It was the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar took King Jehoiakim and objects from the Great Temple to the temple of his god(s) in Babylonia.
Nebuchadnezzar ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring some members of the royal family to him to serve in the royal palace. The subjects were to be men, without physical defect, handsome, intelligent, well informed, and quick to learn. They were to be taught the language and customs of Babylonia for three years before entering the king’s service. During the three years of indoctrination, they would be treated well, even receiving food from the king’s table.
Among those chosen were young men from the house of Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Their names were changed from Daniel to Belteshazzar, Hananiah to Shadrach, Mishael to Meshach, and Azariah to Abednego.
Daniel refused to defile himself with the king’s food and asked the chief official for permission to not partake of the king’s food. The official liked Daniel, and told him, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. What if he sees you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would have my head because of you.”
So, Daniel asked the guard who was assigned to look over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance to the other young men who eat the royal food.”
The guard agreed and tested the men for ten days. After ten days, the men looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So, the guard continued feeding them vegetables and water as Daniel had requested.
To these four men, God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could interpret dreams and visions of all kinds.
At the end of three years, the men were presented to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with all of them and found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah so they entered the king’s service. Each time the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the king’s magicians and enchanters in the entire kingdom.
Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
What the story means to us today
Daniel resists outside influences that counter his religious beliefs
The Bible tells us that Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem was not successful by his own hand – rather, it was allowed by God. Judgement for Judeans has been part of God’s agreement with Israel from the beginning. For centuries, God had warned Israel through prophets, that their disobedience must stop. Now their kingdom has been lost and they find themselves in the midst of foreigners and their opposing belief systems.
Daniel was aware of his people’s dissidence, and like the prophets, continued to behave righteously despite the behavior of those around him. His righteousness is demonstrated by his refusal to accept the Babylonian rules placed on him and his three companions. Despite pressure from his oppressors and comfort offered by their king, Daniel stands by his convictions. The same applied to all Judeans held in captivity. They must find a way to retain their belief system while living in a foreign environment.
Christians face a similar situation today. While living in a world that often opposes our beliefs and value system, we must remain resistant to thoughts and ideas that run counter to our religious tenets.
Additional thoughts and considerations
An introduction to Daniel known as the “court stories”
Chapters 1 through 6 of Daniel introduce the “court stories”. These are narrative tellings in the third person relating to the exploits of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah during their captivity in Babylon.
Dating Daniel’s story
King Jehoiakim was ruler over Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar besieged the city. Jehoiakim had been made king by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt after King Josiah died. Historical records make these events easy to date. The third year of Jehoiakim’s reign tells us that Daniel’s story began in 605 BC. This date is confirmed (calculated in a slightly different manner) in the book of Jeremiah.
Why would Nebuchadnezzar train captives?
To indoctrinate captives into their culture, they were taught the language, literature, and religion of the conquering nation. Often these captives would be sent home with newfound respect for their conquerors, convincing others to follow. Captives would be taught new languages, religious practices, political systems, and cultural norms. The training for Daniel and his companions was structured and rigorous.
Why did Daniel refuse the king’s food and drink?
The Bible gives us no direct explanation for why Daniel refused food and drink from the king. Possibly the food violated Jewish standards governing impure foods. Abstinence from Gentile food is mentioned in several biblical books and Jewish revulsion to Gentile food was revealed in Ezekiel 4:13 when God warned “Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”
Possibly the reason for Daniel’s refusal was to show the king that Daniel and his companions retained a healthy physical appearance because of their allegiance to God, not because of the king’s food.
More likely, refusing traditional Babylonian food was the means for Daniel to rebel against the king, a gesture showing that he and his friends would not cooperate with the king’s demands and assimilate into Babylonian culture. Daniel was likely disavowing loyalty to King Nebuchadnezzar and demonstrating his loyalty remained exclusively to God.
Daniel stays in Babylon until the first year of King Cyrus
The final verse in chapter 1 tells us that Daniel remained in Babylonia until the first year of King Cyrus. The first year of king Cyrus of Persia is dated to 539 or 538 BC. This means Daniel held his position in Babylon from 605 BC to 539 BC, spending almost sixty years in captivity.
Daniel lived through the entire period of the neo-Babylonian empire. During this time, Daniel outlived several kings including Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius the Mede, before Cyrus the Persian arrived and freed Nebuchadnezzar’s prisoners.
Daniel and his companions’ new names
Daniel 1:6 tells us that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were renamed Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. This renaming of prisoners was common in ancient times. Genesis 41:45 tells us that Pharaoh gave Joseph a new Egyptian name when he was taken captive in Egypt.
Captives would be renamed by the king, often taking the religious parts of their names and replacing them with names related to the conquering nation’s religion. For instance, -el for God and -iah for Yahweh would be replaced with references to Babylonian gods such as Nabur or Bel. Renaming served to disassociate the captive from their original country.
It is believed Daniel’s new name meant “Bel protect the prince” or “protect his life” and Azariah’s new name meant “servant of Nabu” or “servant of Nego”. It is unknown what Shadrach and Meshach represented.
The science and history behind the story
The raiding of Jerusalem in 605 BC and the relationship to Ezekiel’s biblical account
Thus far, there is no known archaeological evidence of Nebuchadnezzar raiding Jerusalem in 605 BC. However, that the word “besiege” was used to describe Nebuchadnezzar’s takeover of Jerusalem suggests the act may not have been warlike but instead, likely a threat or blockade that forced Judeans to surrender.
The raid is however, confirmed by outside historical documents. The historian Josephus mentions a Babylonian priest (Berossus) who recorded that Nebuchadnezzar engaged in campaigns against Egypt, Syria, and Phoenicia in 605 BC. In addition, cuneiform tablets discovered in 1956 say “Nebuchadnezzar conquered the whole area of the Hatti-country” shortly after the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. Hatti would include all of Syria and Palestine.
The siege in 605 BC was the first of three invasions of Palestine by Babylonians. The second occurred in 598 BC at the end of Jehoiakim’s reign. After the first invasion, Judeans had remained resistant and Nebuchadnezzar was forced to take more aggressive actions. By the time Nebuchadnezzar reached Jerusalem, King Jehoiakim had died and his son, Jehoiachin had taken his place. During the siege, Jehoiachin was exiled with the other citizens (including Ezekiel, who wrote his book during the exiled period).
The third and final siege of Jerusalem was more brutal. Nebuchadnezzar surrounded Jerusalem in 588 BC and after some time, entered and sacked the city. It was during this last siege that the temple was plundered and destroyed. The event was significant: Davidic kingship in Judah ended that day.
The rise and fall of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar’s reign
Babylon was located on the Euphrates River about 50 miles south of modern-day Baghdad in Iraq. Today, King Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over Babylon from 605 BC to 562 BC, is considered one of the greatest rulers in ancient history. His expansion of the city was legendary and included construction of the Hanging Gardens, today considered one of the “wonders” of the world.
Nebuchadnezzar’s fall was just as magnificent as his rise. As seen with most civilizations, Babylonian success turned to extravagance and decadence causing their society to decline. Ultimately, Nebuchadnezzar went insane and over the 20 years following his demise, subsequent rulers watched in vain as their society collapsed around them.
Both Jeremiah and Isiah prophesied about Babylon’s demise, predicting its spiral into disarray and destruction. The Babylonian culture declined until 539 BC when Cyrus the Great invaded the land. In the New Testament, the kingdom of Babylon is a symbol of self-indulgence and wickedness.
Placement of Judean temple objects in the Babylonian temple
The Bible tells us that Nebuchadnezzar took objects from the Jewish temple and placed them in his own religious temples (Babylonians were polytheists and worshipped several gods, the most important of which was Marduk, the god of wisdom). The confiscation of religious objects during sieges was common in ancient times. Invaders often took trophies, usually important religious and cultural artifacts, and placed them in their own temples as a sign of dominance. In this instance, we know that Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon about 20 years after Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Once Cyrus had taken control of the city, he ordered all objects be returned to Judah. The items Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple likely made their way back to Jerusalem at this time.
The various spellings of Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar’s name is spelled slightly different in various parts of the bible. In Daniel and other books, the spelling is Nebuchadnezzar (with an “n”). In Ezekiel, his name is spelled Nebuchadrezzar (with an “r”). The “r” version is closer to the Babylonian name Nabukudurriuser so some consider it to be the proper spelling of the Babylonian king’s name even though the “n” version is more commonly used today.
Were Daniel and his companions made eunuchs?
The word used to describe Daniel and his companions is translated as “court official”. The word usually refers to a eunuch. But the term was also used to refer to Potiphar (to whom Joseph was sold) in Genesis 37:36. We know that Potiphar had a wife, so he was not a eunuch. Jewish tradition holds that Daniel was a eunuch but nothing in the Bible specifically tells us that.
Notes on Biblical translation
The “vegetables” Daniel and his companions ate
The word translated as “vegetable” is somewhat unclear. It seems to be connected to the word “seeds” in some manner. Possibly the food Daniel ate was some type of soup made from grain or mulched vegetables.
The location of Shinar
Some translations record Daniel was carried off to Shinar (“the land of Shinar”). Shinar is the ancient Hebrew name for Babylon or more accurately, a name for Sumer and Akkad, where Babylon was located.
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—4 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. 5 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.
6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”
11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 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.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
The NET Bible
1:1 In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon advanced against Jerusalem and laid it under siege. 1:2 Now the Lord delivered King Jehoiakim of Judah into his power, along with some of the vessels of the temple of God. He brought them to the land of Babylonia to the temple of his god and put the vessels in the treasury of his god.
1:3 The king commanded Ashpenaz, who was in charge of his court officials, to choose some of the Israelites who were of royal and noble descent—1:4 young men in whom there was no physical defect and who were handsome, well versed in all kinds of wisdom, well educated and having keen insight, and who were capable of entering the king’s royal service—and to teach them the literature and language of the Babylonians. 1:5 So the king assigned them a daily ration from his royal delicacies and from the wine he himself drank. They were to be trained for the next three years. At the end of that time they were to enter the king’s service. 1:6 As it turned out, among these young men were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 1:7 But the overseer of the court officials renamed them. He gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar, Hananiah he named Shadrach, Mishael he named Meshach, and Azariah he named Abednego.
1:8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the royal delicacies or the royal wine. He therefore asked the overseer of the court officials for permission not to defile himself. 1:9 Then God made the overseer of the court officials sympathetic to Daniel. 1:10 But he responded to Daniel, “I fear my master the king. He is the one who has decided your food and drink. What would happen if he saw that you looked malnourished in comparison to the other young men your age? If that happened, you would endanger my life with the king!” 1:11 Daniel then spoke to the warden whom the overseer of the court officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 1:12 “Please test your servants for ten days by providing us with some vegetables to eat and water to drink. 1:13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who are eating the royal delicacies; deal with us in light of what you see.” 1:14 So the warden agreed to their proposal and tested them for ten days.
1:15 At the end of the ten days their appearance was better and their bodies were healthier than all the young men who had been eating the royal delicacies. 1:16 So the warden removed the delicacies and the wine from their diet and gave them a diet of vegetables instead. 1:17 Now as for these four young men, God endowed them with knowledge and skill in all sorts of literature and wisdom—and Daniel had insight into all kinds of visions and dreams.
1:18 When the time appointed by the king arrived, the overseer of the court officials brought them into Nebuchadnezzar’s presence. 1:19 When the king spoke with them, he did not find among the entire group anyone like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, or Azariah. So they entered the king’s service. 1:20 In every matter of wisdom and insight the king asked them about, he found them to be ten times better than any of the magicians and astrologers that were in his entire empire. 1:21 Now Daniel lived on until the first year of Cyrus the king.
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
New King James Version
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.
3 Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles, 4 young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans. 5 And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king. 6 Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7 To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego.
8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. 9 Now God had brought Daniel into the favor and goodwill of the chief of the eunuchs. 10 And the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces looking worse than the young men who are your age? Then you would endanger my head before the king.”
11 So Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king’s delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants.” 14 So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days.
15 And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies. 16 Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
17 As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
18 Now at the end of the days, when the king had said that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. 20 And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm. 21 Thus Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus.
The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
1 It was the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon declared war on Jerusalem and besieged the city. The Master handed King Jehoiakim of Judah over to him, along with some of the furnishings from the Temple of God. Nebuchadnezzar took king and furnishings to the country of Babylon, the ancient Shinar. He put the furnishings in the sacred treasury.
3–5 The king told Ashpenaz, head of the palace staff, to get some Israelites from the royal family and nobility—young men who were healthy and handsome, intelligent and well-educated, good prospects for leadership positions in the government, perfect specimens!—and indoctrinate them in the Babylonian language and the lore of magic and fortunetelling. The king then ordered that they be served from the same menu as the royal table—the best food, the finest wine. After three years of training they would be given positions in the king’s court.
6–7 Four young men from Judah—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—were among those selected. The head of the palace staff gave them Babylonian names: Daniel was named Belteshazzar, Hananiah was named Shadrach, Mishael was named Meshach, Azariah was named Abednego.
8–10 But Daniel determined that he would not defile himself by eating the king’s food or drinking his wine, so he asked the head of the palace staff to exempt him from the royal diet. The head of the palace staff, by God’s grace, liked Daniel, but he warned him, “I’m afraid of what my master the king will do. He is the one who assigned this diet and if he sees that you are not as healthy as the rest, he’ll have my head!”
11–13 But Daniel appealed to a steward who had been assigned by the head of the palace staff to be in charge of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: “Try us out for ten days on a simple diet of vegetables and water. Then compare us with the young men who eat from the royal menu. Make your decision on the basis of what you see.”
14–16 The steward agreed to do it and fed them vegetables and water for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked better and more robust than all the others who had been eating from the royal menu. So the steward continued to exempt them from the royal menu of food and drink and served them only vegetables.
17–19 God gave these four young men knowledge and skill in both books and life. In addition, Daniel was gifted in understanding all sorts of visions and dreams. At the end of the time set by the king for their training, the head of the royal staff brought them in to Nebuchadnezzar. When the king interviewed them, he found them far superior to all the other young men. None were a match for Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
19–20 And so they took their place in the king’s service. Whenever the king consulted them on anything, on books or on life, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his kingdom put together.
21 Daniel continued in the king’s service until the first year in the reign of King Cyrus.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
King James Version
1 IN the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.
3 And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; 4 Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and iskilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding kscience, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach mthe learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. 5 And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. 6 Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 7 Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego.
8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s xmeat, nor with ythe wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. 9 Now God ahad brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. 10 And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king. 11 Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us cpulse to eat, and water to drink. 13 Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. 14 So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days. 15 And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat. 16 Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.
17 As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. 20 And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all othe magicians and pastrologers that were in all his realm. 21 And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.