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By John F. Walvoord, Charles H. Dyer, Philip E. Rawley, Christopher Reese
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2012 John F. Walvoord
All rights reserved.
Early Life of Daniel in Babylon
The first chapter of Daniel is a beautifully written, moving story of the early days of Daniel and his Jewish companions in Babylon. In condensed form, it records the historical setting for the entire book.
Moreover, it sets the tone as essentially the history of Daniel—who may have been a member of Judah's royal family (Dan. 1:3; cf. Isa. 39:6–7)—and his experiences in contrast to the prophetic approach of the other major prophets, who were divine spokesmen to Israel.
In spite of being properly classified as a prophet, Daniel was a governmental servant and a faithful historian of God's dealings with him. Although shorter than prophetic books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, the book of Daniel is the most comprehensive and sweeping revelation recorded by any prophet of the Old Testament. The introductory chapter explains how Daniel was called, prepared, matured, and blessed by God. With the possible exceptions of Moses and Solomon, Daniel was the most learned man in the Old Testament and very thoroughly trained for his important role in history and literature.
THE CAPTIVITY OF JUDAH (1:1–2)
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 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.
The book of Daniel is set in the Jewish diaspora (dispersion after exile) and "the times of the Gentiles." The opening verses succinctly give the historical setting, including the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the first of three deportations. According to Daniel, the deportation of him and his companions occurred "in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah," which was 605 B.C. Parallel accounts are found in 2 Kings 24:1 and 2 Chronicles 36:5–7. Daniel doesn't record the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 B.C. From his perspective the time of Gentile domination began at this first deportation. These events were the fulfillment of many warnings from the prophets of Israel's coming disaster because of the nation's sins against God. Israel had forsaken the law and ignored God's covenant (Isa. 24:1–6) and had neglected the Sabbath day and the sabbatical year (Jer. 34:12–22). The seventy years of the captivity were, in effect, God claiming the Sabbath, which Israel had violated, in order to give the land rest.
The people of Israel had also given themselves to idolatry (1 Kings 11:5; 12:28; 16:31; 18:19; 2 Kings 21:3–5; 2 Chron. 28:2–3), and had been solemnly warned of God's coming judgment in relation to this sin (Jer. 7:24–8:3; 44:20–23). But the people failed to heed God and repent, so they were carried off captive to Babylon, a center of idolatry and one of the most evil cities in the ancient world. It is significant that after the Babylonian captivity, idolatry such as that which caused the nation's judgment and exile was never again a major temptation to Israel.
In keeping with their violation of the Law and their departure from the true worship of God, Israel had lapsed into terrible moral apostasy. Of this, all the prophets spoke again and again. Isaiah's opening message is typical of this theme song of the prophets: Israel was a "sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged" (Isa. 1:4). The capture of Jerusalem and the exile of these first captives were the beginning of the end for the holy city, which had been made magnificent by David and Solomon. When the Word of God is ignored and violated, divine judgment is inevitable. The spiritual lessons embodied in the cold fact of the captivity may well be pondered by the church today, which too often has a form of godliness but without its power. Worldly saints do not capture the world but become instead the world's captives.
Daniel's dating of his exile as 605 B.C. has long been attacked as inaccurate by critics. They point out an apparent conflict between this and the statement of Jeremiah that the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon was in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jer. 25:1). This supposed chronological error is used as the first in a series of alleged proofs that Daniel is a spurious book written by one unfamiliar with the events of the captivity. There are, however, several good explanations.
One explanation is that Daniel is using Babylonian reckoning (cf. the discussion in the introduction on Nabonidus and Belshazzar). It was customary for the Babylonians to consider the first year of a king's reign as the year of accession and to call the next year the first year. Finegan has demonstrated that the phrase "the first year of Nebuchadnezzar" in Jeremiah actually means "the accession year of Nebuchadnezzar" In the Babylonian reckoning. Tadmor was among the first to support this solution, and the point may now be considered as well established.
Daniel is a most unusual case because he of all the prophets was the only one thoroughly instructed in Babylonian culture and point of view. Having spent most of his life in Babylon, it is only natural that Daniel should use a Babylonian form of chronology, and date Jehoiakim's reign from his second year. By contrast, Jeremiah would use Israel's form of reckoning that included a part of the year as the first year of Jehoiakim's reign. This simple explanation is both satisfying and adequate to explain the supposed discrepancy.
A second, though less likely, interpretation is suggested by Leupold, who points to the reference in 2 Kings 24:1 where Jehoiakim is said to submit to Nebuchadnezzar for three years. This view is built on the assumption that there was an earlier raid on Jerusalem, not recorded elsewhere in the Bible, which is indicated in Daniel 1:1. Key to the chronology of events in this crucial period in Israel's history was the battle at Carchemish in May–June 605 B.C., a date well established by D. J. Wiseman. There Nebuchadnezzar met Pharaoh Necho and destroyed the Egyptian army; this occurred "in the fourth year of Jehoiakim" (Jer. 46:2).
Leupold believes the invasion of Daniel 1: 1 took place prior to this battle, instead of immediately afterward. He points out that the usual assumption that Nebuchadnezzar could not have bypassed Carchemish to conquer Jerusalem first, on the theory that Carchemish was a stronghold which he could not ignore, is not actually supported by the facts. To support this, Leupold says there is no evidence that the Egyptian armies were in any strength at Carchemish until just before the battle that resulted in the showdown. In this case, the capture of Daniel would be a year earlier or about 606 B.C.
But Leupold's suggested solution to the apparent chronological discrepancy seems rather strained, especially since the first explanation reconciles the two dates in a way that acknowledges the unique dating systems being used at that time. Both Finegan and Thiele, who were recognized authorities on biblical chronology, believe the dates can be harmonized through a proper understanding of the specific dating systems being used by Daniel and Jeremiah. Thiele assumes Daniel employed a calendar in which the new year began in the fall in the month Tishri (September–October) while Jeremiah based his dates on a calendar in which the new year began in the spring in the month Nisan (March–April). According to the Babylonian Chronicle, "Nebuchadnezzar conquered all of Ha[ma]th," an area that includes all of Syria and the territory south to the borders of Egypt, in the late spring or early summer of 605. This would be Jehoiakim's fourth year according to the Nisan reckoning and the third year according to the Tishri calendar.
The probability is that either Wiseman or Thiele is right, and that Daniel was carried away captive shortly after the capture of Jerusalem in the summer of 605 B.C. In any case, the evidence makes quite untenable the charge that the chronological information of Daniel is inaccurate. Rather, it is entirely in keeping with information available outside the Bible and supports the view that Daniel is a genuine book.
According to Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, described as "king of Babylon," besieged Jerusalem successfully. If this occurred before the battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar was not as yet king. The king was his father, Nabopolasser, who died while Nebuchadnezzar was away in battle. Nebuchadnezzar heard of his father's death and hurried back to Babylon to be crowned as king. Daniel, writing after the fact, used the title "king" in reference to Nebuchadnezzar in anticipation of his ascension to the throne. The proleptic use of such a title is so common (e.g., in the statement "King David as a boy was a shepherd") that this does not cause a serious problem.
Daniel records that Jehoiakim was subdued, and that Nebuchadnezzar brought "some of the vessels of the house of God ... to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god." "Shinar" is a term used for Babylon with the nuance of a place hostile to faith. It is associated with Nimrod (Gen. 10:10), became the locale of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:2), and is the place to which Zechariah prophesies evil will someday return (Zech. 5:11).
The expression "he brought" (v. 2) is best taken as referring only to the vessels and not to the deportation of captives. Critics, again, have found fault with this as an inaccuracy because nowhere else is it expressly said that Daniel and his companions were carried away at this time. The obvious answer is that mention of taking captives is unnecessary in the light of the context of the following verses, where their deportation to Babylon is discussed in detail. There was no need to mention it twice.
Bringing the vessels to the house of Nebuchadnezzar's god Marduk was a natural religious gesture, which would attribute the victory of the Babylonians over Israel to Babylonian deities. Later, other vessels were added to the collection (2 Chron. 36:18), and they all appeared on the fateful night of Belshazzar's feast in Daniel 5. This fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy, spoken a century before, that the wealth of Jerusalem would be carried off to Babylon (Isa. 39:6).
JEWISH YOUTHS SELECTED FOR TRAINING (1:3–7)
1:3–7 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. 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.
In explanation of how he and his companions arrived in Babylon, Daniel records that the king commanded his servant Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites to Babylon for training to serve in the court. The name Ashpenaz, according to Horn, "appears in the Aramaic incantation texts from Nippur as 'SPNZ, and is probably attested in the Cuneiform records asAshpazdnda." The significance of the name Ashpenaz has been much debated, but it seems best to agree with Young that "its etymology is uncertain."
It is probable that the term "eunuchs" refers to important servants of the king, such as Potiphar (Gen. 37:36), who was married. It is not stated that the Jewish youths were made actual eunuchs, as Josephus assumes. Isaiah had predicted this years before (Isa. 39:7), and Young supports the broader meaning ofeunuch by the Targum rendering of the Isaiah passage that uses the word nobles for eunuchs. However, because the word saris means both "court officer" and "castrate," scholars are divided on the question of whether both meanings are intended.
Montgomery states, "It is not necessary to draw the conclusion that the youths were made eunuchs, as [Josephus] hints: 'he made some of them eunuchs.'" Charles writes in commenting on the description in Daniel 1:4, "without blemish": "The perfection here asserted is physical, as in Lev. 21:17. Such perfection could not belong to eunuchs." Ultimately the choice is left to the interpreter, although, as indicated above, many favor the thought of "court officer."
Those selected for royal service are described as being from "the royal family" and "the nobility" of Israel. These young men came from the southern kingdom of Judah, not the northern kingdom of Israel, which had already been carried off into captivity. The reference to them being from Israel means that they were indeed Israelites—that is, descendants of Jacob.
The Hebrew for nobility is derived from a Persian word, partemim, which is cited as another proof for a late date of Daniel. However, given that Daniel served under the Persian government as a high official in the latter years of his life, there is nothing strange about an occasional Persian word. Moreover, it is not even clear that the word is strictly Persian, as its origin is uncertain.
In selecting these youths for education in his court in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar was accomplishing several objectives. Those carried away captive could well serve as hostages to help keep the royal family still in Judah in line. Their presence in the king's court would also be a pleasant reminder to the Babylonian king of his conquest and success in battle. Further, their careful training and preparation to be his servants might serve Nebuchadnezzar well in the later administration of Jewish affairs.
The specifications for those selected are carefully itemized in verse 4. They were to have no physical blemish and were to be "of good appearance." They were to be superior intellectually, and their previous education as children of the nobility certainly was a factor. Their capacity to have understanding in "learning" should not be taken in the modern sense, but rather as referring to their skill in all areas of learning of their day. So the total physical, personal, and intellectual capacities of Daniel and his companions, as well as their cultural background, were factors in the choice. Their training, however, was to separate them from their previous Jewish culture and environment and teach them "the literature and language of the Chaldeans."
The reference to Chaldeans may be to the Chaldean people as a whole or to a special class of learned men, as in Daniel 2:2—i.e., those designated as kasdim. The use of the same word for the nation as a whole and for a special class is confusing, but not necessarily unusual. The meaning here may include both: the general learning of the Chaldeans and specifically the learning of wise men, such as astrologers. It is most significant that this learning was of no help to Daniel and his friends when it came to the supreme test of interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Their age at the time of their training is not specified, but they were probably in their early teens.
Although an education such as this did not in itself violate the religious scruples of Jewish youths, their environment and circumstances soon presented some real challenges. Among these was the daily provision of food and wine from the king's table. Ancient literature contains many references to this practice. Oppenheim lists deliveries of oil for the sustenance of dependents of the royal household in ancient literature and includes specific mention of food for the sons of the king of Judah in a tablet dating from the tenth to the thirty-fifth year of Nebuchadnezzar II. Such food was "appointed," or "assigned, in the sense of numerical distribution."
The expression "a daily portion" is literally "a portion of the day in its day." The word for "food" (Heb. pathbagh), according to Leupold, "is a Persian loan word from the Sanscrit pratibagha." Although it is debatable whether the word specifically means "delicacies," as Young considers that it means "assignment," the implication is certainly there that the royal food was lavish and properly called "rich food" (as in the RSV).
Nebuchadnezzar's bountiful provision was intended to give Daniel and his companions ample food supplies for their three-year education. The expression "to be educated for three years" refers to training that would be given a child. The goal was to bring them to intellectual maturity to "stand before the king," equivalent to becoming his servants and thereby taking a place of responsibility.
Excerpted from Daniel by John F. Walvoord, Charles H. Dyer, Philip E. Rawley, Christopher Reese. Copyright © 2012 John F. Walvoord. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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