Daniel 1:1, 2
The first two verses of the book of Daniel are introductory. These verses inform the reader of the circumstances which resulted in Daniel living in Babylon. These verses report a great national tragedy for Israel. The national tragedy can be described in one word—"conquered." This means loss of freedom, loss of possessions, loss of well-being, loss of joy, and loss of honor. The reader may read these two verses almost casually, but there is nothing casual about the drama and disaster packed in these two verses.
To further examine these introductory verses of the book of Daniel, which will give us a good introduction to the life of Daniel, especially as to his living in Babylon, we will consider the place of the conquering, the period of the conquering, the people in the conquering, and the possessions in the conquering.
"Jerusalem... besieged" (Daniel 1:1). We note two important things about the place where the conquering occurred. They are the city in the place and the chastening of the place.
"Jerusalem" (Daniel 1:1). The focus here in our text is Jerusalem. Today it is still the focus of important events in regards to the nations of the world. And it will continue to be the focus on through the return of Jesus Christ to earth and the millennial kingdom which He will set up on earth with Jerusalem as the capital.
In our text, Jerusalem is the capital of Judah, the nation comprised of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. After Solomon died, the nation of Israel split into two nations—Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). Israel consisted of ten tribes and Judah consisted of two tribes. The ten-tribe nation of Israel had the city of Samaria as its capital while Judah had Jerusalem as its capital. Jerusalem had also been the capital of the united kingdom under David and Solomon. In approximately 750 b.c. the northern kingdom (Israel) ended and many of those in that kingdom went into captivity among the conquering Assyrian nation. The southern kingdom (Judah), however, remained intact until the time of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.
Jerusalem was the Jews' great and glorious city. It was the city with the great Temple of Jehovah in it which Solomon had built during his reign as king. No city in all the world is as significant as Jerusalem. Poetically, Jerusalem is often referred to as "Zion," a name which many say means "fortress." The Psalmist emphasizes the greatness of Jerusalem when he writes, "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God" (Psalm 87:2, 3). There is a hymn in some of our hymnbooks based on this verse which begins, "Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God."
For Jerusalem to be conquered by the heathen, and for Jerusalem to have her people go into captivity to the heathen and have its Temple pilfered by the heathen was all a great shame to Jehovah God and to the people of Israel. That is the dismal situation in which Daniel begins his book.
"Besieged" (Daniel 1:1). The besieging of the great city of Jerusalem, the "city of our God," by the armies of the heathen represented Divine chastening upon the city and its people. God's people had rebelled against Him and judgment time had come. "[We] cannot persist in disobedience to God's laws and escape the inevitable judgments" (Strauss). We may think we can sin without consequences, but such thinking is a perilous mirage in the mind of man which will only lead to judgment.
God had warned His chosen people many times that if they did not repent of their wickedness, He would bring judgment upon them. "He warned them through His servant Moses as to the consequences of any willful departure on their part. If ever they would seek false gods and break the covenant that Jehovah made with them, God said, 'Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them'... (Deuteronomy 31:17)... As a result of their departure from God's law, there were many national disasters. The books of Judges, Kings, and Chronicles record the sad history of Israel's many defeats" (Strauss). But in spite of these various calamities which came upon Israel and Judah, the people did not repent; they did not learn well from these lesser chastisements and continued to sin. And so God brought greater chastisement upon them (cp. Leviticus 26). "If lesser judgments do the work, God will not send greater; but, if not, he will heat the furnace seven times hotter" (Henry).
Now in our text comes some of the great judgments upon the land and upon the people which God had predicted would finally come if they refused to repent and turn from their evil. God had predicted that it would be the nation of Babylon who would conquer Judah and Jerusalem. One of these warnings came to King Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah, "Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon" (Isaiah 39:6). The prophet Jeremiah spoke similarly when he prophesied of Babylon's besieging of Jerusalem, "I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them captive into Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword" (Jeremiah 20:4); and "Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon" (Jeremiah 34:2). "When God's people refuse to hear His prophets, and turn to idolatry in any of its various forms, the people may expect divine chastening. God always settles His accounts with those who refuse to heed His warnings" (Strauss). Divine judgment always comes upon those who do not repent of their evil.
"In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it" (Daniel 1:1). The judgments upon Israel and Judah were many. Here Daniel states the period of time when the judgment of God via Nebuchadnezzar first came upon Judah. We note the criticism of the time, the character of the time, and the conqueror of the time.
"In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah" (Daniel 1:1). Anyone who has studied Daniel with any seriousness knows that "the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim" statement of time is much criticized and disputed because of a statement in Jeremiah 25:1 and 46:2 which says it was in the fourth year of Jehoiakim that this invasion by Nebuchadnezzar occurred. The alleged contradictions in these texts are not contradictions at all but can be adequately explained. One solution says the date reference which Daniel used is based on how Babylon computed a king's reign—they did not count the first partial year; and the other date reference which Jeremiah used reflects the way the Jews computed a reign—they counted the first partial year of the reign. Those who want to read of other and more detailed solutions to the problem may do so in The Pulpit Commentary (J. E. H. Thomson's comments at the beginning of his exposition of Daniel) and in H. C. Leupold's book, Exposition of Daniel. Also, those interested in studying about more of the attacks by the critics on the book of Daniel, the book entitled Expository Sermons on the Book of Daniel by the late W. A. Criswell deals in detail concerning many of these attacks by the critics and refutes them.
The reader may rest assured that the attacks on the book of Daniel are, like other attacks on the Scriptures, evidence of vehement unbelief and not evidence of problems with the Scripture. The Bible has been subjected to much criticism, but its words are still valid and will endure though heaven and earth pass away. We must remember that the enemy will attack the Word of God in every way that it can, for the Word of God is the basis of our faith. If the enemy can undermine your confidence in the Scriptures, then he will be able to undermine your faith and defeat your testimony.
"In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah" (Daniel 1:1). The time in which Nebuchadnezzar "besieged" Jerusalem was not a good time in regards to character for the land of Judah. Jehoiakim was an evil king. Scripture says of him, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God" (II Chronicles 36:5). And his evil helped to corrupt the land. Too often in Judah, as in nations throughout the history of time, the leader of the land has a great influence upon the character of the land. In Daniel's time, this was especially true about Judah. When Divine judgment came upon the land because of continued rebellion against God's ways; it was the leader of the land that had led the way in this continued rebellion against God. Jehoiakim's conduct helped to provoke Divine judgment.
The character of the time also emphasizes the exceptional character of Daniel and his friends as we will see more about in later chapters. These young men were godly in spite of the fact that they lived in an ungodly culture in which the leaders of the land were no encouragement to righteous living. Daniel and his friends remind us that we can indeed live godly lives even though the character of the times is unholy. We do not have to succumb to the character of our day! The evil of our day is no excuse for unholy living.
"...came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it" (Daniel 1:1). The chief conqueror of this period of time was Nebuchadnezzar. At this period of time in which Daniel was about to start his book, Nebuchadnezzar was coming on the scene of great fame and power.
To further examine Nebuchadnezzar's life, we note his family, his function, his fighting, and his fame.
Nebuchadnezzar was the son of Nabopolassar. "No family mentioned in the Old Testament made a more meteoric flash across the horizon of history than the family of Nabopolassar and his son, Nebuchadnezzar. Nor did any family fade into obscurity more quickly than did this royal house in the degenerate Belshazzar [grandson of Nebuchadnezzar]... this family of four known generations left behind it more material evidence of its day than any other family mentioned in the Bible... [and] of the monarch Nebuchadnezzar more is said in the Bible than is said of any other heathen ruler" (Criswell).
With the start of the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar functions as the head of the Babylonian army—his father Nabopolassar is still the king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar is called "king of Babylon" in our text, but that is a prolepsis statement (the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished). It is like saying that President Bush was a pilot in the National Guard even though when he was a pilot, he was not president. Nebuchadnezzar was king when Daniel wrote from Babylon so is called the king in our text, though at the time of this besieging of Jerusalem, he was actually not king.
Nebuchadnezzar functioned well as a military leader and especially proved it in leading the Babylonian army to a most important victory over the Egyptian army at the battle in Carchemish (located in 225 miles or so north of Damascus near the Euphrates River; it is about 100 miles west of Haran where Isaac and Jacob got their brides). After Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar headed for Judah and Jerusalem to besiege Jerusalem as reported in our text. It was "while Nebuchadnezzar was engaged on the campaign of Palestine [Judah and Jerusalem] and Syria, [that] he was summoned back to Babylon by the death of his father Nabopolassar" (Thomson). That was the time and occasion when Nebuchadnezzar actually became king of Babylon.
Here we focus on his fighting Israel. "Nebuchadnezzar attacked the southern Jewish kingdom of Judah three times, beginning in 605 b.c." (Boice).
This first invasion was "when Daniel and a few other of the seed royal were taken captive to glorify the court of the king of Babylon" (Strauss). This was the invasion of our text.
The second invasion occurred "in 598 b.c. (II Kings 24:10-17)... In this group... was carried captive a young priest by the name of Ezekiel.
The third invasion occurred "in 587 b.c. (II Kings 25:1-21) when the city and the Temple and nation were destroyed. and Judah ceased to be a sovereign state" (Strauss). "The third invasion was the one we remember most... Jerusalem was completely destroyed and the people of the land were deported to Babylon. Jeremiah [the prophet] was in Jerusalem at the time of this final destruction of the city." (Boice). It is easy to remember the three invasions by noting that Daniel was involved with the first invasion, Ezekiel the second, and Jeremiah the third.
"Nebuchadnezzar is one of the greatest names in all history... the name, which means 'Nebo protects the crown,' had been borne by a predecessor, who reigned some five centuries earlier... Nebu was the god Nebo, chad meant 'a vessel,' and nezzar, 'one who watches.'" (Thomson). Under Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon became its greatest as the great nation of the world at that time (the head of gold in the image spoken of in chapter two of Daniel).
In accord with his great fame, it is not surprising that Neb-uchadnezzar is the most prominent king in the historical part of the book of Daniel, for he is prominent in the record of chapter one through chapter four. After that it is Belshazzar (the banquet king) and Darius (the den of lions king). These last two kings (Belshazzar and Darius) along with Cyrus are mentioned briefly in regards to the times of Daniel's visions in the prophetical part of the book of Daniel, but it is Nebuchadnezzar who is the prominent king in the historical section.
The fame of Nebuchadnezzar (sometimes spelled in other places in Scripture with an "r" instead of an "n.") is also seen in the fact that he is mentioned in at least nine books of the Bible (II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.) And as we noted earlier, "More is said in the Bible [about Nebuchadnezzar] than is said of any other heathen ruler" (Criswell).
"And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand" (Daniel 1:2). Who were the people that were conquered by Nebuchadnezzar in his first invasion of Judah? The answer is twofold. They are the prince of Judah and the people of Judah.
"And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar) hand" (Daniel 1:2). While our verse makes it sound like Jehoiakim was taken captive here, that was not the case. Jehoiakim was simply conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and made subject to him from this time onward. This was sometimes the practice of conquering armies—they would leave the ruler of the land in place but under the conqueror's control. The ruler would become a vassal (subordinate) of the conqueror.
Here we note the family of Jehoiakim, the fate of Jehoiakim, the folly of Jehoiakim, and the finale of Jehoiakim.
Jehoiakim was a son of the former great king Josiah. King Josiah was the last good king of Judah. Josiah was the great-grandson of Hezekiah. After Hezekiah died, his son Manasseh became king. He reigned fifty-five years (II Chronicles 33:1) and was an extremely wicked king and made "Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel" (II Chronicles 33:9). When Manasseh died, his son Amon became king. He lasted but two years before he was assassinated. But in those two years he, too, was a very wicked man just like Manasseh had been (II Chronicles 33:21-24). Amon was the father of Josiah, so when Amon was assassinated, Josiah became king.
Josiah did many good things in contrast to his father and grandfather. During Josiah's reign, a great revival took place (II Chronicles 34:3-35:19. But the good reign of Josiah ended when Josiah was wounded in battle at Megiddo (II Chronicles 35:22 where Armageddon will be) fighting the Egyptians. When he died of his wounds, the people made his son Jehoahaz king. Jehoahaz lasted only three months as king before the Egyptians (who had defeated Judah when Josiah was wounded) deposed him (II Chronicles 36:1-3). The king of Egypt then made Eliakim, the brother of Jehoahaz, king, and changed his name to Jehoiakim (II Chronicles 36:4). Thus Jehoiakim in our text was actually a vassal of Egypt at the beginning of his reign. It was this Egyptian connection that prompted Nebuchadnezzar to besiege Judah, for Babylon was at war with Egypt (which war Babylon won mainly because of the victory at Carchemish) in competing for the domination of the world's empires. Judah being part of the territory Egypt ruled caused Nebuchadnezzar to besiege Judah, especially its capital Jerusalem, and thus made Jehoiakim a vassal of Babylon instead of a vassal of Egypt.
"The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand" (Daniel 1:2). When we think of "fate" here, we are looking at the fact that it was the "Lord" who determined this conquering of Jehoiakim by Nebuchadnezzar. This is a very important truth to note in our text. The Babylonians would boast that their god was the cause of the conquering of Judah. But our text has it right. It was Jehovah God who determined who conquered who. Jehovah God is still on the throne. He is still ruling the world. Evil men like Nebuchadnezzar may triumph at times, but that is not because God has lost control and is too weak to stop these men. The Bible, in fact, even calls Nebuchadnezzar, "my servant" (Jeremiah 43:10) thus depicting Nebuchadnezzar's real position, namely, a subservient of God. God will use Nebuchadnezzar as He sees fit, and Nebuchadnezzar will not do one single thing that God has not ordained and permitted him to do. In another illustration of the Divine control of "fate," we read in Isaiah that the Assyrians, who conquered and took the northern kingdom captive, are simply called "the rod of mine anger" (Isaiah 10:5) by God. God uses these heathen nations as rods to chasten His people. These heathen nations have not overcome God. They are simply tools in His hand to accomplish His purpose. The fate of Jehoiakim is in the hands of God, not Nebuchadnezzar the great military leader and soon to be king. Nebuchadnezzar may attribute his victories to his own heathen idol god or to his own genius as people are prone to do today, but the truth of the matter is that Nebuchadnezzar was successful in taking Jehoiakim because the Lord "gave Jehoiakim... into his hand" (Daniel 1:2). All the way through the book of Daniel is the testimony of Jehovah God ruling in the lives of men and nations. Proud Nebuchadnezzar had to learn the hard way that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:17; cp 4:25).
During the time that Jehoiakim was a vassal of Babylon, Jehoiakim did the notorious foolish deed of cutting up the scroll upon which Baruch had written the words of the Lord spoken to him by Jeremiah. When the words of the scroll were read to Jehoiakim, he had the scroll cut up into pieces and burned; than he commanded his officers to arrest Baruch and Jeremiah which would mean imprisonment for these men and maybe death; but he was unsuccessful in arresting them at that time because "the Lord hid them" (Jeremiah 36:26). God can protect His own when He so pleases.
This foolish action of Jehoiakim against the Word of God and His servants resulted in a prophecy about Jehoiakim coming to a disgraceful end. The prophet Jeremiah said, "Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah; They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! they shall not lament for him, saying, Ah lord! or, Ah his glory! He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:18, 19); and "His dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost" (Jeremiah 36:30). You dishonor the Word of God and God will dishonor you in due time. "Them that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (I Samuel 2:30).
Jehoiakim lasted eleven years as the king of Judah. After his first three years, Nebuchadnezzar, then the leader of the Babylonian army, "besieged" (Daniel 1:1) Jerusalem. At this time, Jehoiakim changed colors from being a vassal of Egypt to being a vassal of Babylon. But after a few years, Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. Then "the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldees, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by his servants the prophets" (II Kings 24:2). Eventually, in the second invasion of Judah and Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, Jehoiakim was "bound in fetters" (II Chronicles 36:8) by Nebuchadnezzar "to carry him to Babylon" (II Chronicles 36:6). But Nebuchadnezzar did not carry out his intentions, for the providence of God saw to it that prophecy would be fulfilled and so Jehoiakim died in Jerusalem before he could be carried off to Babylon. And his body was cast out disgracefully as predicted.
The finale of Jehoiakim fit his life. Balaam said he wanted to die the death of the righteous (Numbers 23:10) but he did not die that way; for to die the death of the righteous, you must live the life of the righteous. So it was with Jehoiakim, he died the way he had lived—disgracefully.
—Bible Biography Series