When people think of Daniel in the Scriptures there are some recurring themes that go along with his name. Of course there is the Lion’s Den, his three buddies Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and if you are semi-literate in biblical matters, then you are also familiar with the stricter-than-vegan “Daniel Fast.”
But what most people do not know about Daniel is the context of the culture in which he and his buddies performed these acts. The very first verse in the book of Daniel sets the stage: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.” The second verse brings even worse news: “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah in his hand, 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 placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.”
We are not even halfway through the first chapter of Daniel and already there is an overthrow of government and religion, green-lighted personally by God. Next, Nebuchadnezzar asks for the best of the youth to be brought before him; the pretty ones, the strong ones, the smart ones, the well-spoken ones. Because what fundamental transformation is done without the help of an excellent, brave, but impressionable youth? Just look at the Red Guards in China and Germany’s Hitler Youth.
There’s a lesson there, young college student. Guard your mind, test every spirit as it says in 1 John 4:1. Remember that a false teaching does not have to be religious in nature. It can also come from the very people you trust with your academics.
The king then submitted the young whippersnappers to be trained on a steady diet of food and literature and to learn the language of the Chaldeans. But Daniel and his three buddies were not going to kiss the ring, they asked for their diet to be strictly of vegetables and water and they proved themselves after ten days to be fatter in the flesh, better in appearance, and ten times sharper than the rest of the sheep-youth eating the king’s food. Therefore, their steward decided to keep feeding them just vegetables and water as they wished.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were also not their real names. They were actually Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. King Nebuchadnezzar renamed them when he brought them into the court for training. Daniel was also renamed Belteshazzar, but that doesn’t roll of the tongue as easy.
Soon after, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and none of the “wise men” among the Chaldeans could interpret it. Because the “wise men” were not so wise, the king sent out a decree to kill all of them and that included Daniel and his posse. But Daniel asked the king’s captain with “prudence and discretion” why the matter was so pressing and convinced him to give him an appointment with the king to interpret his dream. What was Daniel’s next step? Was it to post on Twitter that he just got himself an appointed date with the king? No, he went back home, told his three buddies and told them to pray so that he, his posse, and all the other wise men would not be killed.
When before the king, Daniel spoke in a manner that would have garnered all of today’s media in a hissy fit. He gave all of the glory of the God and none to his wisdom, he self-deprecated so that God might be exalted (John 3:30) in the eyes of such an influential man. No doubt this will later play a part in Nebuchadnezzar’s acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty.
As for the king’s dream, God did not give a half measure of mere interpretation but also of prophecy. In Daniel 2:44 he was given the prophecy of the coming “kingdom” that will break all other kingdoms and bring them to an end, most bible scholars today agree that this kingdom was that of the prophesied Christ.
In the first part of the book of Daniel we see the foundation laid out for exemplary young men who not only were disciplined and talented, but were also humble and godly. Daniel did not have to ask for the heads of the other wise men to be saved after his interpretation, he also did not have to give God the glory after he was graciously given prophecy from above. He could have been a diplomat and stood before the court with vague religious terms so as not to offend his king, be a nice little Christian, told his interpretation, and saved everyone.
In Daniel we will see a young man who did not treat God as some pocket charm that he pulled out in times of personal trouble; rather he trusted in God to be his banner which he would exalt in the midst of a wicked society that sought to brain wash him and his buddies. Daniel would have none of what culture was feeding him, figuratively and literally, but clung to God as his revolutionary leader. All of us, especially the young and impressionable, have plenty to learn from him.