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1In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.

3Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king's descendants and some of the nobles, 4young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans. 5And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king's delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king. 6Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego. (Daniel 1:1–7, NKJV)


Daniel and his friends were transported from Judah to Babylon as captives and trained to serve in the government of King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s story begins in the third year of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, 606 BC. The actual year could have been anywhere between 607 and 605 BC as there was a difference in the way the Hebrews and the Babylonians reckoned time. According to historian James Ussher, this date is the 369th year after division of Israel into the northern and southern kingdoms where Jeroboam takes ten tribes away from Rehoboam the son of Solomon.

We do not know in what year Daniel was born and we do not know his actual age when he was taken to Babylon. Verse four has Daniel being part of the young men singled out for government service, so we can conclude that he was either in his late teens or early twenties.

The Babylonian invasion mentioned in verse one was the first of four invasions of Judah by Babylon. With each invasion some of the people were taken captive and some of the temple vessels were taken to Babylon. The first invasion was in 606 BC when Jehoiakim was king of Judah. Daniel was part of this captivity. The second invasion was in 597 BC when Jehoiachin, brother of Jehoiakim, was king of Judah. The third invasion was in 586 BC when Zedekiah was king. It was in this invasion that Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple burned. The Prophet Jeremiah records a final invasion five years after the fall of Jerusalem, 581 BC (Jeremiah 52:30). The repeated invasions of Judah suggest the Nebuchadnezzar probably did not intend to overthrow the Hebrew nation but intended to keep it in tribute. It was their constant rebellion that lead Nebuchadnezzar to repeatedly invade and subdue the nation.

The personality and faith of Daniel are clearly seen throughout the Book of Daniel. Our introduction to this young man shows him to be highly intelligent. It is possible that he was of royal or noble birth but that cannot be ascertained for sure as verse three lists three classes of young men: children of Israel, the king’s descendants, and nobles.

Verse four shows him to be a young man with outstanding characteristics. He was without blemish and had no physical defects. He was good-looking; the Babylonians believed being hansom was an indicator of resourcefulness and good personality. He was gifted in all wisdom; he was intelligent with a great capacity to learn and think. He possessed knowledge; he was educated to a degree that it was natural for him to go on to an advanced education. He was quick to understand, or as the King James Version renders it, he had understanding of science. The science the Babylonians were looking for was not astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, etc. as the Chaldeans understood science; rather, it was Hebrew science which included music, architecture, morals, theology and the ability to understand future events. These were areas of knowledge the Chaldeans the Chaldeans lacked and it was Nebuchadnezzar’s intent to add this kind of expertise to his advisory staff. Of great importance was an ability to serve in the king’s palace. This refers to the physical and mental stamina needed to attend to the demands of extended service required by the king. Also of great importance was a facility for language, not just the ability to learn languages, but to write documents that would be of political and historical importance.

The young men selected for the king’s service, of which Daniel was one, were sent to school for three years to earn a master’s degree. After completing their schooling, they would enter the service of the king.

Many of the Hebrew young men were selected for this program, but our text singles out four of them who would figure prominently in the Book of Daniel: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The Hebrews were devout as a nation, they were the chosen people of God, but that does not mean all Hebrews were consecrated worshippers of God. It is coincidental that the names of these four young men give us a clue to their personal relationship with God and foreshadow some of the miraculous events in which they would participate.

The el ending on the names Daniel and Mishael represents the Hebrew word for God. In Hebrew, Daniel’s name means God is my Judge and Mishael’s name means He who comes from God. The ah ending on the names Hananiah and Azariah represents the Hebrew word Jah, the shortened form of the Hebrew name of God, Yaweh. Hanahiah means The Lord has been gracious to me and Azariah’s name means The Lord is my Helper.

It was customary for rulers to impose new names on their slaves. It seems that the chief of the eunuchs selected names that in his mind corresponded to the religious character of these young men. Daniel (God is my Judge) he called Beltshazzar, meaning the treasure of Bel or The depository of the secrets of Bel. Bel was a chief god among the Babylonians and it seemed to this chief eunuch that Daniel was unique and particularly gifted to grasp the secrets of divinity. Hananiah (The Lord has been gracious to me) he called Shadrach, meaning The inspiration of the sun or Let God preserve us from evil. Mishael (He who comes from God) he called Meshach, meaning He who belongs to the goddess Sheshach. While this sounds totally pagan to us, the chief eunuch had in mind someone who was favored by God. Azariah (The Lord is my Helper) he called Abed-Nego meaning the servant of Nego, a diety represented by the sun, Venus, or Saturn. Again, this sounds so pagan to us but in his mind he was thinking of someone who serves God.

That these four young men were faithful to Jehovah God in practice, not just in words, is shown in the very first conflict between their faith and the rules of Babylonian society. Daniel’s name appears alone in verses eight through ten, but verse eleven reveals that all four of the young men were involved in the conflict. The royal diet provided for the students violated the dietary restrictions of the Law of Moses. Daniel requested that they be allowed to follow their dietary rules instead of eating the king’s food. The chief eunuch was reluctant to do this for fear their health would deteriorate and he be held accountable. Daniel purposed in his heart to keep God’s Law; he had a heart-felt faith and conviction he could not and would not compromise. Even though he was determined to hold to his principles, he approached the chief eunuch diplomatically. He did not confront the man, demand anything, or insult the man in any way. Instead, he offered a short test, to which the eunuch and his chief steward agreed. This test was a diet of only vegetables and water for ten days. Apparently the chief eunuch thought “What could go wrong in only then days?” Verse fifteen says “at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh that all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies.” God honored the faithfulness of Daniel and his friends and gave them not only good health but verse seventeen says “As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom.”

At the end of their three years in college, they were personally interviewed by the king and it is said in verse nineteen that “among them all [meaning all the young men that had been put in this program] none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, an Azariah; therefore they served before the king.”

Daniel chapter one gives us an idea of who Daniel was and how he came to the position in the government where God could use him in an unusual way. To add to all his qualifications, what sets him apart from all others in the king’s service was a unique gift God had given him as recorded in verse seventeen, “and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”