“VERSE 1. In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. 2. 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.”
With a directness characteristic of the sacred writers, Daniel enters at once upon his subject. He commences in the simple, historical style, his book, with the exception of a portion of chapter 2, being of a historical nature till we reach the seventh chapter, when the prophetical portion, more properly so called, commences. Like one conscious of uttering only well-known truth, he proceeds at once to state a variety of particulars by which his accuracy could 24 at once be tested. Thus in the two verses quoted, he states five particulars purporting to be historical facts, such as no writer would be likely to introduce into a fictitious narrative: (1) That Jehoiakim was king of Judah; (2) That Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon; (3) That the latter came against the former; (4) That this was in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign; and (5) That Jehoiakim was given into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, who took a portion of the sacred vessels of the house of God, and carrying them to the land of Shinar, the country of Babylon (Gen.10:10) placed them in the treasure-house of his heathen divinity. Subsequent portions of the narrative abound as fully in historical facts of a like nature.
This overthrow of Jerusalem was predicted by Jeremiah, and immediately accomplished, B.C.606. Jer.25:8-11. Jeremiah places this captivity in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, Daniel in the third. This seeming discrepancy is explained by the fact that Nebuchadnezzar set out on his expedition near the close of the third year of Jehoiakim, from which point Daniel reckons. But he did not accomplish the subjugation of Jerusalem till about the ninth month of the year following; and from this year Jeremiah reckons. (Prideaux,Vol.I,pp.99,100.) Jehoiakim, though bound for the purpose of being taken to Babylon, having humbled himself, was permitted to remain as ruler in Jerusalem, tributary to the king of Babylon. This was the first time Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchadnezzar. Twice subsequently, the city, having revolted, was captured by the same king, being more severely dealt with each succeeding time. Of these subsequent overthrows, the first was under Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, B.C.599, when all the sacred vessels were either taken or destroyed, and the best of the inhabitants, with the king, were led into captivity. The second was under Zedekiah, when the city endured the most formidable siege it ever sustained, except that by Titus, in A.D.70. During the two years’ continuance of this siege, the inhabitants of the city suffered all the horrors of extreme famine. At length the garrison and king, attempting to escape from the city, were captured by the Chaldeans. The sons of the king were slain before his face. His eyes were put out, and he was taken to Babylon; and thus was fulfilled the prediction of Ezekiel, who declared that he should be carried to Babylon, and die there, but yet should not see the place. Eze. 12:13. The city and temple were at this time utterly destroyed, and the entire population of the city and country, with the exception of a few husbandmen, were carried captive to Babylon, B.C.588. Such was God’s passing testimony against sin. Not that the Chaldeans were the favorites of Heaven but God made use of them to punish the iniquities of his people. Had the Israelites been faithful to God, and kept his Sabbath, Jerusalem would have stood forever. Jer.17:24-27. But they departed from him, and he abandoned them. They first profaned the sacred vessels by sin, in introducing heathen idols among them; and he then profaned them by judgments, in letting them go as trophies into heathen temples abroad. During these days of trouble and distress upon Jerusalem, Daniel and his companions were nourished and instructed in the palace of the king of Babylon; and though captives in a strange land, they were doubtless in some respects much more favorably situated than they could have been in their native country.
“VERSE 3. 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; 4. Children in whom was no blemish, but well favored, 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. 5. 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.”
We have in these verses the record of the probable fulfilment of the announcement of coming judgments made to King Hezekiah by the prophet Isaiah, more than a hundred years before. When this king had vaingloriously shown to the messengers of the king of Babylon all the treasures and holy things of his palace and kingdom, he was told that all these good things should be carried as trophies to the city of Babylon, and nothing should be left; and that even his own children, his descendants, should be taken away, and be eunuchs in the palace of the king there. 2Kings 20:14-18. It is probable that Daniel and his companions were treated as indicated in the prophecy; at least we hear nothing of their posterity, which can be more easily accounted for on this hypothesis than on any other, though some think that the term eunuch had come to signify office rather than condition. The word children, as applied to these captives, is not to be confined to the sense to which it is limited at the present time. It included youth also. And we learn from the record that these children were already skilful in all wisdom, cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace. In other words they had already acquired a good degree of education, and their physical and mental powers were so far developed that a skilful reader of human nature could form quite an accurate estimate of their capabilities. They are supposed to have been about eighteen or twenty years of age. In the treatment which these Hebrew captives received, we see an instance of the wise policy and the liberality of the rising king, Nebuchadnezzar.
1. Instead of choosing, like too many kings of later times, means for the gratification of low and base desires, he chose young men who should be educated in all matters pertaining to the kingdom, that he might have efficient help in administering its affairs. 2. He appointed them daily provision of his own meat and wine. Instead of the coarse fare which some would have thought good enough for captives, he offered them his own royal viands. For the space of three years, they had all the advantages the kingdom could afford. Though captives, they were royal children, and they were treated as such by the humane king of the Chaldeans. The question may be raised, why these persons were selected to take part, after suitable preparation, in the affairs of the kingdom. Were there not enough native Babylonians to fill these positions of trust and honor? It could have been for no other reason than that the Chaldean youth could not compete with those of Israel in the qualifications, both mental and physical, necessary to such a position.
“VERSE 6. Now among these were the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 7. 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 Abednego.”
This change of names was probably made on account of the signification of the words. Thus, Daniel signified, in the Hebrew, God is my judge; Hananiah, gift of the Lord; Mishael, he that is a strong God; and Azariah, help of the Lord. These names, each having some reference to the true God, and signifying some connection with his worship, were changed to names the definition of which bore a like relation to the heathen divinities and worship of the Chaldeans. Thus Belteshazzar, the name given to Daniel, signified keeper of the hid treasures of Bel; Shadrach, inspiration of the sun (which the Chaldeans worshiped); Meshach, of the goddess Shaca (under which name Venus was worshiped); and Abednego, servant of the shining fire (which they also worshiped).
“VERSE 8. 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. 9. Now God had brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. 10. And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who had 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. 11. Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12. Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. 13. 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. 14. So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days. 15. And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat of the portion of the king’s meat. 16. Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.” 29
Nebuchadnezzar appears upon this record wonderfully free from bigotry. It seems that he took no means to compel his royal captives to change their religion. Provided they had some religion, he seemed to be satisfied, whether it was the religion he professed or not. And although their names had been changed to signify some connection with heathen worship, this may have been more to avoid the use of Jewish names by the Chaldeans than to indicate any change of sentiment or practice on the part of those to whom these names were given. Daniel purposed not to defile himself with the king’s meat nor with his wine. Daniel had other reasons for this course than simply the effect of such a diet upon his physical system, though he would derive great advantage in this respect from the fare he proposed to adopt. But it was frequently the case that the meat used by the kings and princes of heathen nations, who were often the high priests of their religion, was first offered in sacrifice to idols, and the wine they used, poured out as a libation before them; and again, some of the meat of which they made use, was pronounced unclean by the Jewish law; and on either of these grounds Daniel could not, consistently with his religion, partake of these articles; hence he requested, not from any morose or sullen temper, but from conscientious scruples, that he might not be obliged to defile himself; and he respectfully made his request known to the proper officer. The prince of the eunuchs feared to grant Daniel’s request, since the king himself had appointed their meat. This shows the great personal interest the king took in these persons. He did not commit them to the hands of his servants, telling them to care for them in the best manner, without himself entering into details; but he himself appointed their meat and drink. And this was of a kind which it was honestly supposed would be best for them, inasmuch as the prince of the eunuchs thought that a departure from it would render them poorer in flesh and less ruddy of countenance than those who continued it; and thus he would be brought to account for neglect or ill-treatment of them, and so lose his head. Yet it was equally well understood that if they maintained good physical conditions, the 30 king would take no exception to the means used, though it might be contrary to his own express direction. It appears that the king’s sincere object was to secure in them, by whatever means it could be done, the very best mental and physical development that could be attained. How different this from the bigotry and tyranny which usually hold supreme control over the hearts of those who are clothed with absolute power. In the character of Nebuchadnezzar we shall find many things worthy of our highest admiration.
Daniel requested pulse and water for himself and his three companions. Pulse is a vegetable food of the leguminous kind, like peas, beans, etc. Bagster says, “Zeroim denotes all leguminous plants, which are not reaped, but pulled or plucked, which, however wholesome, were not naturally calculated to render them fatter in flesh than the others.” A ten days’ trial of this diet resulting favorably, they were permitted to continue it during the whole course of their training for the duties of the palace. Their increase in flesh and improvement in countenance which took place during these ten days can hardly be attributed to the natural result of the diet; for it would hardly produce such marked effects in so short a time. Is it not much more natural to conclude that this result was produced by a special interposition of the Lord, as a token of his approbation of the course on which they had entered, which course, if persevered in, would in process of time lead to the same result through the natural operation of the laws of their being?
“VERSE 17. 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. 18. Now at the end of the days that the king had said that he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19. 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. 21. And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus.”
To Daniel alone seems to have been committed an understanding in visions and dreams. But the Lord’s dealing with 31 Daniel in this respect does not prove the others any the less accepted in his sight. Preservation in the midst of the fiery furnace was as good evidence of the divine favor as they could have had. Daniel probably had some natural qualifications that peculiarly fitted him for this special work. The same personal interest in these individuals heretofore manifested by the king, he still continued to maintain. At the end of the three years, he called them to a personal interview. He must know for himself how they had fared, and what proficiency they had made. This interview also shows the king to have been a man well versed in all the arts and sciences of the Chaldeans, else he would not have been qualified to examine others therein. As the result, recognizing merit wherever he saw it, without respect to religion or nationality, he acknowledged them to be ten times superior to any in his own land. And it is added that Daniel continued even unto the first year of King Cyrus. This is an instance of the somewhat singular use of the word unto, or until, which occasionally occurs in the sacred writings. It does not mean that he continued no longer than to the first year of Cyrus, for he lived some years after the commencement of his reign; but this is the time to which the writer wished to direct special attention, as it brought deliverance to the captive Jews. A similar use of the word is found in Ps.112:8 and Matt.5:18.