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 in this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favour 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 of 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.
Daniel and his friends found themselves in a difficult situation. They were exiles in a foreign land, at the mercy of their Babylonian captors. However, the author is quick to point out to his readers that it is the Lord, Israel’s God, who had delivered Judah’s king along with articles from the temple into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (cf. Daniel 1:1-2). The unstated reason? Their long history of disobedience towards their covenant-keeping God! Contrary to appearances then, it was not the victorious Nebuchadnezzar who ‘called the shots’, but Israel’s God! God’s people in exile needed to be reminded of this important truth if they were to lead lives that honoured Him. Daniel, as we will see, understood this truth.
Daniel and his three exiled friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are chosen to enter the kings’ service after three years of training (cf. Daniel 1:3-6). But Daniel is determined to honour the Lord, and His God intervenes: ‘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 compassion to Daniel…Daniel then said to the guard…“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. 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’ (Daniel 1:8-16).
The pressure on Daniel and his friends to conform to their foreign culture must have been enormous. As captives in a foreign land, they were essentially powerless to resist the wishes of their captors. But Daniel recognised the presence and power of Israel’s God even in this foreign land and resolved to honour Him, but he did so with humility, wisdom and tact. And the Lord graciously honoured His servants and equipped them for service in that challenging context (cf. Daniel 1:17-20). What an example and encouragement to us as God’s people to honour Him even in the most challenging and hostile circumstances!
Prayer: Dear Lord: Thank You for the example of Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They are an inspiration to Your people to trust You and honour You even in the most difficult and hostile of circumstances, mindful that You are still in control, despite appearances to the contrary. Their example inspires faithful obedience to You at all times.
Lord, please give us the faith, courage and wisdom we need to honour and obey You like Daniel and his friends. Teach us to fear You rather than those who may stand opposed to us. Deliver us from evil, and grant us favour with those who have the power and authority to harm us. Bless our obedience so that it might be evident to all that Your righteous paths are the way to life.
We pray all these things for the honour and glory of Your Name. Amen.