Relevant Verse: Daniel 1
Theme: Integrity and wisdom in Babylon
Leading Question: What does it mean to live with courage and integrity?
The story of this week finds young Daniel marching as a captive on a dusty road from Jerusalem to Babylon. Babylonian official records—Chronicles of Chaldean Kings—tell us what happened in the year 605 B.C.E.: “At that time Nebuchadnezzar 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 Nebuchadnezzar 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 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 of the Babylonian empire. The rest of his army, leading the captives of Judah and Jerusalem among whom was Daniel, would have taken the longer route up north and then turned to the southeastern parts of Mesopotamia toward Babylon.
Deportation of residents from rebellious vassal states was one of the ways Mesopotamian empires maintained control of their territory. This practice was devised, and largely used, during the Neo-Assyrian Empire, especially during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III (745–727 B.C.E.) and the Sargonid kings, and later by the Neo-Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar (605–562 B.C.E.).
Mass deportations and resettlement of conquered peoples served as a fundamental tool of statecraft, economic organization, and imperial control, in which the elite and craftsmen from defeated polities were deported. By isolating these groups within larger local populations, the Assyrian and Babylonian kings ensured loyalty to the state and minimized the likelihood of resistance among the common people, who were left without their traditional elite. Another goal of deportation was to integrate the defeated elites into service for the kings. This would be achieved by stripping them of their heritage, religion, traditions, culture, and identity.
With specific regard to Babylon’s religious world: 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 could reason that Yahweh, the God of Israel was taken captive by the Babylonian god Marduk. Most likely, one of the underlying purposes for which the book of Daniel gives an answer is this very question: Were the gods of Babylon able to defeat the God of Heaven and Earth?
The opening lines of Daniel make it clear that the defeat of Jerusalem is not credited to the superior power of the Babylonian king or of his god; rather, it has occurred because “the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand” (Daniel 1:2, NASB). Daniel knows that behind and beyond the military power of Babylon, the God of Heaven is leading the march of history. It is this view of God’s sovereignty that sustains these young men and gives them strength and courage to face the temptation and pressure of the Babylonian empire.
Question: How does Daniel 1 tell of the young Hebrews’ assimilation process into the world and service of king Nebuchadnezzar? Note the choices the young men make in their response.
Out of the royal and noble young men already without defect, good-looking, intelligent, wise, full of understanding, and abilities Ashpenaz was ordered to handpick the crème de la crème (Daniel 1:3–4). Note four ways of how the young men were to become integrated into the service of king Nebuchadnezzar and adapt to the Babylonian royal court:
1. Body/Personality: Ashpenaz, “chief eunuch” (Daniel 1:3–4)
- Upper-class eunuchs in Assyria, Babylon, and Persia were often exiled men who held great influence over the king and his royal court.
- The castrated males were in charge of the concubines of royal harems, served in the daily life of the court, and sometimes carried out high administrative functions.
- A prophecy in Isaiah tells the Judean king Hezekiah: “Some of your sons … will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (2 Kings 20:18; Isaiah 39:7).
- Castration would be especially serious for Jewish young men in light of the law in Deuteronomy 23:1 that expels castrated men from the assembly of Israel; they are forbidden to marry or, if married, must divorce from their wives.
2. Education: “teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:3–4)
- Chaldeans: societal class of masters of reading and writing, especially knowledgeable in the sciences of magic, divination, incantation, sorcery, witchcraft, astrology, and astronomy
- Sumerian: sacred, ceremonial language used from the 3rd millennium B.C. E. on in cuneiform script
- Akkadian: native language in Assyria and Babylon in cuneiform script
- Aramaic: international language of business and diplomacy
3. Religion and Culture: food (Daniel 1:5)
- best meat and wine, implied participation in Babylonian cult
- unclean food, according to Leviticus 11
4. Identification/Personality: new names (Daniel 1:6–7)
- Daniel, “God is my judge” — Belteshazzar, “Bel protect the king”
- Hananiah, “Yahweh is gracious” — Shadrach, “Command of Aku”
- Mishael, “Who is like God?” — Meshach, “Who is like Marduk?”
- Azariah, “Yahweh helps” — Abed-nego, “Servant of Nabu”
Questions: Why would Daniel and his friends go along with most of the changes to their lives but not with the king’s food? How do you decide when to compromise and when to stay faithful to your convictions?
The process of integration and adaptation for the young Hebrews to life in Babylon was three years. They gained immense and powerful knowledge through their education and experience at the king’s court. At the end of the three years, they were tested and found to surpass the Babylonian professionals in their practice of wisdom (Daniel 1:20).
Wisdom, in the context of the Hebrew Bible, is the quality of having a good judgement based on knowledge. It is closely connected to the ability to discern. If knowledge is power, wisdom is the choice to use or apply that power.
Question: How does Daniel 1 speak of “the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27)?
“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. — C. S. Lewis
“Wisdom is the ability to see life from God’s point of view.” — Adrian Rogers
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.” — Reinhold Niebuhr