Among those individuals taken during that first deportation were Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
As I noted previously, as far as the Babylonians were concerned, their gods had defeated the Jews and their God. The Jewish God had no ability to defend them against the power of the Babylonian gods. In a manner of speaking, God’s reputation was on the line. However, what appears to be despairing circumstances are being directed by the true absolute sovereign God of all. He providentially arranges things so that His chosen servants are established in the right place to bring ultimate glory to the one and only God. What appears at first glance to be the stripping of their cultural upbringing and the brainwashing to think like Babylonians is the means God uses to put these four young men, most specifically Daniel, right where He wants them. During the entire re-educational process, these four teenage youth maintain their personal commitment to God and their individual integrity before their captors
Let us consider three broad points as we look at the uncompromising lives of these men of God:
1) Their Training [3-7]
Verse 3 begins with Neb. instructing Ashpenaz, the master of the Eunuchs, to bring some of the children of the captive Jews into the process of being educated as Chaldeans. Ashpenaz was a significant official. He facilitated the education of the men nearest the royal court. In a manner of speaking, he was like the assistant manager for the king.
He is described as an eunuch, and the misconception regarding eunuchs is that they were physically emasculated, but this is probably not the case seeing such a treatment would make the person “blemished” (vs. 4). It was Ashpenaz’s primary duty to select individuals for this elite training for high, royal office. From a worldly perspective, such a selection would be an honor, however, for Daniel and his friends, they were captives with no other choice.
One should be drawn to considering the prophecy being fulfilled in this passage. In Isaiah 39:7 God spoke through the prophet who rebuked the foolishness of Hezekiah who showed the then Babylonian officials the treasures of the temple by saying, And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Daniel and his three friends were more than likely of royal descent and blood relatives.
Their training consisted of a few things:
Ashpenaz was to consider some important qualities in the young men he chose:
— First, they were to be “young men.” Perhaps as young as 14-17 years of age. They were basically junior high/high school aged kids.
— Without blemish. In other words, “good looking” or attractive with no physical handicaps.
— Intelligent. Those men with “understanding and knowledge.” They had the ability to comprehend facts and draw wise decisions quickly. Good students who were fast learners.
— Respectable manners. Those who had good graces and manners to stand before the king.
Daniel and his three friends met all the qualification the world considers important, even to this day. However, there is nothing to say about their spiritual character.
They captives chosen by Ashpenaz were to be educated– probably better stated as “re-educated” — according to the language and literature of the Chaldeans. The Chaldeans were originally a separate class in Babylon, but as the empire grew, the Chaldean religion and philosophy dominated all the Babylonian culture.
The language they were taught was more than likely Akkadian, and the “literature” they had to learn may had included a wide variety of subjects such as the Chaldean religion, mathematics, science, and politics all filtered through the Chaldean worldview. The process was to take three years, just like the amount of time it takes for a young person to attend our modern colleges. Interestingly, just like in today’s universities and colleges, the young people are being re-educated along same worldview lines as these four Hebrew youth.
There was one final element to the training of these young men: A re-identification of their personal identity. They had their Jewish names taken away and were given new Babylonian names. In Jewish life, a person’s name identified who they were and that name often incorporated the person and attributes of God almighty giving it specially meaning.
Daniel’s name meant God is Judge
But his name was changed to “Belteshazzer” which is derived from the Babylonian god, Bel.
Thus, his new name meant Bel, protect his life
The same happened with his buddies,
Hananiah means YHWH is gracious. His name is changed to “Shadrach,” meaning
Command of Aku, possibly the moon-god.
Mishael name meant, Who is What the Lord is?
It was changed to “Meshach” Who is What Aku is?
Lastly, Azariah’s name meant The Lord is my helper and was changed to
“Abednego,” The servant of Nebo.
All of these young men had every opportunity to compromise their faith in God. They are no longer at home. They are basically by themselves. Who would honestly know if they gave into their new Babylonian culture? Who would even really care? They all knew that God would care.
2) The Challenge [8-14]
There was one area where these young men would not compromise: Eating the king’s food.
The rations from the kings table, which would be the best food available in the entire kingdom.
What’s the big deal about eating food? There really was nothing in violation of God’s law with regards to a “secular” education. Nothing sinful about working for a secular, pagan government; or even accepting a new name. But there is one violation of God’s law, and that was with the eating of food that violates the food laws prescribed in Leviticus.
Even though it was the best food available from the very table of the king, it wasn’t prepared according to the manner the Lord said to prepare it. The meat would be what had been declared as “unclean” food, such as horse meat, a common dish among Babylonians of that era. Additionally, the food was more than likely sacrificed to idols that reflected the false worship of the Babylonians.
Some would ask, What’s the big deal for them to eat of the king’s food? They would even suggest God would certainly “understand such a compromise” Again, nobody from Israel would know. Moreover, it is politically expedient to do so for their own safety, because their life may depend upon their obedience to their new masters. Yet, in spite of what appears to be merely a trivial compromise in the minds of many, Daniel purposed not to defile himself with the king’s food.
Obviously the fortitude of his convictions was certain to get him and his friends into trouble. Additionally, their rejection of the king’s food would endanger the life of Ashpenaz as well. He recognized the threat for acting disobediently against his duties. Thankfully, however, God had brought Daniel into his good graces and so rather than giving the appearance of being “rebellious” against the king’s orders, Daniel suggested a challenge. He requested that for 10 days they be allowed to eat only vegetables and water. If they looked sickly after the 10 days, they could deal with them in whatever way they saw fit.
3) God’s Blessing [15-21]
After the 10 days, the appearance of these four young men appeared better and fatter in flesh. Or as the KJV states it, fairer and fatter. Of course, I have never thought being pale and chubby was a good thing, but I digress…
I have listened to many a food “pharisee” who insists the reason they were all healthy was because they ate exclusively a vegetarian diet. Hence, if we all would leave off eating any and all meat, we too will be healthy like these four young men. But their appearance is not related to their exclusive vegetarian diet. It was the Lord who blessed their commitment to His laws before their masters.
Yet, not only were their convictions honored by their masters, God also gave them knowledge and skill in the subjects they were required to learn. On top of blessing their educational efforts, the Lord blessed their performance before Neb. and the royal court. There was none found in all the kingdom as wise and knowledgeable as Daniel and his friends. Moreover, their reputation went throughout all the empire.
Most importantly, though, Daniel became a mouth piece for divine revelation. What the texts means when it says he “had understanding in all visions and dreams.” God was setting Daniel in place to be His divine representative not only for God before the king, but also to provide a means to protect Israel while they were in captivity.