
Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came and sat in the middle gate: Nergal-sar-ezer of Samgar, Nebu-sar-sekim the Rab-saris, Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag, with all the rest of the officers of the king of Babylon.
The name “Nebu-sar-sekim” in Jeremiah is the same “Nabu-sharrussu-ukin” on the tablet, and the word “Rab-saris” in Jeremiah means “chief eunach.” This newly discovered primary source historical record confirms that the events surrounding Daniel chapter 1 could have certainly taken place. Now let us get back to our story.
Daniel Chapter 1:6-7 reads:
The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah fell exhausted on the bed in the dormitory near the palace. The trip from Jerusalem to Babylon was agonizing, but even more so after being castrated. Being eunuchs, a future family was out of the question and it was felt they would devote their time and attention to courtly duties without emotional ties to anyone. What was life going to be like in this new pagan “home”? How long was this training? What would it entail? What would happen after their training was complete? Would they ever be released? How could they continue to worship Yahweh in such a place? Although that assigned bed may have been the most comfortable and only bed they had slept on during their slow painful trek to this foreign city, it is doubtful they got any sleep that night as those questions flooded their minds. Probably their first test came the next morning and is found in Daniel 1:8-16 (ESV):
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.”
This was a plant-based diet of food grown from seeds, fruit, vegetables, and lentils. It was based on the original diet from the Garden of Eden. “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Genesis 1:29).
So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
There is limited information on what life was like for the Hebrew youths before being taken captive in Nebuchadnezzar’s or Nebu’s first raiding party of Jerusalem in 605 BC. He would return two more times with increasing calamity for the Jewish nation. The stance these four captives took, even to the point of death, is telling of their character and upbringing in Jerusalem. We are told they were royalty and/or nobility and hence part of the remnant that remained in the Jewish capital not taking part in the abominable practices by the current rulers leading to the judgment of the city by God at the hand of Nebu. We can say for sure their parents believed in health temperance and education. Perhaps, too, their parents longed for a return to the days of good king Josiah, but the four captives had only seen the wicked reign of Jehoiakim and the short reign of Jehoiachin who was at this time lingering in Nebu’s prison. Even so, the prophet Jeremiah most likely had a great impression on their godly parents with his messages of returning to the keeping of the commandments saying, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them” (Jeremiah 11:6).
The four young men in our story had been diligent students of the Torah and the prophets of the past. In their generation, God had sent Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah, a favorite of Daniel, to reveal God’s judgment and plead with the nation to turn from their evil ways. There is no doubt Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah knew exactly why they were captives in Babylon. Over 100 years before, Isaiah made this prophecy to King Hezekiah:
“Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (Isaiah 39:5-7)
While this may have caused great anxiety and uncertainty, they must have held on to other more comforting words of Isaiah:
When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: “How the oppressor has ceased, the insolent fury ceased! The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers, that struck the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution. … “I will rise up against them,” declares the Lord of hosts, “and will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, descendants and posterity,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 14:3-6,23)
The captive youths may have known God had given them a role to play for Him here in Babylon, but what that role was had yet to be seen. They were young, but so was God’s prophet Jeremiah, who lamented his youth, but was instantly rebuked:
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:6-8)
What a contrast between their education in Judah and that of Babylon! They were told their academic “training” would be for three years, but in reality, it was three years of a relentless exercise in demonstrating how the Babylonian gods, especially Marduk, was superior to the Jewish God, Yahweh. Earlier, we read their names were changed. Names were a big deal in the Hebrew nation and parents were quite deliberate in selecting names for their child to emulate in life. To obscure this heritage, Babylonians renamed their eunuchs after their gods.
Daniel, “God (Elohim) is my judge” was changed to Belteshazzar, “Bel protects the king’s life,” a reference the god Bel which is another name for Marduk. We have verification from Nebu in chapter 4 verse 8, “(Daniel) who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god.” Hananiah, “God (Yahweh) is gracious" was changed to Shadrach, to "Command of Aku (the moon god)". Mishael, "Who is what God (Elohim) is?" was changed to Meshach, "Who is as Aku is?" Azariah, "God (Yahweh) has helped me” was changed to Abednego, "Servant of Nebo (god of the scribal arts)."
Possibly, within the first week of their arrival at Babylon, they were given a tour of the most prominent places in the city. At this time, it was 1-mile square (1.6 km) with the broad and decorated Processional Way leading to the Esagila, the "temple whose top is raised (in pride) to heaven", the temple of Marduk as its centerpiece. Marduk was the patron god of Babylonia meaning "immortal son of (or bull calf of the sun god) Utu" and identified with the planet Jupiter. The gods Enki and Enlil passed on their power to Marduk and his son, coregent, and the prime minister was the god Nabu. Other names for Marduk, include Merodach, and Bel as in Belteshazzar and Belshazzar. The was also the Temple of Ishtar the goddess of fertility, love, and war, who killed her son, Tammuz the god of shepherds, and banished him to the underworld during autumn and winter seasons.
All over the city were statues of gods and idols with people bowing down and worshiping them. As they looked at these idols in, they noticed over and over cows, bulls, and calves. The most prominent was the god An who was the "great radiant bull, your name is heaven." One account was that of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, ancient heroes of Mesopotamia, killing the bull of Heaven in defiance of the gods. As the youths listened, their minds probably wondered back to the Exodus where the people sinned by creating and worshiping the golden calf possibly in the likeness of the god Apis of Egypt. Apis was a mediating god between the deities and humans. The Israelites proclaimed, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4).
As the learned and revered instructors from the priesthood sang the praises of Marduk and the other gods, can you see the Hebrew youths smiling to each other, humming a tune under their breath, with silent words in their minds singing a song like to this?
“Declare among the nations and proclaim,
set up a banner and proclaim,
conceal it not, and say:
‘Babylon is taken,
Bel is put to shame,
Merodach is dismayed.
Her images are put to shame,
her idols are dismayed.’” (Jeremiah 50:2)
The common belief was that the subjects of a god must do something to please the god and then the god will look with favor on the people giving them victory in battle or a good harvest. If something bad happened the people, they must have displeased the gods. Since Babylon, and by extension Marduk, defeated Judah, Marduk was a greater god than Yahweh. Yet, the Hebrews knew their God was a living God who was not interested in gifts but wanted a relationship with His people so He could save them from this world of sin and suffering. To say, good things come from God, but bad things come from Satan, is in reality too simplistic; the youths knew the animal sacrifices were not just a gift to Yahweh. After all, most pagan religions required animal sacrifices and some even human sacrifices.
The sacrifices to Yahweh were not only an object lesson but moreover, a substitute. Adam and Eve should have died that very day they sinned, but God sent a substitute. God told them, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [or seed] and her offspring [or seed]; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Then the creator God did something unthinkable, he destroyed life. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). This animal, probably a sheep, which God killed to make their clothes represented a greater Sacrifice to come later. Also, Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son, yet God intervenes and again, provided a substitute. Prophetically when Isaac had asked where the lamb was, Abraham stated, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). The Hebrew boys may not have had a full understanding of God’s plan of salvation, be they knew the sacrifices to Yahweh were not for appeasement like the sacrifices to these heathen gods. Yahweh’s sacrifices represented something greater, a type of substitution, an innocent animal died in the place of guilty Adam and Eve, and another died in place of Isaac. The sacrifices to Yahweh represented the death of the innocent for the guilty. Moreover, unlike the fables of the Babylonian gods destroying human life with impunity for the slightest of infractions, their God was a God of love and was slow to anger, showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments (Exodus 20:6). Having this solid understanding of who their God is must have made it easier to stop the errors in the instruction they were getting.
History lessons in the Babylonian Academy likely included instruction over the glory of the Old Babylonia of Hammurabi who lived ca 1792–1750 BC and made Babylon a world power conquering all of Mesopotamia. Now, the neo-Babylonian empire began with Nebu’s father Nabopolassar who regained the glory of Hammurabi’s lost empire. Daniel certainly would have remembered reading about a less glorious history of Babylon from the Torah including the rebelliousness and heathenism of Nimrod in Mesopotamia, the Tower of Babel recorded in Genesis, and especially the current idolatry associated with Babylon.
But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth [an idol represented by a hen and her chicks]”… (2 King 17:29-31)
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the carved images of her gods he has shattered to the ground.” (Isaiah 21:9)
As training continued, the Hebrews soon noticed a pattern in Babylonian history often based on their heathen deities. This history was frequently similar to their Jewish beliefs but with an idolatrous and heathen perspective. First, the heavens were controlled by a “triad” of gods including Anu, the supreme God and prime mover in creation; next, Enlil, the god of wind, air, earth, storms and the transcendent existence of An; and finally, Enki, the god of the subterranean freshwater ocean, connected with wisdom, magic, incantations, arts, and crafts, the son of Anu, and heavenly backer of humanity.
There were also analogous stories on creation, the flood, and the great controversy between good and evil. Three creation myths were circulating during this time including fables of Enûma Eliš, Inanna and the Huluppu Tree, the Creation of the Pickax, and Enki and Ninmah. There was a great flood story is found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Marduk even has a legendary tale about slaying the dragon goddess named Tiamat, who caused chaos and mayhem and left behind evil monsters and dragons. The youths knew these were all a collection of fables and false gods fighting each other and over the mortals of the world. How different from the stories the Hebrew boys grew up with of a loving God leading His people out of Egypt and who would send a Messiah to save the world from sin and suffering.
Astrology formed a large part of their education for it was believed the activities of celestial bodies represented the activity and messages of their gods and they could learn the will of each god through this observation. The sun was associated with the god Shamash, and the moon with the god Sin. Jupiter was associated with Marduk, Venus with Ishtar, Saturn with Ninurta, Mercury with Nabu, and Mars with Nergal. What a strange, new concept for the Hebrews who knew these heavenly bodies were created by God on the fourth day of creation simply to provide lights for God’s created beings. “And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars” (Genesis 1:16). Contemplating this contrast, a thought may have occurred to them. Maybe Moses in the Torah deliberately did not use the words “sun” and “moon”but instead used “greater light” and “lesser light” to ensure no one could say he was endorsing worship of Shamash, Sin, or the other planetary gods.
There was one thing all these pagan gods had in common: they demanded worship and appeasement from their mortal, earthy subjects and if they did not get what they wanted, they demanded sacrifice, they would send plagues down on the inhabitants of the earth. What a contrast! Daniel and his friends knew their God yearned for his wayward people. The prophet Hosea gave a stark illustration of the love God had for His people.
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor (or trouble) a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt (Hosea 2:14,15).
For three years the Hebrew captives endured the attempt to brainwash them into giving up their belief in the One true God but to no avail. The prophet Ezekiel describes how the Babylonian wise men made decisions and we can easily venture this would be part of the training.
For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination. He shakes the arrows; he consults the teraphim; he looks at the liver” (Ezekiel 21:21).
Messages were put on arrows that were shaken up in a container, and the one that fell out first determined the will of the gods. A teraphim was a small image of a god and would be consulted. Looking at the livers of animals was called hepatoscopy and the livers of sacrificed sheep would be compared with a model. Daniel and his companions may have learned the “art” of hepatoscopy and how the spirit of the gods lived in the idols that were fashioned. It must have been a most depressing experience day after day learning about things you have no interest in or were opposed to, but they endured. Fortunately, Babylon, while having Marduk was the most revered god, was a polytheistic city and anyone could worship any or all the gods. So, in general, there was religious tolerance and the captive youth could worship Yahweh in relative peace during the time of their training.
Imagine if we could have listened in to the final oral exam of our hero captives, we may have heard something like this:
Ashpenaz - “How was the world created?”
Daniel - “We find a creation myth in the Enûma Eliš Cuneiform tablets written around the time of the first Babylonian kingdom. The first eight lines giving this tale:
When on high the heaven had not been named,
Firm ground below had not been called by name,
Naught but primordial Apsu, their begetter,
(And) Mummu-Tiamat, she who bore them all,
Their waters commingling as a single body;
No reed hut had been matted, no marshland had appeared,
When no gods whatever had been brought into being,
Uncalled by name, their destinies undetermined—
Then it was that the gods were formed within them.
Daniel continues – “however, the God I serve created this world in six days and rested on the seventh-day. Yahweh was always in existence and He formed everything by the command of His voice…”
Ashpenaz – “Enough Daniel! You have told me about your God a hundred times! You passed, get out of here!”
Daniel chapter 1 completes our story with these words:
As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. (Daniel 1:17-20)
Upon graduating from Babylon University and obtaining the title of Wise Men, the four captives were placed into the service of the king. We are not told what their specific duties were, but we can certainly deduce that they were not astrologers, magicians, or haruspologists (an examiner of animal organs for divination). There were many other positions these wise men could do in an empire as large as Babylon including medicine, agriculture, finance, writing, astronomy, water transportation, lawyers, contract writers, mathematicians, and the list could go on. Having just graduated, they would have had low-level positions, but were obviously diligent, detailed, problem-solvers, honest, and had no loyalties except to the king and their God of heaven. They would remain in those positions for only a few months before being promoted. Daniel to “ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon,” at Nebu’s court, and Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah positions “over the affairs of the province of Babylon” (Daniel 2:48-49).
What Lessons Can We Learn from Daniel chapter 1?
Earlier in this chapter, we read the narrative of Daniel and his friends’ test of diet. These four companions, though young men, knew the importance of temperance and its relationship not only to physical strength and endurance but likewise to cognitive development and mental capacity. The Apostle Paul explains to us the importance of temperance: “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). A clear and alert mind allows us to understand Bible prophecies and the purposes of God behind those prophecies. It is Satan’s objective to cloud the mind by what we eat and drink, clouding it with cares of this world to hamper our understanding of God’s truth. Like the four Hebrew youths, we must remain temperate and allow the Holy Spirit to live in us and fill us with an understanding of what the Lord has in store for us. The old song, Dare to be a Daniel, could never have been written if Daniel had not “resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank.”
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone;
Dare to have a purpose firm,
Dare to make it known!
Standing by a purpose true,
Heeding God's command,
Honor them, the faithful few!
All hail to Daniel's Band!
Many mighty men are lost
Daring not to stand,
Who for God had been a host
By joining Daniel's Band!
Many giants, great and tall,
Stalking through the land,
Headlong to the earth would fall
If met by Daniel's Band.
Hold the Gospel banner high!
On to vict'ry grand;
Satan and his hosts defy,
And shout for Daniel's band!
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone;
Dare to have a purpose firm,
Dare to make it known!
Now that we have had a glimpse of Daniel and his friend’s three years of training Babylon, let us get started in chapter 2 looking at this mighty empire of Babylon and how God begins working on the heart of a polytheistic, heathen king.
 All Scriptures from the New English Version, unless otherwise indicated.
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