Corresponds with Sabbath School Study Guide: Sep 25 – Oct 1
The story of this week finds young Daniel marching as captive on one of the dusty roads from Jerusalem to Babylon. Babylonian official records Chronicles of Chaldean Kings tell us what happened in the year 605 BC: “At that time Nebuchadrezzar conquered the whole area of the Hatti [Syria-Palestine] country. For twenty-one years, Nabopolassar had been king of Babylon. On the 8th of the month of Ab he died; in the month of Elul Nebuchadrezzar returned to Babylon, and on the first day of the month of Elul he sat on the royal throne in Babylon.” In the aftermath of the battle of Carchemish, as Nebuchadnezzar, still the crown prince, was busy conquering the lands of Syria-Palestine, the news reached him that back in Babylon his father Nabopolassar had just died. Without a delay, he crossed the desert and reached Babylon in time to sit on the throne. The rest of his army, leading the captives among whom was Daniel, took the longer route up north and then turned east toward Babylon.
It is interesting to notice that in Dan 1:2 a rare archaic name Shinar is used for the land of Babylonia. The term that comes from Genesis 11, the chapter that tells the story of the building of the city and the tower of Babel. The whole project turned in the end into confusion. According to Genesis 12, God called Abraham out of that place of confusion to go to the land promised to him by God. Here in Daniel 1, we find the children of the Patriarch Abraham back-tracking his journey of faith and thus reversing God’s call to him. Abraham’s trip was from confusion and idolatry to the promised land, whereas his children’s trip was from the promised land back to confusion and exile, all this because of people’s unfaithfulness. The Rabbis told a parable that explained the reason for which Israel was exiled to Babylon: “Why did Israel go into exile into Babylon rather than into all other lands? Because the home of Abraham was from there. They parable a parable. Unto what is the matter like? It is like a woman who disgraces her husband so that he sends her away. He sends her away to the home of her father.”
The people who lived in the city of Babylon were very religious. The city boasted of some 16 temples, 43 cult centers and about 900 chapels. Essagila was the name of the temple to Babylon’s patron god Marduk. Another temple, called Etemenanki or the temple of the foundation of heaven and earth, was considered by the Babylonians to be the oldest temple on earth. The holy vessels, that had been taken from the Jerusalem Temple, were placed into the treasure house of Nebuchadnezzar’s god Marduk in Esagila. There was an ancient view that earthly conflicts reflect wars in heaven. Thus, when the surrounding people watched the Israelites going into exile together with the holy vessels, they reasoned that Yahweh, the God of Israel was taken captive by the Babylonian god Marduk. Most likely, one of the purposes for which the book of Daniel was written was to answer this very question: Can the God of Israel go into exile? Were the gods of Babylon able to defeat the God of heaven?
The plan of Daniel 1 is built on a reversal in the following way:
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Daniel 1:1-5. The text says that “the Lord delivered” the king of Judah into the hands of the Babylonians. Would this way of writing be an ordinary, or a prophetic type of history? Can the events of history, even a defeat of God’s people by an enemy, be in accordance with the Lord’s plan?In the Jerusalem temple there was no image of God, only the furniture and articles used in the services. The text says that some of these articles were carried off to Babylon. In the ancient world there was a custom that the victorious nation carried the idols and the holy objects of the defeated nation back home as the trophies of their victory. A popular perception was that in this way the defeated gods were taken captive by the victorious deity (1 Samuel 5:2; Jeremiah 48:7; 49:3). As for the human captives, they served at the court and they also provided ties between the imperial capital and the provinces from which they came.
- Daniel 1:6-16. All four Hebrew names contain God’s name in them. Daniel, for example, means “God is my judge.” In a similar way, the new names that were given to the young men could be related to the gods of Babylon. In this way, the names expressed people’s beliefs and teaching about their gods. Could it be that Daniel’s new name was Belshazzar (“O Bel, [Marduk] protect the king!”), yet he purposely changed it to Bel(te)shazzar because he did not agree with the teaching behind this name? In a similar way, Azariah, whose Hebrew name means “the Lord is my help” got the name Abednebo which means “a servant of god Nebo/Nabu” yet this name too, was altered in our text to Abednego.The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from his table. This food was no ordinary food. In the original this word stands for rich, delicious food that was served on the king’s table day after day, and the drink was choice wine. Both, the food and the drink were special, and they were prepared for the young men to help them achieve success in Babylon. Why then did the young men opt for the simplest possible diet, instead?
- Daniel 1:17-21. Did the young men become wise because of their special diet or because “God gave them knowledge and understanding”? What did the triumph of the young men mean in the context of the whole story? Are we to conclude that through the success of the Hebrews Babylon was defeated on its own ground? That Yahweh, the God of Israel, had defeated Marduk, Babylon’s god? Is there any significance in the reference to Cyrus in the last verse?
Lessons for Life
This chapter teaches that there is God who is in control of the events of history and our individual lives. Three times in this chapter the phrase “God gave” is used (verses 2, 9, 17). Through his faithful remnant God triumphed over the false gods and turned the defeat of his people into a triumph. Is he able to do the same for you today?
Wisdom is more than intellectual curiosity. It is a gift from God, even though it does not exclude one’s hard work. In the Bible the focus is not so much on a value as it is on the source of that value. If I strive for wisdom today, I need to ask myself this question: “Why do I want to be wise?” In the Bible, true wisdom cannot be separated from faith.