Bible Commentaries
Daniel 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes



Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the whole book. It relates early events in the lives of Daniel and his three Hebrew contemporaries, but the emphasis is on Daniel’s decisions. These choices formed the basis for his character, and his character and abilities accounted for the unusually long and successful career that he enjoyed in the service of several monarchs. His godly character also provides a key concerning God’s choice of him to receive and transmit the remarkable revelations of the future that this book contains. God’s choice of Daniel was sovereign, but Daniel’s choices qualified him to serve as God intended (cf. 1 Timothy 1:12).

"The first chapter . . . is introductory. It sets forth the moral condition suited to enlightenment in the ways and counsels of God. . . .

"If we are going to get the mind of God in studying this book, we must remember that it consists of revelations, deliverances and visions given to a spiritually-minded man who was separated from the iniquity of his day; and if we are to understand it, we also need to be spiritually-minded, and to walk apart from all that is unholy, all that would hinder progress in divine things." [Note: H. A. Ironside, Lectures on Daniel the Prophet, pp. 10, 11.]

Structurally, the chapter is a chiasm with the first 14 verses presenting a tension and the last 7 providing the resolution. [Note: See John E. Goldingay, Daniel, pp. 8-12.]

A Babylonia assumes supremacy over Israel Daniel 1:1-2

A’ Daniel proves supreme over the Babylonians Daniel 1:21

Verse 1

The book opens with a synopsis of the first Jewish deportation in 605 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 24:1-2; 2 Chronicles 36:6). [Note: D. J. Wiseman, The Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings, pp. 25, 46-47, and 66-69, validated this date.] Daniel and his three friends were part of the nobles and royal families taken from Jerusalem as captives then. We know nothing more about Daniel’s family background. Apparently he lived apart from his family in Babylon (cf. Daniel 1:11-13). Perhaps the Babylonians killed his parents, but this is only speculation.

The date of this deportation by Nebuchadnezzar (605 B.C.), as Daniel recorded it, was the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign (Daniel 1:1). However, Jeremiah wrote that the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (605 B.C.) was the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign (Jeremiah 25:1; cf. Jeremiah 46:2). Many critics of Daniel have seized upon this apparent contradiction and have tried to discredit this prophecy. [Note: E.g., J. A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, pp. 113-16.]

Scholars have proposed several solutions to this problem. [Note: See Longman and Dillard, pp. 376-77.] The best one, from my viewpoint, is that Daniel wrote from the Babylonian perspective and Jeremiah from the Jewish. It would have been only natural for Daniel to do so since he spent virtually all of his life in Babylon. The Babylonians considered the first year of their kings’ reigns as the accession year, the year they acceded to the throne. That "year" sometimes lasted only a few months. The first regnal year, the first full year of their reign, began with the first day of the new civil year. For the Babylonians this was the first of Nisan (late March and early April). This is the accession-year system of dating. [Note: See Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, p. 202.]

Jeremiah was writing from the Jewish perspective. During the reigns of Jehoash to Hoshea, the Jews also followed the accession-year system. However, the Jews began their civil years on the first of Tishri (late September and early October). This explanation harmonizes these references. [Note: Archer, "Daniel," pp. 31-32. Cf. Walvoord, pp. 30-31; and Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, p. 344.] Other conservative scholars have offered other ways of resolving this problem that they, too, regarded as only an apparent contradiction. [Note: E.g., Leupold, pp. 47-55; E. R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, p. 166; Culver, p. 772; and Pentecost, pp. 1328-29.]

Verses 1-2

A. Historical background 1:1-2

Verse 2

Daniel wrote that the Lord was responsible for Nebuchadnezzar’s success in defeating Jehoiakim. He viewed God as sovereignly controlling the past affairs of His chosen people (cf. Ephesians 1:4). As the book unfolds, this appreciation for God’s sovereignty continues as Daniel described God’s future dealings with the Jews and the Gentiles.

Daniel used the name "Shinar" to describe Babylon (Daniel 1:2). Shinar is a biblical name for Babylon that often connotes a place hostile to God and faith in God (cf. Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:2; Genesis 14:1; Isaiah 11:11 [NIV margin]; Zechariah 5:11 [NIV margin]). Carrying off the vessels from a conquered people’s temple was a way that ancient Near Eastern kings expressed their victorious sovereignty over that nation, particularly its gods (cf. Daniel 5:3-4). Therefore Daniel began this book by reminding his readers that it was not only Israel’s king who suffered defeat at Nebuchadnezzar’s hands, but also Yahweh had experienced humiliation. He then proceeded to vindicate Yahweh with all that follows.

Verses 3-5

Nebuchadnezzar’s enlightened policy was to employ the best minds in his kingdom in government service, regardless of their national or ethnic origin. We do not know how many other Jews and Gentiles were the classmates of Daniel and his three friends. However, they were evidently the only ones who expressed a desire to observe the Jewish dietary laws (Exodus 34:15; Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3; Proverbs 20:1).

"In selecting these youths for education in the king’s court in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar was accomplishing several objectives. Those carried away captive could well serve as hostages to help keep the royal family of the kingdom of Judah in line. Their presence in the king’s court also would be a pleasant reminder to the Babylonian king of his conquest and success in battle. Further, their careful training and preparation to be his servants might serve Nebuchadnezzar well in later administration of Jewish affairs." [Note: Walvoord, p. 34.]

There has been some question whether Daniel and his three friends were castrated and made eunuchs. This possibility seems unlikely since there is no direct evidence of this in the text. Josephus implied that they may have become eunuchs.

"He [Nebuchadnezzar] also made some of them [the most noble of the Jewish children] to be eunuchs; which course he took also with those of other nations whom he had taken in the flower of their age, and afforded them their diet from his own table, and had them instructed in the institutes of the country, and taught the learning of the Chaldeans . . ." [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 10:10:1. So also Culver, p. 773.]

The Hebrew word saris ("official," Daniel 1:3) can mean both "court official" (cf. Genesis 37:36, where it describes Potiphar, who was married) and "eunuch" (Isaiah 56:3; cf. 2 Kings 20:18). These youths were without defects (Daniel 1:4). If Nebuchadnezzar wanted youths without defects, it seems unreasonable that he would then turn around and give them a major defect (cf. Leviticus 21:17). [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Eunuch," by R. J. A. Sheriffs.]

Josephus also wrote that Daniel and his three peers "were four of the family of Zedekiah." [Note: Josephus, 10:10:1.] This may be accurate or only Jewish tradition, but clearly they were either members of the royal family or children of Judean nobles (Daniel 1:3; cf. Isaiah 39:6-7).

The three-year program of study that Daniel and his three companions underwent involved study of the literature and language of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1:4). The term "Chaldean" has a double meaning in the Book of Daniel. In some places, including here, it refers to ethnic southern Babylonians (cf. Daniel 3:8; Daniel 5:30; Daniel 9:1). In others, it describes a class of astrologers and priests that emerged from the ethnic Chaldeans (Daniel 2:2; Daniel 2:4-5; Daniel 2:10; Daniel 4:7; Daniel 5:7; Daniel 5:11).

"The Babylonian sages combined many of the functions fulfilled by wise men, prophets, and priests in Israel, though they are to be distinguished from those cultic functionaries who were more especially concerned with the temple and its ritual. They were the guardians of the sacred traditional lore developed and preserved in Mesopotamia over centuries, covering natural history, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, myth, and chronicle. Much of this learning had a practical purpose, being designed to be applied to life by means of astrology, oneirology, hepatoscopy and the study of other organs, rites of purification, sacrifice, incantation, exorcism and other forms of divination and magic." [Note: Goldingay, p. 16.]

Evidently what these young men studied was the history and literature of this ancient part of the world. This included the old Akkadian and the ancient Sumerian cultures from which the Babylonian had developed. Learning the language of a people is one of the best ways to absorb the worldview of its people. Thus Nebuchadnezzar was seeking to acculturate these youths and make them thoroughly Babylonian.

"In order to witness to their God in the Babylonian court they had to understand the cultural presuppositions of those around them, just as the Christian today must work hard at the religions and cultures amongst which he lives, if different thought-worlds are ever to meet." [Note: Baldwin, pp. 80-81.]

This is a dangerous task, however (cf. Deuteronomy 12:30; 1 Corinthians 10:12; Colossians 2:8). [Note: See Whitcomb, p. 32.]

". . . Daniel had no physical blemish and was pleasing in appearance. Mentally, he was intelligent, knowledgeable, and quick to learn. Socially, he was poised and able to live in the king’s court without creating embarrassment for himself or others." [Note: Donald K. Campbell, Daniel: Decoder of Dreams, p. 9.]

Notice the similarity between Daniel’s experience and character-and Joseph’s-throughout this chapter.

Verses 3-7

B. Nebuchadnezzar’s training program for promising youths 1:3-7

Verses 6-7

Daniel’s name probably means "My judge is God." Hananiah means "Yahweh has shown grace," Mishael means "Who is what God is?" and Azariah means "Yahweh has helped." The new names assigned them all included or referred to various Babylonian gods: Bel, Aku, and Nego (a possible variant of Nebo). Belteshazzar means "Bel’s prince," Shadrach may mean "command of Aku," and Abednego most likely means "servant of Nebo."

"It seems the world always tries to blot out the distinctive marks of a believer . . ." [Note: Feinberg, p. 19.]

The practice of changing names was a way to express sovereign control over others. These new names would have also encouraged these youths to think of themselves as part of the culture in which they were living, rather than the culture from which they had come (cf. Genesis 41:45).

"Like Zerubbabel and Mordecai, the four can use their foreign names without worrying about them, perhaps on the same basis that Paul can eat meat sacrificed to idols-because the idol is really nothing." [Note: Goldingay, p. 24.]

The fact that each of their Jewish names included some reference to the Lord may indicate that they had godly parents. Perhaps their early upbringing by godly parents is one reason they stood for God in Babylon.

Verse 8

Evidently Daniel took the initiative with this decision, and his three friends followed his lead. His decision was not to remain morally pure but to remain ceremonially pure. Ceremonial purity was something that concerned only the most faithful Jews. Jews who were careful to remain ceremonially pure would have been equally careful to preserve their moral and ethical purity. Daniel wanted to please the Lord in every respect, not just in the most important moral aspects of his life (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; 1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:14). Undoubtedly the meat and wine that they refused had been offered to the Babylonian gods (Marduk [or Bel], Nebo, Ishtar, etc.) since it came from the king’s table (cf. 2 Kings 25:29). These young men faced a situation common to every modern Christian youth. They could be a part of the crowd and submit to peer pressure to get ahead. Or they could do what they knew would please their God though it might involve persecution and cost them advancement opportunities.

"The command of the king, that the young men should be fed with the food and wine from the king’s table, was to Daniel and his friends a test of their fidelity to the Lord and to His law, like that to which Joseph was subjected in Egypt, corresponding to the circumstances in which he was placed, of his fidelity to God (Gen. xxxix. 7 f.)." [Note: Keil, p. 96.]

"It has well been said that faith is not believing in spite of evidence-that’s superstition-but obeying in spite of consequences." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, "Daniel," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 254.]

". . . the only way we can advance in the truth is by maintaining a good conscience [cf. 1 Timothy 1:19; 1 Peter 3:16; et al.]. Allow one thing in your life unjudged that you know to be contrary to the word of God, or that you fear is not in line with God’s will for you, and you will soon find your spiritual eyes become darkened, your spiritual susceptibilities deadened, and no real progress made in your soul, but rather a steady decline. But where there is faithfulness in separation from that which is opposed to the mind of God; where His word is allowed to sit in judgment on all your ways, you will learn that ’the path of the just is as a shining light, which shineth brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.’ The Word will illumine each step before you as you take the one already pointed out." [Note: Ironside, p. 21.]

Verses 8-13

C. Daniel’s resolve to please Yahweh 1:8-13

Verses 9-13

Daniel must have established a good relationship with the officials in direct authority over him, especially the overseer (steward, Daniel 1:11). He received a favorable response (Heb. hesed, loyal love, and rahamim, compassion) when he proposed a ten-day dietary test. But it was Yahweh who moved the overseer’s heart (cf. 1 Kings 8:50; Psalms 106:46), another indication of God’s sovereignty. Notice that Daniel did not rebel against the restrictions that his elders placed upon him. Instead he courteously requested permission to abstain, and then, having received an encouraging response, he offered a positive alternative course of action.

Daniel proposed a vegetarian diet. Omitting meat and wine from one’s diet does not normally result in obviously better health. Perhaps Daniel was relying on God to cause him and his friends to look better at the end of the test period-miraculously. Another possibility is: The youths may have been served such rich food that they could reasonably expect to look and feel better if they abstained.

Verses 14-16

D. The success of the test 1:14-16

God gave the young men better (fatter, i.e., healthier) appearances by natural or by supernatural means. The result of the test encouraged their supervisor to continue feeding them a diet of things grown in the ground. This is the meaning of the rare Hebrew word translated "vegetables" or "pulse" (AV). [Note: Young, p. 46; Montgomery, p. 132.] God blessed these three young men because they followed His will, not because they ate vegetables instead of meat. We should not use this passage to argue for the intrinsic superiority of vegetarian diets (cf. Genesis 9:3; 1 Timothy 4:3-5).

"Even a small act of self-discipline, taken out of loyalty to principle, sets God’s servants in the line of His approval and blessing. In this way actions attest faith, and character is strengthened to face more difficult situations in the future." [Note: Baldwin, p. 84.]

Verse 17

In addition to favor with their overseers, God gave Daniel and his three friends the ability to master the subjects they studied and wisdom in these matters (cf. James 1:5). They may have thought that Nebuchadnezzar had designed their curriculum, but really God had. Like Moses and Paul, Daniel had an excellent educational background and an unusually brilliant mind (cf. Acts 7:22; Philippians 3:4). God also gave Daniel the supernatural ability to understand visions and dreams (Daniel 1:17). Visions and dreams were the primary means God used to communicate His revelations to prophets in the Old Testament (Numbers 12:6). From the writer’s perspective, Daniel qualified for the blessing of receiving this special gift by choosing to remain loyal to God’s will. Daniel’s similarity to Joseph is again obvious.

"In Hebrew usage the wisdom terms of this verse [Daniel 1:4] had ethical religious overtones, for without wholehearted commitment to the Lord and obedience to His will there could be no wisdom (Job 28:28)." [Note: Ibid., p. 79.]

Verses 17-21

E. God’s blessing of Daniel and his friends 1:17-21

Verses 18-20

At the end of their three-year curriculum, the four faithful friends received a final examination that included an oral testing by the king himself (cf. Proverbs 22:29). They passed at the head of their class (cf. 1 Samuel 2:30). They were probably close to 20 years old at this time. [Note: See Walvoord, p. 41.] Nebuchadnezzar proceeded to give them positions of significant government responsibility, which their education had equipped them for. In these positions they proved far superior to any of the other officials. "Ten times better" (Daniel 1:20) seems to be a hyperbolic idiom meaning many times better (cf. Genesis 31:7; Genesis 31:41; Numbers 14:22; Nehemiah 4:12; Job 19:3).

The fact that Daniel called these other officials magicians (Heb. hartummim, astrological diviners) and conjurers (Heb. assapim, enchanters, NIV) has raised questions about whether the four Hebrew youths practiced occult arts. If they refused to eat non-kosher food because of religious conviction, they presumably would not have participated in divination and magic, which the Mosaic Law also expressly forbade (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). Probably we should understand that they excelled in the matter of offering wise advice to their king.

Daniel also received insight into the future from the Lord (Daniel 1:17), so he would have had better knowledge of the future than the Chaldean astrologers. Chapters 2, 4, 5, and 7-12 validate this claim. There we read of no pagan divining but straightforward prophetic revelation, some in direct answer to prayer. Daniel could write this of himself without boasting, because he credited God with giving him his abilities.

Verse 21

Daniel excelled quantitatively as well as qualitatively. The kings under which he served recognized and continued to employ his divinely bestowed talents for many years. Cyrus’ first year as king of Babylon was 538 B.C. This was the year in which Cyrus issued his decree permitting the Jews to return to their land. The first return took place the next year, in 537 B.C. Thus Daniel’s ministry as a government official spanned approximately 65 years. Daniel 10:1 clarifies that Daniel continued to receive revelations from the Lord even after his career as a government official ended.

Two dates bracket this first chapter, the year that Daniel went to Babylon as a captive (605 B.C.) and the year that his government career ended (538 B.C.). The content of this chapter focuses on the key to Daniel’s remarkable career. He purposed to remain faithful to God’s will even in a relatively minor matter. God blessed that commitment and gave this already gifted and diligent young man additional talents and opportunities with which to serve Him. The chapter introduces the rest of the book, which contains such amazing revelations that the reader might question their validity, without this introduction to the prophet himself.

"Daniel and his three friends became models of how Jews were to remain faithful to God while under gentile dominion." [Note: Dyer, p. 702.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Daniel 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.