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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Daniel 1


Jehoiakim's captivity. Ashpenaz taketh Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: they refusing the king's portion, do prosper with pulse and water: their excellency in wisdom.

Before Christ 606.

THIS chapter relates the history of Daniel during the early part of his captivity, and especially the mode of treatment of himself and some young friends, before they were introduced to the personal attendance on king Nebuchadnezzar.

Verse 1

Daniel 1:1. In the third year It was in the eighth year of Jehoiakim that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against him, and bound him in fetters to carry him to Babylon: 2 Chronicles 36:6. But promising fidelity, the king of Babylon restored him to his kingdom, and Jehoiakim became his servant three years: 2 Kings 24:1. Daniel numbers the third year of Jehoiakim from this beginning of his renewed kingdom. In Jeremiah 25:0 it is said to be the fourth year; which fourth year is called the first of king Nebuchadnezzar. These are easily reconciled, if in this place the word came be understood of the beginning and setting out upon this expedition; so that Nebuchadnezzar arrived at Jerusalem in the fourth year only.

Verse 2

Daniel 1:2. With part of the vessels And part of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them, &c. Shinar was the original name of the country of Babylon.

Verses 3-4

Daniel 1:3-4. The master—the king's seed The prince—the royal seed: the Hebrew word for princes פרתמים partemim. Aquila and the LXX, as cited in Montfaucon's Hexapla, render it επιλεκτων, choice persons, and another Greek version ευγενων, noble, well-born; it seems a compound of the Persic פר per, from the Hebrew פאר peer, to be glorious, honourable; and תם tam, perfect; and so expresses the most honourable, or noble. Bishop Chandler observes, that the word פר or פאר enters into the composition of several names of the princes and nobles among the Medes and Persians, as Pharnaces, Pharnaspes, Pharnuchus, Phraortes, Phraates, Phradates, &c. See his Vindication, book 1: p. 58 and Parkhurst on the word פרתם. The prince of the eunuchs was directed to make choice of such persons as had the best accomplishments both of body and mind; as being the more fit to attend at court. The word ילדים ieladim, rendered children, does not extend to childhood, but refers to more advanced years; (comp. 2 Kings 2:23-24.) nor can we suppose Daniel or his companions to have been less than eighteen or twenty years of age at this time; as may be concluded from Daniel's being put into a considerable post and employment in the government soon after. Houbigant renders it, youths; and so it should be rendered throughout the chapter. Instead of, Skilful in all wisdom, Houbigant has it, apt, or fit to understand wisdom, to learn knowledge, and to attain science; for, says he, a knowledge and skill in all the sciences was not required in these young men, but only a facility to learn them; and it appears from the 17th verse, that they did learn letters and wisdom while they were educated under the prince of the eunuchs. Instead of, And whom they might teach, we may read, And that he should have them taught.

Verse 5

Daniel 1:5. So nourishing them three years That after they had been educated for three years, at the end, &c. Houbigant; or, And that they should be thus bred up three years, and at the end thereof they should stand, &c.

Verse 7

Daniel 1:7. Unto whom, &c.— This change of names was a mark of dominion and authority: masters imposed new names upon their slaves. Daniel signifies, God is my judge, or the judgment of God; Belteshazzar—the treasurer of Baal, or, "The depositary of the secrets, or treasure of Baal." Hananiah signifies, God has been gracious to me; or, "That which is gracious and acceptable to the Lord:" Shadrach signifies, according to some, The inspiration of the sun: or, according to others, God guard us from evil. Mishael,—He who comes from, or is of Meshach, "He who belongs to the goddess Sheshach:" A celebrated divinity of the Babylonians, whereof Jeremiah speaks, Jeremiah 25:26. Azariah signifies, God is my succour;—Abed-nego, the servant of the god Nego, which was the sun, or the morning-star. See Calmet.

Verse 8

Daniel 1:8. Daniel purposed in his heart Daniel had two reasons for refusing the meat from the king's table: first, because the heathens ate indiscriminately all sorts of food, and consequently such as was forbidden by the law of Moses: the second, because it was the custom of most nations before their meals, to make an offering of some part of what they were to eat or drink to their gods: so that every entertainment had something in it of the nature of a sacrifice. This practice generally prevailing, made Daniel and his friends look upon the provisions coming from the king's table as no better than meats offered to idols, and consequently polluted and unclean. See Calmet.

Verse 9

Daniel 1:9. Tender love רחמים rachamim, Bowels of compassion. It has a like sense also at ch. Daniel 2:18. The word is of very strong import, and denotes a kind of parental compassion. St. Paul has an expression somewhat like it, if not stronger, in his epistle to Philemon, Daniel 1:12. "Receive him, that is mine own bowels." And we read of bowels of mercies, &c.

Verse 12

Daniel 1:12. Pulse Pulse here signifies all sorts of roots or herbs.

Verse 17

Daniel 1:17. Dreams Namely, those sent from God to portend future events; which were easily distinguished from fortuitous dreams; if, for instance, they had nothing in them preposterous, nothing irregular, nothing monstrous; and if the whole order and consequences of things were regularly preserved in them, from beginning to end: for nothing of this kind happens in fortuitous dreams; which generally exhibit irregular, unconnected appearances, and which greatly depend upon the disposition of the body, as well as of the mind. The Chaldeans were very much attached to the study of dreams; but the Scripture gives us to understand here, that Daniel's attaining to any distinguished knowledge of these things, was by the immediate gift of God. See Houbigant and Calmet.

Verse 20

Daniel 1:20. Magicians and astrologers These names may perhaps be taken in a good sense, as the wise men in St. Matthew; and the astrologers perhaps were then in general the same as astronomers with us. However, it cannot be collected from these words, that Daniel applied himself to the study of magic arts; but to the sciences of the Chaldees; in the same manner as Moses, long before, had applied himself to the study of the wisdom of Egypt. See Houbigant. The word אשׁפים ashaphim, rendered astrologers, possibly, says Parkhurst, might be derived from ףּנשׁ neshep, to breathe, on account of the divine inspirations that they pretended to. Others have given a different account of the word: צפא tzapha, or sapha, as the Assyrians and Babylonians commonly speak it, signifies to speculate, look about, inquire nicely; which being part of the office of the prophets, they were called zophim. For the same cause, such as spent their time in contemplating the works of nature, the situation of the stars, and their influence on the earth, as the magi (by which word, except in one place, the LXX render אשׁפים ashaphim,) and astrologers did, were named assaphim at Babylon; as much as to say, contemplative men. See Vindic. of Defence, chap. 1: sect. 2.

Verse 21

Daniel 1:21. And Daniel continued He was known, employed, and continued under Nebuchadnezzar and his successors, till the monarchy passed from the Chaldeans to the Persians, in the person of Cyrus; under which prince also he maintained his authority.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, God had threatened Hezekiah, to punish him for his pride, that the treasures in which he gloried should be plundered by the king to whose ambassadors he had vainly shewed them, and his children led into captivity. The fulfilment of that prophesy is here recorded. In the third of Jehoiakim, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, that conqueror invaded Judaea, and besieged and took Jerusalem; yet, not designing intirely to subvert the government, he left the king in possession of his royal dignity, though a tributary, and contented himself with the plunder of a part of the vessels of the sanctuary, as a trophy of his victory, and to be placed in the temple of his god, as a tribute of thankfulness for his success. So much more devotion and gratitude do idolaters often shew to their false gods, than the professors of the Christian religion pay to the only living and true Jehovah. He chose also the most promising and ingenious youths, that were of royal or noble extraction, to be trained up in his court, and qualified for offices of trust and government under him. Thus while he rendered them useful ministers of state, they served also as hostages for the fidelity of their parents. We may observe,

1. The directions given for the choice of these youths, which shewed the consummate wisdom and policy of the monarch. They must be without deformity, well-favoured, the lovely countenance bespeaking often the sweet disposition of the mind. They must be young, that they might more readily incorporate with the people among whom they were captives, and learn their manners and language: and persons of genius and learning, well skilled in all the knowledge that was proper for their years and station, and likely to improve under the tuition of their Chaldean masters.

2. The care taken of their maintenance and education. Three years they were liberally maintained at the king's expence, and under the most accomplished masters, that they might become acquainted with the language, laws, arts, and learning of the Chaldeans; and, at the expiration of this time, be qualified to appear before the king, and fill that department most suited to their genius and capacity. Note; (1.) The good education of youth is a public concern. (2.) They who wish to serve their generation, must spend their earlier days not in idleness or pleasure, but study: if that season be lost, it is afterwards scarcely to be redeemed.

3. Among these youths four are particularly mentioned, as rendering themselves most remarkable in the succeeding history. Their names were, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. (See the annotations.) These the prince of the eunuchs changed into other names; either to shew his authority over them; or to intimate that they were now naturalized, and become Chaldeans; or in honour of the gods of Babylon, instead of the God of Israel, whose name they bore; and hoping perhaps the more easily to seduce them to the worship of the idols after whom they were now called. But though their names were changed, their hearts were the same; and, far from serving these idols, they approved themselves the servants of the true God.
2nd, We have,
1. Daniel a favourite with the prince of the eunuchs. His own amiable qualities, no doubt, deserved regard; but the singular affection that he found in this heathen master was from God, who hath in his hand the hearts of all men. If we find favour, therefore, with those from whom perhaps we least expected it, let us acknowledge this to be the gift of God.
2. He is scrupulously careful to maintain a conscience void of offence. The king had allowed him and his companions a liberal maintenance; but they feared to defile themselves with the meat and wine of the king; either as being such food as was forbidden by their law, or as having been offered in sacrifice to idols, or blessed in their name: they rather therefore chose to live upon the plainest and coarsest diet, than on these delicacies; and Daniel, as their spokesman, intercedes for them with the prince of the eunuchs, that they might be excused from using the king's provision, and be permitted to live on pulse and water; hard fare for the sons of princes! Note; (1.) They who would preserve their souls from sin, must keep a strict guard over their sensual appetites. (2.) The poorest repast eaten with a good conscience, is a more delicious morsel than all the dainties of the luxurious. (3.) They who have a sense of the evil of sin, will think no suffering or self-denial hard, in order to escape from it. (4.) Humble entreaty will prevail on those, whom obstinate refusal would but have exasperated; as was the case here; for,

3. The prince of the eunuchs, after some objections, consents. He was fearful, lest such spare diet should make these young princes look worse than their fellows; the consequence of which would perhaps be the anger of the king, and might cost him his head. But as Daniel and his companions desire only ten days trial by way of experiment, he is satisfied to wait that time, and compare them with the others: or else Melzar, the officer to whose care they were intrusted, and to whom Daniel addressed anew his request, grants them this liberty, perhaps with the connivance of his superior; and the event justified the experiment; for at the expiration of the ten days, these were fairer and fatter than the others who had feasted on the king's delicacies. Note; (1.) An abstemious diet is the best friend to health. (2.) Let the poor, who are reduced to pulse and water, remember, that God's blessing can make these preferable to a stalled ox. (3.) Whatever we deny ourselves for God's glory, shall, in the issue, prove our greatest gain.

3rdly, We have,
1. The great progress in learning which these gracious youths made under the divine blessing. They minded their business, and God eminently blessed them, giving them singular skill and knowledge; and Daniel in particular was endued with understanding in all visions and dreams, which he was enabled to interpret, not by any pretended rules of art, but by divine inspiration; and in these also God was pleased to make known unto him future events.

2. The king highly honoured them at the expiration of the three years. When he came to examine into the proficiency of these students, he found none to be compared with these four: he therefore took them into his service, and dignified them with a seat at his council-board. And he had abundant reason to approve the choice that he had made of them; for in all matters of wisdom and understanding, respecting the conduct of affairs private or public, they were ten times better than the wisest and most experienced of his counsellors, and the most celebrated of the magicians. From this time till the first year of Cyrus, Daniel continued at court and in favour, and lived to see that happy event, the restoration of his people to their own land. Note; (1.) They who singly make God's glory their aim, most effectually consult their own honour and happiness. (2.) Wisdom is not always confined to age: when God teaches, he can give to youth more understanding than the ancients.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Daniel 1". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.