In the Babylonian Imperial Court

SYNOPSIS:  God gave the kingdom of Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and equipped Daniel for service in the imperial court of Babylon - Daniel 1:1-21

Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash
By Christine Roy on Unsplash
In the opening paragraph of the Book of Daniel, Babylon is called the “land of Shinar,” a deliberate echo of the Tower of Babel incident in the Book of Genesis.

The Neo-Babylonian Empire was not a new political creature; it had an ancient pedigree. The royal city in which he found himself was the latest incarnation of an effort to establish the World-Power (SEE ‘Shinar’).

Unwittingly, the king of Babylon attempted to reverse the judgment of Yahweh against ancient Shinar by gathering all ethnic groups, cultures, and nations under his sovereignty. Representatives from different groups were taken to Babylon to be educated in its “language” and wisdom.

The first chapter sets the chronological range of the visions and events chronicled in the book of Daniel. Additionally, it presents the key theological proposition of the book - GOD IS SOVEREIGN AND RULES OVER THE KINGDOMS OF THIS AGE:

(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” – (The Emphasized Bible. Compare Daniel 4:1711:1-4).
(Daniel 2:20-22) – “Daniel responded and said, Let the name of God be blessed from age to age — in that wisdom and might to him belong; And he changeth times and seasons, removeth kings, and setteth up kings — giving wisdom to the wise and knowledge to them who are skilled in understanding: He revealeth the deep things and the hidden — knoweth what is in the darkness, and light with him doth dwell” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The God of Daniel is active in the affairs of nations and intervenes in the course of history to accomplish His purposes, often in unexpected ways. Yahweh placed the powerless Jewish captives inside the Imperial Court at Babylon to achieve His redemptive plans for Israel and the nations:

(Daniel 7:13-14) – “I continued looking in the visions of the night when lo! with the clouds of the heavens, one like a son of man was coming — and unto the Ancient of days he approached, and before him they brought him near; and unto him were given dominion and dignity and kingship, that all peoples, races and tongues unto him should do service — his dominion was an age-abiding dominion, which should not pass away, and his kingdom that which should not be destroyed” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The first 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 the dreams of kings and governors (Daniel 2:1-454:1-37).

The first verse sets the stage:  In the “third year of the reign of Jehoiakim,” that is, in 605 B.C. The career of Daniel continued until the “first year of King Cyrus” when a combined force of Medes and the Persians conquered the kingdom of Babylon, approximately, in 539-538 B.C. (Daniel 1:21).

In 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem after his victory over Egypt and the Assyrian Empire at the Battle of Carchemish, along the upper Euphrates River. At the time, he removed some of the  vessels of Yahweh from the Temple and placed them in his god’s sanctuary in Babylon (the god, Marduk). The king also selected men from the Judean royal house to be educated in Babylon to work for the imperial government.

The prophetic career of Daniel spanned the same seventy years as the Captivity of the Jews in Babylon. With the conquest of Jerusalem, the political independence of Judah ceased. Jerusalem and the Temple were ransacked, and the upper echelons of Judean society removed to Mesopotamia. Thus, Daniel found himself a powerless foreign exile working in the civil service of the World-Power (Jeremiah 25:1-14Daniel 9:1-2).

God Enables Babylon to Subjugate Judah

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 Yahweh’s purposes. The Hebrew verb for “gave” or nathan is applied several times in Chapter 1 to the ordering of events by Yahweh (Strong’s #5414).
Nebuchadnezzar took the vessels from the Temple to the land of “Shinar.” Like the Tower of Babel incident, this Babylonian king attempted to unite all people under one language, religion, and culture (Genesis 10:10, 11:1-9, Daniel 1:4, 3:1-5).
The Education of Daniel - (1:3-8)

Daniel and his three Jewish companions were to be educated in the wisdom, literature, and the language of the “Chaldeans.” The latter term refers to the learned men of Babylon, who were well-versed in divination and astrology.  In later history, ‘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 skilful in all wisdom, and possessed of knowledge and able to impart instruction, and who had vigour 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 Emphasized Bible).

The Judeans selected for imperial service were males “in whom was no blemish” (m’ūm), the same term used for the ritual purity required for the 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 Jewish exiles were “prudent” or “wise,” a characteristic noted of righteous Jews in the tribulations described in the later chapters of the book of Daniel. They were to be instructed in “the tongue of the Chaldeans,” an Aramaic dialect employed by the imperial government. Fluency was necessary to function in the civil service and engage in commerce (Daniel 11:33-3512:1-4).

Tower of Babel -
The Hebrew name ‘Daniel’ means, “God is my judge.” ‘Hananiah’ means, “Yahweh is gracious”; ‘Mishael’ ‘‘who is like God,” and Azariah means, “Yahweh helped.” The assignment of Babylonian names was intended to honor the gods of the empire. ‘Belteshazzar’ for Daniel, which means, “Bel protects.” “Bel” was the Babylonian equivalent of Baal or “lord.” 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 meant 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, 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 this is not stated. Possibly, he did not wish to eat meats categorized as “unclean” under the Levitical purity laws. More probably, the issue was eating food offered to idols.

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

The “Chaldeans”

“Chaldeans” were priests and officials educated in Mesopotamian literature, its cuneiform script, astrology, and other forms of divination. Elsewhere, the term is applied to this group and is not used in any ethnic sense. “Chaldean” originally denoted a tribe of Semitic peoples from southeastern Mesopotamia that had migrated to the region centuries earlier (e.g., Jeremiah 24:525:1250:1051:24).

The “learning of the Chaldeans” included the ancient languages of Mesopotamia, Sumerian and Akkadian, along with astronomy, natural history, metallurgy, philosophy, and the sexagesimal or base-60 numbering system inherited from the earlier Sumerian civilization.

Daniel demonstrates his knowledge of this base-60 numbering system in Chapter 3 when “Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold sixty cubits high and six cubits wide.” This usage constitutes evidence that Daniel was well versed in the culture of Babylon from the sixth-century B.C. era.

Daniel’s Test – (1:9-16)

(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 unto Daniel, I do fear my lord the king, who hath 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 ye bring me under the penalty of mine own head unto the king. Then said Daniel unto the overseer whom the ruler of the eunuchs had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: I pray thee — prove thy 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 thee, and the countenances of the youths who have been eating the delicacies of the king — and as thou shalt see, deal thou with thy servants. So then he hearkened unto 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 Emphasized Bible).

God “gave” (nathan) Daniel favor before the “prince of the eunuchs.” This official granted his request to abstain from the royal provisions for a trial period of ten days. Since meat and wine were offered to pagan deities before being consumed, to participate in religious-based meals would compromise the Judean exiles with idolatrous rituals.

The positive response of the official was due to the intervention of Yahweh; 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 who consumed the royal provisions. Because of the gracious intervention of Daniel’s God, the exiles ate ritually pure food, not any royal delicacies defiled through contact with idols.

God also “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. In this, Daniel becomes the pattern for people of discernment, the men of “understanding” who would shine in Israel’s darkest hour (Daniel 11:33-35).

King 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.”
Through the gifts of God, these Jewish exiles exceeded all the wisdom of the learned men of Babylon. Although Daniel was educated in the ways of the “Chaldeans,” throughout the rest of the book, he is never classified as a magician, enchanter or astrologer. In contrast to the wise men of Babylon who were stymied by the dreams of the king, God revealed their contents and meanings to Daniel alone.
And Daniel continued even unto the first year of King Cyrus.” The first year of the reign of Cyrus over Babylon began in 538 B.C.  This establishes the length of the ministry of Daniel - from the third year of King Jehoiakim to the first year of Cyrus the Great after the downfall of Babylon; that is, from 605 to 538 B.C. (Daniel 1:21, 6:28, 5:30-31, 10:1).

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. The Church at Smyrna refused to do so and, rather ironically, was rewarded with further trials (Revelation 2:8-12).

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 2:10).

Just as Daniel was vulnerable in a pagan royal court, so the Christians residing in the city of Smyrna were at the mercy of pagan magistrates. Rather than flight or armed resistance, they were exhorted to “become faithful unto death” and, thus, they would receive the “crown of life.” In this way, Daniel serves as a model of faithfulness for the beleaguered churches of Asia.


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