Sapphire Sky

August 14, 2016

The Test of Character

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 8:34 pm

Pergamon_Museum_Berlin_2007108

It is easy to feel sorry for ourselves when problems come into our lives. We believe that nobody understands us, and we have a perfect right to indulge ourselves.

Why should I try to do the right thing when my world has collapsed around me?

Can we even reach out to others if we don’t understand them?

Should we fight back when we have been hurt? What if they have hurt us more deeply than anyone could ever know?

Where is God when my life is turned upside-down?

I have had the chance to read about a young man who experienced more horrors than I will ever understand. As a teenager, he saw his city overrun by an invading army. They pillaged the town, looted the temple of God, and took him captive. Now, away from his family in a strange land, he was emasculated, given a new name, and enrolled in the pagan seminary. The penalty for failing his seminary classes would likely mean death.

Daniel was a teen in Jerusalem when his city was captured by Babylonian forces in 605 B.C. Babylon had recently defeated both of the existing world powers (Assyria and Egypt) and had extended its empire across much of the Middle East. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken several of the most promising youths back to Babylon with him to serve in his court.

Among a class of 50-75 teens, Daniel and his friends were given new names. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were all named after the God of Israel, but their new names reflected the Babylonian gods: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their classes consisted of a three-year intensive training in the language, religion, and ways of Babylon’s elite. At the end of three years, they would be personally interviewed by the king himself to see if they were competent to serve him.

These circumstances would have been intense pressure for any teen, but Daniel made a commitment. Despite everything that happened, the Bible says that Daniel resolved that he would not disobey God. Literally, he “set his heart” to not defile himself. Whatever happened, Daniel would not choose any action which would cause him to break God’s law.

There were several things outside of Daniel’s control. He was a slave to the king of Babylon and his life existed at the whim of the king or his servants. Daniel could not control what happened to him, but he could control what he chose to eat and to drink. The boys were expected to feast daily at the king’s pagan banquet, but Daniel respectfully asked to abstain. Instead of the king’s food and wine, he asked to eat only vegetables and water.

Daniel’s overseer refused at first, for fear that the he would lose his life if the boys became sick. Daniel requested a test: the four of them would only eat vegetables and water for 10 days and then the overseer could compare the results. After 10 days, Daniel and his three friends were visibly healthier than the other boys. Therefore, the entire class was moved to vegetables and water for the duration of their schooling.

There were no miracles, but God’s hand was evident throughout Daniel’s schooling. God blessed Daniel’s decision and allowed the boys to be healthy after the 10-day test. At the end of their schooling, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were personally interviewed by king Nebuchadnezzar. Not only did the four young men surpass their class, but they exceeded all of the king’s existing advisors.

 

Remember!

We can learn from Daniel’s example about how to follow God, even when under pressure:

  • Daniel refused to be defined by his circumstances. Daniel had every excuse to stop obeying God, yet he set his heart to not disobey Him.
  • Daniel was not subject to peer pressure. All of his leaders and his peers ate the king’s banquet, yet Daniel and his friends refused. Out of a class of 50-75 teens, only these four refused to participate.
  • Daniel answered his opposition with tactfulness and respect. Daniel respectfully asked the steward to abstain from eating the king’s banquet. When the steward refused, he proposed a test.
  • Daniel was not consumed by situations which were out of his control. Daniel could not control his new name, his education curriculum, or his state as a eunuch in the king’s court. Instead, Daniel made sure that he was obedient to God in the areas that he could control.

“What a lesson for us-that purity of heart and faithfulness to God come before enlightenment in divine mysteries! If you attempt to reverse these things, you need not be surprised if you fall into all kinds of error.” – H.A. Ironside [8]


Distinctives of Daniel

  • Approximately 6 (of 12) chapters in the Book of Daniel were written in Aramaic [9]. While other books of the Old Testament contain sections from other languages, Daniel contains the largest percentage of non-Hebrew text.
  • The Book of Daniel is evenly divided between historical narrative and prophecy. Chapters 1-6 contain (mostly) historical narrative covering the life of Daniel. Chapters 7-12 chronicle Daniel’s prophetic visions and their interpretations.
  • The prophet Ezekiel lived at the same time as Daniel. Ezekiel’s prophecy lists Noah, Daniel, and Job as three of the most righteous men who lived (Ezekiel 14).
  • Daniel was an advisor to kings for over six decades, across two of the most powerful empires on earth (Babylon and Persia).
  • Daniel covers one of only four recorded periods in Old Testament history which are marked by miracles [10]. The miracles of Daniel include supernatural dream interpretation (Daniel 2), rescue from fire (Daniel 3), the handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5), and rescue from lions (Daniel 6).
  • Daniel announced the coming Messiah as the “Son of man” (Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus personally claimed this title about himself when He was on earth.
  • Daniel’s prophecies contain a specific timeline which include the birth of the Messiah and his presentation to his people (Daniel 9). Both of these events happened in the birth of Jesus Christ and His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
  • The Magi (or Wise Men) who visited the young Jesus in Matthew 2 are considered by many Bible scholars to have been descendants of the Chaldean caste of Daniel’s time. They were directed by Daniel’s prophecies to seek out the Messiah when Jesus Christ was born.
  • Daniel 11 contains a very detailed prediction of the Greek rulers over Jerusalem, and the Maccabean revolt. This section is one of the many reasons that Daniel has been frequently criticized by liberal theologians. See “The Time of Daniel” at the end of this post for an explanation about the validity of this book. 

 


Daniel 1

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into 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. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.


 

Daniel 1:1-2
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into 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.

The Israelite kingdom of Judah was defeated by Egypt and was reduced to a vassal state in 609 B.C. The king of Judah, Josiah, was killed in battle and the Egyptian king appointed his son Jehoiakim as ruler in his place (see 2 Kings 23:28-35 and 2 Chronicles 35:20-36:4).

Egypt was defeated by Babylon four years later, in 605 B.C. [2] The king of Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) then conquered Egypt’s allies, including Judah. Nebuchadnezzar plundered the temple of Jerusalem as a statement that his god was greater than the god of Judah.

The land of Shinar was the ancient name for the region of Babylonia in Lower Mesopotamia. This is the same location as the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9.

The Babylonians worshipped a large assortment of gods, but Nebuchadnezzar’s primary god appears to have been Marduk (also known as Merodach or Bel).

“’[God] wanted Israel to be ‘a light to the Gentiles’ (Isaiah 42:6) and reveal the glories of the true and living God; but instead, the Jews became like the Gentiles and worshipped their false gods.” – Warren Wiersbe [3]

 

Daniel 1:3-4
Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

The king of Babylon also deported the citizens of his conquered nations. He deported the people of Judah on three occasions: the first in 605 B.C., the second in 597 B.C., and the final group after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The “youths” in Daniel 1 were taken during the first deportation, in 605 B.C. [4]

The king took a select group of young people in order to train them how to serve the king. These were “youths”, indicating that they were from 13-17 years old [5], and had the following qualities:

  • Noble birth
  • Without physical defects (“without blemish”)
  • Of good appearance
  • Intelligent and wise
  • Had proper manners and poise (“competent to stand in the king’s palace”)

These boys were to be given an intense training from one of the most advanced nations of the ancient world. They would be taught for three years by the Chaldeans, the priestly caste who trained and crowned the king [5].

Most commentators conclude that this group consisted of about 50-75 young men [7]. The king’s policy was to select the best of the conquered nations to serve him. He could therefore benefit from their knowledge of their own people [3].

These boys were destined to be eunuchs in the king’s court. The captives reported to Ashpenaz, the chief of the eunuchs and it was a common practice for ancient kings to emasculate captives who would be serving in the palace [6]. This was predicted by the prophet Isaiah over 100 years earlier (2 Kings 20:18).

“God would rather have His people living in shameful captivity in a pagan land than living like pagans in the Holy Land and disgracing His name.” – Warren Wiersbe [3]

 

Daniel 1:5-7
The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

The king of Babylon renamed the captives as part of their indoctrination. Four of the captives are highlighted: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah [1]. All four of their names were changed to no longer reflect the God of the Hebrews but to instead reflect the Babylonian gods:

  • Daniel (“God is my judge”) is renamed to Belteshazzar (“Bel protect the king”).
  • Hananiah (“God is gracious”) was changed to Shadrach (“Command of Aku”).
  • Mishael (“Who is like God?”) was changed to Meshach (“Who is like Aku?”)
  • Azariah (“The Lord is my helper”) was changed to Abednego (“Servant of Nebo”).

Note that many of the Jewish captives had secular names in addition to their Hebrew name. For example, the Persian captive Hadessah was known as Esther (Esther 2:7).

 

Daniel 1:8-10
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.”

These teens were physically altered, were given the Babylonian education, were renamed to reflect the pagan gods, and were fed with the king’s food. But Daniel resolved that he would not eat the king’s food or drink the king’s wine because that would defile him.

The food would violate the Jewish dietary laws (Leviticus 11). Even more significantly, both the food and the wine were devoted to idols and to eat them was to be part of the pagan feast [7].

The King James Version says that “Daniel purposed in his heart”. Literally, he “laid it on his heart” that he would not defile himself with the king’s food.

Daniel’s request was tactful. He asks permission from the chief (Ashpenaz) to abstain from the king’s food and wine. But this request is not self-directed, as God gives his leader compassion. The leader shows his favor to Daniel by giving him an explanation. Proverbs 16:7 says, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”

It is interesting to note that out of the 50-75 young men who were brought from Jerusalem, only these four are recorded as objecting to the food that they ate. All of the others appear to have compromised.

 

Daniel 1:11-16
Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

Daniel requested a test from the steward over them: allow the four of them to only have vegetables and water for ten days and then see who is healthier. After ten days, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were visibly healthier than the other young men. As a result, the steward changes the diet for the entire group.

The King James Version list the steward as “Melzar”. This is written in Hebrew with a definite article (i.e. “the Melzar”), so it is more likely a title than a proper name. Most other translations translate him as “the steward”.

“Throughout Scripture you will find courageous people who had to defy authority in order to obey God, and in every case, they took the wise and gentle approach. ‘If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’ (Romans 12:18)”. – Warren Wiersbe [3]

 

Daniel 1:17-20
As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

After the three years of education, they had a personal interview with the king. God greatly blessed these four young men (Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) so that they had great learning that surpassed not only their class, but all of the king’s advisors.

“Therefore, they stood before the king.” They were promoted to the king’s personal attendants. Note that it appears that only these four young men were given this promotion [5].

In addition, God gave Daniel the ability to understand visions and dreams.

 

Daniel 1:21
And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Daniel’s influence extended across two empires and several kings. The first year of Cyrus (of Persia) was 539 B.C., extending Daniel’s ministry across 66 years (605-539 B.C.).

Daniel 10:1 references the third year of Cyrus, or 537 B.C. If Daniel was 15 years old when he was taken to Babylon, then he would have been 83 years old by this time! [3]

“In order to accomplish His plans for His people, the Lord providentially works to put some of His servants into places of special honor and responsibility. When He wanted to protect Jacob’s family and the future of the nation of Israel, the Lord sent Joseph to Egypt and made him second ruler of the land. God had Esther and Mordecai in Persia, where they exposed a plot against the Jews and saved the people of Israel from being annihilated. Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer in Susa and was able to get royal assistance for restoring the walls of Jerusalem.” – Wiersbe [3]


 

The Time of Daniel

The Book of Daniel is written by Daniel, who served the kings of Babylon and Persia in the 6th century B.C. It is written in both Hebrew and ancient Aramaic [9]. One of the most common criticisms of this book is that it is not possible to have written such specific prophecies (especially Daniel 11) in multiple languages at this early date. According to these critics, Daniel must have been compiled from multiple sources, long after it all happened (e.g. 2nd century B.C.).

This criticism of the book of Daniel is only necessary for those who need to deny God’s ability to supernaturally predict the future. For those who believe that the God who created the universe can supernaturally intervene in the lives of mankind, there is no reason to doubt either the miracles in Daniel, or the specific predictions of the future. Moreover, Daniel is also validated by other scripture:

  • Ezekiel was a contemporary of Daniel in the sixth century B.C. Ezekiel specifically mentions Daniel as a man of righteousness (Ezekiel 14:14, 20) and wisdom (Ezekiel 28:3).
  • The Hebrew and Aramaic language of Daniel is consistent with the sixth century B.C. and not later periods.
  • Hebrews 11:33-34 alludes to both the Fiery Furnace (Daniel 3) and the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6).
  • A later date of Daniel would not bypass all prophecies. Daniel 9 accurately predicts when the Messiah would be born and that He would be presented to His people in 33 A.D. (see here).
  • Jesus quoted Daniel, referring to him as a prophet when He taught about the “Abomination of Desolation” in Matthew 24:15 (referencing Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11).
  • Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of Man”, which was the reference to the coming Messiah king in Daniel 7. Jesus quoted Daniel 7:13 about Himself when he was on trial before the Jewish leaders (Matthew 26:64, Mark 14:62).

See also the following articles for more information about the reliability of the Book of Daniel:

 


 

[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, Daniel 1

[2] Daniel 1:1 states that Jerusalem was taken by Babylon in the “third year of Jehoiakim”. Jeremiah 46:2 states that this event occurred in the “fourth year of Jehoiakim”. Daniel is using Babylonian dating which considers a king’s first year as the year of accession. Therefore, Jehoiakim’s fourth year is considered to be only the third year by Babylonian dating.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Daniel 1, pages 1344-1348

[4] John MacArthur, God’s Man for a Time of Crisis, Part 1, Daniel 1:1-2

[5] Stephen Davey, Resolved, Daniel 1:1-21

[6] It is arguable whether the eunuchs to the king of Babylon were physically castrated. The term “eunuch” had also become a general term for royal officials. The same word is also translated as “officer” and is used for Potiphar (a married court official) in Genesis 39:1. However, the simplest rendering is that they were both physically and officially eunuchs. Note also that there is never any mention of Daniel having a family.

[7] John MacArthur, An Uncompromising Life, Daniel 1:1-8

[8] H.A. Ironside, Lecture 1, THE NEEDED MORAL CONDITION TO KNOW AND UNDERSTAND GOD’S MIND, Daniel 1

[9] Daniel 2:4-7:28 was written in ancient Aramaic. The rest of the book was written in Hebrew.

[10] The four times in Old Testament history which are marked by miracles are:

  • Creation and the flood (Genesis 1-7)
  • The time of Moses (Exodus-Deuteronomy)
  • Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17-2 Kings 13)
  • Daniel [1].

 

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7 Comments »

  1. Love it. Thanks Stephen

    Comment by Sam Knaus — August 14, 2016 @ 9:53 pm

  2. […] Previous post: The Test of Character […]

    Pingback by His Kingdom is Forever! | Sapphire Sky — August 28, 2016 @ 3:36 pm

  3. […] and to have introduced Greek culture to the Babylonians, including Greek instruments [5]. See here for more information about the time of […]

    Pingback by Who is the Greatest? | Sapphire Sky — September 10, 2016 @ 11:04 am

  4. […] See here for a detailed description of the magicians, the enchanters, and the astrologers. The Chaldeans were the king’s elite advisors (see here). […]

    Pingback by How Big Do You Think You Are? | Sapphire Sky — September 25, 2016 @ 6:38 pm

  5. […] had the courage as a teen to stand up for God’s law, even when it could cost him his life (see here). Daniel had the wisdom as a young man to approach a furious king and interpret his dream, thereby […]

    Pingback by Politics and Bad Coworkers | Sapphire Sky — October 28, 2016 @ 10:05 pm

  6. […] also “The Time of Daniel” here for a longer treatment of why a later date of Daniel is contrary to what the Bible […]

    Pingback by The History of the World | Sapphire Sky — November 6, 2016 @ 8:30 pm

  7. […] The first year of Darius was probably 539 B.C, so Daniel would have been in Babylon for about 65 years since he was captured in 604 B.C. (see here).4 […]

    Pingback by Do We Pray? | Sapphire Sky — December 28, 2016 @ 1:09 am


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