Daniel 1

Daniel 1 Devotional
by Pastor Lawrence Bowlin

Jerusalem has been sacked by foreign invaders who have taken some of the brightest and the best young men from Israel to give honor in service to the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar the Great.  For those interested in the history leading us to this event, see 2 Kings 23:34-24:5 and Jeremiah 25:1-14.  King Jehoiakim of Judah was a wicked king who had killed the prophet Uriah (Jer. 26:20-23) and had tried to kill the prophet Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch for prophesying against the city of Jerusalem (Jer. 36), and for encouraging the people to submit to the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, God’s servant of justice (Jer. 27).

When the Babylonians had conquered a nation it was their m.o. to expunge the heritage of that nation, particularly its religious traditions.  Therefore, when Daniel and his three friends entered into the king’s service, the first thing that needed to be forgotten was their names.  Daniel’s name means “God is my judge.”  Hananiah translates as “Yah has been gracious.”  Mishael means “Who is what God is?” and Azariah as “Yah has helped.”  But Daniel’s new identification would be Belteshazzer, which gives praise to the Mesopotamian god Bel, and his three friends would be given the names Shadrach which signifies something like “under the command of Aku” another Babylonian god.  Meshach translates as “who is what Aku is?  And Abednego means “servant of Nebo” still another god, the same from which king Nebuchadnezzar derives his own name.  As you know, names mean something, so this was a way to make them forget the God of their fathers and to encourage them to worship the idols of the land.

Then, in addition to their names, the young men were meant to forget their knowledge of God’s Word and His works and embrace the literature and language of the Chaldeans.  This would include not only their histories of kings and of wars but also the mythologies of their gods and the magical arts of their sorcerers.  And in order to serve before the king, they would need to be taught the manners and customs to follow at the king’s table, thus they would need to learn to eat and drink just as a pagan king would.

It was this third expectation that directly stood against the law of God in His expectation that His people would maintain their distinction from the Gentiles in their dietary habits, which is why Daniel took his stand on this matter.  Strangely, this was not a main part of the Babylonian plan to eradicate their culture so much as it was a way of assimilating these young men into the good graces of the king.  However, it is not uncommon for Christians to be persecuted over non-religious issues and peculiar customs.  It is the uniformity that the state seeks more than anything else, and the undermining of an individual’s conscience is often necessary to achieve that goal.

But let us not minimize the direct efforts of the state to accomplish their goals.  Clearly there is an attempt to eradicate the faith of these young men.  And Matthew Henry, in his well-known commentary, shares these thoughts on the matter, saying, “It is painful to reflect how often public education tends to corrupt the principles and morals.”  Some things never change.  Keep in mind, he wrote those words in the year of Our Lord 1709.

Don’t think for a minute that education is ever a neutral matter.  If one is not taught to honor God above all things, he or she will be taught to honor something else altogether.  If one is not taught that the cross is the crux of history, something else will take its central place.  If one is not taught that our understanding of science comes from the revelation of the omniscient (omni-science) God, something else will be taught as the source of knowledge.  Indeed, nature abhors a vacuum.