Commentary on Daniel 1

Last updated: January 8, 2010

English Translation (ESV)

1 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 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. 3 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, 4 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. 5 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. 6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 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.

8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. 21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Notes

1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.

John J. Collins does not believe that a plausible reconstruction of events can be given to salvage the historicity of Daniel 1:1-2. The accession of Jehoiakim took place in 609 BC. There is no record of the Babylonians making an incursion into the vicinity of Judah prior to the battle of Carchemish in May-June 605 BC. Collins finds it unlikely that Nebuchadnezzar could have laid siege to a city as far south as Jerusalem in the few months between the battle of Carchemish and his coronation in August 605 BC. Daniel 1:2, with its mention of Jehoiakim falling into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the vessels of the house of God being taken to Shinar, implies the surrender of Jerusalem. This is problematic because the surrender of Jerusalem took place in 598/7 BC, after the reign of Jehoiakim.1

However, Stephen R. Miller is able to provide a plausible historical reconstruction. According to the Judean system of regnal dating, Jehoiakim’s third year extended from Tishri (September-October) 606 BC to Tishri 605 BC. The Babylonian Chronicles state that Nebuchadnezzar conquered the whole area of the Hatti-country, which included Palestine, immediately after the battle at Carchemish. This is not surprising as Jehoiakim was placed on the throne by Pharaoh Neco, who was defeated at Carchemish (2 Kings 23:34). Nebuchadnezzar presumably wanted to move against the Pharaoh’s allies. 2 Kings 24:7 notes that Nebuchadnezzar took all of Pharaoh’s territory, and thus must have taken Judah as well. 2 Chronicles 36 makes it clear that an author could say some vessels from the house of God were taken to Babylon without denying the surrender of Jerusalem in 598/7 BC. The title of “king” is applied proleptically to Nebuchadnezzar in this verse.2

Jeremiah 46:2, which says the battle of Carchemish occurred in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, need not be seen as conflicting with Daniel 1:1, which places the battle in the third year of Jehoiakim. As noted above, Daniel appears to have been using the Judean calendar, and therefore correctly placed the battle in the third year. The battle occurred in the fourth year according to the Babylonian calendar, presumably used by Jeremiah.3

2 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.

God is ultimately sovereign over history even when his temple is looted (see also vv 9, 17). Throughout Daniel, when speaking of the Israelite God, the original languages read “the God” to make it abundantly clear that there is only one true deity.4 Neither this verse nor 2 Chronicles 36:6 is absolutely clear on whether Jehoiakim was taken back to Babylon.5 2 Kings 24:6 implies that he died in Judah. The mention of Nebuchadnezzar’s appropriation of the vessels of the house of God prepares for the story of Belshazzar’s feast in chapter 5. That only “some” of the vessels were taken corresponds to 2 Chronicles 36:7. Ezra (1:7; 5:14) implies the vessels remained there until they were returned to Sheshbazzar. The “land of Shinar” is a traditional name for Babylon. “His god” probably refers to Marduk (Bel), the chief god of Babylon.6

3 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,

It is disputed whether Ashpenaz should be called the “chief eunuch” or merely a “high official.”7 Members of the royal family and the nobility presumably had some education already.8

4 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 language of the Chaldeans was a form of Akkadian.9 In a ninth century BC Assyrian inscription, the Chaldeans are the inhabitants of a territory south of Babylon.10 During the neo-Babylonian empire the authors of the Bible used the term to refer to Babylonians in general.11 In Daniel 2:2, as well as in external sources, the Chaldeans are associated with wise men, priests, and soothsayers.12 That these Chaldeans become well known in the West during the Hellenistic age need not imply that this account comes from that period.13 The Jews, as foreigners, could not become priests. They are to be prepared for service in the court, where some ability to interpret dreams and omens would be helpful.14

5 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.

John J. Collins believes the idea that court personnel were to eat of the king’s food reflects a Persian, rather than Babylonian, custom.15 However, Walvoord notes that ancient literature contains many references to such a custom.16 Persian education, which was probably similar to Babylonian eduction, lasted for three years.17 Collins finds the three years of education to be too short of an interval for someone with, presumably, no previous training in Akkadian letters.18

6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.

The mention of Daniel’s three companions prepares for the story of the fiery furnace in chapter 3, where Daniel plays no part. The name Daniel means “God is my judge.”19 The name Hananiah means “Yahweh has acted graciously,” the name Mishael may mean “who is what God is?”, and the name Azariah means “Yahweh has helped.”20

The exilic prophet Ezekiel probably knew about Daniel (14:14, 20, 28:3). Some scholars suggest that Ezekiel is referring to a Daniel from the past, such as the Daniel mentioned in the Ras Shamra Text (1500-1200 BC). But it is very unlikely that Ezekiel would hold up an idol worshiper as an example of a godly man. Ezekiel must have been referring to a godly Israelite and the Daniel of this book fits the description well.

7 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.

It is reasonable that those who were to serve in the Babylonian court were given Babylonian names. This act symbolized new ownership and a new destiny.21 The name Belteshazzar means “Bel protect his life” (4:8) and the name Abednego means “servant of Nabu.”22 The meaning of the names Shadrach and Meshach are not clear.

8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.

Daniel acts as the leader of the four youths. He may have wanted to eat only vegetables (v 12) so that he would not eat unclean animals, animals not properly slaughtered, or animals sacrificed to foreign gods (though vegetables could be offered to gods). He may have wanted to exchange wine for water (v 12) since the wine may have been used in libations to foreign gods. Joyce G. Baldwin believes that Daniel viewed sharing the king’s food as a sign that he would be loyal to the king. By rejecting the king’s food he is showing his loyalty to God.23 Whatever Daniel’s exact reasons were, the main point is that he remained loyal to God.

11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,

Daniel now talks to the steward, an official of lower standing than the chief of the eunuchs.24

12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink.

The Hebrew word translated “vegetables” (zeroa) means “that which grows from sown seed” and could therefore refer to vegetables, fruits, and grains.25

17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

God is the ultimate source of the youths’ wisdom. The note about Daniel having understanding in all visions and dreams prepares the way for the subsequent chapters.

19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king.

The phrase “they stood before the king” means that they were the king’s servants.26

21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

The first year of Cyrus was 539 BC. Daniel 10:1 records a revelation given in the third year of Cyrus. Therefore this verse should not be interpreted to be referring to the death of Daniel.27 Assuming Daniel was in his early teens when he was taken to Babylon, he would have been in his eighties when Cyrus conquered Babylon. He outlived his Babylonian masters.

Bibliography

Baldwin, Joyce G. Daniel. InterVarsity Press, 1978.

Collins, John Joseph, Frank Moore Cross, and Adela Yarbro Collins. Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1994.

Goldingay, John. Daniel. Dallas Tex.: Word Books, 1989.

Miller, Stephen B. Daniel. Holman Reference, 1994.

Walvoord, John F. Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation: A Commentary. Moody Publishers, 1971.

1Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 131-132.

2Miller, Daniel, 56-57.

3Ibid., 57.

4Ibid., 58.

5Baldwin, Daniel, 78.

6Miller, Daniel, 58-59.

7Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 134-135.

8Goldingay, Daniel, 15.

9Miller, Daniel, 62.

10Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 137.

112 Kings 25:4; Jeremiah 24:5; 25:12; Ezekiel 1:3

12Ibid., 137-138.

13Ibid., 138.

14Ibid., 139.

15Ibid., 140.

16Walvoord, Daniel, 35.

17Miller, Daniel, 63.

18Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 140.

19Ibid.

20Ibid.

21Goldingay, Daniel, 17.

22Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 141.

23Baldwin, Daniel, 82-83.

24Ibid., 84.

25Miller, Daniel, 69.

26Baldwin, Daniel, 85.

27Goldingay, Daniel, 20; Miller, Daniel, 73-74.

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