Read Daniel 1:1-12
Have you ever met a man who virtually "spit" in the face of God? If you haven't, you're about to meet one. If he were Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin, we might not be so surprised and shocked. However, this man was a king over God's people. His name was Jehoiakim, and his behavior was despicable, arrogant, flippant, and totally irresponsible. He had no regard whatsoever for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Like all people who violate God's will on a consistent basis, Jehoiakim eventually reaped what he had sown.
It happened in the third year of his reign. We read that "the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into" the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon (Dan. 1:2). At the same time, Nebuchadnezzar took some of Judah's choice young men back to Babylon to be trained and equipped to serve in his court. But we're getting ahead of the story. To understand why all of this happened, we need to understand, at least in brief, the history of the children of Israel.
Israel's story actually began about 1,600 years earlier when God called Abraham out of the pagan city of Ur, a large commercial center in the Mesopotamian valley. Everyone in the whole world had turned away from the one true God—including Abraham and his family. World conditions had been just as wicked in the days of Noah. At that time Noah and his family were the only God-fearing people on earth (Gen. 6:9). This was not true of Abraham and his family. They were idolaters.
Three Powerful Promises
God in His sovereign grace began to unfold His redemptive plan to save mankind from eternal destruction when He revealed Himself to Abraham and made him three promises. First, He was going to bless Abraham with a permanent home—the land of Canaan. Second, God also promised Abraham a heritage—a great nation of people. Most importantly, God promised that all people everywhere would be blessed through his offspring (Gen. 12:1-3). With this final promise, God was referring to a future "son of Abraham," God's eternal Son, Jesus Christ, who would be born in due time and become the Savior of the world (Gal. 3:6-9).
Twelve Sons (Israel)
Abraham responded to God's call and His command to leave Ur. By faith, he entered the land of Canaan. Eventually, he had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac (Gen. 16:15; 21:3). According to God's sovereign plan, Isaac became the chosen heir, and through him, God's three promises to Abraham continued to unfold (22:15-18).
Isaac also had two sons, Esau and Jacob (25:24-26). Again, according to God's divine decree, Jacob became the channel God used to continue to carry out His specific promises (28:10-15). In turn, Jacob had twelve sons, and since the Lord changed Jacob's name to Israel, these men were eventually called "the sons of Israel" (32:28).
At this point in Old Testament history, the plot thickens. Jacob's older sons hated their younger brother, Joseph, because their father favored him. They conspired against this young man and sold him to a band of Midianites, who transported him to Egypt where he became a slave (37:28, 36). Though Joseph faced some incredible trials—including sexual harassment and an unwarranted imprisonment—he never allowed bitterness to capture his soul. God honored his sterling character and he soon became a very successful man. He was only thirty years old when the Pharaoh appointed him as his executive leader, giving him virtually unlimited authority to govern the whole country.
Eventually and ironically, God used Joseph to save his whole family from a devastating famine in the land of Canaan. In spite of his brothers' cruelty, Joseph arranged for his father, Jacob, and all his children and grandchildren to come to live in one of the most productive areas in Egypt.
For approximately 400 years, the children of Israel grew into a great nation, just as God had promised Abraham. However, long after the king of Egypt—who had favored Joseph—had died, a pharaoh came to power who was threatened by this rapidly growing group of people (Exod. 1:8). In order to discourage and demoralize them, he demanded more than these slaves could ever deliver.
But God did not forget His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). In His divine timing, the Lord raised up Moses, one of the greatest prophets and leaders who ever lived (Deut. 34:10-12). Eventually Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. When they camped at Mount Sinai, God gave Israel the Ten Commandments and other laws to guide them in their religious and community life. However, because of their persistent disobedience, God disciplined them by making them wander in the wilderness for forty years. But again, true to His promises, the Lord eventually anointed Joshua as Moses' successor, who in turn led the children of Israel into Canaan.