This chapter forms the introduction to the Book. In the foreground stands the sad history of Jerusalem.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his land, with part of the vessels of the house of God; which he carried in the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.
Divine judgment so long threatened and for so many years announced by God's holy Prophets came at last upon Jerusalem. The instrument chosen by God to execute His judgments was Nebuchadnezzar. Three times he came against Jerusalem. In 606 B.C. he appeared the first time. This is the visitation mentioned here. In 598 he came again and took away a larger number of people, including Ezekiel. In 587 he completed the work and burned the City. Jehovah had His glorious dwelling place in Jerusalem in the midst of His people till they had completely failed, and when Nebuchadnezzar appeared Jerusalem was given over to the Gentiles and the times of the Gentiles began. The characteristic of the times of the Gentiles is that Jerusalem is trodden down. But as the times of the Gentiles had a definite beginning so will they have a definite end and then Jerusalem will no longer be trodden down, but become the city of the great King. How the times of the Gentiles end we shall find in Daniel's great prophecies.
In the command of the king to Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs to bring of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed and of princes to Babylon for a thorough Chaldean education, we have the fulfillment of another prophecy. It is written in Isaiah 39:7. "And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon." Among these captives were the four lads with their significant names, names full of hope and assurance. Daniel (God is my Judge); Hananiah (Beloved of the Lord); Mishael (Who is as God) and Azariah (The Lord is my help). But their pleasant names were changed. And what horrible names they received instead: Daniel becomes Belteshazzar, which means "Bel's Prince" as Nebuchadnezzar said himself "according to the name of my god" (4:8). Hananiah is named Shadrach. Rak was the name of the Sungod and the name means "Illumined by the Sungod." Mishael was called Meshach. It will be seen that the last syllable in his name "El" which means God, was changed into Shach. This in all probability is the name of a goddess like Venus. So they changed his name from "Who is as God" to "Who is like Venus." Azariah became Abednego "the servant of Nego," another false god. Behind this change of names stands a satanic attempt to wipe out the memory of Jerusalem and to have these noble young men give up their separation and become assimilated by the Gentiles.
But Babylon had not reckoned with the faithful God of Israel. He overshadowed with His grace the poor, lonely captives, and the next we read is that Daniel takes a positive stand. Thus the great prophet is introduced. He was perhaps about 14 years old. First he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with that which according to the Law of God was unclean. No doubt this fixed purpose came to the lad by meditation on the Law and through communion with God. He thus manifested a complete separation from the world and its ways. The next step was that he made this purpose known. And when he had acted in faith he discovered that God had gone before. It was God who had brought him in favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. Then came the test. They are put on their simple diet of pulse and water and after ten days (ten is in Scripture the number of testing and trial) their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh, than the children who ate the king's meat. But God does always more than we can ask or think and so besides giving them bodily strength and fairness He gave them much more spiritually. "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."
Daniel and his companions witness to the fact that God has a faithful remnant among His people even in the days of apostasy and judgment. These faithful ones headed by Daniel are types of the faithful remnant of Jews, suffering and bearing witness during the time of the end, the great tribulation. Of this we shall hear more later.
But this chapter has also blessed lessons for us. We as God's people are in the midst of a world which is antagonistic to God and His Truth. This great Babylon presses upon us and would, if it were possible, blot out every phase of Divine truth and rob us of all our joy and peace. How well this great enemy of God succeeds! Look about and see the thousands and thousands of God's people who instead of being transformed are conformed to this world. They have fallen in line with this present evil age and instead of being separated, they walk in its ways and hence they are barren in spiritual things. Our constant danger is that we give up our separation and go along with the world. And let us not think so much of the pleasures of this world, the attractive things for the senses, the world spirit which reaches out in coveteousness after the possession and enjoyment of earthly things; that no doubt is included. But think of what is called the "great religious world." That is Babylon in the true sense of the word—confusion. In the religious world we have the confusion of tongues. From what man has made, what man has built up, the traditions and commandments of men, from all which is contrary to His Word and His Will, we are called to separate. Do we desire a deeper knowledge of His Word and of Himself? Are we craving for a more real enjoyment of the things of God? Do we want more spiritual wisdom and understanding? The way is plain. We must be separated from that which is evil. We too must take a positive stand and dare to stand alone and cast ourselves upon a faithful Lord. It is this which is taught in the beginning of the 11 chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world (age), but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God." We must "cease from evil" and then we can learn and understand. The lack of power and enjoyment, the indifference of which we are so often conscious, the little true heart knowledge we possess of the things of the Lord, the little real communion with Himself is the result of being conformed to this age. Surely God calls us in these closing days, as He does all His people, to separation from that which is evil.
But as it was with the Jewish lad Daniel, so it must be with us. Meditation on the Word and communion with the Lord must occupy the first place. Then after the heart has purposed, the decisive stand and faith laying hold on God for strength will follow. Then we shall find Him true as it was the case with Daniel. The faithfulness of the Lord becomes a blessed reality in the path of separation. We too shall find an increase in true wisdom, in heart knowledge and progress in the truth. Spiritual knowledge cannot be learned, but it is the gift of God. If we acknowledge our weakness and emptiness, and cast ourselves upon Him, He will give that knowledge we need.
But notice also that while Daniel and his companions refused to be defiled by the King's meat and drink, they did not go without eating and drinking. That would have meant starvation. They ate pulse and drank water. Pulse means some kind of a vegetable. It was a simple fare on which they fed. And this likewise has a meaning. While we turn away from the world and its ways we have something to feed on, which makes up for all. Our food is Christ Himself and we have the water, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And as we feed on Christ and are led by His Spirit we shall increase in knowledge and grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. His power will keep us in an evil day.