Monday, January 19, 2009
DANIEL CHAPTER 1:1 - 21
Beginning this week we want to do a study on the book of Daniel. We will divide the study into two major parts; Part I: A History of the Times...And the Set-up for Coming Attractions; and Part II: Events Prophesied...Prophecies Fulfilled. These two parts will be broken down and delved into in detail.
Wanted: Healthy, Good-Looking Lads
Daniel 1:1,2 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.
Swords flashed wildly between the nations of Egypt and Babylon, the two great military giants of the Middle East, as the latter part of the 7th Century B.C. was fast coming to a close. The fierce battles between the two superpowers were visible proof that each was determined to seize full control of their part of the world. Any observer then - or historian today - knew that a decisive battle could not be far off, a conflict in which the ultimate victor would once and for all put his opponent to flight. And that’s exactly what happened.
The time was early summer in the year 605 B.C. The great army of Babylon, under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar - then crown prince - attacked the Egyptian forces in a place called Carchemish, and Babylonian city on the Euphrates River (see Jeremiah 46 for details). It was a thorough defeat for the Egyptians, who were forced to return to their country to lick their wounds and ponder the weakness of a failed battle strategy that had brought them to their knees. With unparalleled world dominance, the Babylonians now had free reign to step into the unguarded territory of Palestine. By the summer of 605 B.C. they had wrestled control of the city of Jerusalem. And this is where our story begins.
Upon the death of Nebuchadnezzar's father, Nabopolassar, a short time after the massive Babylonian victory, Nebuchadnezzar rushed home to be crowned king of Babylon. But he did not return to Babylon empty-handed. His saddlebags were filled with rich treasure and precious vessels - much of it taken from the holy temple in Jerusalem. His ungodly hands had pillaged from the house of God, a sort of in-your-face mockery to the Holy One, a Babylonian slap in the face of the Jewish people, their traditions, and their most high God.
An Opportunity for Compromise
But the man who would be king did not return with merely gold, silver, and temple utensils. Among his inventory of rich booty were also human treasures - young, fit sons of Israel who were taken from their beloved homeland and brought to Babylon, exposed to a foreign religion and traditions that bore no resemblance to their beliefs. But those were the rules of war; Lose the battle, do what your captor says. Among the choicest of Jewish young men in this group now being transported to Babylon was a teenager whose name was Daniel.
Daniel 1:3-7 And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes;Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah:Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego.
Wise Beyond His Years
Daniel now found himself a captive in a strange land, learning the language of the Chaldeans - the elite, privileged class of Babylon. Young Daniel had to accept the reality that he was now a member of a conquered people, forced to think no longer like a Jew, but like a Babylonian, with the clear demand that he give his full allegiance to Babylonian gods. This was Daniel's greatest challenge.
But in ways that even Daniel could not have understood, he was more than adequately prepared for his new life. Of royal descent, Daniel had already been trained for palace service - even at his young age. He was not overwhelmed by the pomp and circumstance, nor by the tough courses he and his friends had to take in astronomy, natural history, mythology, or astrology. Gilded thrones didn't overly impress him either - he'd seen it all before.
Nebuchadnezzar simply did not know what he had on his hands: Daniel might have looked like just another strong, able Jewish boy on the outside, but the king couldn't discern who Daniel really was on the inside - a man of God, loyal and faithful to his Creator. So unswerving was Daniel's righteousness that even in the polluted atmosphere of heathen Babylon he would find a way to make himself useful to God - something we'll observe again and again as our story unfolds.
The Times of the Gentiles
Now here's a point that I want to make early on because it will be critical to remember it as together we travel on this amazing, prophetic road of Final Mysteries Unsealed, Daniel is distinctly the prophet of the times of the Gentiles. This is significant because the times of the Gentiles continues on through the termination of Gentile world rule.
Daniel is not only the prophet of the Gentiles, but he's also a prophet to his own people, the Jews. When Nebuchadnezzar brought the vessels unto the treasure house of his god, this was the beginning of the times of the Gentiles, which continues until the time when Messiah returns. You may remember that Jesus said in Luke 21:24,
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be lead away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled (emphasis mine).
This will be a recurring theme for us throughout the book. In modern English, this is what Jesus was saying: Jerusalem will always be controlled by Gentiles - except for a brief interlude - until I return. So in 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem, and Gentile domination began.
From that time onward, Jerusalem would be controlled by Gentiles, with one exception - the time preceding Christ's return to set up His glorious thousand-year kingdom upon earth. The exception occurred during the miraculous victory the Jewish army experienced as they captured Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, fought June 5-10, 1967. after this military conquest, the Holy City of Jerusalem was in Jewish hands for the first time in 2,553 years.
The victory in 1967 began the countdown to Messiah's coming to rule and reign at Jerusalem (see Psalm 2:6 and Matthew 5:35). Here's why. Just before Christ appears upon the Mount of Olives to establish His glorious kingdom, all Gentile nations will gather together at the valley of Megiddo and then march to the valley of Jehoshaphat for history's final attack against Jerusalem. At this time the Gentiles temporarily retake the city.
But their victory is short-lived, because then Christ appears and destroys the Gentile armies, bringing the times of the Gentiles to its horrendous conclusion. Christ will then reign from Jerusalem, the capital of the world, for a thousand years (see Revelation 16:16; Joel 3:2; and Zechariah 14:2-16).
Now here's the clincher. The Gentiles cannot march against Jerusalem and take it during earth's final battle if the Jews do not control the city. The Jews must be in possession of the Holy City for such an attack. This is why the Six-Day War of 1967 was so prophetically significant - it prepared the way for the battle of Armageddon and Christ's return. In a sense, I'm giving you the end of the story first, but I think it's important for you to understand this as we see the enormous impact that the Book of Daniel has on the outcome of history.
A Young Man of Influence
Whether the heathen king Nebuchadnezzar knew it or not, young Daniel, probably no more than seventeen years old at the time of his capture, was a teenager beyond reproach. No evil motives are ever attributed to Daniel in Scripture. Daniel had great influence on his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. His moral rectitude rubbed off on them, and they, too, began to demonstrate the purity that God desires for everyone, young or old. With wisdom well beyond his years, Daniel had become a mentor to his three friends.
The Scripture tells us in Daniel 1:4 that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were already intelligent fellows, but mere knowledge is a far cry from a mature understanding of how to apply that learning where it truly counts. But because of Daniel’s daily influence, the Hebrew boys demonstrated much more than the accumulation of facts; they knew how to rely on God and to use those facts because the Spirit of almighty God was upon them. They were also fulfilling a prophecy written in Isaiah 39:7, which revealed that the offspring of the royal family of Judah would be taken as prisoners to Babylon, where they would hold high offices in the palace of the king. And this is exactly what was happening.
Can’t Have Those Jewish Names, Boys
But Nebuchadnezzar had a problem. He had Jewish boys, with Jewish names, in a Babylonian palace, and he figured he’d better do something about it-especially since their very names shouted out their allegiance to their God. The name Daniel means God is judge. When someone would call for Hananiah, that person would be shouting Jehovah is gracious. Mishael’s name asked the provocative question, Who is what God is? And Azariah’s name was a constant reminder of God’s mercy, meaning Jehovah has helped.
Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t allow these names to be echoed in his great hall, so he changed their names to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Nebuchadnezzar was the master of the quick fix. His kingly logic was, if he changed the name, he would change the person. What the king did not realize, however, was that you can change a person’s name as many times as you want, but you will not necessarily change that person’s heart. So the name changes were purely cosmetic, and I’ve got a feeling that when the boys were in their quarters, in the privacy of their conversation, they still called each other Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
These brilliant young Jews loved their God and, as we’ll look at in more detail later, boldly proclaimed His presence in their lives three times a day in prayer-with the windows wide open. They didn’t care who heard them pray. They didn’t care who saw them with their heads lifted to heaven. They loved their God, and they would honor Him at all costs. They remained respectful to the king, but they had a greater God to serve. In one of the great passive resistance protests in history, they agreed to remain unwavering in their beliefs, even if it meant taking certain life-threatening risks.
Daniel 1:8-16 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.
Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.
An Unlikely Training Food
The first challenge was what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Imagine the incredible feasts available to Daniel and his friends. Delicacies galore. Meat, fowl, wine, and fruit served in gold and silver vessels. The king’s best. Who would have refused that kind of lifestyle? Well, for starters, four young men with the names Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They determined in their hearts they would not eat the rich, fatty, high-cholesterol foods from the king’s table.
But there was another reason they refused to defile their bodies: The king’s food had already been offered to the Babylonian god Marduk, and to eat the king’s food would be to break the second commandment. They knew what Exodus 20:4-5 said:
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
But this conviction created a problem. These four boys were in training-and Nebuchadnezzar and his trainers were in charge. They were under strict orders to follow Babylonian rules, not Jewish rules. Nothing kosher here. But-and this is why I hope young people are reading this book, because this in so many ways is a young person’s book-Daniel still found favor with the prince of the eunuchs. Character is what counts. Sticking to your guns when everyone else says to do something that dishonors God is what wins the day.
Now it was Melzar, the eunuch-in-charge, who had the problem. His job and his life were on the line. He had a specific assignment-to make his charges obey the rules, follow the instructions, color between the lines, do what they were told, and eat the king’s food like the other Jewish boys. What could be so bad about that! Come on, guys, please, I can almost hear him say. I like this job, and I really don’t need to get into any trouble with the head eunuch. I’m sure that Daniel and his buddies listened to their eunuch friend with hearts of compassion for the predicament he was in, but they still remained faithful to God’s agenda for their lives.
Acting Like Gentlemen
Now here’s a part I love. Rather than giving Melzar a tongue-lashing, Old Testament lecture on the evils of giving good food to bad gods like Marduk, Daniel did something much more effective: He provided an alternative. He presented the eunuch an option by suggesting, Let’s just check this other idea out, and see what happens. Daniel came up with a ten-day plan. And what was the essence of this plan?
To eat only pulse-another word for beans. Beans. Not meat, fish, exotic game from the forest, rich desserts, wine flowing by the flagons-but beans . . . and water. I can just see Melzar’s face turn ghostly white as he gently touches the side of his neck, wondering how long it will remain attached to the rest of his head. Beans! Surely you jest. We have beef, and you want beans?
Daniel and his friends confirmed their resolve, and the diet plan was approved. While the rest of Jewish captives were being wined and dined in the palace dining hall, Daniel and his three friends ate beans-and amazingly were growing stronger and healthier in mind and body day by day. They trusted their God to make them healthy and strong. They remained obedient to God when all the odds were stacked against them. And when the ten-day experiment came to an end, we read that their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat. Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse (vv. 15-16).
And the palace scoreboard read:
Daniel 1:17 - 21
As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar.And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king.20 And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus.
There must be something about the power of beans. But for ten days? I think that’s about the only diet I haven’t heard about in all the hype and hoopla of today’s weight management programs. Of course, the beans and water didn’t make the difference-the food was simply the vehicle of faithfulness that God used to prove that He was God, and that there was no other.
Now that the experiment was over, Daniel and his friends began to focus on more serious business-such as praying to God to help them develop their gifts of wisdom, ability to discern truth from error, and the skill to differentiate between true dreams and false dreams. This was a lot for young shoulders to bear, but God was faithful to his four righteous servants, and He gave them more wisdom and knowledge than they ever could have imagined.
The Best of the Lot
We can safely assume that Daniel and his compatriots did not dine at the king’s table for the entire three years of their training. Yet, when the king took one look at Daniel and his friends, he realized there were no others in his realm who were as healthy or insightful as these four Hebrew boys. They had proved by their faithfulness to God-while maintaining an attitude of courtesy and respect for their foreign ruler-that God had sent them to the king’s palace, and that they were committed to serving their God. The king quickly picked up on this, and we read that:
in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm (1:20).
The Message for Today
What is the special word from God for us here? I believe God would have us understand that our heavenly Father wants us to be faithful, regardless of our circumstances. What if Daniel and his friends had chosen to compromise their ideals in that foreign environment? What if they had decided it made no difference to put on rolls of fat from the king’s bounty, to play around with foreign gods, to engage themselves with sensuous women, and to allow their active minds to accept the ungodly mind-set of Babylonian life? If they’d taken the easy way out, they would have been ineffective servants. Just four more captives doing their time.
And the king would never have honored them by saying, I would trade ten of my best magicians and astrologers for one of these men because they have some supernatural power. Ten times better! What a recommendation. What enviable job security. And what a God-given opportunity for Daniel and his friends to begin to influence a king and the affairs of an entire kingdom at the highest level. All this was taking place because four young, God-fearing men were filled with the Spirit of God and were determined to follow His commands.
As we move from one exciting page of the Book of Daniel to the next, we’ll notice that the expression, The spirit of the gods will appear often. As believers, we know there is only one Spirit, the blessed Holy Spirit. And when our Savior returns-a theme we’ll investigate as we go along-there will be only one power. The Nebuchadnezzar's of the world will have had their day. The once powerful, high, and mighty will take a backseat to the Divine Redeemer who will come for His own. At that day there will be only one power, one driving force, and one Spirit. That’s why we are reminded in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled with the Spirit. The literal Greek reads, Be being filled with the spirit. It’s a continuous process.
The kind of filling that will energize you and me, just as it provided the power for Daniel to remain faithful to God during his time of trials in a foreign land. And just as Daniel stood boldly and confidently before King Nebuchadnezzar~ so we have received the mandate to demonstrate the boldness of Acts 1:8: But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
In Daniel’s day, the wisdom of the world-which was Nebuchadnezzar’s world-was put to shame by the wisdom of God manifested in the lives of four committed young men. That same wisdom must be exhibited in our day-a time in history when a movement against the one true God is picking up speed and will march us to the end of the age. Daniel is not just a prophet from history, and his book is not just another book. It is our must-read guide to show us where we are heading, and the Book of Daniel will take us to a fuller understanding of the latter days and the great mysteries unsealed, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar’s amazing dream of a statue and Daniel’s fearless interpretation.