Tested—But True to Jehovah!
1, 2. What significant events served as a prelude to the account of Daniel?
THE curtain rises in the prophetic book of Daniel at a time of momentous change on the international scene. Assyria had just suffered the loss of its capital, Nineveh. Egypt had been restricted to a position of minor importance south of the land of Judah. And Babylon was rapidly rising as the major power in the struggle for world domination.
2 In 625 B.C.E., Egyptian Pharaoh Necho made a last-ditch effort to block Babylonian expansion southward. To that end, he led his army to Carchemish, located on the banks of the upper Euphrates River. The battle of Carchemish, as it came to be called, was a decisive, historic event. The Babylonian army, led by Crown Prince Nebuchadnezzar, inflicted a devastating blow on Pharaoh Necho’s forces. (Jeremiah 46:2) Riding on the momentum of his victory, Nebuchadnezzar swept over Syria and Palestine and, for all practical purposes, put an end to Egyptian domination in this region. It was only the death of his father, Nabopolassar, that brought a temporary halt to his campaign.
3. What was the outcome of Nebuchadnezzar’s first campaign against Jerusalem?
3 The next year, Nebuchadnezzar—now enthroned as king of Babylon—once again turned his attention to his military campaigns in Syria and Palestine. It was during this period that he came to Jerusalem for the first time. The Bible reports: “In his days Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon came up, and so Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. However, he turned back and rebelled against him.”—2 Kings 24:1.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR IN JERUSALEM
4. How is the expression “in the third year of the kingship of Jehoiakim” at Daniel 1:1 to be understood?
4 The expression “for three years” is of special interest to us, for the opening words of Daniel read: “In the third year of the kingship of Jehoiakim the king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and proceeded to lay siege to it.” (Daniel 1:1) In the third year of the complete kingship of Jehoiakim, who reigned from 628 to 618 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar was not yet “the king of Babylon” but was the crown prince. In 620 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar compelled Jehoiakim to pay tribute. But after about three years, Jehoiakim revolted. Thus, it was in 618 B.C.E., or during the third year of the kingship of Jehoiakim as a vassal of Babylon, that King Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem a second time, to punish the rebellious Jehoiakim.
5. What was the outcome of Nebuchadnezzar’s second campaign against Jerusalem?
5 The outcome of this siege was that “in time Jehovah gave into his hand Jehoiakim the king of Judah and a part of the utensils of the house of the true God.” (Daniel 1:2) Jehoiakim probably died, either by assassination or in a revolt, during the early stages of the siege. (Jeremiah 22:18, 19) In 618 B.C.E., his 18-year-old son, Jehoiachin, succeeded him as king. But Jehoiachin’s rule lasted only three months and ten days, and he surrendered in 617 B.C.E.—Compare 2 Kings 24:10-15.
6. What did Nebuchadnezzar do with the sacred utensils of the temple in Jerusalem?
6 Nebuchadnezzar took as spoils sacred utensils of the temple in Jerusalem and “brought them to the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and the utensils he brought to the treasure-house of his god,” Marduk, or Merodach in Hebrew. (Daniel 1:2; Jeremiah 50:2) A Babylonian inscription was discovered in which Nebuchadnezzar is represented as saying about the temple of Marduk: “I stored up inside silver and gold and precious stones . . . and placed there the treasure house of my kingdom.” We will read about these sacred utensils once again in the days of King Belshazzar.—Daniel 5:1-4.
THE ELITE OF JERUSALEM’S YOUTH
7, 8. From Daniel 1:3, 4, and 6, what can we deduce about the background of Daniel and his three companions?
7 More than the treasures of Jehovah’s temple were brought to Babylon. Says the account: “Then the king said to Ashpenaz his chief court official to bring some of the sons of Israel and of the royal offspring and of the nobles, children in whom there was no defect at all, but good in appearance and having insight into all wisdom and being acquainted with knowledge, and having discernment of what is known, in whom also there was ability to stand in the palace of the king.”—Daniel 1:3, 4.
8 Who were chosen? We are told: “There happened to be among them some of the sons of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.” (Daniel 1:6) This sheds some light on the otherwise obscure background of Daniel and his companions. For example, we note that they were “sons of Judah,” the kingly tribe. Whether they were from the royal line or not, it is reasonable to think that they were at least from families of some importance and influence. Besides being of sound mind and body, they had insight, wisdom, knowledge, and discernment—all when they were at an age young enough to be called “children,” perhaps in their early teens. Daniel and his companions must have been outstanding—the elite—among the youths in Jerusalem.
9. Why does it seem certain that Daniel and his three companions had God-fearing parents?
9 The account does not tell us who the parents of these young people were. Nonetheless, it seems certain that they were godly individuals who had taken their parental responsibilities seriously. Considering the moral and spiritual decadence prevalent in Jerusalem at the time, especially among ‘the royal offspring and the nobles,’ it is clear that the sterling qualities found in Daniel and his three companions did not come about by accident. Needless to say, it must have been heartbreaking for the parents to see their sons being taken to a distant land. If only they could have known the outcome, how proud they would have been! How important it is for parents to bring their children up “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah”!—Ephesians 6:4.
A BATTLE FOR THE MIND
10. What were the young Hebrews taught, and what was the purpose of this?
10 Immediately, a battle for the young minds of these exiles began. To make sure that the Hebrew teenagers would be molded to fit in with the Babylonian system, Nebuchadnezzar decreed that his officials “teach them the writing and the tongue of the Chaldeans.” (Daniel 1:4) This was no ordinary education. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains that it “comprised the study of Sumerian, Akkadian, Aramaic . . . , and other languages, as well as the extensive literature written in them.” “The extensive literature” consisted of history, mathematics, astronomy, and so on. However, “associated religious texts, both omina [omens] and astrology . . . , played a large part.”
11. What steps were taken to ensure that the Hebrew youths would be assimilated into Babylonian court life?
11 So that these Hebrew youths would completely adopt the customs and culture of Babylonian court life, “the king appointed a daily allowance from the delicacies of the king and from his drinking wine, even to nourish them for three years, that at the end of these they might stand before the king.” (Daniel 1:5) Furthermore, “to them the principal court official went assigning names. So he assigned to Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, Shadrach; and to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.” (Daniel 1:7) In Bible times it was a common practice for a person to be given a new name to mark a significant event in his life. For instance, Jehovah changed the names of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah. (Genesis 17:5, 15, 16) For a human to change someone’s name is clear evidence of authority or dominance. When Joseph became the food administrator of Egypt, Pharaoh named him Zaphenath-paneah.—Genesis 41:44, 45; compare 2 Kings 23:34; 24:17.
12, 13. Why can it be said that changing the names of the young Hebrews was an effort to sabotage their faith?
12 In the case of Daniel and his three Hebrew friends, the name changes were significant. The names their parents had given them were in harmony with the worship of Jehovah. “Daniel” means “My Judge Is God.” The meaning of “Hananiah” is “Jehovah Has Shown Favor.” “Mishael” possibly means “Who Is Like God?” “Azariah” means “Jehovah Has Helped.” No doubt it was their parents’ fervent hope that their sons would grow up under the guidance of Jehovah God to become his faithful and loyal servants.
13 However, the new names given to the four Hebrews were all closely associated with those of false gods, suggesting that the true God had been subjugated by such deities. What an insidious effort to sabotage the faith of these young people!
14. What do the new names given to Daniel and his three companions mean?
14 Daniel’s name was changed to Belteshazzar, meaning “Protect the Life of the King.” Evidently, this was a shortened form of an invocation to Bel, or Marduk, the principal god of Babylon. Whether Nebuchadnezzar had a hand in choosing this name for Daniel or not, he was proud to acknowledge that it was “according to the name of [his] god.” (Daniel 4:8) Hananiah was renamed Shadrach, which some authorities believe to be a compound name meaning “Command of Aku.” Interestingly, Aku was the name of a Sumerian god. Mishael was renamed Meshach (possibly, Mi·sha·aku), apparently a clever twist of “Who Is Like God?” to “Who Is What Aku Is?” Azariah’s Babylonian name was Abednego, probably meaning “Servant of Nego.” And “Nego” is a variant of “Nebo,” the name of a deity after which a number of Babylonian rulers were also named.
DETERMINED TO REMAIN TRUE TO JEHOVAH
15, 16. What dangers now confronted Daniel and his companions, and what was their reaction?
15 The Babylonian names, the reeducation program, and the special diet—all of this was an attempt not only to assimilate Daniel and the three young Hebrews into the Babylonian way of life but also to alienate them from their own God, Jehovah, and from their religious training and background. Confronted with all this pressure and temptation, what would these young people do?
16 The inspired account says: “Daniel determined in his heart that he would not pollute himself with the delicacies of the king and with his drinking wine.” (Daniel 1:8a) Although Daniel was the only one mentioned by name, it is evident by what followed that his three companions supported his decision. The words “determined in his heart” show that the instruction provided by Daniel’s parents and others back home had reached his heart. Similar training undoubtedly guided the other three Hebrews in their decision-making. This amply illustrates the value of teaching our children, even when they may seem to be too young to understand.—Proverbs 22:6; 2 Timothy 3:14, 15.
17. Why did Daniel and his companions object only to the king’s daily provisions and not to the other arrangements?
17 Why did the young Hebrews object only to the delicacies and the wine but not to the other arrangements? Daniel’s reasoning clearly indicates why: “He would not pollute himself.” Having to learn “the writing and the tongue of the Chaldeans” and being given a Babylonian name, objectionable though this might be, would not necessarily pollute a person. Consider the example of Moses, nearly 1,000 years earlier. Although he was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” he remained loyal to Jehovah. His upbringing by his own parents gave him a solid foundation. Consequently, “by faith Moses, when grown up, refused to be called the son of the daughter of Pharaoh, choosing to be ill-treated with the people of God rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin.”—Acts 7:22; Hebrews 11:24, 25.
18. In what ways would the king’s provisions pollute the young Hebrews?
18 In what way would the Babylonian king’s provisions pollute the young men? First, the delicacies may have included foods prohibited by the Mosaic Law. For example, the Babylonians ate unclean animals, forbidden to the Israelites under the Law. (Leviticus 11:1-31; 20:24-26; Deuteronomy 14:3-20) Second, the Babylonians were not in the habit of bleeding slaughtered animals before eating their flesh. Eating unbled meat would be in direct violation of Jehovah’s law on blood. (Genesis 9:1, 3, 4; Leviticus 17:10-12; Deuteronomy 12:23-25) Third, worshipers of false gods customarily offer their food to idols before eating it in a communion meal. Servants of Jehovah would have none of that! (Compare 1 Corinthians 10:20-22.) Finally, indulgence in rich foods and strong drink day after day would hardly be healthful for people of any age, let alone for the young.
19. How could the Hebrew youths have rationalized, but what helped them to come to the right conclusion?
19 It is one thing to know what to do, but it is quite another to have the courage to do it when under pressure or temptation. Daniel and his three friends could have reasoned that since they were far away from their parents and friends, such individuals would not know what they did. They could also have rationalized that it was the king’s order and that there appeared to be no alternative. Besides, other young people no doubt readily accepted the arrangements and counted it a privilege rather than a hardship to participate. But such faulty thinking could easily lead to the pitfall of secret sin, which is a snare for many young people. The Hebrew youths knew that “the eyes of Jehovah are in every place” and that “the true God himself will bring every sort of work into the judgment in relation to every hidden thing, as to whether it is good or bad.” (Proverbs 15:3; Ecclesiastes 12:14) Let all of us take a lesson from the course of these faithful young people.
COURAGE AND PERSISTENCE WERE REWARDING
20, 21. What action did Daniel take, and with what outcome?
20 Having resolved in his heart to resist corrupting influences, Daniel proceeded to act in harmony with his decision. “He kept requesting of the principal court official that he might not pollute himself.” (Daniel 1:8b) “Kept requesting”—that is a noteworthy expression. Most often, persistent effort is needed if we hope to be successful in fighting off temptations or overcoming certain weaknesses.—Galatians 6:9.
21 In Daniel’s case, persistence paid off. “Accordingly the true God gave Daniel over to loving-kindness and to mercy before the principal court official.” (Daniel 1:9) It was not because Daniel and his companions were personable and intelligent individuals that things eventually worked out well for them. Rather, it was because of Jehovah’s blessing. Daniel undoubtedly remembered the Hebrew proverb: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5, 6) Following that counsel was rewarding indeed.
22. What legitimate objection did the court official raise?
22 At first, the principal court official objected: “I am in fear of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink. Why, then, should he see your faces dejected-looking in comparison with the children who are of the same age as yours, and why should you have to make my head guilty to the king?” (Daniel 1:10) These were legitimate objections and fears. King Nebuchadnezzar was not one to take no for an answer, and the official realized that his “head” would be in jeopardy if he were to go against the king’s instructions. What would Daniel do?
23. By the course he took, how did Daniel show insight and wisdom?
23 This was where insight and wisdom came into play. Young Daniel probably remembered the proverb: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Proverbs 15:1) Instead of stubbornly insisting that his request be granted and possibly provoking others to make a martyr out of him, Daniel let the matter rest. At the right time, he approached “the guardian,” who was perhaps more willing to allow a little leeway because he was not directly accountable to the king.—Daniel 1:11.
A TEN-DAY TEST PROPOSED
24. What test did Daniel propose?
24 To the guardian, Daniel proposed a test, saying: “Please, put your servants to the test for ten days, and let them give us some vegetables that we may eat and water that we may drink; and let our countenances and the countenance of the children who are eating the delicacies of the king appear before you, and according to what you see do with your servants.”—Daniel 1:12, 13.
25. What probably were included in the “vegetables” served to Daniel and his three friends?
25 Ten days on ‘vegetables and water’—would they become “dejected-looking” as compared with the others? “Vegetables” is translated from a Hebrew word that basically means “seeds.” Certain Bible translations render it as “pulse,” which is defined as “the edible seeds of various leguminous crops (as peas, beans, or lentils).” Some scholars feel that the context indicates a diet including more than just edible seeds. One reference work states: “What Daniel and his companions were requesting was the plain vegetable fare of the general populace rather than the richer, meaty diet of the royal table.” Thus, vegetables could have included nourishing dishes prepared with beans, cucumbers, garlic, leeks, lentils, melons, and onions and bread made from various grains. Surely no one would consider that a starvation diet. Apparently the guardian saw the point. “Finally he listened to them as regards this matter and put them to the test for ten days.” (Daniel 1:14) What was the result?
26. What was the outcome of the ten-day test, and why did matters turn out that way?
26 “At the end of ten days their countenances appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the children who were eating the delicacies of the king.” (Daniel 1:15) This is not to be taken as evidence that a vegetarian diet is superior to a richer, meaty one. Ten days is a short time for any kind of diet to produce tangible results, but it is not too short for Jehovah to accomplish his purpose. “The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it,” says his Word. (Proverbs 10:22) The four young Hebrews put their faith and trust in Jehovah, and he did not abandon them. Centuries later, Jesus Christ survived without food for 40 days. In this regard, he quoted the words found at Deuteronomy 8:3, where we read: “Not by bread alone does man live but by every expression of Jehovah’s mouth does man live.” Of this, the experience of Daniel and his friends is a classic example.
INSIGHT AND WISDOM IN PLACE OF DELICACIES AND WINE
27, 28. In what ways was the regimen to which Daniel and his three friends submitted themselves a preparation for greater things ahead?
27 The ten days were just a test, but the results were most convincing. “So the guardian kept on taking away their delicacies and their drinking wine and giving them vegetables.” (Daniel 1:16) It is not difficult to imagine what the other youths in the training program thought of Daniel and his companions. Turning down a king’s feast for vegetables every day must have seemed very foolish to them. But great tests and trials were looming on the horizon, and these would call for all the alertness and sobriety the young Hebrews could muster. Above all, it was their faith and trust in Jehovah that would see them through their tests of faith.—Compare Joshua 1:7.
28 Evidence that Jehovah was with these young people can be seen in what is next said: “As for these children, the four of them, to them the true God gave knowledge and insight in all writing and wisdom; and Daniel himself had understanding in all sorts of visions and dreams.” (Daniel 1:17) To deal with the difficult times that were coming, they needed more than physical strength and good health. “When wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul, thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way.” (Proverbs 2:10-12) That was precisely what Jehovah bestowed upon the four faithful youths to equip them for what lay ahead.
29. Why was Daniel able to ‘understand all sorts of visions and dreams’?
29 It is stated that Daniel “had understanding in all sorts of visions and dreams.” This is not in the sense that he had become a psychic. Interestingly, though Daniel is regarded as one of the great Hebrew prophets, he was never inspired to utter such declarations as “this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said” or “this is what Jehovah of armies has said.” (Isaiah 28:16; Jeremiah 6:9) Yet, it was only under the guidance of God’s holy spirit that Daniel was able to understand and interpret visions and dreams that revealed Jehovah’s purpose.
FINALLY, THE CRUCIAL TEST
30, 31. How did the course chosen by Daniel and his companions prove beneficial for them?
30 The three years of reeducation and grooming ended. Next came the crucial test—a personal interview with the king. “At the end of the days that the king had said to bring them in, the principal court official also proceeded to bring them in before Nebuchadnezzar.” (Daniel 1:18) It was time for the four youths to render an account of themselves. Would sticking to Jehovah’s laws rather than giving in to Babylonian ways prove beneficial for them?
31 “The king began to speak with them, and out of them all no one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; and they continued to stand before the king.” (Daniel 1:19) What a complete vindication of their course of action for the preceding three years! It had been no madness on their part to stick to a regimen dictated by their faith and conscience. By being faithful in what might have seemed to be least, Daniel and his friends were blessed with greater things. The privilege “to stand before the king” was the objective sought by all the young people in the training program. Whether the four Hebrew youths were the only ones selected, the Bible does not say. In any case, their faithful course did indeed bring them “a large reward.”—Psalm 19:11.
32. Why can it be said that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah enjoyed a privilege greater than being in the king’s court?
32 “Have you beheld a man skillful in his work? Before kings is where he will station himself,” say the Scriptures. (Proverbs 22:29) Thus, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were chosen by Nebuchadnezzar to stand before the king, that is, to be a part of the royal court. In all of this, we can see Jehovah’s hand maneuvering matters so that through these young men—especially through Daniel—important aspects of the divine purpose would be made known. Though being selected to be a part of Nebuchadnezzar’s royal court was an honor, it was a far greater honor to be used in such a marvelous way by the Universal King, Jehovah.
33, 34. (a) Why was the king impressed by the young Hebrews? (b) What lesson can we draw from the experience of the four Hebrews?
33 Nebuchadnezzar soon found out that the wisdom and insight Jehovah had granted the four Hebrew youths was far superior to that possessed by all the counselors and wise men in his court. “As regards every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king inquired about from them, he even got to find them ten times better than all the magic-practicing priests and the conjurers that were in all his royal realm.” (Daniel 1:20) How could it be otherwise? The “magic-practicing priests” and “conjurers” relied on the mundane and superstitious learning of Babylon, whereas Daniel and his friends put their trust in wisdom from above. There simply could be no comparison—no contest!
34 Things really have not changed much down through the ages. In the first century C.E., when Greek philosophy and Roman law were in vogue, the apostle Paul was inspired to write: “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their own cunning.’ And again: ‘Jehovah knows that the reasonings of the wise men are futile.’ Hence let no one be boasting in men.” (1 Corinthians 3:19-21) Today, we need to hold firmly to what Jehovah has taught us and not be easily swayed by the glamour and glitter of the world.—1 John 2:15-17.
FAITHFUL TO THE END
35. How much are we told about Daniel’s three companions?
35 The strong faith of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah is dramatically illustrated in Daniel chapter 3, in connection with Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image on the plain of Dura and the test of the fiery furnace. These God-fearing Hebrews unquestionably remained faithful to Jehovah till their death. We know this because the apostle Paul undoubtedly alluded to them when he wrote about those “who through faith . . . stayed the force of fire.” (Hebrews 11:33, 34) They are outstanding examples for servants of Jehovah, young and old.
36. What outstanding career did Daniel have?
36 As for Daniel 1:21, the closing verse of chapter 1 says: “Daniel continued on until the first year of Cyrus the king.” History reveals that Cyrus overthrew Babylon in one night, in 539 B.C.E. Evidently owing to his reputation and stature, Daniel continued to serve in the court of Cyrus. In fact, Daniel 10:1 tells us that “in the third year of Cyrus the king of Persia,” Jehovah revealed a noteworthy matter to Daniel. If he was a teenager when he was brought to Babylon in 617 B.C.E., he would have been nearly 100 years old when he received that final vision. What a long and blessed career of faithful service to Jehovah!
37. What lessons can we draw from considering Daniel chapter 1?
37 The opening chapter of the book of Daniel tells more than a story of four faithful young people successfully meeting tests of faith. It shows us how Jehovah can use whomever he wishes to accomplish his purpose. The account proves that if permitted by Jehovah, what might seem to be a calamity can serve a useful purpose. And it tells us that faithfulness in little things brings a large reward.
WHAT DID YOU DISCERN?
• What can be said about the background of Daniel and his three young friends?
• How was the fine upbringing of the four Hebrew youths put to the test in Babylon?
• How did Jehovah reward the four Hebrews for their courageous stand?
• What lessons can Jehovah’s present-day servants learn from Daniel and his three companions?
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