When the Jews were taken into captivity, they had three options: violently resist; mourn; or make the most of it. Jeremiah encouraged the people to make the most of the time they had (Jer. 29:5-7). The same could be said of others in this situation (Joseph, Esther).
Daniel is a great example of being in the culture but not of the culture (John 17:15-17). He is presented as someone of unusual wisdom (cf. Dan. 28:3), one we can learn from as we try to make the most of living as exiles (1 Peter 2:11).
But of course the most important lesson to learn from this chapter is the theme of the book itself. God is in control of history, as 1:2, 9, 17 emphasize (“God gave”).
I. The Deportation of the Hebrew Children (1:1-7)
A. Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign (1:1-2)
1. Dated in “third year of the reign of Jehoiakim” (1:1a).
a) Fourth year in Jer. 25:1.
b) Resolution is that Daniel is using the Babylonian method of counting which considered the first year the “accession year,” the second year was counted as year one, and so on. Jeremiah uses the Judean method, which counted year one as the first year.
c) This would be 605 BC, the first stage of the captivity.
2. Besieged Jerusalem (1:1b), see 2 Chron. 36:5-8.
3. “The Lord (Adonai) gave Jehoiakim into his hand” (1:2a).
a) God’s control of history is theme of this book (see 1:9, 17).
b) Later in 9:7ff Daniel acknowledges that God allowed this to happen because the nation violated its convenant.
4. Some of the vessels of the temple were taken back to the temple in Babylon (1:2b).
a) “Shinar,” an ancient name for Babylon (Gen. 11:2).
b) These vessels reappear in the story in 5:2-3 (and again in Ezra 1:7; 6:5).
B. The Hebrew children (1:3-7).
1. Nebuchadnezzar gave orders to take some of the royal family and nobility (1:3-4).
a) Served a dual purpose: essentially became hostages, giving the Babylonians leverage in case Judah rebelled; and would be use tools for diplomacy.
b) The fact that Ashpenaz, “chief eunuch” (1:3), was given charge may imply the boys were to become eunuchs, as Isaiah prophesied (Isa. 39:6-7).
c) They were to be the cream of the crop in every way (1:4).
2. The youths were immersed in Babylonian culture (1:5-7).
a) Diet, education (1:5).
b) New names (1:6-7), which was a common practice in the ancient world (Gen. 41:45; Esther 2:7).
(1) Daniel (God is my Judge) – Belteshazzar (Lady of Bel protect the king)
(2) Hananiah (Yahweh is gracious) – Shadrach (fearful of God or command of Aku)
(3) Mishael (Who is what God is?) – Meshach (I am of little account or who is like Aku?)
(4) Azariah (Yahweh is a helper) – Abednego (servant of Nebo).
II. The Test of Food (1:8-16)
A. Daniel’s resolve (1:8).
1. Daniel did not want to defile himself with the king’s food or wine.
a) Kosher (cf. Lev. 11)? Maybe, but Daniel did not want to drink the wine, which was allowed under the Law.
b) Idolatry (1 Cor. 10:18-20)? Maybe, but even the vegetables would be offered to pagan gods.
c) Identity? Perhaps Daniel wanted to reserve one part of his life from Babylonian influence so that he would not become completely defiled as a pagan.
B. The test (1:9-14).
1. God gave Daniel compassion in the sight of Ashpenaz, who wanted to help Daniel but did not want to jeopardize his health or standing the king’s eyes (1:9-10).
2. Daniel proposed a test for ten days of vegetables and water (1:11-14).
3. At the end of the ten days the boys were better and fatter, so the steward (KJV “Melsar”) continued the diet (1:15-16).
4. Note: this was apparently a temporary diet (cf. 10:3).
III. The Development of the Hebrew Children (1:17-21)
A. Once again, “God gave” them success (1:17-18).
1. They all excel in education, and Daniel especially excels in “visions and dreams,” much like Joseph in Egypt (1:17).
2. 1:18 indicates they were at the top of their class (which later leads to appointment to high office (2:48-49).
B. Service to the king (1:19-21).
1. “They stood before the king,” indicating access to the court (1:19).
2. They were “ten times better” than the other young men (1:20).
3. Daniel even outlasted the Babylonians, serving even their successors, the Persians (1:21; cf. 10:1).