Many can testify of their enrolment in the “School of Hard Knocks”. This idiom is used to describe the hardships one receives from the lessons of life. In Daniel 1, we are introduced to a young man who experienced some hard knocks. However, as we read this chapter it becomes evident that despite the horrific hardship he went through, he was actually enrolled in “the School of Sovereign Control”.
In 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, besieged the city of Jerusalem. The king of Judah at the time was Jehoiakim. Nebuchadnezzar took “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” (1:2b). Though this military invasion looked like Babylon was in control and had defeated the Lord, this chapter reveals the Lord is the One in control. This event only occurred because “the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah” into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (1:2).
THE RIGOROUS BABYLONIAN BRAINWASHING (Daniel 1:3-7)
King Nebuchadnezzar had captured a select group amongst the Jewish people. This kidnapping served multiple purposes. Firstly, they were Nebuchadnezzar’s trophies – men of great lineage captured. Secondly, they helped with his Jewish affairs. Capturing young intelligent men of Jewish heritage will help him understand the culture and ways of the Jews. Thirdly, this kidnapping will cause those left in Judah not to revolt. If Judah’s best men were held captive, it certainly would be wise of Judah to submit to Babylonian rule.
The first thing we see is the command (1:3-4a). The king commanded Ashpenaz “to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility” (1:3). Furthermore, they were to be “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” (1:4a). Next, we see the course (1:4b-5). Now that the students had been chosen, enrolments were closed and the course begins. The students would participate in a rigorous three-year training program that would include learning “the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (1:4b). In addition to this “the king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank.” Participation in this would reveal affirmation and companionship with all that the king stood for. In addition to that, it was contrary to Jewish dietary laws to partake of these foods (Lev. 11 and 17). Finally, we are introduced to the class (1:6-7). There were many young men placed into this rigorous training, but 1:6 gives us four names, “Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.” These were four young Jewish boys who will be remembered forever for their courage and unwavering commitment to the Lord. Another part of their training was a name change. Your name represented who you were and what you believed. The name changes mentioned here reveal the brainwashing these men undertook. Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge” received the name “Belteshazzar”, which means “Bel protect his life.” Hananiah, whose name means “Yahweh is gracious” was changed to “Shadrach” meaning “the command of Aku”. Mishael which means, “Who is what God is?” was changed to “Meshach” meaning “who is what Aku is?” And finally, Azariah had his name changed to “Abed-nego” which means “servant of Nebo”. The intention was to convert these Jewish men into Babylonians. But as we will see in a moment in the words of JM Boice, “Nebuchadnezzar changed the men’s names, but he could not change their hearts.”
That is the background and context in which these young men find themselves in. They have lost their homes, families, personal comforts, and identities. How do they respond?
THE RESPONSE OF DANIEL AND HIS FRIENDS (Daniel 1:8-16)
Despite the difficulty Daniel and his three friends experienced, this narrative reveals exceptional character qualities in these young men. What the reader sees is the faithful response to the sovereign working of God. The clear implication in this text is that Daniel knew that he is in Babylon because God has placed him there. It is by God’s doing, regardless of what the human circumstances were. As a result, Daniel and his friends displayed holy resolve (1:8a) and humble resolve (1:8b-16) in all situations. These are the actions of young men who understood the sovereignty of God. With great care and sensitivity Daniel requests that him and three friends are able to avoid the king’s food. He proposes a trial diet for ten days. God moved the heart of Ashpenaz to grant this request (1:14), and at the end of this trial period they looked better and healthier than their peers (1:15). For this reason, Ashpenaz allowed them to continue to do this for the rest of their training (three years). In normal circumstances such a diet would lead to malnutrition, so it must be concluded that, “such reversal of the laws of nutrition would require a miracle.”
THE REPUTATION OF DANIEL AND HIS FRIENDS (Daniel 1:17-21)
As a result of their faithful response to the situation they were in, God granted Daniel and his three friends a good reputation (1:17). At the end of the three-year training program, Ashpenaz presented them to king Nebuchadnezzar (1:18). There was none that even compared with Daniel and his three friends as they were viewed as ten times better than their peers (1:19-20). Regardless of the situation Daniel found himself in, he displayed excellence. He did not complain, drag his feet or put in a halfhearted effort because he didn’t want to be there. Rather, Daniel did his best because he knew that it was the Lord who “gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into” the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. By God’s grace “Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king” (1:21) which extends Daniel’s leadership well into his eighties or even nineties.
- What is the sovereignty of God? See Job 42:2; Psalm 103:19, 115:3; Is. 46:9-10
- What does 1:1-2 teach us about trials, defeat, and hard times?
- How does the doctrine of God’s sovereignty change the way we view situations?
- How do the private actions of Daniel and his three friends prepare them for public actions of faith? (Cf. Daniel 3 & 6).
- What are some principles we can take away from this narrative?
 Boice, James Montgomery. Daniel – An Expositional Commentary, 21
 Archer, Gleeson. “Daniel”, The Expositors Bible Commentary, 36