Book of Daniel Bible Study Chapter 1

Stranded in Babylon[1]


By I Gordon




The book of Daniel was written by, well, Daniel, around 537 B.C. Daniel identifies himself as the author of the book in Daniel 12:4 and Jesus also identified him in Matt 24:15. That's good enough for me! Daniel was led into exile as a youth in 605 B.C[2] and most estimates place him at around 16-18 years old at the time. We know from Daniel 10:1 that he was still alive in third year of Cyrus in 536 B.C so he was around 85 at that time. So how did Daniel, a Jewish boy, find himself exiled in Babylon you ask? Well, that is a good question and for those interested in a little bit of history, please check out the second footnote. Daniel's life is one of complete abandonment and devotion to the God of Israel. The book itself is well known for its extraordinary prophecies that outline the future gentile world powers, the coming Messiah and the end of this age but it also holds many lessons for living in an age and society that is hostile to belief in the God of Israel.


Introduction to the siege and exile – then and now!


Dan 1:1-2 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 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.


The book starts with Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Judah and Jerusalem. Why did the Lord allow Judah to be besieged? It can be traced back to the actions of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:12-19 and Isaiah's prophecy[3]. In short, pride and worldliness! It is important also that you read Jeremiah 25:4-12 if you are truly interested in the background to how many Israelites, like Daniel, found themselves exiled in Babylon. Now Babylon means 'confusion' and traces its roots back to Genesis 11:9 where God confused the people’s language at the tower of Babel. As a type, Babylon stands for this present world with its false religion and systems. The future fall of Babylon is prophesied in Revelation chapter 17 and 18 where these two systems are shown. Revelation chapter 17 speaks of the destruction of the world’s false religious system and chapter 18 speaks of the fall of the world’s financial system. So like Daniel, in many ways the Christian's life is one of exile, in a world that is by and large set against the ways of God. We too are under siege and are to consider ourselves as exiles and strangers on this earth because it is not our real home! See Heb 11:8-16.


The goal of the Babylonians - Let the brain washing begin


Dan 1:3-7 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 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. 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. Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.


Now it is very interesting to see the method used to make good little “Babylonians” of the exiled Israelites. So what was Babylon's method? Well, first they were taught to speak the lingo... then they had to read all the Babylonian literature, and finally they even had their names changed. Everything is done to separate these guys from their Jewish roots. In short, brain washing and indoctrination! Babylon doesn't want them remembering or thinking of their real home. The idea was to make the Jews so taken up by the things of Babylon that no time is taken to think of their own home and their own God.[4] Now, I am sure you see a familiar pattern here… You should because the enemies plan is no different for Christians today! The world would rather that we are just like them. But we're not.


Now in this passage we are introduced to four important Jewish youths – Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah - although you might know Daniel’s friends by their Babylonian names – Shadrach, Mechach and Abed-nego. It is interesting to look at the meaning of their names before and after the change. According to the Ryrie Study Bible:


Daniel ("God is judge") become Belteshazzar ("May Bel protect his life")

Hananiah ("Yahweh is gracious") becomes Shadrach ("command of Aku")

Mishael ("Who is what God is") becomes Meshach ("Who is what Aku is")

Azariah ("Whom Yahweh helps") becomes Abed-nego ("Servant of Nebo")


In each case, their Hebrew name spoke of the true God and their names were changed to speak of the Babylonian gods. The bottom line for our lives is clear: Don't let the world change your name or your character![5] So nearly all of Daniel's outward life was changed... But could they change his heart?


The inner resolve from God.


Dan 1:8-14 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. Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, 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.” Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed 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 with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

Verse 8 is obviously a key verse for anyone facing pressure from the ways of Babylon. Daniel resolved, or as the KJV says ‘Daniel purposed in his heart’, not to defile himself. They could change his name but they couldn't change his heart! He was not swayed by the lure of Babylon even though he lived right in it’s midst. So think about the affect that the world has on your life? Is there a difference between the desires of your life and of those who don’t know the Lord? Because it is fair to say that non-Christians watch you a lot more than you think. And they watch and are interested in your actions more than your words. So watch what you're doing!


Prov 25:26 states: "Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked."


If Daniel had given up his convictions and just become like the other Babylonians (as they wanted) then the Bible says he would have become like a muddied spring or a polluted well. That is, he would have become someone that once had the ability to give life and sustain the thirsty… but now was useless for that which it had been created! But thankfully, Daniel had a greater resolve than that! And strengthen by his faith, he wasn’t someone who was going to buckle… and nor should we.


A wee note about friends and fellowship


Having spoken about Daniel’s resolve to stay true to God’s word in these trying conditions, it is also useful to note that he didn’t do this totally alone. God allowed his three friends to be there with him in this test. What do we take from this? It is important to have godly friends around you that can support you. It is important to maintain fellowship with likeminded believers. God helps us in our trials but one of the methods He uses is support from fellow believers. Don’t be an island all unto yourself. We are bombarded in this world with ‘Babylonian’ systems and beliefs. Fellowship with God is crucial but fellowship with godly friends comes next. A key element in the Christian life is the community of believers. 


So we read above that Daniel and his friends decided to only eat vegetables instead of defiling himself with the King’s food and wine.[6] But notice that they still acted wisely in this graciously asking permission of the chief official. They didn’t demand anything, get snarky or go on a hunger strike. We need to remember that the chief official was putting his life on the line here as well as he states. King Nebuchadnezzar could be highly unpredictable and wouldn’t want sickly looking servants coming into his presence! But Daniel, in his wisdom[7], proposes a 10 day test. So would God honor such commitment or would Daniel and his friends be headed for the chop?


The God who watches…


Daniel 1:15-16 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.


Does God watch and act for those who fear Him and put Him first? We know from scripture that he does watch and He certainly does act when it is required[8]. Psalm 33:13-19 for it is very clear on this point.


Psalms 33:13-19  The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men;  (14)  From His dwelling place He looks out On all the inhabitants of the earth,  (15)  He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works.  (16)  The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength.  (17)  A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.  (18)  Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness,  (19)  To deliver their soul from death And to keep them alive in famine.


So Daniel lives on only vegetables and water… Rather him than me! But that aside, God looks after Him, just as He promised in Psalm 33 above, because Daniel fears the Lord and puts God first. And after the 10 days he even ends up fatter on veges than those eating the King's choice food. Now that is a miracle! We need a simple, uncomplicated faith. A faith that says God watches and God cares, and God acts. The Christians that really know God seem to be blessed by what I would call a 'divine simplicity'. They know the character of God and this makes all the difference. It is also worth pointing out the spiritual lesson provided here with this food. The choice ‘food’ of Babylonian may seem attractive and nice but it won’t sustain you like that which God gives. All too many feed exclusively on what the world offers and ultimately find it to be ‘junk food’. It tastes good initially but only leads to further problems, emptiness and discontentment. Stick with what the Lord offers!


Every good and perfect gift...


Dan 1:17-21 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. At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 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. And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.


Finally, we see that the abilities and giftings of these four teenagers were God given. Their knowledge, their understanding and their wisdom was all from God. I love it when simple folk with God first in their lives can confound the wise! But always remember what the Bible says is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge?[9]


Proverbs 1:7 ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.’


So these young Jewish boys were 10 times better than any in the whole Babylonian kingdom. That's God! Is He in the right place in your life?  Are you being conformed to the world’s image or being transformed into the Lord’s image? Do you have that divine simplicity of faith that trusts the Lord in trying times? I hope we all do. Daniel and his friends may be ‘Stranded in Babylon’, but though in the world, they are not of the world. May we be the same.


[1] Ok, I stole this title from the name of a Larry Norman album. It emphasizes that all Christians, in a spiritual sense, are now stranded in Babylon (the world) while we wait for the establishment of our true home in the Heavenly Jerusalem.


[2] David Guzik lists a few other world events taking place at this approximate time:

·         Construction on the Acropolis in Athens began

·         Mayan civilization flourished in Mexico

·         Aesop wrote his fables

·         Confucius and Buddha lived

·         Greek art began to truly excel

·         The Phoenicians made the first known sea journey around Africa

·         The Greeks introduced the olive tree to Italy


[3] Ok, a bit of background to the background. After the reign of Solomon, the Israelite nation split into two different kingdoms. The northern kingdom was called ‘Israel’ and consisted of 10 of the twelve tribes. The southern kingdom was called “Judah’ and consisted of the two remaining tribes. Both of these kingdoms would eventually be ruled by 20 different kings. Out of the 20 kings who ruled in the southern kingdom, the Bible says that 7 were generally considered godly kings. Could the northern kingdom top that? Um, nope. Not likely! Out of their 20 kings they had precisely 0 godly kings. Couldn’t even find one! It is not surprising then that they were the first to fall. You can read about in 2 Kings 18:9-11. While you are there, you will see that one of Judah’s godly kings, Hezekiah, is coming under siege by the same Assyrian army that defeated the northern kingdom of Israel. Have a look 2 Kings 18:17-19:37. It is a fantastic story and highlights the trust and godliness of Hezekiah and the faithfulness of the God of Israel in looking after His people! But then read 2 Kings 20 - Especially vs 12-19. It seems that in his older age, even Hezekiah began to allow ‘things’ to take the place that the Lord should have. And in a moment of pride and worldliness he shows the Babylonians all his gold, silver, armory and treasures. Fatal mistake as Isaiah tells Hezekiah ‘Hear the word of the LORD:  The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. ‘


So what can we learn from this? A few things come to mind -
:: Hezekiah’s courting and flirting with Babylon (the world) would ultimately lead to Israel’s downfall even though he would not have known his decision would have led to such consequences. It can have the same affect in our lives and that of the church (which does seem to be pretty smitten by the world!)
:: If even a godly man such as Hezekiah can lose his focus and start taking pride in worldly things then so can you. And so can I.
:: Always remember that in any long distance race anyone can take off sprinting at the start… that’s not that impressive. I used to do it at school races and then drop out! But going the distance and finishing well is impressive. Be mindful to endure and finish your Christian life well. Gal 5:7 “You were running well – who hindered you from obeying the truth?”


[4] Although this is easier said than done with the Jewish nation for the importance of their roots, background, beliefs and God are repeatedly taught to their young (in accordance with God’s commands) from an early age. And it seems from Psalm 137 that the Jews in Babylon were in no mood to forget Jerusalem despite any attempts of the Babylonians to ‘encourage’ them to do so. It was by the rivers of Babylon, as Boney M used to sing about, that the Jews sat down and wept as they remembered Zion!

[5] It is interesting that the first trial in the book of Daniel is towards worldliness. Later in the life of Daniel will come direct persecution. It’s a side note really but currently, in the Western world at least, the main trial or temptation is towards worldliness. But there is a sense that things are changing and persecution of Christians even amongst so called ‘Christian’ nations is beginning. First comes worldly compromise and then comes persecution. That is the order in Daniel and will probably be the case in the western world.


[6] Just a useful comment on this from the Bible Knowledge Commentary concerning ‘defilement’:

“Nebuchadnezzar had made abundant provision for the captives. Theirs was a life of luxury, not deprivation, for they were given a portion of food and wine daily from the king’s own table. However, this food did not conform to the requirements of the Mosaic Law. The fact that it was prepared by Gentiles rendered it unclean. Also no doubt many things forbidden by the Law were served on the king’s table, so to partake of such food would defile the Jewish youths. Further, without doubt this royal food had been sacrificed and offered to pagan gods before it was offered to the king. To partake of such food would be contrary to Exodus 34:15, where the Jews were forbidden to eat flesh sacrificed to pagan gods. Similar problems would arise in drinking the wine… Daniel’s desire was to please God in all he did. So he resolved that even though he was not in his own land but in a culture that did not follow God’s laws, he would consider himself under the Law. He therefore asked the chief court official to be excused from eating and drinking the food and wine generously supplied by the king. Daniel was courageous, determined, and obedient to God.”


[7] Proverbs tells us that wisdom builds her house on 7 pillars (Proverbs 9:1) James possibly picks up on this and lists 7 attributes of wisdom saying ‘The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)’ In Daniel’s wise, gentle, reasonable, gracious response to this situation we see these characteristics in play.


[8] God watches, He notes and He acts. God is well able to look after His own. Whether it is Daniel in Babylon, Joseph in Egypt, Moses in the backside of the desert or even you! We are not called to totally separate ourselves from this world mind you. We are called to be in it, like Jesus was, but not of it (and yes, like Jesus again!)


[9] Please read Prov 2:1-11 about knowledge, wisdom and understanding. It is a very interesting passage. What is God looking for from us?