Many parts of the book of Daniel are famous. The 'writing on the wall' has become a modern idiom. Most children have heard of 'Daniel in the Lion's Den'. Students of prophecy will all have studied the image, the beasts, the little horns and the famous seventieth week. On the side of the infidel the book has attracted wave after wave of textual criticism as they attempt to undermine some of its' startlingly accurate prophecy.
Amidst the fame and the controversy sits the first chapter totally untouched by either. Yet my aim in this essay is to show that not only is this chapter an extremely good introduction to the character of Daniel but is also an extremely good example to us if we wish to serve our Lord in a world that we do not belong to.
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.
Jehoiakim was the second son of Josiah king of Judah, his mother was Zebudah, the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah.. He was born around 635BC under the name of Eliakim (Resurrection of God). Although we are told little of his early life we do know that when his father died it was his younger brother Shallum that was the peoples choice for king. He came to the throne in his 25th year (610BC) after Shallum, who was sympathetic towards the Babylonians, had been deposed by Pharaoh-Necho. As part of this manoeuvre Pharaoh changed Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim (avenging, establishing or resurrection of the Lord) and established that Judah should pay tribute to Egypt. Jehoiakim raised this tribute by laying a tax burden upon the people.
One may easily imagine that Jehoiakim felt fairly comfortable. He had made a truce with the world, it was laying a burden upon him but with work he was able to meet the payments. However he was about to discover that one of the problems with making a truce with the world is that the world changes. Whereas Egypt had been the local superpower a new one was emerging, Babylon.
Babylon is described biblically as first of four great gentile world kingdoms. The roots of Babylon stretch back to Babel and it exists, at least by name, all the way to the end of the great tribulation. Yet most of the more than 300 biblical references to it relate to the role it played in the three deportations of the people of Judah. It is the first of these deportations that the opening verses allude to.
Babylon really started on its path towards supreme power in 625BC when a Chaldean prince Nabopolassar established the 10th Dynasty, often known as the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian dynasty. Before and during the early part of his reign the closest thing to a 'world' power was Assyria and the great achievement of Nabopolassar, aided by Media was to put an end to Assyrian domination. By 612BC Assyria's chief cities had fallen, the struggle finally ended in 606BC with the fall of Ninevah. The majority of the Assyrian empire fell to Nebopolassar and Babylon was established.
The next decisive step was then unwittingly taken by Pharaoh king of Egypt that had probably seen the northern upheaval as an opportunity to expand, which he did by capturing Carchemish, having advanced through Judah and slaying Josiah. This led to Babylonian retaliation in the form of Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabopolassar. The Egyptians were a long way from home and with the benefit of hindsight over extended. They were thoroughly routed. Egypt was now effectively over as a power in the Palestine giving Babylon control of most of the land to the North and East of Judea. Nebuchadnezzar continued his foray and invaded Jerusalem; it is this activity that our opening verses refer to.
2 Ki 24:1 gives us another interesting insight into the way the world works. Nebuchadnezzar had come be force and taken away treasure from the house of the Lord. The second verse twice mentions that Nebuchadnezzar had an alternative God. The picture is clear; Jehoiakim had yielded a little to the Egyptians, that was taken and then the world turns around and requires a little more of God's glory. Having done that the world offers another deal. Jehoiakim can have back the kingdom as long as he follows Babylon. Jehoiakim settled for the deal: at least for a while.
We are provided with one more insight however, and in some ways it is the hardest to fathom. The second verse states that it was the Lord that handed Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar's hand. Although most of us know better when pushed, we generally like to think that everything good that happens comes from God and everything bad is at worst His permissive will and maybe some even harbor the idea that this particular mishap happened outside of His particular providence. The Bible views things very differently. Jeremiah baldly states that Nebuchadnezzar had been given the power he had so that he could fulfill God's purposes.
The question becomes 'why'? Why did the almighty God allow a heathen to come and despoil His people and His temple? Probably the answer is to give them an opportunity to repent. In fact, implicit in these first two verses is the fact that this attack was fairly mild. Nebuchadnezzar only took away a few vessels and a few of the children and Jehoiakim was put back on the throne. It was only as the kings of Judah continued to do evil that two further attacks were made, the second bringing Ezekiel into captivity and the third resulting in the utter destruction of Jerusalem .
With this example in view we need to be careful how we view our own setbacks. The apostle Paul said with confidence that we 'glory in tribulations' knowing that eventually it will produce hope. However this is only really true if we approach our tribulations in the right frame of mind, and as we progress through this first chapter of Daniel we will see a beautiful example of how tribulation can produce spiritual growth provided it is handled properly.
3 And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes; 4 Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning
I think these verses delicately point to a fact that most of the commentators have chosen to ignore; either through lack of perception or through an unwillingness to delve into certain matters that the Bible feels perfectly free to tackle.
Daniel was a eunuch . There are a number of points in support of this that I shall tackle in sequence:-
Assuming my assertion is correct, and I believe it to be so, then we have an incredible insight into what must have been going on in Daniel's mind. A devout Jew who was clearly gifted in many areas he had probably been looking forward to a successful life in Judea. He would raise a family, study scripture, worship corporately, and teach his children to worship Jehovah and generally life a normal fulfilling life.
Suddenly everything changed. Physically wounded in a way that his faith taught him was a disgrace, ripped away from his family and deposited in a strange land he had every reason to be confused, bitter and even angry.
At first sight there is nothing in these verses that we could readily relate to today, this barbaric practice has largely ceased, at least within the civilized countries. However in Matthew 19 our Lord gives us an interesting insight in this area. He says that some are born as eunuchs (i.e. naturally sterile), others are made eunuchs of men (as Daniel was) and others make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. Our Lord was not of course referring to any form of self-mutilation; the verse in context is referring to those that have forgone marriage (and thus sexual intercourse) in order to further the kingdom.
Within modern churches we will even find those that have been rendered eunuchs by a blend of obedience and circumstance. There are many single sisters for example that have chosen to forego marriage because a suitable Christian mate could not be found. There are those that have been betrayed by their partners and have chosen not to remarry in deference to the Lord's teaching on divorce. Sometimes we find in these people a beautiful shining example of how the Lord can bless in adversity, sometimes we find the bitterness that we might have expected in Daniel. Hopefully the remainder of this chapter of Daniel can serve as an encouragement to any who have found themselves in this position one way or another.
5 And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.
To assume that the world has only one angle of attack, or to assume it will play in a straightforward manner is always a mistake. In this passage the young men had been taken from their homes and permanently mutilated. The hopes and aspirations they might properly have had had been taken from them. At this point the cost of being in Babylon would have been very clear to the young Jews and resentment would readily have built. And thus the world switches tactic. Suddenly the king is taking a personal interest and providing them meat directly from the royal table. It is not difficult to imagine how readily an uncertain person would have grasped at this sign of potential favor. It is a long distance from a poor, besieged, tributary nation to the sumptuous luxury of Babylonian life. Yet the king had kindly offered to feed these young men food that would make them healthy.
And not content with that they were offered wine too. Wine in the Bible is a picture of joy. Nebuchadnezzar was assuring them that he had every intention of ensuring that they lived the good life, serving him, in their new home. In fact this wasn't just wine, it was the same wine that the king drank; clearly no expense was to be spared.
As if this favor was not enough to sweep the unwary from their feet it was all attached to a promise. Three years of apprenticeship and these young men were to be in the presence of the king himself. Right there in the center of power. There would be riches untold available to them. All they had to do was go along with the agenda and a glorious future waited.
Although we are not told it happened we might fancy the chief eunuch taking each boy under his wing from time to time, regaling them with stories of the exotic Babylonian court, assuring them that before long the pain and the scaring would go, and that Jerusalem was not worth hankering after as Babylon was where it is at.
Whilst this exact offer would rarely be offered today it is uncannily similar to the deal offered to many young Christian men today. Let go of the past, forego the home life, spend less time with the family, become understated in one or two areas of morality, work a seven-day week and in just a few years you'll become a rich person.
It is interesting too that the time period of three years is identical to the average British university course. Robert Anderson suggests that Daniel was probably 21 when he stood before the king, which would make this training about the correct age too. If Babylon believed three years was enough to change someone at the right age beyond recognition then they were probably right. And our university system is in a similarly delicate position.
As parents we need to be aware that college life regularly changes the outlook of the children that are sent to it. We need to be extremely concerned that the college they go to first and foremost provides the correct spiritual environment that we want our children to have. Being proud that they got into the best college academically is foolish if the end result is a spiritually ruined life. This reasoning is especially true of Bible seminaries. Three years is more than enough to undo an upbringing of good biblical teaching. We cannot assume that all Bible colleges would teach or encourage a form of Christianity that we would endorse. Daniel did well, as we shall see he had the strength of character to resist, our own offspring may not be similarly gifted.
6 Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 7 Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego.
In a modern society where children are named almost randomly (or simply as a replication of their parents name!) it is difficult to envisage what is really happening in these verses. To the middle-eastern mind, or to any diligent student of the Old Testament, it is far clearer. Names have a meaning and strength of their own, if you can change the name of something you can often change the way it is perceived.
We have a clear example of this today in the abortion debate. Whilst there are many brutally straightforward points being debated some of the subtler maneuvers are performed around the terms used. The abortion supporters diligently describe themselves as 'pro-choice'. In a democracy 'choice' is a far better word that 'abortion'. Similarly the abortionists try to avoid the word 'baby' at all costs; embryo or fetus being far less emotive and thus more acceptably destructible. The anti-abortionists of course play the same game, using 'baby' at all opportunities and even eschewing 'anti-abortion' for the more positive sounding 'pro-life'.
I firmly believe that as believers we should try to stick to biblical language insofar as we can. If the Holy Spirit decided that a particular turn of phrase or metaphor was the correct one to express a concept then I think we must concede that it was probably right. For this reason I think the dynamic method of translation is flawed. When God caused the Hebrew and Greek language to come about he knew what he wanted to express and insofar as we are able to follow the meaning of those original languages in our English translations then we certainly should.
Although I would be less dogmatic about it I think we should also look seriously to what we call our children. Whilst there are many modern names that would be 'cool at school' I think there is a certain merit in using some of the plainer names with a biblical basis. I made a conscious decision with our children that if someone saw their names on a roll-call then they would knew what we stood for. We have Matthew, Luke & John. Obviously most people would not wish to go that far, at it would get messy if everyone did, but we should still make the naming decision based upon prayer and what we believe and not just follow the worlds present fashion.
8 - But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
The expression 'purposed in his heart' is unique in the King James, yet it is a rendering of 'suwm leb', which appears some 18 times. It is usually rendered 'lay to heart' or 'set thine heart'. The first occurrence is in the famous 'ten plagues' section referring to those that did not heed the warning to protect their cattle. The use of two words ('purpose' or 'set' and 'heart') shows us that we need two things if we are to achieve: motivation and determination.
Ultimately our motivation and direction come from the heart; of course that does not mean the organ the pumps the blood, but the base of our emotional intelligence. Our Lord taught this and any honest self-appraisal will tell you this. Whilst law and mental good intentions may modify some visible behavior it cannot deal with inner conflict. Indeed we are specifically told that if our heart is not on track it will actually deliberately trick our mental faculties into an error. This is one of the reasons that the Jew is promised a new heart as part of the millennial blessing. The psalmist gives the solution to a corrupt heart in Ps 119:11, hide the word of God within it.
The New Testament believer of course has a new man, and the Spirit of God indwelling, and we might be tempted to think that that alone should be able to tame an erroneous heart. Heb 4:12 suggests that that is a mistake and that even we need the word of God to ensure that our heart is focused in the right direction.
But then we need purpose. Direction is not enough; if you don't have velocity too then you will never achieve your desired goal. When Paul was listing his qualities to his beloved son Timothy not only did he list 'purpose' as one of his seven defining characteristics but also he put it 3rd, before faith, longsuffering, love and patience. We should think about that. In some circles Christianity has become a very passive pursuit. We believe that if we get our hearts right and have a warm enough nature then we have achieved all that is required of us. Paul's instruction to Timothy would suggest not and in the passage before us we see Daniel moving to the offense. His God had requirements of him and he had the resolve to carry them out.
We then need to look at the issue that caused Daniel such concern: it was defilement. Again this is an odd term to the modern believer, but in this case it is rightfully so. The teachings on ritual defilement are one of those (rare) parts of the Old Testament that the Lord did overturn during his earthly ministry. He specifically taught that foods entering a body do not defile but thoughts proceeding from an evil heart do. However the basis of the Jews faith was obedience. In fact, in this chapter we have an example of how the Jewish system of law actually produced in Daniel the New Testament requirement of a true heart.
What is not entirely clear from the passage is why exactly this meat would have caused defilement. It could simply be that Babylonian meat was mis-prepared but more probably the implication is that meat from the king's table would have been sacrificed, or offered in some ceremonial way to a false God.
1 Co 8:4-10 & 1 Co 10:25-28 gives a full airing of a New Testament position on eating meat sacrificed to idols. The gist is that eating the meat in and of itself will do no harm, and certainly if it is eaten by mistake or unknowingly then no harm is done. However eating meat sacrificed to idols consciously could cause a stumbling block to some and should probably thus be avoided.
Again we cannot be ritually defiled, our acceptability before the throne of grace has been settled once and for all. However it could do us good to mull over the teachings on meat. There are many parts of modern day society that whilst not intrinsically evil are quite capable of casting a snare upon the unwary. Television, fiction, some sport and the internet are all examples of things which are quite lawful but not always profitable.
Finally from this verse let us just notice the practical. We know Daniel was a man of prayer, a man of deep spiritual resolution and a man who valued his personal purity. Yet he also got off his knees and went and did something. Purpose is not just about resoluteness but also about action. The adversary hates a motivated, determined Christian. But one that is active too is a real threat.
Look at the nature of the action too. He didn't start chatting amongst his friends trying to start a groundswell movement. He didn't try floating the idea in comfortable circles in the hope that the 'necessary people' might eventually get to hear. He went straight to the person he needed to talk to.
9 Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs
In the previous verse we looked at the character that Daniel required to withstand defilement. We saw that he had to be resolute. In this verse we real see the other side of the same coin. Whilst Daniel had been attempting to follow God we find that God had already been active in accommodating Daniel. Note in particular the tense: God had brought. We can imagine that before Daniel went to speak to the chief eunuch he would have been praying for a warm reception, God had already been working to that end.
This is similar to what God did for Joseph  and indeed that he repeated to the Jew in general. Proverbs 16:7 actually goes as far as to lay down a general principle that if man please God then even his enemies will be at peace with him. We might object to this and argue that often the righteous suffers. This is true, especially on a grand scale. Daniel could easily argue that he was suffering; see previous chapters. The point is, that within that, God had still prepared a mercy of Daniel. Compared to the bad things that had happened the mercy was minor, but it was the mercy that Daniel needed and therefore it was the mercy that God had prepared for that moment.
The Bible has also taken care to detail that Daniel had come into the good of the prince of eunuchs in two different manners: favor and tender love. Looking up the meanings of these words we find that a subtle but important difference. Favor actually comes from a root implying courtesy; the word suggests a pious kindness. If you like God had ensured that Daniel was in the hands of a just man that would have no alternative agenda when dealing with Daniel. The 'tender love' has far more to do with compassion and even a maternal kind of protectiveness. God had caused an emotional bond to form on the part of the eunuch and therefore he would look out for Daniel over and above standard good kindness.
So why did God specify both? Surely the protective instinct would have been enough? Not necessarily. It is natural for someone who is purely protective of another to assume that the protector knows best. Especially and Daniel was young there would have been a danger for him to have been smothered by the paternal love of the eunuch. But God was going to show Daniel (not the eunuch) the way forward and therefore Daniel was going to need a little bit of space. Thus God arranged an ideal position for a growing lad. The eunuch had the required love but he also had the civility and goodness to listen to Daniel and, within bounds, to allow Daniel to carve out his own future. As a parent who will one day be facing teenage boys I think this is one of the hardest areas within which to strike a correct balance. Nonetheless there is no doubt in my mind that God arranged precisely that balance for Daniel and my prayer is that when the time comes by own lads will be given a similarly ideal position from which to work.
10 And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.
This verse, suitably paraphrased, is a verse that has stopped untold numbers of believers from following through on a right stand for God. Almost every clause is dripping with traps into which an undetermined believer can fall and never fully escape. They can be taken in sequence:
As we shall see, when presented with a barrage like this the trick is to analyze all of the different arguments into parts and make sure an answer is available for each one.
12 Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.
Whilst there are a number of points to be drawn out of this verse the first word is actually the key to them all. Daniel was able to work through this situation for one reason. He had faith that doing God's will was not only the 'morally right' thing to do but also that it was a 'good idea'.
That may seem like a strange thing to say but we live in a day when millions of Christians are scared of science and education because they want to believe in a creator God and somehow think that if they follow science to closely they will 'discover' that God isn't true, or at least that he didn't work in the way he claims. This is a huge mistake. God is there; the Bible is true. The harder and more scientifically we dig into biblical claims the more vindicated we will be. Daniel was sure that if God said you shouldn't eat meat sacrificed to idols then it would be better for him not to do it. How many of the sins (or at least 'indulgences') do we allow ourselves because we have a secret belief that we will be better of 'doing things our way' than living in simple obedience to God's will. Our churches are replete with deviations from God's standard; each time there is some 'good reason' why we do this. Daniel has simple faith. If only we did too.
To underline the strength of his belief Daniel then does two further things, he puts his own neck on the line and specifies a time limit. He may have been tempted to say 'prove God' so that if it went wrong he could keep himself clean. He actually did the opposite; he put the onus on himself. I believe this is an outstanding example of his total faith. He knew that doing things God's way would work so he figured that if this didn't work it was because of something he had done wrong. The time limit also shows something of the freshness of his faith. We all claim to believe that 'God will work something out sometime'. Daniel didn't just expect God to work vaguely over a vague period, he expected God to be working in a specific way in the next 10 days. I wonder how much we expect God to be doing in our lives in the next 10 days?
I think the final clause of this verse is often misinterpreted completely. Daniel had been offered the king's meat and wine and asked for pulse and water. The debate therefore rages as to whether or not vegetarianism is a God given pathway. The answer is simple; we have been given meat to eat as part of the Noaic covenant  and that is still as valid today as governmental justice and procreation. Daniel asked for pulse and water because they were the substances that could be most readily provided to him with a minimum of aggravation by the chief eunuch. I'm sure Daniel would have loved to order kosher meat and a few other delicacies from his hometown. Morally and religiously he could have done so. Daniel however wanted to accommodate the eunuch in all ways that he could so that Daniel in turn might be accommodated when required.
This is probably a good lesson for us. If we want to be able to require our companies to accommodate our religious needs then we should minimize the other burdens that we choose to place upon them. Refusing to work on Sundays is commendable and God honoring. Coming in late, taking long lunch hours, going home early and being at a football match on Saturday is less justifiable.
13 Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king's meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. 14 So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.
Daniel is taking two very interesting steps in verse 13 and arguably they are somewhat dangerous steps.
The first is that he is allowing, even encouraging, a measurement of himself to be made on the basis of his appearance. As Christians we have a very searching question to ask. Is it valid for us to invite others to measure our worldly progress as a sign of divine favor?
Daniel was correct in presuming a physical blessing from obedience. The Jewish covenant was really very straightforward; obedience produced blessing and disobedience produced a curse. As Christians we have a different directive, we are to be content in all things through the strength of Christ. In fact Paul suggests that ill favor is actually a sign of Christian obedience and service. The Jew was told that obedience would produce satiation of fleshly lusts, the Christian is told to thwart those same lusts.
Probably the most confusing verse around for many Christians is Rom 8:28. It suggests that all things work together for the good of the Christian; then we get confused and disillusioned when they blatantly don't. The solution is just to read a little more precisely. The verse doesn't say it will be good unto the Christian: simply that it will be good to them. In other words, it is saying that the Christian, that wants the Lords will done will agree that all things have worked together to God's purpose; even if that has involved earthly problems for the believer himself. The most striking example of this was the Lord. His death was not good unto him, but it was good to him because his delight was to do the fathers will.
So the first of Daniel's steps in this verse was appropriate for Daniel but inappropriate for us. The second is subtler and I suggest more appropriate. Daniel is placing a clear line between himself (and others that follow him) and those that eat of the king�s meat. This is a direct counter to the suggestion made the prince of eunuch's that Daniel was of the 'sort' of these other children. Melzar had suggested that Daniel was one amongst peers; Daniel's response was that his peers were those that followed God, not anybody else.
In the New Testament we find that we too are called to be distinctive:
1Pe 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light
This should come as a challenge and a wake-up call to each of us. Do we fit in and get on well with the people around us? Then something is horribly wrong. We have been chosen to show forth the praises of God. We should stick out like a sore thumb. Daniel was prepared to, and we should be too.
The final thing to note is that Melzar consented. No doubt this was partly because God had gone before, but it was also because Daniel had proposed a perfectly acceptable test. Daniel hadn't resorted to special pleading or tried to plea bargain. His position was simple. My God says this; prove it to yourself.
15 And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat. 16 Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.
In one sense these three verses are the same, in another they build one upon another. From Daniel's point of view verse 15 is almost a complete redundancy. God did what he said he would do. However there are a couple of nice points worth mentioning.
Firstly the spirit carefully records that Daniel and his friends were fairer and fatter. Daniel had invited comparison and God made sure that whether the comparison were done qualitatively or quantitatively then the Children of God still won.
Secondly the spirit underlines the separation between His people and the others. Sometimes Christians are accused of being elitist because we separate ourselves from the world. We, of course, deny it strenuously. We can deny what we like, but God still makes the distinction. The children of the Most High God aren't the same as everybody else.
Thirdly, look at the use of the word all. Daniel and his friends were not 'on average' better than the others. Every one of Daniel and his friends were better than every one of the others. This appeals to me greatly. Daniel and his friends may well have been average amongst what the world considered their peers. But by separating themselves out they were able to rise completely above the main population.
Verse 16 gives us a useful insight into Melzar. Whilst he did judge by the outward appearance he at least judged fairly, or as fairly as he was able. Further, having made such a judgment he was prepared to act upon it. He did not change the criteria or propose a further probation period. This is probably a result of the tender love that had been wrought by God in verse 9.
However this verse shows us a secondary side of Daniel's behavior that is positive but that can be hard to live with. He had set a standard for himself and now those around him, specifically Melzar, were expecting him to continue in it. The choice fancies had now been taken away; Daniel and co were now faced with three years of pulse. They may have steeled themselves for 10 days of it, but now they had over a thousand.
Viewed the other way this fact can be positive whilst we are enduring temptation. It is not the direct application of these verses but it gives us an insight into how temptation works. Temptation typically lasts a short while; we are told that if we resist the devil he will flee from us. The lads had to spend 10 days resisting the king's food and from then on the temptation had gone. We just need to be sure in our minds that we actually do want the temptations to desist and the Lord will reduce the desire. The persistent problems tend to be those that we don't quite want to let go of.
17 - As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams
This verse then shows us God's attitude towards the obedient young men, he gave them knowledge and skill in learning and wisdom . At one level the meaning of this verse is obvious, but it is also a classic example of a verse we read far too quickly and loose 90% of what it is saying. Knowledge, skill, learning and wisdom are all words that appear to have similar meaning and thus we smear them into each other and assume the spirit just put all four down to help with the rhythm. It is quite possible to understand Daniel having done this but I believe these subtle distinctions are actually very important.
The first thing to notice is that only two of the four had actually been given: knowledge and skill. The other two, wisdom and learning, still had to be acquired. Certainly God had given them an aptitude towards that growth but they still had to apply that aptitude to get the results. We can fall foul of these two different ways; we can assume that people with ability find things easy or we may assume that because we have an aptitude we don't have to work at it. Both mistakes encourage mediocrity.
Next we should notice that the two pieces to the given aptitude: knowledge and skill. Skill is probably the one we most readily equate with gift; the actual physical, mental or spiritual apparatus to perform a task that most people cannot perform. Today we may equate this to IQ, character or even emotional intelligence. Knowledge, in this context, is actually referring to the ability to apply the skill that has been given. This distinction is important because we will only observe a gift (or skill) insofar as the owner actually has the knowledge to be able to deploy it.
This relates to us directly in a church setting. We are told that gifts are given to all members of the church; yet we often observe that a very small group appears able to achieve. We complacently get used to this disparity and form into a clergy / laity pattern that is abhorrent to God. What we need to realize is that skill or gifting has to be combined with knowledge before it is effective and thus we have to spend time and energy discovering and educating our congregations in the use of the skills that God has given them for his glory.
The final lesson from the four words is the distinction between wisdom and learning , and then the value of both. Learning is what we would understand as education. The accumulation of facts and the development of a mind that is able to integrate existing facts and ascertain the veracity of new ones. Learning is, or at least can be, and entirely secular pursuit. Wisdom comes from the fear of the Lord. Whilst one can, and I have, preached a whole sermon on this I think it is actually very simple to sum up. God matters. Every aspect of our education or learning can, and should, be colored by that fact that there is a God in heaven and that he has an opinion on what is going on.
The four children were each given a very practical reward for their spiritual obedience. Daniel was singled out for special blessing. He was given understanding of dreams and visions. This again was a gift, it was not learned, and there is no logical reason why he was given it. Of course as we go through later chapters we see very clearly why he had this ability. The lesson from this chapter is that God may give special gift to some people. We are not told that Daniel was any more obedient than the others, but we begin to see that he was a natural leader: the chosen of God. The other three were treated very fairly but one was singled out for special blessing. As human beings we can sometimes find this a little hard to swallow; what we need to do is go back to the former part of the verse and see what we have been given and develop that, and not concern ourselves with that which has been given to others.
18 Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. 20 And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king enquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.
We have seen that Daniel and his friends went through three years of living by their own standards. It is easy to imagine that over the period they became accustomed to Babylon , their diet and had to some extend adapted to the situation they were now in. Three years can seem like a long time when you're young. When you're older three years seems like far to short a time span to achieve anything. However the status quo had to change and when three years were up and Melzar brought the men in to see Nebuchadnezzar. We are not told how he did it, how willingly or what kind of introduction the lads were given.
I believe that a key measure of our faith is our ability to handle change. When we are living within a routine, it is far too easy to mistake complacency for faith. When our situation is in turmoil we will either fear or trust. From verse 19 we may intuit that Daniel and his friends trusted. They were able to commune with a king that had power of life and death over them and this ability made them stand out. We should be the same. If we start each morning by communing with the one who upholds all things by the word of his power it is difficult to imagine how we could be intimidate by mortal man later in the day.
It is interesting to note that in the same way that their ability to thrive on pulse provided them with a diet of pulse their ability to commune with a king meant that had to do it on a frequent basis. We are told that the wisdom and understanding that these men had acquired placed them an order of magnitude ahead of the astrologers and magicians of the day. We can easily dismiss this statement by assuming that the astrologers and magicians of Babylon were simply charlatans: but they weren't. Whilst the Babylonians invented astrology  they were also at the forefront of astronomy and mathematics and were also the inventors of the sexigesimal system that we still honor today in our time and navigational systems. As such the named group would represent both the cream of genuine Babylonian education as well as the leaders of Babylonian hocus-pocus. Yet a straightforward, God-given enlightened mind was able to leave them in dust.
21 And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus.
In the final verse of this first chapter we come to a seeming anomaly. We are told that Daniel continued until the first year of king Cyrus yet in Daniel 10:1 we are told he was alive and well in the third year of king Cyrus. This is easily resolved when we remember what this first chapter is about. This chapter is about a young Jewish boy that was taken from his home, removed from where he could worship his God, castrated, renamed and then pumped into the Babylonian culture. Verse 21 is there to tell us that not only did Daniel survive for a while, not only did he thrive for a while, but he actually outlasted the empire that had taken him.
To go back to the title of my essay I would like to point out that this chapter is not about survival, it is about thriving. Thriving by doing God's work, God's way. By having faith and stepping out within it. All too often as Christians we feel that as we are only strangers and pilgrims down here it is ok for us to eek out an existence without getting into too much trouble. I believe, and I believe this chapter illustrates, that attitude is completely wrong. However black life looks, however hostile the environment, God has a mission for us. We just have to find it. And do it.
John 10:10 I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.