Into Exile | Daniel 1:1-7

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

Daniel 1:1-7 ESV

When the armies of Assyria surrounded Jerusalem, Hezekiah cast his hope upon the LORD. The tenth generation descendent of King David was thirty-one years old when the Assyrian Empire (what some consider the world’s first true superpower) obliterated Samaria, the capital city of the Northern Kingdom, and scattered the Israelites throughout the empire. The Assyrians were a brutal people who made grotesque displays of their defeated foes in order to discourage any thoughts of future rebellion, which was very similar to how the later Romans would use crucifixion to secure their dominion. Thus, when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, stood with his powerful armies outside of Jerusalem’s walls, it must have seemed as though the end of God’s people had come.

Hezekiah, however, was one of the few kings who followed the ways of the LORD as his ancestor David did. When the hour was at its darkest, Hezekiah “tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the LORD” (2 Kings 19:1). Through Hezekiah’s reliance upon the LORD to defend them and Sennacherib’s defiance of the LORD’s greatness, Jerusalem was saved, and Sennacherib was murdered by a coup against this throne, just as Isaiah predicted to Hezekiah.

Unfortunately, those faithful to God may still make foolish and sinful errors. Years later, envoys from the still small but increasingly mighty city of Babylon came with gifts for Hezekiah, which in politics never come without some hope of gain in return. Hezekiah responded to this invitation of alliance by revealing to them “all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, the armory, all that was found in his storehouses” (2 Kings 20:13). Hezekiah likely only saw the potential benefits of allying Judah with Babylon; therefore, he was displaying the resources that his kingdom could bring to the table. Yet through Isaiah, the LORD spoke against Hezekiah’s foolishness, saying,

Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

2 Kings 20:17-19

Four generations later, in days of Hezekiah’s great-great-grandson, Jehoiakim, Isaiah’s words would be fulfilled.

THE NEW NORMAL IN BABYLON

I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

These are some of my favorite lines of dialogue in The Lord of the Rings because they mark Frodo’s first moment of grasping the heavy burden of possessing the Ring of Sauron and because Gandalf’s counsel is sound. No one wishes to live during times of great change and tumult, yet we are not the authors of time. The horrors and heroism of those who fought and died in World War II’s trenches were not the designs of that day’s soldiers. They simply answered the call to arms that was required of them. In contrast, Hezekiah’s reaction to Isaiah’s prediction is the low point of the king:

Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”

2 Kings 20:19

Hezekiah had an anti-discipleship mentality (one that further revealed itself in his son’s unsurpassed wickedness); he only cared for the comfort and security of his own day. He had no compassion for the coming suffering of his own descendants. Sadly, Hezekiah is not alone; many throughout history have left the large debt of their momentary peace to be paid by the generations that follow them.

Daniel belonged to that generation. He and his three friends (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) were both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish. They were of Hezekiah’s lineage, and they were likely only in their early teens. Indeed, these verses are describing the first wave of the Babylonian Exile of Judah. In this first coming, Jerusalem itself was spared from destruction as were its people. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, only took some of the vessels of the house of God (i.e., the very same treasures that Hezekiah had displayed to the Babylonian envoys) and some of the people of Israel.

Later, Jehoiakim would rebel against Nebuchadnezzar, and the Babylonians returned to Jerusalem, taking “all the treasures of the house of the LORD… and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land” (2 Kings 24:13-14). The prophet Ezekiel was among this group of exiles.

Finally, Jehoiakim’s brother, Zedekiah, rebelled against Babylon nine years into his reign. This third coming of the Babylonians resulted in the decimation of Jerusalem and of the temple. While trying to escape, Zedekiah was captured and forced to witness the execution of his own sons before having his eyes gouged out. Jeremiah witnessed these events firsthand, writing Lamentations in response to such sorrow. Belonging to the first wave of captivity, Daniel and his friends would only have heard the news of their homeland’s sufferings five hundred miles away in the very capital of its destroyer.

Nebuchadnezzar’s deportation of Daniel and his kinsmen was a strategic powerplay to highlight his position as the new superpower of the world. Only a decade before, Nebuchadnezzar’s father had overthrown the city of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, which caused the collapse of that empire. Therefore, the Babylonian king’s forcible taking of the best and brightest of the Judean royal family back to Babylon to be his servants was a message of his power and authority. Nebuchadnezzar was so mighty that the royalty of other nations served in his royal palace.

Consider, therefore, the life-altering exile of Daniel and his friends. Although they grew up in the palace of Jerusalem, they were now taken by force to the palace of Babylon. While they once probably assumed that they would live the normal family life of the upper class in Jerusalem, now they served with the eunuchs in Babylon.[1] Though they were skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge according to the traditions of their fathers, now they taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.[2] In Babylon, their God-identifying names were replaced by new names that employed the names of Babylonian deities.

This was their new life, their new normal. Five hundred miles from home, they were thrust into a strict three-year reeducation program designed to turn foreigners into Babylonians. How Daniel and his friends remain faithful during this time of assimilation is specifically presented in verses 8-21, which we will study next week, yet their continued faithfulness to God beyond these three years remains a driving theme of chapters 2-6 as well.

Yet we should not view Daniel as entering into a kind of concentration camp; rather, their conditions were quite excellent. After all, the king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were given the choicest of delicacies daily from the king’s own pantry. Their comforts in Babylon likely far exceeded their station in Jerusalem. This, however, is the most insidious form of obtaining compliance and assimilation. History again and again teaches us that no provision from rulers and governments is truly free. Even Joseph’s distribution of grain to the Egyptians resulted in him purchasing for Pharaoh all of Egypt except for the land belonging to the priests.[3]

Spiritually, for we who have the heavenly Jerusalem as our home and yet are sojourning in this earthly Babylon,[4] comfort is often a better tool for conforming us to the pattern of this world than overt persecution. Indeed, suffering and affliction are frequently used by the LORD to keep us from growing lethargic here. The cares of this world certainly may leave us fruitless for the LORD, but so too may the delights of this world. Nevertheless, let us not dip much further into the themes of next week’s text.

AND THE LORD GAVE…

For the remainder of our time in these verses, I want to focus upon four simple words at the beginning of verse 2: And the LORD gave… These words show us that the ultimate cause of the Babylonian captivity was God Himself. They were taken from their home and placed in servitude to a godless king, and God let it happen. More than that, God gave His people over to their enemy.

Is your understanding of God large enough to process such a statement? Daniel’s deportation was likely far from what he envisioned for his best life now, yet God was orchestrating these events. Of course, we know that, in the big picture, the LORD used the Babylonian Exile to discipline His rebellious people, and it largely worked. The Old Testament narratives are saturated with God’s people sinning against Him by worshiping false gods; however, we do not read of such idolatry among the Jews in the Gospels. What changed? Judah’s exile in Babylon largely purged the Jews of practicing blatant idolatry.[5] Losing their homeland and their status as a nation forced them to grasp onto their identity in the LORD and in His law. Thus, we have the historical hindsight of knowing some of the larger purposes that Daniel’s exile served.

Daniel, however, did not have the benefit of looking at his own life from 2600 years in the future; he was living it. For this Jewish youth and his friends, their old life had ended, and a new one had begun. They would spend the rest of their lives as foreigners in a godless land among a people who practiced abominations against God’s law. Living in the midst of the LORD’s discipline can make answering the question why much harder. Furthermore, remember that the Assyrian Empire fell to the Babylonians only a decade before, and Daniel would see Babylon given into the hands of Persians in only about sixty years. Thus, Daniel lived in a time of seismic political shifts. One song does a great job addressing the kind of questions that such circumstances might raise:

This world exists cause You’ve commanded it
So is Your hand in it?
Or have you handed it over to man and turned away and abandoned it?
Did you try your best and then left man to handle the rest?
Will your plans find success or should we second guess
When world leaders are deceivers, eager to puff their chests?
Is life a game of chess? Do you have these kings in check?
With so much evil how can we believe you’re good?

The verse then concludes with the only answer sufficient for every sorrow and trial.

But I finally understood when I saw that Man nailed to wood.[6]

All of history must be viewed through the lens of the cross. It is the focal point, the centerpiece of the history’s grand narrative, of God’s eternal purpose. In Eden stood the tree of life, and it stands again in the New Jerusalem. Between these two points is the cross, the tree of hanging where the Father gave His own Son into the murderous hands of men. Christ knew a greater exile than Daniel ever could, for Christ left glory to dwell in the dirt with us. Daniel was exiled because of his people’s sins; Christ was exiled for His people’s sins.

Indeed, His sufferings do not teach us the merely moral lesson of “Jesus endured, and so can you!” No! It means that the Eternal One endured God’s wrath in our place so that we no longer face the eternal condemnation of God. His death restored our communion with God, adopting us as His children. Therefore, the cross shows us the vast love of our Father.

Through the lens of our Father who orchestrated the giving of His Son from the beginning, we can trust that He will “work together for good” all things “for those who love” Him (Romans 8:28), and no king or kingdom is excluded from His sovereign design. Through the lens of our Father who gave His Son to die in our place, we can trust that the trials of this life are discipline rather than punishment, for Christ has fully absorbed the punishment of sin. The great difference between discipline and punishment being that, although no discipline is pleasant, we can rejoice that it is for our ultimate good. The cross stands as a permanent testament that no suffering of God’s people is senseless. We may not understand, and in some moments, we may not desire to understand. Yet the death of our Lord to bring us life, forever declares to us the Father’s love, even in the darkest valleys of death.

The book of Daniel, read in the shadow of the cross, points us to our hope, comfort, and courage in the sovereign faithfulness of our Father. Such a hope steadies us against being moved by the afflictions of the world, for which “we are destined” (1 Thessalonians 3:3). Trials will come. Our faith will be tested. But we take heart knowing that our Lord who has overcome the world is the King of kings who was, who is, and who is to come.


[1] Whether Daniel and the others were made eunuchs cannot be said with certainty; however, it would, sadly, have been an easily imagined practice.

[2] Chaldeans is another name that the Bible often uses for the Babylonians.

[3] The parallels between Daniel and Joseph would be well worth exploring.

[4] This is the language that Peter uses for life in this world:

1 Peter 1:1 | “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,”

1 Peter 5:13 | “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.”

[5] Jesus would, of course, still find the religion of His people to be far from blameless.

[6] “Sovereign” by Beautiful Eulogy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s