From May to September 1787, the American Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia to develop a system of government for the new nation. By June 28, progress had been so slow that Benjamin Franklin stood and addressed George Washington, president of the convention. Among other things, he said: "I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men." He then moved that they invite some of the local clergy to come to the assembly to lead them in prayer for divine guidance. The motion would have passed except that the convention had no budget for paying visiting chaplains.
Though not a professed evangelical believer, Franklin was a man who believed in a God who is the Architect and Governor of the universe, a conviction that agrees with the testimony of Scripture. Abraham called God "the Judge of all the earth" (Gen. 18:25), and King Hezekiah prayed, "Thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth" (2 Kings 19:15). In Daniel's day, King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way that "the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men" (Dan. 4:32, niv).
The first chapter of Daniel's book gives ample evidence of the sovereign hand of God in the affairs of both nations and individuals.
For decades, the prophets had warned the rulers of Judah that their idolatry, immorality, and injustice toward the poor and needy would lead to the nation's ruin. The prophets saw the day coming when God would bring the Babylonian army to destroy Jerusalem and the temple and take the people captive to Babylon. A century before the fall of Jerusalem, the Prophet Isaiah had proclaimed this message (Isa. 13; 21; and 39), and Micah his contemporary shared the burden (Micah 4:10). The Prophet Habakkuk couldn't understand how Jehovah could use the godless Babylonians to chasten His own people (Hab. 1), and Jeremiah lived to see these prophecies, plus his own prophecies, all come true (Jer. 20; 25; 27). God would rather have His people living in shameful captivity in a pagan land than living like pagans in the Holy Land and disgracing His name.
The fall of Jerusalem looked like the triumph of the pagan gods over the true God of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar burned the temple of God and even took the sacred furnishings and put them into the temple of his own god in Babylon. Later, Belshazzar would use some of those holy vessels to praise his own gods at a pagan feast, and God would judge him (Dan. 5). No matter how you viewed the fall of Jerusalem, it looked like a victory for the idols; but it was actually a victory for the Lord! He kept His covenant with Israel and He fulfilled His promises. In fact, the same God who raised up the Babylonians to defeat Judah later raised up the Medes and Persians to conquer Babylon. The Lord also ordained that a pagan ruler decree that the Jews could return to their land and rebuild their temple. As missionary leader A.T. Pierson used to say, "History is His story."
God had made a covenant with the people of Israel, promising that He would care for them and bless them if they obeyed His statutes, but if they disobeyed, He would chasten them and scatter them among the Gentiles (Lev. 26; Deut. 27-30). He wanted Israel to be "a light to the Gentiles" (Isa. 42:6, nkjv) and reveal the glories of the true and living God; but instead, the Jews became like the Gentiles and worshiped their false gods. The nation's ungodly kings and civic leaders, the false prophets and the faithless priests were the cause of the moral decay and the ultimate destruction of the nation (Lam. 4:13; Jer. 23:9-16; 2 Chron. 6:14-21). How strange that God's own people didn't obey Him, but Nebuchadnezzar and the pagan Babylonian army did obey Him!
So wise and powerful is our God that He can permit men and women to make personal choices and still accomplish His purposes in this world. When He isn't permitted to rule, He will overrule, but His will shall ultimately be done and His name glorified. We worship and serve a sovereign God who is never caught by surprise. No matter what our circumstances may be, we can always say with confidence, "Alleluia!... The Lord God Omnipotent reigns!" (Rev. 19:6, nkjv)
The king's policy was to train the best people of the conquered nations to serve in his government. He could benefit from their knowledge of their own people and could also use their skills to strengthen his own administration. There were several deportations of Jews to Babylon both before and after the fall of Jerusalem, and it appears that Daniel and his three friends were taken in 605 when they were probably fifteen or sixteen years old. The Prophet Ezekiel was sent to Babylon in 597, and in 586, the temple was destroyed.
A dedicated remnant (Dan. 1:3-4a). Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament reveals that the majority of God's people have not always followed the Lord and kept His commandments. It has always been the "faithful remnant" within the Jewish nation that has come through the trials and judgments to maintain the divine covenant and make a new beginning. The Prophet Isaiah named one of his sons "Shearjashub," which means "a remnant shall return" (Isa. 7:3). The same principle applies to the church today, for not everybody who professes faith in Jesus Christ is truly a child of God (Matt. 7:21-23). In His messages to the seven churches of Asia Minor, our Lord always had a special word for "the overcomers," the faithful remnant in each congregation who sought to obey the Lord (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 24-28; 3:4-5, 12, 21). Daniel and his three friends were a part of the faithful Jewish remnant in Babylon, placed there by the Lord to accomplish His purposes.
These young men were superior in every way, "the brightest and the best," prepared by God for a strategic ministry far from home. They were handsome, healthy, intelligent, and talented. They belonged to the tribe of Judah (Dan. 1:6) and were of royal birth (v. 3). In every sense, they were the very best the Jews had to offer. Because Ashpenaz is called "master of the eunuchs," some have concluded that the four Jewish boys were made eunuchs; but that is probably an erroneous conclusion. Originally, the term "eunuch" (Heb., saris) referred to a servant who had been castrated so he could serve the royal harem; but the title gradually came to be applied to any important court official. The word is applied to Potiphar and he was married (Gen. 37:36). The Jewish law forbade castration (Deut. 23:1), so it's difficult to believe that these four faithful Hebrew men who resisted Babylonian customs in every other way would have submitted to it.
A difficult trial (Dan. 1:4b-7). It was an honor to be trained as officers in the king's palace, but it was also a trial; for these dedicated Jewish boys would have to adapt themselves to the ways and the thinking of the Babylonians. The purpose of the "course" was to transform Jews into Babylonians, and this meant not only a new land, but also new names, new customs, new ideas, and a new language. For three years, their Babylonian teachers would attempt to "brainwash" the four Jewish young men and teach them how to think and live like Babylonians.
The name Daniel means "God is my judge," but it was changed to Belteshazzar or "Bel protect his life." Hananiah means "the Lord shows grace," but his new name, Shadrach, means "command of Aku" (the moon-god). Mishael means "Who is like God?" and the new name, "Meshach," means "Who is as Aku is?" Azariah means 'The Lord is my help," but "Abednego" means "Servant of Nebo (Nego)." The name of the true and living God was replaced by the names of the false gods of Babylon; but would we expect unbelievers to do anything else?
Learning a new language and even receiving new names didn't create much of a problem, but practicing customs contrary to the Law of Moses was a great problem. The Babylonians were great builders, calculators, and military strategists, but their religion was steeped in superstition and myth. Just as Christian students in secular schools today often have to study material that contradicts what they believe, so Daniel and his friends had to master Babylonian history and science. In fact, in the final examination, they excelled all the other students (v. 20), and later, God gave them opportunities to show that their Jewish faith was superior to the faith of their captives. But when their course of training required them to disobey the holy law, they had to draw the line.
Surely the king's food was the best in the land, so why should these four Hebrew students refuse it? Because it would defile them and make them ceremonially unclean before their God (v. 8). It was important to the Jews that they eat only animals approved by God and prepared in such a way that the blood was drained from the flesh, for eating blood was strictly prohibited (Lev. 11; 17:10-16). But even more, the king's food would first be offered to idols, and no faithful Jew would eat such defiled food. The early church faced this same problem.
A discerning test (Dan. 1:8-16). How can God's people resist the pressures that can "squeeze" them into conformity with the world? According to Romans 12:1-2, "con-formers" are people whose lives are controlled by pressure from without, but "transformers" are people whose lives are controlled by power from within. Daniel and his three friends were transformers: instead of being changed, they did the changing! God used them to transform the minds of powerful rulers and to bring great glory to His name in a pagan land.
The first step in solving their problem and being transformers was giving themselves wholly to the Lord. Daniel's heart—the totality of his being—belonged to the Lord, as did the hearts of his friends (Dan. 1:8; Rom. 12:1-2). "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23, nkjv). A heart that loves the Lord, trusts the Lord, and therefore obeys the Lord has no difficulty making the right choices and trusting God to take care of the consequences. It has well been said that faith is not believing in spite of evidence—that's superstition—but obeying in spite of consequences. When they had to choose between God's Word and the king's food, they chose the Word of God (Ps. 119:103; Deut. 8:3).
The second step was to be gracious toward those in authority. The four men noticed that Ashpenaz was especially friendly and kind to them and recognized that this was the working of the Lord. (Joseph had a similar experience when he was in prison. See Gen. 39-40.) "When a man's ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. 16:7, nkjv). Instead of expecting a pagan Gentile officer to obey the Law of Moses and get himself in trouble with the king, Daniel and his friends took a wise approach and asked for a ten-day experiment.
Throughout Scripture you will find courageous people who had to defy authority in order to obey God, and in every case, they took the wise and gentle approach. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Rom. 12:18, niv).
Along with Daniel and his friends, you have the examples of the Hebrew midwives (Ex. 1), the apostles (Acts 4), and even Jesus Himself (1 Peter 2:13-25). All of them had to resist the law in order to obey the Lord, and God gave them success. They were courteous and didn't try to get others into trouble. They had a meek and quiet spirit. They saw the challenge as an opportunity to prove God and glorify His name.
The four Jewish students didn't threaten anybody, stage a protest, or try to burn down a building. They simply excelled in their studies, acted like gentlemen, and asked Melzar to test them for ten days by feeding them only water and vegetables. Christians have no right to ask others—especially the unsaved—to take risks that they won't take themselves. Unconsciously directed by the Lord, Melzar was willing to accept their suggestion, and God did the rest. In the end, the four Jewish boys were healthier in body and better looking than all the other students. This is a vivid illustration of the promise in Matthew 6:33 and the principle laid down in Colossians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; and 1 Peter 3:15.
When it comes to solving the problems of life, we must ask God for the courage to face the problem humbly and honestly, the wisdom to understand it, the strength to do what He tells us to do, and the faith to trust Him to do the rest. Our motive must be the glory of God and not finding a way of escape. The important question isn't, "How can I get out of this?" but, "What can I get out of this?" The Lord used this private test to prepare Daniel and his friends for the public tests they would face in years to come. The best thing about this experience wasn't that they were delivered from compromise, as wonderful as that was, but that they were developed in character. No wonder God called Daniel "greatly beloved" (Dan. 9:23; 10:11, 19), for he was very much like His Beloved Son.
If you want to make a living, you get training; and if you want to make a life, you add education. But if you want to have a ministry for God, you must have divine gifts and divine help. Training and education are very important, but they are not substitutes for the ability and wisdom that only God can give.
God's special blessing (Dan. 1:17). These four Hebrew youths had to study and apply themselves, but God gave them skill to learn the material, discernment to understand it, and wisdom to know how to apply it and relate it to God's truth. As students, all of us need to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5) and then work hard to do our very best. "Faith without works is dead" (2:26), and fervent prayer can never replace faithful study. Both are necessary.
What studies did these young men pursue? Surely they were taught the religion of Babylon as well as the system of astrology that formed the basis for both their religion and their science. The king's official counselors had to be able to interpret dreams and various omens, because understanding the times and knowing the future were both important to the king's success. The young men were given what we would call a "secular education" steeped in the superstition of that day.
But should the people of God learn "the wisdom of this world" when they have the inspired and infallible Word of God to instruct them? Some sincere believers think that all "worldly education" is sinful, while others, just as sincere, believe that God's people should understand the mind-set of the world but not be controlled by it. The great church father Tertullian (160-220) is an example of the first group, for he asked, "What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the church?" He also wrote, "So, then, where is there any likeness between the Christian and the philosopher? Between the disciple of Greece and of heaven? Between the man whose object is fame, and whose object is life?"
On the other hand, Moses was "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22), and the Apostle Paul read the classics and even quoted from them in his letters. In 1 Corinthians 15:33 he quoted the Greek poet Menander; in Acts 17:27 and 28, he quoted Epimenides, Aratus, and Cleanthes; and in Titus 1:12, he quoted Epimenides. In 2 Timothy 4:13, he asked Timothy to bring him his books and parchments, which were probably copies of some of the Old Testament Scriptures and possibly some of the classical writers. The point is that Paul knew the classics and sought to use what he knew to reach people with the truth of God's Word. "Beware of the atmosphere of the classics," Robert Murray M'Cheyne wrote in a letter to a friend. "True, we ought to know them; but only as chemists handle poison—to discover their qualities, not to infect their blood with them."
By understanding the mind-set of the Babylonian people, especially the king's "magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers" (Dan. 2:2, niv), Daniel and his three friends were better able to show them the superiority of God's wisdom. The Lord gave Daniel a special gift of understanding visions and dreams. In the first half of his book, Daniel interpreted the visions and dreams of others, but in the last half, he received visions of his own from the Lord.
The king's examination (Dan. 1:18-20). We don't know how many students went through the entire course of study, but it's interesting that Nebuchadnezzar himself took the time to examine them. Since the new graduates were to become his personal advisers, the king wanted to be sure he was getting the best. By adding exceptionally intelligent new men to the staff, the king would be assured of getting the best counsel available. He was familiar with the older advisers and possibly not too happy with all of them (see 2:5-13). Was he suspicious of a palace intrigue? As we shall see later, the addition and the promotion of these four Jewish boys created jealousy and resentment among the advisers and they tried to get rid of Daniel (chap. 6). As older men, they resented their youth; as Babylonians, they resented their race; and as experienced servants, they envied their great ability and knowledge.
"Magicians" were men who dealt in the occult, while "enchanters" used incantations to accomplish their purposes. "Sorcerers" specialized in casting spells, "astrologers" studied the movements of the stars and their influence on events, and "diviners" sought to see the future by using various methods. Of course, all of these were forbidden by the Law of Moses (Deut. 18:9-13). Daniel and his friends had to work alongside these men, yet they remained pure and gave a powerful testimony for the Lord.
The word "inquired" in Daniel 1:20 means "to examine and compare." The king not only questioned the graduates, but he also compared one with another, and in this way ended up with the very best. There's no reason why Christian students on secular campuses today shouldn't be among the finest students who win some of the highest awards to the glory of God. Tertullian didn't think that "Jerusalem" should have anything to do with "Athens," but if believers from "Jerusalem" don't witness to unbelievers in "Athens," how will these lost sinners ever hear about Jesus Christ? Going into "all the world" includes going to our pagan campuses and letting our lights shine.
The first year of King Cyrus' reign was 539 B.C., but Daniel was still alive in 537 B.C., the third year of Cyrus (10:1). If Daniel was fifteen years old in the year 605 when he was taken to Babylon, then he was born in 620, and he would have been eighty-three years old when he received the revelations recorded in chapters 10-12. While reading the prophecy of Jeremiah (25:11; 29:10), Daniel understood God's plan for the Jews to return to their land and rebuild the temple and the city (Dan. 9:1-2); and he lived long enough to see this prophecy fulfilled! How long he lived after that nobody knows, nor is it important that we know. During Daniel's long life, he had opportunity to witness to Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Belshazzar, and Cyrus, as well as to the many court officers who came and went. He was a faithful servant, and he could say with the Lord Jesus, "I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given me to do" (John 17:4, nkjv).
However, not every faithful servant of God is given the blessing of a long life. Stephen was probably a young man when he was martyred (Acts 7), and Paul was in his sixties when he was killed in Rome. The godly Scottish preacher Robert Murray M'Cheyne was two months short of being thirty years old when he died, yet his ministry still enriches us. William Whiting Borden ("Borden of Yale") was only twenty-five when he died in Egypt, and David Brainerd, missionary to the Native Americans, was only twenty-nine when God called him. "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Ps. 90:12). We number our years, not our days, but everybody still has to live a day at a time, and we don't know when that final day will dawn.
In order to accomplish His plans for His people, the Lord providentially works to put some of His servants into places of special honor and responsibility. When He wanted to protect Jacob's family and the future of the nation of Israel, the Lord sent Joseph to Egypt and made him second ruler of the land. God had Esther and Mordecai in Persia, where they exposed a plot against the Jews and saved the people of Israel from being annihilated. Nehemiah was the king's cupbearer in Susa and was able to get royal assistance for restoring the walls of Jerusalem. I wonder if the men in high political office who assisted Paul were true believers in Jesus Christ? (Acts 19:30-31; Rom. 16:23) Even if they weren't, God placed them where they were and enabled them to accomplish His will.
The events recorded in this chapter should be a great encouragement to us when we experience trials and testings and become discouraged; for when God is not allowed to rule, He overrules. God is still on the throne and will never leave us nor forsake us.
Has the enemy destroyed the Holy City and the holy temple and taken God's people captive? Fear not, for there is still a godly remnant that worships the true God and serves Him. Does the enemy attempt to defile that godly remnant? Fear not, for the Lord will work on their behalf and keep them separated to Himself. Are godly believers needed in places of authority? Fear not, for the Lord will see to it that they are prepared and appointed. Does the Lord desire to communicate His prophetic truth to His people? Fear not, for He will keep His servants alive and alert until their work is done. Are you in a place of responsibility and wondering how long you can hold out? Fear not, for the same God who called you and equipped you is able to make you "continue" until you complete the tasks that He has assigned you. "He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it" (1 Thes. 5:24, nkjv).
Each believer is either a conformer or a transformer. We're either being squeezed into the world's mold or we're transforming things in the world into which God has put us. Transformers don't always have an easy life, but it's an exciting one, and it gives you great delight to know that God is using you to influence others.