{Old Testament History}

Exile and Return
Daniel of Babylon

Daniel was a young man of noble descent and high physical and intellectual endowments when Jehoiakim came to the throne of Judah. He was probably born during the reign of Josiah, and his home appears to have been one in which the Law of the Lord was honored. During the years when idolatry ran rampant, following Josiah's death, Daniel was to form the attitudes of faithfulness to his God which would help him to meet the later tempations of idolatrous Babylon. In Daniel's youth he learned of the fall of Nineveh, a fact which changed the course of history and made the Babylonians the new masters of western Asia.

The Book of Daniel tells is that Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem during the third year of Jehoiakim's reign. The siege was successful, and Jehoiakim gave the Babylonian king temple treasures which were taken to Babylon. More important, however, was the fact that Nebuchadnezzar ordered that a number of young men of good families who were physically strong and intellectually of high caliber, be transported to Babylon where they might serve him in an official capacity. This was an act of wisdom on Nebuchadnezzar's part. Taking the best youths of Jerusalem would weaken the state of Judah, and thus reduce its potential for rebellion. If he could win the loyalty of these young men, Babylon itself would be the stronger for their presence.

The treatment accorded Daniel and his companions, who were taken to Babylon at Nebuchadnezzar's command, is comparable to modern techniques of "brain washing." These lads were not subjected to torture. They were, instead, given every encouragement to forget part loyalties and become well-integrated Babylonians.

The names which the Judaean lads bore were indicative of their Jewish origin. Daniel means, "God is my judge." His three companions bore names meaning, "Yahweh is gracious," (Hananiah); "Who is what God is?" (Mishael), and "Yahweh has helped" (Azariah). In each instance the Babylonian substitute name removed the reference to Israel's God - El (Elohim), or Yahweh (Daniel 1:7).

Daniel became Belteshazzar, a name which appears in Babylonian documents as Balatsu-usur ("Protect his life!"). Hananiah became Shadrach (perhaps Shadur-Aku, "the command of Aku" a name for the Babylonian moon god). Shadrach may be an intentional corruption of the name of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon. Mishael's Babylonian name, Meshach, seems to correspond to his Hebrew name. Babylonian Meshach may mean "Who is what Aku is?" although scholars are not certain of its derivation. Azariah's Babylonian name, Abed-nego, however, follows a common pattern in Semitic languages. A man is considered to be a servant of his god, hence the term "servant" is common in Semitic names. Abed-nego means "servant of Nego," a corruption of "servant of Nebo," the popular Babylonian god whose name appears in that of the king Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonian, Nebu-kudurru-usur, "Nabu, establish the boundary!"). The Scriptures contain several names which are compounds of abed: Obadiah "Servant of Yahweh," and Ebed-melech, "Servant of (the god) Melech." The term servant or slave speaks of one who is a worshiper of his deity. The common Moslem name Abdullah ("slave {or worshiper} of Allah") is based on the same pattern.

The assigning of new names to people who enter new cultural (and, particularly, political) situations was relatively common in the ancient world. Joseph, in Egypt, was assigned the name Zaph-nath-paaneah (Genesis 41:45). Other Jews in Babylon bore such distinctly pagan names as Zer-Babili (Zerubbabel), "the seed of Babylon," and Marduka (Mordecai), the name of the god of Babylon. It is significant that the Hebrew youths did not make an issue of the change in name imposed upon them. Usually, however, the Book of Daniel refers to them by their Jewish names.

An important element in the preparation of the youths for service to Babylon was the training program in which they were enrolled. At the time of choosing suitable youths for Nebuchadnezzar's purposes it was determined that they must be "skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning." It was the king's purpose "the teach them the letters and language of the Chaldeans" (Daniel 1:4).

Preliminary to studying the religion, science, and cultural traditions of the Babylonian people, Daniel and his companions had to learn to read and write the language which we now term Akkadian. This was written in cuneiform characters impressed on clay tablets. These hundreds of signs, in part pictographs and in part syllables, had been in use since Sumerian times.1

A third part of the acculturation of the Hebrew youths was in the matter of diet, for: "the king assigned them a daily portion of the rich food which the king ate, and of the wine which he drank" (Daniel 1:5). From the Babylonian viewpoint this was a gracious act. Captive youths had come from many places, and the living standards of most would be far inferior to that of Babylon. They should be grateful for such treatment as the king now provided. They would enjoy meals truly "fit for a king."

Yet, strange as it many seem to us, it is precisely here that Daniel and his companions drew the line. The names and the schooling were accepted in good grace, but "Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself" (Daniel 1:8) in the matter of eating the king's food. The Law of Moses contained explicit commands concerning clean and unclean foods, and Daniel knew that the Babylonian kitchens cared nothing for the Levitical regulations. The gods of Babylon would be invoked at these Babylonian festivities, and Daniel could not conscientiously take part in them.

The manner in which Daniel sought release from the obligation to eat the royal meals explains in part his effectiveness in a heathen court. Daniel quietly approached the steward who was responsible for the care of the lads. He suggested a ten-day testing period during which a vegetable diet might be eaten and water drunk (Daniel 1:11-13). The four youths would then be examined by the steward who could determine for himself if they were physically weaker than those who ate the royal dainties. When the time came, Daniel and his friends were found to be "better in appearance and fatter in flesh" than those who had eaten the meals provided by the king (Daniel 1:15). The steward being convinced that it was safe to permit the Hebrew lads to continue their vegetable diet, the pressure to conform was relieved. During the three-year training period the young men were not molested again.

When Nebuchadnezzar dreamed, and forgot his dream, none of the wise men of Babylon could help him (Daniel 2:1-11). It was Daniel who, under God, was able to tell Nebuchadnezzar both the dream and its interpretation (Daniel 2:12-45). Nebuchadnezzar had seen a large image, the parts of which were made of different metals: "The head of this image was of fine gold, its breast and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay" (Daniel 2:32-33). A stone struck the top-heavy image, totally destroying it. The stone, however, grew until it filled the whole earth.

In interpreting the dream, Daniel told the king that the image represented a series of world powers. The head of gold represented Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian kingdom. Babylon would be succeeded by three kings, becoming successively inferior. At the close of this period of world empire, "the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people" (Daniel 2:44). Daniel clearly assers that God is to have the last word on the human scene, and that Nebuchadnezzar and all that should follow him indulged in a transient glory.

The king recognized his dream, and honored Daniel for his ability in interpreting it. Daniel was made governor of the province of Babylon and chief prefect over the wise men of the land. He occupied a place at the royal court (Daniel 2:48-49). The king also honored Daniel's God, recognizing that He had enabled Daniel to become the interpreter of the dream (Daniel 2:46-47).

Nebuchadnezzar saw in a second dream a great tree which reached to heaven. The tree was then cut down with only its stump remaining. This was bound with a band of iron and left with the grass of the field. A second time Daniel was able to interpret the king's dream. The great tree was Nebuchadnezzar himself. As the tree was cut down, so Daniel assured the king that he would be humbled. Daniel predicted that Nebuchadnezzar would become insane and live like the beasts of the field until he would give glory to God (Daniel 4:1-27). A year later, as Nebuchadnezzar was boasting about his accomplishments,2 Daniel's interpretation of the dream proved correct. Nebuchadnezzar "ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws" (Daniel 4:33). His insanity continued until he ascribed glory to the Most High (Daniel 4:34-35). Then his reason returned and he honored the God of Daniel as King of Heaven (Daniel 4:37).

We read no more of Daniel until the reign of Belshazzar.3 As the Persians were marching upon Babylon, Belshazzar prepared a great feast for his loyal courtiers. In his impiety, the king drank wine from the very vessels which had once been used in the Temple at Jerusalem (Daniel 5:3). Suddenly God spoke in judgement. The fingers of a hand were visible at the wall of the chamber. They wrote an inscription on the plaster and Belshazzar was terrified. As in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, the wise men of the realm were called in but they were unable to decipher the strange writing. Remembering that Daniel had shown supernatural wisdom in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, the queen suggested that he be asked to read and interpret the mysterious writing. Daniel, spurning any idea of reward, reminded Belshazzar of the way in which Nebuchadnezzar had been humbled by God (Daniel 5:17-21). Belshazzar had not profited by his knowledge of God's dealings with Nebuchadnezzar, but instead had defied the Lord (Daniel 5:22-23).

Daniel read the words on the palace wall: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. These words could represent Babylonian weights - "a mana, a mana, a shekel, and a half-shekel." The also could be interpreted as verbs - "numbered, numbered, weighed, and divided." It was in the latter sense that Daniel interpreted the words. The days of Belshazzar's kingdom were numbered. He was weighed in the balances and found wanting. His kingdom was divided and given to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:25-28). The word "Peres" (singular of parsin) would also bring to mind the Persians whose kingdom would supplant that of the Babylonians.

On that very night the Persian armies entered the city of Babylon. Belshazzar was slain and the Neo-Babylonian Empire was at an end. The city of Babylon was not destroyed, however. Cyrus was soon to enter the city and be proclaimed as its deliverer form the misrule of Nabonidus and Belshazzar.4

Daniel was not a minister to the people, as was Ezekiel, but he did represent the claims of Israel's God before the Babylonian court. His efficient sevice and his pious example proved an effective testimony. The Persian conquerers preserved much of the governmental structure of their predecessors, and Daniel appears to have continued his official tasks (Daniel 6:1-4). The other officials grew jealous of the power vested in Daniel and determined to get rid of him. They knew that he was faithful in his official functions, so they contrived a plot to have him killed on religious grounds. They appealed to the Persian ruler, Darius5, suggesting that he issue an edict forbidding prayers to any but the king for a thirty-day period (Daniel 6:6-9). Any who would presume to disobey would be cast into a den of lions.

As they expected, Daniel paid no attention to the edict. Regularly, three times a day, he turned toward Jerusalem in prayer (Daniel 6:10). Darius was unhappy at the thought of casting his faithful courtier to the lions, but the edict could not be changed (Daniel 6:14). Daniel did not flinch. He was cast to the lion, but Darius seems to have spent more of a restless night than he (Daniel 6:18). God protected his faithful servant and, the next morning, his accusers were cast to the lions (Daniel 6:19-24). Darius, like Nebuchadnezzar, honored the God of Daniel (Daniel 6:25-28).

We know nothing about the close of Daniel's life. He lived through the entire period of the Exile and, while he did not return to Jerusalem, it was uppermost in his thoughts. He studied the prophesies of Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2) and prayed that God might restore the people to their city: "O my God, incline thy ear and hear; open thy eyes and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name; for we do not present our supplications before thee on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of thy great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive, give heed and act; delay not, for thy own sake, O my God, because thy city and thy people are called by thy name" (Daniel 9:18-19).

Babylon's Last Kings < | Daniel of Babylon | > Ezekiel and the Exiles

{Old Testament History}

1See The Wisdom of the Babylonians.

2See The Crises of Exile; Daniel 4:30.

3See Babylon's Last Kings.

4See Return From Exile.

5The identity of "Darius the Mede" is a vexing historical problem. See John C. Whitcomb, Darius the Mede, for a proposed solution.