This post tries to focus on some of the things not mentioned in the sermons on Daniel 1 & 2 available elsewhere on this website (2013 sermons). It also assumes that you have the handout linked on the previous post about Daniel (”The Unity of Daniel”).
Daniel 1 opens and closes with comments about the historical setting of this introduction to the book. Daniel spans from Babylonian exile to the Persian post-exilic situation. Daniel 1 begins with a description of the exile – King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jersualem and laid siege to it and God gave Jehoiakim king of Judah to Nebuchadnezzar along with some of the vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar brought to the land of Shinar (another term for Babylon) to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Now Nebuchadnezzar was interpreting this victory as a victory of himself and his own god over Israel and her God. This is why Nebuchadnezzar took the vessels and put them in the treasury of his god. But the text of Daniel interprets the same evidence with the key words, ”the Lord gave.” This is an important theme in the chapter since not only does it say, ”the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God,” (Dan 1:2) but also, ”God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs,” (Dan 1:9), and ”God gave them…wisdom” (Dan 1:17). Notice in the chapter outline that I have supplied to you that these are the following placements of these statements that the Lord/God gave: A, B’, and D’. Now for A-D, which pair is missing the ”God gave” phrase? C Thus the outline suggests that we understand that just as God gave Jehoiakim and some vessels from the temple into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand, gave Daniel favor in the eyes of the chief of the eunuchs, and gave wisdom to Daniel and his three friends, so too he gave the four strength when they only ate veggies and drank water. The veggies did not give them strength – God gave them strength.
Returning to the A and A’ portions of our outline: Daniel 1 ends, ”And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.” Thus the way that Daniel 1 begins and ends serves to frame the chapter with the historical setting of Babylonian exile under Nebuchadnezzar and his successors and then the post-exilic period represented by the Persian king Cyrus.
The B and B’ parts of Daniel 1 concern the re-education of Daniel and his three friends. How this relates to the veggies and water is clear in the C and C’ parts of Daniel 1. In the outline under C the four are tested for 3 years regarding Babylonian wisdom, literature, language, and the like and under C’ the four are tested for 10 days with veggies and water. The fact that they passed the 10 day test with flying colors suggests that they will pass also the three year test with flying colors. Indeed B’ says, ”In every matter of wisdom and understanding he found them 10 times better than the magicians and enchanters.”
It is also important to note that already in Daniel 1 numbers have taken on a symbolic role. The number 10 is clearly said symbolically in B’ – ten times better. There the number 10 has the normal significance of full. Also the three friends are tested for 10 days and for 3 years – not likely accidental numbers to mention. It is also no accident that Nebuchadnezzar is looking for ”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, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Dan 1:4). The Chaldeans were the ruling tribe of the Babylonian empire. This part of the list begins, ”without blemish” reminding us of what God seeks in a sacrificial animal. It also points us to the concern about not becoming defiled.
In many ways these youths were the best and the brightest of the southern kingdom. They were also of the political ruling class. Daniel and his three friends were taken from the royal family and the nobility – the ESV says that the former is literally ”of the seed of the kingdom.” And God honored them by giving them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. This was the case so much so that we can expect Daniel and his friends to be second and third in the kingdom after only King Nebuchadnezzar.
It is also highly significant that these four are listed in this passage with their Hebrew names three times, including twice after receiving Babylonian names: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Dan 1:6, Dan 1:11, and Dan 1:19). The verse changing their names says, ”And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego” (Dan 1:7). I mentioned in my sermon the significance of their names before and after, but it is important that they continue to be called by these Hebrew names. All four Hebrew names are mentioned, as seen in the outline, in C and C’, D and B’. Thus the list of four names are parallel in C and C’ but only found in one half or the other of D and B. The priority of Daniel among the four is clear not only because his name is always given first of the four and because he is singled out to understand visions and dreams but also because the climax of the chapter only mentions Daniel in the climax of the chiasm and in D’ even though all four went without the king’s food and wine.
The major debate about Daniel 1 is why Daniel and his friends did not want to eat the king’s food and wine. Some think it is because they were trying to keep kosher, but that would not explain abstaining from wine. Some think they were trying to avoid eating meat sacrificed to Babylonian gods, but vegetables also could have been dedicated to Babylonian gods before being served. A better guess might be that they did not want to be extended table fellowship by a Gentile king since Jews would not eat with Gentiles, though that does not explain it all either. We know that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but the Jewish people have a long tradition of separating themselves from the Gentiles. This tradition builds on those laws found in Leviticus including the kinds of foods they could eat. Later the only lawful place to get meat would be in Jersualem since it would have been butchered by a priest. However, in a new setting they had to find a new way of being different. They were no longer able to keep kosher, they would be hard-pressed to find food not dedicated to Babylonian deities, and they were far from Jerusalem. What is clear is that God honored Daniel and his friends because Daniel had resolved to honor Him. He honored them with strength despite their diet but more importantly also with learning and skill in all literature and wisdom.
Daniel 2 also begins and ends with the historical setting for the chapter. Already then we can expect verses of historical setting to be a common inclusio marking off chapters in the Daniel court narratives. Daniel 2:1 says, ”In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams…” and Daniel 2:48-49 tell us of the promotions of Daniel and his three friends. The opening and closing of the chapter already shows the contrast of Daniel and his friends and ”the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans” (Dan 2:2). At the opening of the chapter these wise men were summoned to tell the king his dreams and they came in and stood before the king (again see Dan 2:2). At the end of the chapter Daniel has become chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon, his friends have been appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon, but the chapter ends, ”But Daniel remained at the king’s court.” In other words, now Daniel stands before the king.
The second scene shows the king speaking to the wise men, ”I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream” (Dan 2:3). He wants the wise men to tell him what he dreamed as well as to tell him what it means. So the Chaldeans reponded in Aramaic, and at this point the text shifts from Hebrew to Aramaic until the end of Daniel 7 (the parallel chapter to this one), with the standard blessing, ”O king, live forever!” Then they proceed to ask the king to tell them the dream and they will give him the interpretation. But the king will not have any of it. The king responds with the language that sounds like a curse: ”if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins” (Dan 2:5). He also then promises the opposite blessings if they can show him the dream AND its interpretation. The wise men responded a second time asking for the dream and telling him they can interpret it. However, the king is not pleased. So he asks a third time for them to tell him the dream. The reason that Nebuchadnezzar insists is clear from the third request – if they can tell him the content of the dream then he can trust their interpretation of the dream. This then is purposefully contrasted in the passage with Daniel, whom we were told in the introduction ”had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Dan 1:17).
It is also true that both the interaction between the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and Chaldeans on the one hand and Nebuchadnezzar on the other hand follows roughly the same outline as the interaction between Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar. Just as they were brought in before Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:2) so too Daniel was brought in before the king (Dan 2:24ff). And to fast forward to the end of each section just as Daniel blessed God (Dan 2:19ff) so too the king blessed God (Dan 2:47ff).
Other than the contrast between the Chaldeans asking the king to tell them the dream and then they will tell the interpretation and Daniel telling both the dream and its interpretation, the other major contrast is between the Chaldeans cry of desperation that there is no man on earth who can do what the king is asking and Daniel’s similar statement. These two statements show very different views of the divine. The Chaldeans think that the gods could answer the question but they do not dwell with flesh and their arts are unable to divine the answer from those gods. Daniel says that the religious practices of the Chaldeans cannot divine the answer, on that much he agrees, but he says that there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. Thus the true God can both be transcendent and immanent, but not the Babylonian deities. Perhaps the most surprising thing for the Jewish people is that God revealed these mysteries to a heathen king like Nebuchadnezzar.