Daniel 1

Without doubt, the verse most of us know best from Daniel 1 is vs. 8: “But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.” Daniel’s faith and dedication to the Lord are remarkable, but even more so when we consider the context of Daniel 1.1-2, for it would seem to the world that Jehovah had been defeated and His people were now suffering the consequences of His defeat. However, Daniel 1 helps establish the theme of the book, that the Lord rules over the realm of mankind. Thus, Daniel’s faith in Jehovah God is both vindicated and rewarded.

Before we look at chapter 1, it’s helpful to review what the Lord said to Israel in Deuteronomy 28. There the Lord promised blessings if the people would obeyed His law (vss. 1-14), but warned of a series of curses should they disobey (vss. 15ff). One of those curses was that the people would be torn from their land and scattered among the nations (vss. 63-68). That curse had come upon the northern kingdom of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians in 720 BC. The southern kingdom of Judah did not fall at that time, but they were not righteous either (2Kings 17.19-20) and their judgment was coming swiftly. 

Nebuchadnezzar Victorious, Daniel 1.1-2 (NASB95)

1In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.

  • This was the same year that Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon, 605 BC.

2The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.

  • Note 2Kings 24.2-4. Judah’s distress was not due to the Lord lacking power. Rather, the Lord brought this calamity upon them because of their sins, in particular the sins of Manasseh. Thus, “the Lord gave” Judah into the hands of the Babylonians.
  • Recall that Hezekiah had shown the Babylonian envoys all the treasures of his house, likely including various articles from the Temple. The Lord foretold that these vessels would be taken away (Isaiah 39.2-6).
  • Shinar: this connects these events with the tower of Babel (Genesis 10.10; 11.1-9). Babel was the epitome of pride and rebellion against God. Now, articles of God’s Temple were being taken and placed in a modern Tower of Babel.
  • House of his god: “Nebuchadnezzar seems to have made Marduk his personal god since most of his inscriptions invoke him. Neduchadnezzar, continuing work begun by Nabopolassar, restored the ancient ziggurat, or stepped temple-tower, of Babylon, named Etemenanki (“the building which is the foundation of heaven and earth”) and the associated temple of Marduk, called Esagila (“the temple that raises its head”). These buildings dominated the city, with the temple-tower rising to about 300 feet (90 meters).” (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary)
Model of the Marduk Temple
Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary

Daniel & Friends Tested, Daniel 1.3-16 (NASB95)

3Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles,

  • Possible that these were descendants of Hezekiah (Isaiah 39.7). 

4youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

  • Interesting that “no defect” was a requirement for priests, those who would approach God (see Leviticus 21.17,18,21). 
  • Impossible to know how old Daniel was at this time, but some estimate he would have been 14. “Plato relates of the Persians, ‘after twice 7 years have passed, those whom they call royal instructors receive the boy’ to educate.” (Pusey)
  • “Babylonian and Assyrian are dialects of Akkadian, a Semitic language like Aramaic and Hebrew. While the language itself would not have been unusually difficult to learn, the system used to write it was. It required learning hundreds of symbols and the rules for using them correctly. This was done by first copying simple exercises set by the teacher. As the student progressed, he would move on to copying important literary texts. Many of these were religious in nature. The learning process was therefore also an induction into the worldview and culture of Babylonia. Training foreigners in this way was intended to assimilate them into Babylonian life and make the skills of the best of them available to the Babylonians rather than to their real or potential enemies.” (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary)

5The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service.

6Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

7Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego.

  • Daniel (God is my judge) changed to Belteshazzar (Bel, Marduk, protects his life).
  • Hananiah (the Lord shows grace) changed to Shadrach (command of Aku).
  • Mishael (who is what God is?) changed to Meshach (who is what Aku is?).
  • Azariah (the Lord helps) changed to Abednego (servant of Nebo).

8But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.

  • There’s a bit of word play in this verse. The word translated as “made” (for when Daniel made up his mind) is the same word translated twice as “assigned” in vs. 7. Daniel may have had a new name assigned to him, a name that honored a god other than Jehovah, but Daniel assigned where the devotion of his heart and mind would lie.
  • There has been a fair amount of speculation about why the food would defile Daniel and his friends. The easiest solution is also the most obvious: these foods would have been unclean (Leviticus 11; see Hosea 9.3). Some object to this because wine was not considered unclean under the Law, but it could be that Nebuchadnezzar’s wine had a stronger alcohol content, making it more of a “strong drink” to the Jews.

9Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials,

10and the commander of the officials said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.”

  • The term for “lord” is a-don, the same term used for Jehovah in vs. 2. Daniel fears/respects Jehovah as Lord, the commander fears Nebuchadnezzar as lord.

11But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah,

12“Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink.

13“Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.”

14So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days.

15At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food.

16So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables.

Daniel Exalted, Daniel 1.17-21 (NASB95)

17As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams.

  • “Two types of dream were recognized as communications from the gods. In message dreams a divine being spoke directly to the dreamer, so that interpretation was not needed. A symbolic dream involved the dreamer seeing or experiencing something, the meaning of which was not obvious; thus, interpretation was needed. All known records of this kind of dream come from Sumerian or Babylonian sources rather than Assyrian ones… Interpretation could be done in one of two ways. Deductive interpretation relied on consultation of collections of dream omens (called “dream books”), which contained lists of things that might occur in dreams and assigned meanings to each one. Intuitive interpretation depended simply on the wisdom and insight of the interpreter… When a dream presaged something bad, there were rituals that could be performed to prevent this from happening. This is one reason why it was important to discover the meaning of a dream as soon as possible.”

18Then at the end of the days which the king had specified for presenting them, the commander of the officials presented them before Nebuchadnezzar.

19The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s personal service.

20As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm.

  • The Babylonian king’s “magicians and conjurers” will play a significant role in the first 5 chapters of Daniel (seeDaniel 2.2,10,27; 4.7,9; 5.11). These would record the movement of the heavenly bodies to discern the will of the gods.
  • The failure of the Babylonian magicians (astrologers) is not only their failure, but the failure of their gods.

21And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king.

  • If this references the first year of Cyrus’ reign over Babylon, then the year would be 539 BC.
  • Daniel would outlive the Babylonian kingdom.


  1. The best description I’ve heard for this chapter was given by Tommy Peeler when he spoke of “the gospel ofDaniel 1.” He described the chapter in this way because of the three occasions when God “gave” something. First, it was God who gave Judah into the hands of the Babylonians (vs. 2). God was not defeated by Marduk, the Babylonian god, rather He brought the curse He had warned of in Deuteronomy 28.63-68. Second, after Daniel purposed in his heart to stay true to the Lord, God gave him favor in the sight of the Babylonian commander of officials (vs. 9). Finally, God gave Daniel and his three companions knowledge and intelligence, and to Daniel the ability to understand visions and dreams (vs. 17). God’s gift would show that His servants were superior to the servants of Marduk, just as Jehovah is superior to all other gods. God’s rule over the realm of mankind is established in this chapter; that is the good news of Daniel 1.
  2. We’d be remiss to not consider the statement made about Daniel in vs. 8. While the terms “believe” and “faith” are not used in this passage, I find this verse to be a powerful lesson about the faith of the Lord’s godly ones. Consider the following:
    • Daniel’s faith was not dependent on circumstances. By all appearances, Jehovah had been defeated and His people were suffering the consequences of His defeat. But Daniel still believed that Jehovah ruled over all!
    • Daniel’s faith prompted obedience to Jehovah’s revealed will. Thus, he purposed to not defile himself with food that God had not permitted. Faith that doesn’t compel one to follow God’s will, isn’t really faith.
    • Daniel’s faith would have impressed others. We noted how the commander of officials was reluctant to grant Daniel’s request because he feared the king (vs. 10). We can only imagine how impressed all of the officials were once they witnessed how Daniel and his companions were blessed by Jehovah God. This will be a frequent occurrence in the career of Daniel (see Daniel 2.47; 3.28-29; 4.34-35; 6.26-27). 
    • Daniel’s faith was rewarded. The Lord granted him favor (vs. 9) along with knowledge and insight (vs. 17).

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