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Introduction to Daniel

What was it like for God's people living in Exile?

Written by Mike Biolsi & David Steltz on .


Last week, we talked about Exile in the Bible. And we looked at how Israel ended up losing everything. Their unity, their leadership, their power, their riches and glory, and ultimately...their home. If David & Solomon represented the peak of their kingdom, their exile to Assyria and Babylon represented the complete unraveling of that...a hitting of rock bottom.

All this happened because they totally abandoned Yahweh, their God, worshipped idols and committed horrible sins against God and each other. 

We’re going to focus next on a few of the people who lived in this time of deportation, of being kicked out of their home, and what happened to them during this time.

Even though the Jews had been banished from the promised land, as God had promised to do, God also promised to bring them back, so they have a hope for the future and a motivation to persist, to exist as a nation, a people group, as well as work on their relationship with God, so that they’re ready to return when the time comes.

At the same time, they were told to embrace their time in captivity, rather than resist it. So, they had to live in this interesting tension of maintaining their identity as God’s people, while living in community with foreigners they would have naturally considered to be enemies.

Jeremiah 29:1 (CSB):  1 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining exiled elders, the priests, the prophets, and all the people Nebuchadnezzar had deported from Jerusalem to Babylon. 

Jeremiah 29:4–7 (CSB): 4 This is what YAHWEH of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. 7 Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to YAHWEH on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.” 

God is telling them to continue to thrive and multiple as a people, but also to pray to Yahweh on Babylon’s behalf, that it would also thrive and prosper. 

Now, let’s go to the book of Daniel, which starts off by zooming in on Daniel and 3 other young men who were taken to Babylon.

Daniel 1:1–7 (NLT) — 1 During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God. So Nebuchadnezzar took them back to the land of Babylonia and placed them in the treasure-house of his god. 3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. 4 “Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.” 5 The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service. 6 Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. 7 The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names: Daniel was called Belteshazzar. Hananiah was called Shadrach. Mishael was called Meshach. Azariah was called Abednego. 

I think there are some interesting things to note.

  1. God handed Jehoiakim over to Nebuchadnezzar. This is a different concept than when the Israelites lost battles when entering the Promised land. This is a more direct statement that God gave the victory over to a man who did not fear him. 
  2. Babylon – of all places. This was, of course already foretold by Jeremiah, as we saw last week:

Jeremiah 25:11–12 (NLT) — 11 This entire land will become a desolate wasteland. Israel and her neighboring lands will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years. 12 “Then, after the seventy years of captivity are over, I will punish the king of Babylon and his people for their sins,” says the LORD. “I will make the country of the Babylonians a wasteland forever. 

But this is a place that is known for being anti-God. This was the place from Genesis 11 – that tried to build a tower to the heavens so they could be gods. 

Abraham, the grandfather of Israel, was called away from Babylon and into the land God promised him.

Nebuchadnezzar took all the “perfect” ones: young men, handsome, smart, could learn, royal…

Have you ever wondered why the items from the temple are mentioned? Yeah, that seems odd. God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take items from the temple and put them in the temple of his gods. 

This did not go so well when the Philistines tried that with the tabernacle!

These items will become a problem in the future. 

But I think there is an interesting thing that takes place here. Just as the items from the temple were taken and put in with the temple of the other gods, the PEOPLE, the royalty were taken and then placed in the service of the king, and given names that refer to the Babylonian gods:

Daniel “God is my judge” Belteshazzar “Bel protect him”

Hananiah “God has been gracious” Shadrach “The command of Akku”

Mishael “Who is what God is?” Meshach “Who is what Akku is?”

Azariah “The Lord has helped” Abednego “Servant of Nebo”

It was the desire of Nebuchadnezzar to remove the presence of God from the Jews and to make them conform to his ideals. 

** This is the challenge of anyone living in a culture that is not focused on God. Our tendency is to conform to the cultures we are in, rather than conforming first to God. And we can certainly see that in many cases our own culture can draw us away from God, and away from pointing others to God. 

And if you were a Jew in exile, it would be tough to imagine being named after Yahweh and then having that name changed to a different language and referring to a different God. You would find that that culture you live in is hostile to your faith, and you would find yourself often in crisis of faith where choosing to obey the Lord could have dire consequences. 

Daniel 1:8–17 (NLT) — 8 But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods. 9 Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. 10 But he responded, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded.” 11 Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff to look after Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 12 “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. 13 “At the end of the ten days, see how we look compared to the other young men who are eating the king’s food. Then make your decision in light of what you see.” 14 The attendant agreed to Daniel’s suggestion and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king. 16 So after that, the attendant fed them only vegetables instead of the food and wine provided for the others. 17 God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams. 

Daniel faced a crisis of faith. He had to decide if it is better to fear the Lord or to fear Nebuchadnezzar. 

DANIEL’S PROBLEM: should he eat the food and drink the wine that the king had prepared for them. 

We do not get the exact issue that Daniel was struggling with. Some have supposed that it was meat that was declared unclean by God. But that does not explain the wine. Others believe that the food/drink was offered to the god of Babylon before being given to the young men. Whatever the case, Daniel was convicted that it would defile him, or dishonor God, for him to eat the meat and drink the wine. THAT is the important part to catch!

THOUGHT: beliefs are merely opinions until they are acted upon. 

Actions prove whether or not you truly believe something. You wouldn’t sit in a chair or walk across a floor unless you truly believe it will hold you.

I think it would have been easy to rationalize why it would be OK to eat the food and drink. I mean, God DID give Nebuchadnezzar victory and therefore it was God’s plan for Daniel to be a captive. God was blessing Daniel as a captive – education, great food, etc. Why should he not enjoy? Could it possibly be that God was using this to provide for Daniel?

Well, God never contradicts himself. So, if there was a command not to eat certain foods you are still expected to obey, unless God tells you otherwise (like Peter and the sheet in Acts 10) in a very miraculous way. 

Rather than think that God has provided something “wrong” for you, it might be healthier to think that God might have but you in that place so that when you do what is “right” He can be the hero. 

  • The former is trying to change God to reflect my circumstances.
  • The later is trying to change my circumstances to reflect God.

DANIEL’S RESPONSE: he did NOT demand, or even defy. He did not go on a rant [no social media?] or attempt to call down fire from heaven on the king. 

  • He asked the chief of the guards to give them only vegetables. 
    • The chief said “NO”
  • So, he asked the guard assigned to them to give them only vegetables
    • That guard said “yes” and risked his job for them! 

GOD’S RESPONSE: He blessed them!

  • After 10 days, they were healthier than the rest (this is not a mandate for being a vegan)
  • They were given knowledge (think about the garden!)
  • They were given wisdom (think Proverbs 1:7)
  • Daniel was given the ability to interpret dreams (God was preparing him)

Daniel 1:18–21 (NLT) — 18 When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. 20 Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom. 21 Daniel remained in the royal service until the first year of the reign of King Cyrus. 

Wow. What an amazing honor! These 4 were interviewed by the king and found to be exceptional. 10x better than the rest! It appears God has blessed them and honored them for fearing him. 

Daniel 2:1–13 (NLT) — 1 One night during the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had such disturbing dreams that he couldn’t sleep. 2 He called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers, and he demanded that they tell him what he had dreamed. As they stood before the king, 3 he said, “I have had a dream that deeply troubles me, and I must know what it means.” 4 Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, “Long live the king! Tell us the dream, and we will tell you what it means.” 5 But the king said to the astrologers, “I am serious about this. If you don’t tell me what my dream was and what it means, you will be torn limb from limb, and your houses will be turned into heaps of rubble! 6 But if you tell me what I dreamed and what the dream means, I will give you many wonderful gifts and honors. Just tell me the dream and what it means!” 7 They said again, “Please, Your Majesty. Tell us the dream, and we will tell you what it means.” 8 The king replied, “I know what you are doing! You’re stalling for time because you know I am serious when I say, 9 ‘If you don’t tell me the dream, you are doomed.’ So you have conspired to tell me lies, hoping I will change my mind. But tell me the dream, and then I’ll know that you can tell me what it means.” 10 The astrologers replied to the king, “No one on earth can tell the king his dream! And no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician, enchanter, or astrologer! 11 The king’s demand is impossible. No one except the gods can tell you your dream, and they do not live here among people.” 12 The king was furious when he heard this, and he ordered that all the wise men of Babylon be executed. 13 And because of the king’s decree, men were sent to find and kill Daniel and his friends. 

The astrologers reply is interesting:

  • No one on earth can tell the king the dream
  • No king has ever asked for something like this before
  • Only the gods know dreams

So, the king ordered all the wise men of Babylon to be killed. So, just for the record, it is not a wise move to kill off all your wise men 😉

Again, I want us to notice Daniel’s reply:

Daniel 2:14–19 (NLT) — 14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion. 15 He asked Arioch, “Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?” So Arioch told him all that had happened. 16 Daniel went at once to see the king and requested more time to tell the king what the dream meant. 17 Then Daniel went home and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah what had happened. 18 He urged them to ask the God of heaven to show them his mercy by telling them the secret, so they would not be executed along with the other wise men of Babylon. 19 That night the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven. 

DANIEL’S RESPONSE: he “handled the situation with wisdom and discretion”  or “tact (CSB) or prudence (ESV). He was wise and he was careful in how he responded. Again, he did not talk bad about the king, nor did he make any threats. He simply:

  • Asked why the king would make the decree
  • Asked to speak to the king (had nothing to lose but his life)
  • Asked the king for time

THEN, he got together with his friends and asked them to pray!

QUESTION: what do you do when faced with a seemingly impossible situation? Do you have friends that you can call on to have them pray with/for you? Do you seek God or ask Facebook?

GOD’S RESPONSE: He told Daniel the dream. 

Daniel asked for time but had no idea if God would answer their prayers. God did. And then Daniel praises God with a song. This song reveals to you and me the faith behind the actions of Daniel: [vs 20-23]

  • God is in control of times/seasons (even exile)
  • God establishes kings (even Babylonian kings)
  • God is the giver of wisdom (like he gave Daniel)
  • God is the one who reveals secret things (like dreams)

Daniel 2:24–30 (NLT) — 24 Then Daniel went in to see Arioch, whom the king had ordered to execute the wise men of Babylon. Daniel said to him, “Don’t kill the wise men. Take me to the king, and I will tell him the meaning of his dream.” 25 Arioch quickly took Daniel to the king and said, “I have found one of the captives from Judah who will tell the king the meaning of his dream!” 26 The king said to Daniel (also known as Belteshazzar), “Is this true? Can you tell me what my dream was and what it means?” 27 Daniel replied, “There are no wise men, enchanters, magicians, or fortune-tellers who can reveal the king’s secret. 28 But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and he has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the future. Now I will tell you your dream and the visions you saw as you lay on your bed. 29 “While Your Majesty was sleeping, you dreamed about coming events. He who reveals secrets has shown you what is going to happen. 30 And it is not because I am wiser than anyone else that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wants you to understand what was in your heart. 

Fun facts: 

  • Though Daniel does not seek to get any special credit for knowing the dream, Arioch wants to take credit for Daniel! “I found someone” is not quite the way it went down!
  • Though Daniel could have asked for the king to spare his life and his Jewish friends ony, he asked that all the wise men not be killed. 
  • God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to know what was on his heart? Hrmmmm.

I love the way Daniel starts his reply to the king: no human can tell you your dream. Whoops! But, God can. I also love the fact that he does not take the credit or say he is wise. Daniel brings God into the picture and makes God the focus. 

Daniel told the king his dream and the interpretation. That is not the part that we want to focus on at the moment. Let’s see what took place after the interpretation:

Daniel 2:46–49 (NLT) — 46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar threw himself down before Daniel and worshiped him, and he commanded his people to offer sacrifices and burn sweet incense before him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” 48 Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men. 49 At Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of all the affairs of the province of Babylon, while Daniel remained in the king’s court. 

Verse 46 is insane! Perhaps because Nebuchadnezzar also believed that no human could interpret dreams, he must have assumed Daniel to be a god: read verse 46 again!

But verse 47 is the main verse here: “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.”

While Nebuchadnezzar does not become a convert to Judaism, and he worshipped Daniel instead of his God, a man who thought he was a god is acknowledging Yahweh as the God over kings and the greatest of the gods. 

And then he appoints Daniel as ruler over Babylon (think Joseph) and Daniel gets his three friends appointed as managers. 

So, these men who refused to defile themselves with the king’s food and drink are not 4 of the most powerful and influential men in Babylon. 

FILTERING THIS through the wisdom books:

We just got done learning about the wisdom books, and when we read about Daniel, you could have different reactions depending on which book you relate to the most:

  • Proverbs: it appears as though God is living on the principle of “just recompense” and he is rewarding Danny & Co for being faithful to him, as if this is the expected way that God would act. The righteous are rewarded. 
  • Job: you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, wondering when all of this will turn bad and they will lose everything they have been given, because the Lord gives and takes away. 
  • Ecclesiastes: Though we see a few righteous men prosper, it is an unrighteous nation that is truly prospering. Though God is the God of the Jews, he is giving visions of the future to a pagan. You are probably wondering why they didn’t just eat the meat and drink the wine and find pleasure in it because that is a gift from God – all else is vanity 😉.

Though this story is about God punishing Israel for their rebellion, and about the power, wisdom and understanding of God, I think there are also some lessons for you and me to learn as well.

Living in a post-Christian society in a place that is increasingly hostile towards the teachings of the word of God, there are many lessons we can learn during from the exile. 

Living for God during exile is about standing strong on your convictions, living your faith with respect to others, acknowledging that God is in control, and seeking his wisdom for how to respond to people. We do this NOT SO We can have it easy or get a blessing. We do this so that others will be impressed by God and be drawn to Him. 

Romans 12:2 (CSB): 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. 

John 17:13–19 (CSB): 13 Now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy completed in them. 14 I have given them your word. The world hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 I sanctify myself for them, so that they also may be sanctified by the truth. 

The popular phrase “be in the world not of it” comes from this. But notice we’re not just “in” the world…we are “sent to” it … for the purpose of pointing people to God and living sacrificially to be redemptive in the world. This is one way we follow Christ’s example, but even with Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, we saw today how God used that situation to point people to him. Just as with everything God does in the world, there is purpose in exile.

Philippians 3:18–21 (NLT) — 18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. 

We are the people of God, citizens of heaven that are living in a broken creation due to sin. While we live on this earth we are to live for God, pointing others to Him. 

There are many other connections to exile in the New Testament, but we’ll leave it at that for now. We will be going through the story of Daniel and others for a few more weeks, and a lot of these themes and topics will be coming up again so we have time to flesh them out even more. The Bible is cool like that.

Introduction to Daniel