Texans have an expression for being in a difficult situation. They call it “being between a rock and a hard place.” That is an appropriate title for this message because Daniel seems to be caught in the middle between God and Nebuchadnezzar. If Daniel were to follow exactly the plans Nebuchadnezzar had for the Hebrew captives, he would defile himself and displease God. If Daniel simply refused to do what Nebuchadnezzar expected, he would be in trouble with the king who had taken him captive.
This is not the only time in Daniel where we will find tension between pleasing God and pleasing those in authority. In chapter 3 Daniel’s three friends must choose between bowing down to the king’s image and being thrown into the fiery furnace. In Daniel 6, Daniel’s choice is between forsaking his prayers and facing the lions.
The dilemma Daniel faces in chapter 1 is different from that found in Daniel 3 and 6. In these latter chapters, the issue is: Pleasing God OR Pleasing men.
In chapter 1, Daniel and his friends face the opportunity for: Pleasing God AND Pleasing men.
The task at hand was not an easy one. For Daniel and his friends, it would require commitment and perseverance. Beyond that, it would require divine strength and intervention and certainly supernatural motivation. Daniel and his three friends did not do “what comes naturally” in this chapter. They did “what comes supernaturally,” to the glory of God.
Think for a moment how a person like Daniel could have felt toward God and toward government, because of what had happened to him. From what little we are told of Daniel’s early childhood (see Daniel 1:1-2), we can surmise that he grew up in Judah, perhaps in the city of Jerusalem. He was likely born of parents high in the social rankings of Judah, maybe even of royal blood (Daniel 1:3). Daniel’s life dramatically changed for the worse (or so it seemed), through no fault of his own.
Long before Daniel’s day, the united kingdom of Israel once ruled by Saul, David, and finally Solomon, divided into two nations. The northern kingdom, known as Israel (sometimes called “Ephraim” by the prophets) was consistently wicked, worshipping idols and forsaking the law of God. The southern kingdom, known as Judah, was often wicked, too, but had times of repentance and revival.
The prophets of God warned of future judgment against Israel if she did not repent from her wicked ways. Israel did not listen, and God’s judgment came upon this wayward nation in the form of defeat and dispersion by the Assyrians.
Assyria was eager to extend her empire by adding the southern kingdom of Judah to her conquests, but God intervened, sparing Judah from the hand of the Assyrians. God pointed to the fall of Israel at the hand of the Assyrians as an object lesson for wayward Judah. He warned of a similar fate for Judah at the hand of the nation of Babylon. Judah refused to heed these warnings, so captivity came upon the southern kingdom as well.
Daniel, along with a number of other Hebrew youths, were part of the first wave of captives held hostage in Babylon. Several attacks on Jerusalem would follow, with many Hebrews deported to Babylon to spend 70 years in captivity. As were others, Daniel was torn from his native land, his family, and his friends, so far as we know, never seeing his homeland again. It is even possible, since Daniel is called a eunuch, castration was a part of his humiliation as a Hebrew hostage.18
How easy it would have been for Daniel to become bitter toward Babylon, toward his own people [after all, Israel’s sin brought on God’s judgment], and even toward God [God gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:2)]! We are not told about the attitudes and actions of any of the other Hebrew hostages, but it is probably safe to assume they did not respond the way Daniel and his friends did.
The first chapter is critical to our understanding of the entire Book of Daniel, providing the historical setting for the entire book, and especially revealing the mind set of Daniel and his three friends. It explains, in part, the reasons for Daniel’s rise to a position of great influence in the Babylonian government.
Chapter 1 introduces Nebuchadnezzar, the king under whom Daniel serves in chapters 1-4, as being impressed with Daniel and his friends because of their wisdom. As the book proceeds, the king begins to understand that their wisdom is from God. In Daniel 1, Nebuchadnezzar places the articles he took from the temple in Jerusalem, the “house of God,” into the house of his god supposing that his “god” is greater than the God of the Jews. By chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar is humbling himself in worship and praise before the God of the Jews, acknowledging Him to be the God of the universe—God alone.
Daniel 1 presents those who live in the “times of the Gentiles,” whether Jew or Gentile, with the ideal, the goal for which every Christian should strive—pleasing God and pleasing men. Daniel and his friends are the “ideal Jews” who did what the Jews as a nation did not do. They refused to defile things the Jews persistently practiced. In our text, Daniel and his friends provide us with a model of biblical submission, primarily a submission to God, but also a submission to those under whose authority God has placed us.
Chapter 1 instructs us in holiness. Daniel and his friends knew where and how to “draw the line” between what was defiling and what was not. We who desire to live godly lives will find much to gain from the example of Daniel and his friends, as revealed in this great text of scripture.
Finally, our text establishes a connection between godliness and wisdom. As a result of their actions, Daniel and his three friends are given wisdom which far surpasses that of all others in Babylon, whether Jew or Gentile. Our text has much to say to us about the source of true wisdom. Let those who would be wise learn from Daniel and his friends and listen well to what the Spirit of God has to teach us, through these men, about godly living in an ungodly world.