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Four Young Israelites at the Babylonian Court


In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods.

3 Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. 6Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. 7The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. 9Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. 10The palace master said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.” 11Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12“Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” 14So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. 15At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. 16So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.

18 At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, 19and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king’s court. 20In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. 21And Daniel continued there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Here Daniel shows his endurance of what he could neither cast off nor escape; but meanwhile he took care that he did not depart from the fear of God, nor become a stranger to his race, but he always retains the remembrance of his origin, and remains a pure, and unspotted, and sincere worshipper of God. He says, therefore, he determined in his heart not to pollute himself with the kings food and drink, and that he asked the prefect, under whose charge he was, that he should not be driven to this necessity. It may be asked here, what there was of such importance in the diet to cause Daniel to avoid it? This seems to be a kind of superstition, or at least Daniel may have been too morose in rejecting the king’s diet. We know that to the pure all things are pure, and this rule applies to all ages. We read nothing of this kind concerning Joseph, and very likely Daniel used all food promiscuously, since he was treated by the king with great honor. This, then, was not perpetual with Daniel; for he might seem an inconsiderate zealot, or this might be ascribed, as we have said, to too much moresoness. If Daniel only for a time rejected the royal food, it was a mark of levity and inconsistency afterwards to allow himself that liberty from which he had for the time abstained. But if he did this with judgment and reason, why did he not persist in his purpose? I answer, — Daniel abstained at first from the luxuries of the court to escape being tampered with. It was lawful for him and his companions to feed on any kind of diet, but he perceived the king’s intention. We know how far enticements prevail to deceive us; especially when we are treated daintily; and experience shows us how difficult it is to be moderate when all is affluence around us, for luxury follows immediately on plenty. Such conduct is, indeed, too common, and the virtue of abstinence is rarely exercised when there is an abundance of provisions.

But this is not the whole reason which weighed with Daniel. Sobriety and abstinence are not simply praised here, since many twist this passage to the praise of fasting, and say Daniel’s chief virtue consisted in preferring pulse to the delicacies of a palace. For Daniel not only wished to guard himself against the delicacies of the table, since he perceived a positive danger of being eaten up by such enticements; hence he simply determined in his hem not to taste the diet of the court, desiring by his very food perpetually to recall the remembrance of his country. He wished so to live in Chaldea, as to consider himself an exile and a captive, sprung from the sacred family of Abraham. We see, then, the intention of Daniel. He desired to refrain from too great an abundance and delicacy of diet, simply to escape those snares of Satan, by which he saw himself surrounded. He was, doubtless, conscious of his own infirmity, and this also is to be reckoned to his praise, since; through distrust of himself he desired to escape from all allurements and temptations. As far as concerned the king intention, this was really a snare of the devil, as I have said. Daniel rejected it, and there is no doubt that God enlightened his mind by his Spirit as soon as he prayed to him. Hence he was unwilling to cast himself into the snares of the devil, while he voluntarily abstained from the royal diet. This is; the full meaning; of the passage.

It may also be asked, Why does Daniel claim this praise, as His own, which was shared equally with his companions? for he was not the only one who rejected the royal diet. It is necessary to take notice, how from his childhood he was, governed by the Spirit of God, that the confidence and influence of his teaching might be the greater; hence he speaks peculiarly of himself, not for the sake of boasting, but to obtain confidence in his teaching, and to show himself to have been for a long period formed and polished by God for the prophetic office. We must also remember that he was the adviser of his companions; for this course might never have come into their minds, and they might have been corrupted, unless they had been admonished by Daniel. God, therefore, wished Daniel to be a leader and master to his companions, to induce them to adopt the same abstinence. Hence also we gather, that as each of us is endued more fruitfully with the grace of the Spirit, so should we feel bound to instruct others. It will not be sufficient for any one to restrain himself and thus to discharge his own duty, under the teaching of God’s Spirit, unless he also extend his hand to others, and endeavor to unite in an alliance of piety, and of the fear and worship of God. Such an example is here proposed to us in Daniel, who not only rejected the delicacies of the palace, by which he might be intoxicated and even poisoned; but he also advised and persuaded his companions to adopt the same course. This is the reason why he calls tasting the king’s food pollution or abomination, though, as I have said, there was nothing abominable in it of itself. Daniel was at liberty to eat and drink at the loyal table, but the abomination arose from the consequences. Before the time of these four persons living in Chaldea., they doubtless partook of ordinary food after the usual manner, and were permitted to eat whatever was offered to them. They did not ask for pulse when at an inn, or on their journey; but they began to desire it when the king wished to infect them with his delicacies, and to induce them if possible to prefer that condition to returning to their own friends. When they perceived the object of his snares, then it became both a pollution and abomination to feed on those dainties, and to eat, at the king’s table. Thus we may ascertain the reason why Daniel thought himself polluted if he fared sumptuously and partook of the royal diet; he was conscious, as we have already observed, of his own infirmities, and wished to take timely precautions, lest he should be enticed by such snares, and fall away from piety and the worship of God, and degenerate into the manners of the Chaldeans, as if he were one of their nation, and of their native princes. I must leave the rest till tomorrow.

Daniel, yesterday, related what he had asked from the master to whose care he had been committed, he now inserts his sentence, to show this demand to be quite unobjectionable, since the prefect of the eunuchs treated him kindly. The crime would have been fatal had Daniel been brought into the king’s presence. Although very probably he did not use the word “pollution,” and openly and directly call the royal diet a “defilement,” yet it, may be easily conjectured from these words which he now records, that he asked the prefect to be permitted to eat pulse, because he did not think himself permitted to partake of the royal diet. We yesterday gave the reason; but the king of Babylon would immediately have been angry, had he known this. What! he would say, I honor those captives, when I might abuse them as slaves; nay, I nourish them delicately like my own children. and yet they reject my food, as if I were polluted. This, therefore, is the reason why Daniel here relates his being in favor with that prefect. For, as we shall see in the next verse, the prefect simply denied his request. Where was then any favor shown? But though he was not willing to acquiesce in the prayers of Daniel, he showed a singular kindness in not taking him before the king, since courtiers are ready for any accusation for the sake of obtaining favor. Then, very probably, the prefect would know that this had been granted to Daniel by his servant. If then there was any connivance on the part of the prefect, this is the favor and pity of which Daniel now speaks. His intention, then, is by no means doubtful, since he did not hesitate to adopt a different course of life, in order to remain pure and spotless, and uncontaminated with the delicacies of the palace of Babylon. He expresses how he escaped the danger, because the perfect treated him kindly, when he might have instantly caused his death. But we must notice the form of speech here used; — God placed him in favor and pity before that prefect He might have used the usual phrase, merely saying he was favorably treated; but, as he found a barbarian so humane and merciful, he ascribes this benefit to God. This phrase, as we have expounded it, is customary with the Hebrews; as when it is said, (Psalm 106:46,) God gave the Jews favor in the sight of the heathen who had led them captive; meaning, he took care that their conquerors should not rage so cruelly against them as they had done at first. For we know how the Jews were often treated harshly, roughly, and contemptuously. Since this inhumanity was here mitigated, the Prophet attributes it to God, who prepared mercies for his people. The result is this, — Daniel obtained favor with the prefect, since God bent the heart of a man, otherwise unsoftened, to clemency and humanity. His object in this narrative is to urge us to greater earnestness in duty, if we have to undergo any difficulties when God calls us.

It often happens that we cannot discharge everything which God requires and exacts without imminent danger to our lives. Sloth and softness naturally creep over us, and induce us to reject the cross. Daniel, therefore, gives us courage to obey God and his commands, and here states his favor with the prefect, since God granted his servant favor while faithfully performing his duty. Hence let us learn to cast our care upon God when worldly terror oppresses us, or when men forbid us with threats to obey God’s commands. Here let us acknowledge the power of God’s hand to turn the hearts of those who rage against us, and to flee us from all danger. This, then, is the reason why Daniel says the prefect was kind to him. Meanwhile, we gather the general doctrine from this passage, that men’s hearts are divinely governed, while it shows us how God softens their iron hardness, and turns the wolf into the lamb. For when he brought his people out of Egypt, he gave them favor with the Egyptians, so that they carried with them their most precious vessels. It is clear enough that the Egyptians were hostile towards the Israelites. Why then did they so freely offer them the most valuable of their household goods? Only beck, use the Lord inspired their hearts with new affections. So, again, the Lord can exasperate our friends, and cause them afterwards to rise up in hostility against us. Let us perceive, then, that on both sides the will is in God’s power, either to bend the hearts of men to humanity, or to harden those which were naturally tender. It is true, indeed, that every one has a peculiar disposition from his birth some are ferocious, warlike, and sanguinary; others are mild, humane, and tractable. This variety springs from God’s secret ordination; but God not only forms every one’s disposition at his birth, but every day and every moment, if it seems good to him, changes every one’s affections. He also blinds men’s minds, and rouses them again from their stupor. For we sometimes see the rudest men endued with much acuteness, and show a singular contrivance in action, and others who excel in foresight, are at fault when they have need of judgment and discretion. We must consider the minds and hearts of men to be so governed by God’s secret instinct, that he changes their affections just as he pleases. Hence there is no reason why we should so greatly fear our enemies, although they vomit forth their rage with open mouth, and are overflowing with cruelty; for they can be turned aside by the Lord. And thus let us learn from the example of Daniel to go on fearlessly in our course, and not to turn aside, even if the whole world should oppose us; since God can easily and readily remove all impediments and we shall find those who were formerly most cruel, become humane when the Lord wishes to spare us. We now understand the sense of the words of this verse, as well as the Prophet’s intention. It follows —

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