Chapter 1 Daniel And His Friends

Jeremiah had told Jehoiakim, king of Judah, of the imminent deliverance of Judah and Jerusalem into the hand of the king of Babylon (Jer. 27:5-11). In accordance with this prophecy Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem the first time (606 B.C.), and Daniel, with other captives, was taken to Babylon. Isaiah had spoken of this long before when he said to King Hezekiah, “Of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (Isa. 39:7). Nebuchadnezzar made a second invasion eight years later (598 B.C.) at which time he came to Jerusalem and carried Jehoiakim in fetters to Babylon (II Chron. 36:5-7). Jeremiah warned the next king, Zedekiah, of impending judgment from Babylon (Jer. 34:2-5), and in accordance with this Nebuchadnezzar came the third time (587 B.C.), eleven years after the previous visit. He took Zedekiah to Babylon after first slaying his sons before his eyes and then putting out those eyes forever (II Kings 25:1-7).

Jerusalem was trodden down by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies; the temple and the city were burned with fire (II Kings 25:9). Thus the times of the Gentiles had their inception about 600 B.C. and have continued ever since. Here only a small number of Israelites, comparatively speaking, were carried away. But later on, under the Romans, the whole nation was driven out and scattered. As Luke 21:24 predicted, many thousands of Jews fell by the edge of the sword, others were led away captive into all nations, and Jerusalem has been trodden down of the Gentiles. This dispersion took place in A.D. 70. And the end is not yet. For, though Israel is again a nation in her own land, yet the most awful “treading down” is awaiting God’s ancient people in the great tribulation now probably near at hand. Not until that is past shall the “times of the Gentiles” come to an end.

Daniel was probably of royal blood, of “the king’s seed” (v. 3). He was an attractive young lad, well educated, and fit to stand in the presence of the king. Praise God, the same is true of every believer in Jesus, in our God’s sight anyway, and that’s what counts. The Holy Spirit indwelling guarantees a true education and imparts true wisdom; it also enables the believer to live a blameless life, fit to stand in the presence of the King of kings. It also fits him to render efficient and acceptable service to his Lord. All that’s needed more is what Daniel had—“purpose of heart.” He had plenty of that and so should we!

Daniel and his companions had to be trained for three years. In the service of the king proper qualification is of vital importance; this is so in the service of our King. They were given the king’s meat and the king’s wine, but they refused it. It came from the wrong king. The believer can feast upon the King’s meat—the rich provision found in God’s precious Word —for the believer should know how to chew his food, not swallow down everything he hears (Heb. 5:12-14). And we can feast, and should do so, upon the “King’s wine,” for the joy of the Lord should fill our souls. How fair and fat we’d look if we did; how prosperous we’d be spiritually.

Look at these four young men— Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge”; Hananiah, “Beloved of the Lord”; Mishael, “Who is like God?”; and Azariah, “The Lord is my help.” Such lovely names, and how these young men were to need the spiritual strength their names suggest in the fearful days ahead. They were to prove that they were truly beloved of the Lord, that there is no god like their God, and that He would be their help in time of need. But we learn here that even as the Lord gives me a new name when I am saved by His grace and I get a blessed change from sinner to saint, so the devil works at that too; he believes in the change of one’s name. Each of these four young men was given a new name connected with heathen and idolatrous worship, no doubt with the intent of making them live up to these new names, and forgetting all about this God of Israel (so weak that He could not keep them out of bondage). But the sequel proved that such hope was in vain. These young fellows wouldn’t live up to their new names, but reveled in the power and the glory of their real names. They did not dishonor the names God had given them, and may we have the courage to be true to the new name we have received—true to the Christ Whose name we bear. May we uphold its glory everywhere we go!

Daniel and his friends had faith, but God always will test faith; the trial of faith is an experience every believer passes through. When the test came Daniel purposed that “he would not.” It’s great to be able to say “No.” We are told in Titus 2:12 to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and this word “deny” means to “say no.” Not to be able to say “no” emphatically is a very serious fault in Christian character. Daniel apparently took the lead in this decision, as he did on other occasions as found in this book. It is a fine thing for one to set the example, to be a leader, that others may have the courage to follow. Daniel purposed in his heart. It was not just a question of nonconformity; no, it was a stand taken from a deep sense of what was due to God and His honor. He could not eat the meat and drink the wine, because God’s Word had forbidden it to him. It may well have been meat offered to idols or meat that was unclean to a Jew and strictly forbidden by the law. Daniel did not bluntly refuse to obey the king’s command, but he requested leave to refrain, and we may be sure he had prayed earnestly that the Lord would incline the one in charge to grant his request. Verse nine says that God had brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs; how lovely to see this. How wonderful when our lives are so that even those who do not know the Savior recognize that there is something extra special about us.

When Melzar, under whose charge they were, speaks of his fears for his own life, Daniel asks for a test. He is ready to have his faith put to the proof; his confidence is in God, and of course it was not misplaced. God loves to have us put Him to the test, as He puts us. “Give us pulse to eat and water to drink,” said Daniel. They tell us that pulse was a vegetable dish, probably peas and/or beans. That kind of diet would not suit us today; we’re so used to our luscious meals, much of which we would be better off without. I’m afraid many of us haven’t enough Christian fortitude to deny ourselves such trifling things as eatables; much less are we willing to suffer in more serious matters for Christ’s sake. Our faith and courage are pretty weak-kneed, I’m afraid.

Daniel had courage and devotion and he did not lose by it, witness the scarlet, the golden chain, the prime minister’s robes later on. So shall we gain in the end, for the trial of faith shall be found some day unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.

As for those four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams (v. 17). Yes, God gave these youths knowledge and wisdom, and He is as ready to do so for any today who, as these young men did, make up their minds and hearts to seek first the kingdom of God. God gives to those whom He sees have the desire and longing to be true to Him and His Word, and desire to serve Him. The king communed with them and found them far superior to all the others (v. 20). Oh, that we might so respond to Him, that when the Lord communes with us He may find us outstanding and upstanding Christians, yet humble servants of His. And so Daniel began his long, honorable life in the service of earthly kings, and in the service of the King of kings, the One he knew and loved in heaven above.

The opening chapter thus introduces us to “that Daniel” (5:13), the man with purpose of heart and pluck to carry purpose into performance; the man with the faith to prove God, whose pulse beat stronger on a diet of pulse; the man who needed no prophet to forecast how profitable a life like his could and would be. May we imitate him as he sets before us a true imitation of Christ.