Daniel 1:3–5, 8–15, 17–21comment (0)
August 30, 2007
By Jim Barnette
Related Scripture: Daniel 1:3–5, 8–15, 17–21
Associate Professor of Religion and Director of Ministerial Formation, Samford University Meeting Cultural Challenges
Daniel 1:3–5, 8–15, 17–21
Expectation of Cultural Assimilation (3–5)
As court official, Ashpenaz had responsibility for the education of the royal princes and for the well-being of the harem. However, he was also commissioned to locate future diplomats from among the nobility. It is likely that Daniel was of royal birth and thus a viable candidate for diplomatic training to serve the king.
The education of Persian youths began in their 14th year, and it is reasonable to assume that the Babylonians commenced the training of young people at about the same age. Daniel would have been about 14 or 15 years old when he was taken into captivity and began his training.
For an Israelite to begin study in Babylonian literature was to enter a completely different worldview. Polytheism, magic, sorcery, charms and astrology all played a prominent role in Babylonian religion. Daniel and the other young men from Jerusalem’s court needed to be secure in their knowledge of Yahweh to be able to study this new literature objectively without allowing it to undermine their faith. Like Daniel, our witness calls for sound study of other faiths so that we might engage effectively with those who espouse those other beliefs.
Drawing the Line (8–15)
“Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” Here the verb for “resolve” means literally “to proceed to put upon one’s heart.” The heart is considered in Hebrew thought to be the controlling organ in a person. Today it would refer to someone’s inner will. Daniel’s act of defiance, then, was an act of his heart.
The king’s food would not have been prepared according to Jewish priestly customs and would include some animals that were regarded as unclean under Hebrew law (Deut. 15). Furthermore the foods and wines had been associated in some way with idolatrous worship. Daniel’s alternative diet of vegetables and water was put to the test for 10 days.
The result of the experiment justified Daniel’s confidence that he and his friends would be healthier and better nourished than those eating the royal food. Even small acts of self-discipline, taken out of loyalty to one’s convictions, bring glory to God and prepare a believer for even more challenging tasks in the future.
Rendering to Society (17–21)
To the four young Israelites, God gave gifts of “knowledge and understanding.” But the writer points out that Daniel had a special gift not possessed by the others. The young prophet had been endowed with the ability to “understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” Dream interpretation was an esteemed talent in Babylonian culture. That Daniel had this gift was most providential, as his later interpretations make a profound impression on the king. More significantly, Daniel’s gift serves to further the purposes of the God whom he serves.
Daniel and his friends offered service to the king that was “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in the whole kingdom.” Most magicians were protective and benevolent, but there were some unofficial sorcerers who dealt in black magic and were supposedly in league with evil forces. Those mentioned here were of the former stripe, seeking to protect the king and his subjects from various evils. Enchanters with their magic spells and incantations were believed to communicate with the spirit world. The godly service offered by the Israelite youths was far superior to their cohorts, and their superior ministries furthered the purposes of Yahweh.
That Daniel “remained there until the first year of King Cyrus” suggests that the prophet lived a long life, perhaps up to 85 or 90 years (c. 620–535 B.C.). How fortunate that today’s church still has “Daniels” who, through their many years of service, bring glory to the Lord. The prophetic work of senior adults remains one of the shining witnesses of the Kingdom.
Associate Professor of Religion and Director of Ministerial Formation, Samford University
Meeting Cultural Challenges