Chapter OneDaniel 1:1-21
* * *
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 in 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 these 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 sympathy 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 in,
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
21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King
The first chapter of the book of Daniel is a distinct
unit. It begins and ends with a chronological
marker that identifies the beginning and end
of Daniel's career ("the third year of the reign of
Jehoiakim" [v. 1] and "the first year of King Cyrus" [v. 21]). In terms of our
dating system, this places Daniel's career from 605 to 539 B.C.
Daniel 1 provides an introduction for the whole book, plunging us quickly
into the action and introducing the main characters of the book. It also illustrates
the overarching theme of the book: In spite of present appearances,
God is in control. In keeping with the court narratives in chapters 1-6, the
first chapter narrates an episode from the experience of Daniel and his three
friends that models another important lesson: Though in exile, God gives his
people the ability to prosper as well as to be faithful. This chapter, and the
book as a whole, must have served as a tremendous encouragement to the
faith of those devout exiles who felt as if their whole world had come crashing
down on their heads.
This first chapter has the following outline: (1) Jehoiakim delivered into
Nebuchadnezzar's hand (1:1-2); (2) training for service (1:3-7); (3) avoiding
defilement (1:8-16); (4) success given to Daniel and his friends (1:17-20);
and (5) the extent of Daniel's ministry (1:21).
Jehoiakim Delivered into
Nebuchadnezzar's Hand (1:1-2)
The narrator immerses us immediately into the action. Nebuchadnezzar
has moved against Jerusalem. As Fewell has pointed out, our story begins at
the end of another story. The forces that brought Nebuchadnezzar (or at
least his army) to Jerusalem during the reign of Jehoiakim are hinted at elsewhere
(cf. 2 Chron. 36:5-7); here we are simply informed that he moved
against Jerusalem, resulting in the deportation of the heroes of our book.
Before recounting the events that led up to Daniel 1:1, we must acknowledge
the fact that many scholars (those who argue that Daniel 1 is written
much later than the sixth century B.C.) believe that Daniel 1:1-2 is a confused
historical memory, based on the author's misreading of 2 Chronicles 36:6-7
in connection with 2 Kings 24:1. On this basis, Hartman and DiLella deny
that Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem in 605 B.C., the date implied by
our text. In addition, they argue that Nebuchadnezzar did not even become
king of Babylon until the next year. A surface reading of Jeremiah 25:1 ("the
word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year
of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar
king of Babylon") seems to imply that Nebuchadnezzar did not
even become king until Jehoiakim's fourth year. These scholars also point out
that the Babylonian Chronicle, our main native source of information for
this time period, does not mention Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem.
There are at least two possible harmonizations that permit us to accept
Daniel 1:1-2 as an accurate historical memory. First, Daniel 1:1 may well refer
to Nebuchadnezzar as king in an anticipatory sense. After all, it is soon after
Daniel's report of a siege of Jerusalem that Nabopolassar's death would bring
Nebuchadnezzar to the throne. No one doubts, based on Babylonian records
themselves, Nebuchadnezzar's presence as crown prince and field commander
of the Babylonian army in their wars against Egypt in the area of Syria-Palestine
in the years before 605 B.C.
We can also harmonize the data by reminding ourselves, at the instigation
of the well-known Assyriologist D. J. Wiseman, that there were two
systems of dating current in the ancient Near Eastern world, both of which
can be found in the Old Testament. The above passages may be harmonized
by assuming that Jeremiah utilized the Judaean method of chronological
reckoning, which counts the first year of a king's reign as the first year, and
that Daniel used the Babylonian system, which counts the first year as an
"accession year." Hasel helpfully diagrammed the results:
Chronology of Kings in Jeremiah and Daniel
Accession-year Accession 1st year 2nd year 3rd year Daniel 1:1
Non-accession-year 1st year 2nd year 3rd year 4th year Jeremiah
method 25:1, 9; 46:2
It is true that the Babylonian Chronicle provides ambiguous evidence in
the argument for and against a Babylonian assault against Jerusalem in the
period 605/604 B.C. Wiseman in 1965 argued that the Babylonian Chronicle
fails to mention the siege of Jerusalem because it is preoccupied with
"the major defeat of the Egyptians," but he goes on to say that "a successful
incursion into Judah by the Babylonian army group which returned from
the Egyptian border could be included in the claim that at that time Nebuchadnezzar
conquered 'all Hatti.'"
However, in 1985 10 he agreed with Grayson that the relevant line of the
Chronicles (BM 21946, 8) should be read as referring to Hamath and not
Hatti. J. J. Collins, then, took this as decisive evidence that the Daniel account
is not accurate; there was no deportation of any size this early. However, he
fails to report, as Wiseman goes on to say, that the next section of the Chronicle
does report activity in the area of Hatti. Wiseman further reminds us that
the phrase used in Daniel 1:1 does not necessarily mean that a formal military
siege was laid against Jerusalem; it could mean no more, he says, than to
"show hostility." Thus, Wiseman demonstrates how the biblical reference to
the third year of Jehoiakim "could be a justifiable dating if this covered the
twelve months ending in 604 B.C.," which view he indeed holds.
In spite of the difficulties, therefore, we understand Daniel 1:1-2 as an
accurate memory and will now place it within the broader historical landscape
as we can reconstruct it from other biblical texts as well as ancient Near Eastern
texts, particularly the Babylonian Chronicle.
In 609 B.C. King Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar's father, attacked Haran,
and this signaled a period of time when Babylon's efforts were directed toward
Syria-Palestine with an eye focused on Egypt, who was an ally of the remnants
of the Assyrians. Battles with Egyptian and Syrian armies continued in
the next few years.
In 605 Nebuchadnezzar was now the head of the army in Syria. He
defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish, a victory that opened the rest of Syria
and Palestine to the Babylonian forces. The Babylonian Chronicle at this
point mentions in a general way that Nebuchadnezzar found success in his
incursions into Syria-Palestine, and it is here that we understand that he
besieged Jerusalem and compelled Jehoiakim to become an unwilling vassal.
Debate surrounds 2 Chronicles 36:4-8 as to whether Jehoiakim himself was
temporarily deported to Babylon or whether he was only threatened with
deportation. In either case, we agree with Dillard that this deportation should
be "associated with the deportation of Daniel and his friends along with articles
from the temple in Jehoiakim's third year after Nebuchadnezzar defeated
Neco at Carchemish" (cf. Jer. 46:2).
The book of Daniel, of course, does not argue for the historical event; it
narrates it. Indeed, even more, it intends to interpret the event for us. Human
observation would lead to a very different understanding than that provided
to us by the narrator of this book. On one level, it seems clear: Nebuchadnezzar,
the leader of a powerful army, cowed Jerusalem, and, in a token of
his dominance, took away some of the temple vessels and, as we will find out
in the next section, a few of the noble youth. To the human eye, it appeared
that Nebuchadnezzar had power; Judah did not.
The narrator rips away the curtain and informs his readers of the reality
behind the appearance. He does so simply by saying that "the Lord delivered
Jehoiakim king of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar's] hand." Nebuchadnezzar's
might, though considerable, was not the reason why Jerusalem fell under
his influence; it was the result of the will and action of God himself. This subtle
phrase introduces a major theme of the book, the conflict between overweening
human power and the power of God. A major concern of the book
is to reinforce the belief that the sovereignty of God far surpasses the power
of even the most mighty of human rulers. This theme is supported here by
the use of the word "Lord" ('adonai) rather than "Lord"(yhwh) to refer to
God. The former emphasizes God's ownership, his control.
It is a sign that Nebuchadnezzar's victory over Jerusalem is only the occasion
for the following story that the narrator does not here even hint at the
reasons why God moved against his own people in this way. As we will see
later, the prayer in chapter 9 will show that Daniel himself agreed with other
biblical authors (cf. the book of Kings) that the disaster took place because
of the sin of the people. There he confesses on behalf of the people that
they have rebelled against God and his commandments. But here again,
Nebuchadnezzar's success is reported as the occasion that brought Daniel and
his three friends to the Babylonian court.
Even before telling us about the human booty, however, the narrator
mentions that Nebuchadnezzar took "some of the articles from the temple
of God" and placed them in the temple of his god in Babylonia. The specific
identity of these "articles" is left unspecified. In Exodus, the word "article"
(keli) is a general term used to designate smaller objects used to support
the cultic worship in the tabernacle (Ex. 27:19; 30:27; 31:8). In the book of
Kings, we occasionally hear of the "articles," as when Asa dedicated certain
gold and silver articles to temple service (1 Kings 15:15), or, in an interesting
parallel to our story, when Jehoash, king of Israel, attacked Amaziah,
king of Judah, robbed the temple of the "articles," and carried them back to
Samaria (2 Kings 14:14). Second Chronicles 4:16 may give us an idea of the
specific items included in the word keli when it lists "the pots, shovels, meat
forks and all related articles." Of course, in Daniel 5 we also learn that these
articles included "goblets," since Belshazzar seriously offends the Lord by
using these for his banquet. Ezra 1:9-11 inventories the articles at the time
of their return in consequence of Cyrus's decree, though some of these may
have come from later sacks of the temple.
In particular, our present passage anticipates the story in Daniel 5. Once
again, from a human perspective, the plundering of the temple of the Lord,
even if at this time only "some of the articles" were taken and placed in the
Babylonian temple, could be seen as a great victory not only over Israel, but
also over Yahweh himself. This act reflects a common ancient Near Eastern
practice. A victorious army plundered the temple of the vanquished nation
and placed the symbols of the defeated god in their own temple. An analogy
is the placement of the ark in the temple of Dagon after the Philistines
defeated the Israelites in battle during the youth of Samuel (1 Sam. 4-5). To
the Philistines it appeared that Dagon had soundly whipped Yahweh, but subsequent
events quickly changed their minds. The reality of the situation will
take much longer to develop in Babylon, but the next time we see these "articles"
in the hands of drunken Babylonians will be on the eve of their destruction
(see comments in Dan. 5).
Training for Service (1:3-7)
Beginning with verse 3, the narrative focus begins to narrow. Nebuchadnezzar
orders Ashpenaz, one of his high officials, to begin the training
process for the cream of the crop among the exiled youth.
We might well ask why Nebuchadnezzar would bother with the exiled