Draw the Line

Many of the historical circumstances and character traits that one finds in the book of Daniel resonate with the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Captivity, favor, test of character, loss of status and in danger of death, restoration to favor, prophecy about the future of Israel are common themes. These themes will often prove to be paradigms for living out redemption from sin in a world still under the curse.

I. The Historical Context – 1:1, 2

A. The invasion and captivity in the time of Jehoiakim – 2 Chronicles 36:4-8; 2 Kings 13:36-24:6.

1. Jehoiakim was son of Josiah. His original name was Eliakim and Pharaoh Neco changed it to Jehoiakim. Neco put the land under tribute during about 8 of the 11 years reign of Jehoiakim.

2. Nebuchadnezzar neutralized the power of Egypt and conquered Jerusalem and subdued Jehoiakim to service for three years when Jehoiakim rebelled.

3. A variety of raids took place, destroying Jerusalem and finally Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachim into exile bound in chains.

4. “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”

B. God gave Nebuchadnezzar victory – 2 Kings 24:2, 3 reads, “And the Lord sent against him [Jehoiakim] bands of Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites . . . according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord.”

1. The king was in the control of Nebuchadnezzar. His capture was the culmination of a series of evil reigns epitomized by Manasseh who filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. See 2 Kings 21:1-18; 23:26-27; 24:3, 4; 2 Chronicles 33:9. Though Manasseh repented and was restored to Jerusalem after a brief time of captivity, the devastation of his moral influence in the earlier part of his reign could not be reversed in the life of the nation. Even as in the case of David with Uriah and Bathsheba, the grace of personal forgiveness does not eliminate the extended effects of disobedience in a culture.

2. Some of the vessels from the Lord’s house were placed in the treasury of a false God.

3. God removed from them the trappings that constituted part of their ordained worship. All opportunity to worship God is a matter of grace given by God to whom he will. Just as he removed the vessels from the Lord’s house, so he may remove from any nation or people, or hide from them, the preaching of the word of God. (Amos 8:11, 12)

II. The King’s Desire – verses 3-7

A. The king also wanted full advantage of the intellectual treasures of Judah. He selected those from the most advantaged families, that had the most attractive appearance, and who demonstrated present competence in the learning and wisdom of Israel as well as a continuing desire for more thorough knowledge. These would be the most likely to advance rapidly in the knowledge of the Chaldeans and their resultant diversity of knowledge would give them a comprehensive grasp of history, political theory, the impact of religion and culture on the social habits and loyalties of a people. They would become invaluable advisers for such an ambitious king as was Nebuchadnezzar. They were to be seen as “competent to stand in the king’s palace.”

B. They were to be given every advantage in learning – Both the language and the literature of the Chaldeans constituted their curriculum so that they would surpass all others in their ability maturely to consider what courses of action would be advisable for a wise ruler.

C. They were to be treated in a royal fashion in their diet.- Naturally, this pagan king felt that the sumptuous diet with which he entertained himself each day would be good for those that were to be so trained. After three years of education and living in the royal style, fully acculturating them to the ways of Babylon, they were to be brought before the king for testing.

D. They were given new names – Among those selected were the four young men that have since then become synonymous with brave loyalty to the truth as revealed by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, all of the tribe of Judah were given new names, further to identify them with the interests of Babylon.

III. Daniel’s Resolution – verses 8-16

A. Daniel resisted both the meat of the table as well as the wine.

1. The meat probably contained the fat that was forbidden (Leviticus 3:17}or might included pork.  The wine was not good for those that were to be trained in matters of important political policy and to be astute in pursuing justice among a people (Proverbs 31:4-9).

2. God intervened and caused the royal eunuch to listen to Daniel though it was a dangerous concession for him. We must have a keen sense of the divine will operating working in accordance with his own decrees even in the condition of exile. The Eunuch expressed how dangerous it would be not to follow the king’s orders when Daniel and his three cohorts proved to be “in a worse condition than the youths who are of your own age.”

B. A wise perception of end in relation to means.

1. Daniel knew that the purpose was that they might be fit both in body and in learning. Without requiring the eunuch to forsake the ultimate goal, he proposed a temporary trial of ten days to ascertain if his suggestion might work as well or better than the scheme proposed. The king wanted fit and fine-fettled young men, mentally sharp and thoroughly educated to serve as important counselors. Daniel did not see any wrong in the goal but felt that he must follow the revealed wisdom of Yahweh in achieving it. There are occasions when substituting alternate means to achieve an end could be both dangerous and disobedient. Such seems to have been the case with Eve in Genesis 3:5, 6. In truth there was no alternate means of achieving God-likeness in wisdom other than a long course of perfect obedience to the all-wise Creator. In this case, however, the alternate means was the moral wisdom of God as opposed to the culturally-contrived practices of a pagan court. Daniel’s suggestion accomplished honor to the king as well as obedience to God.

2. At the end of the ten day trial, Daniel and Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were clearly on a trajectory toward better health and fitness than the others. Their regimen, therefore, was established in accordance with their own request.

5. It is significant that this first stance of these Hebrews of faith went well and involved their ability to be resolute in conviction with no negative repercussions in the eyes of the authorities. That their faith was not dependent on walking in silver slippers would be demonstrated later in life-threatening circumstances, and their clear perception of the glory and the sovereign presence of Yahweh was undiminished.

IV. The Divine Blessing

A. God’s granting of great learning capacity and also supernatural insight – 17

1. The text makes clear that their superior performance was the immediate blessing of God. Their rapid and remarkable advancement in learning and skill under the tutelage of the instructors provided by the steward came from God’s granting of an accelerated learning and retention capacity.

We recognize the massive variety of types of life that God has created. Only one of his incomprehensible number and types of creatures is endowed with his own rational and moral image. Only human beings, descended generation after generation from Adam and Eve have the combination of extended empirical observation connected with reflective capacity, rational discourse and construction of argument, self-consciousness in relation to other types of beings, and voluntary moral agency based on affections in conjunction with understanding.

Isaiah 28:23-29 illustrates this strikingly in showing how rational and easily instructed we are in natural things as opposed to our resistance to the moral and redemptive truths revealed by God through his spokesmen (14, 15). Given the scene of planting grain for the greatest yield and  harvesting it and preparing it for the most efficient usefulness, the text observes, “For he is rightly instructed; his God teaches him;” (26) and again, “This also come from the Lord of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom.” (29) Even in such universally practiced tasks as agricultural labor and productive distribution, God operates to give wisdom.

Based on those natural God-given gifts, God has also distinguished between all of those so blessed with differing expansiveness of clarity and consistent functioning in all of these distinctive human traits. In addition to that, God gives his immediate aid in specific tasks to which we might be called in unique situations.

2. The sovereign prerogative of God in granting all gifts of every type is highlighted in his giving to Daniel, not to the other three, “understanding in all visions and dreams.” “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7; also see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 for a statement of the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in his distribution of gifts in the apostolic church when revelation was needed for the appropriate organization and functioning of the newly established new covenant people of God.)

B. The King’s observation of their superiority 18-21

1. At the appropriate time, the king summoned the young men designated as future counselors, and the chief eunuch, apparently without any fear of having failed, brought them before the king.

2. Upon questioning by the king in matters that concerned him, he found Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah far beyond the rest in wisdom on these issues. They were given, therefore, peculiar investment of access and trust in the matters of state. “They stood before the king.”

3. Even beyond all the others that had developed special skills (perhaps with the aid of demonic forces) and had been for their lifetime knowledgeable of the culture of Babylon and the propensities of the king, these young and newly-taught Hebrews excelled immensely.

V.  Doctrinal and Practical Assumptions embedded within the text

1. We see the sovereignty of God expressed both in large events as well as highly individualized moments and relations. His providence extends to the actions of the worldly as well as his special merciful providences toward his people.

2. By training our minds to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14), we can discern between that which is lawful in the culture of the world and that which is unlawful. We can apply ourselves to every legitimate gift that God has put within this world for the development of mind, heart, and health and the enjoyment of edifying and joyful friendship while excusing ourselves from those things that would spoil our spiritual life, pervert the proper use of common gifts, interrupt the development of expertise in our particular calling.

3. We will often be faced with potential conflict between conscience and personal advantage. Favors granted by the world can cause us to lose footing so as not to lose that favor and the advantages it brings. The power of a surpassing affection for truth, the glory of God, and the excellence of the Redeemer will drive us toward laying up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.

4. There is neither special talent, nor advantage from ordinary experience and common educational progress that does not come from the hand of God.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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