Because of the persistent rebellion of Israel for many years, God removed His protection from the nation, allowing the Babylonians to invade and conquer Jerusalem. Tragically, they robbed Solomon’s Temple of some valuable articles and took them back to the pagan temples of Babylon (v.2). But the greatest tragedy was the priceless treasure they stole from God’s people: their youth.
King Nebuchadnezzar was very shrewd. He captured the finest young men of Jerusalem and brought them to his palace in Babylon, but his plan did not end there. He knew that if he could capture the hearts and minds of Israel’s youth, brainwashing them with his pagan ideologies, he would have them forever. But what the king did not count on was that the King of kings had already captured the hearts of some of those young men. Their courage, their character, and their loyalty to the one true God was much stronger than the indoctrination of Babylon.
One of Nebuchadnezzar’s tactics was to change the names of the young men, removing any reference to their God:
Daniel = “God is my judge” became Belteshazzar = “servant of Baal” (a false god)
Hananiah = “the Lord shows grace” became Shadrach = “under Aku’s command” (the moon god)
Mishael = “who is like God?” became Meshach = “who is like Aku?”
Azariah = “the Lord helps” became Abednego = “servant of Nego” (the god of wisdom)
These young men did not forget their true names and they did not forsake the true God. Following Daniel’s lead, the group decided to make the best of a bad situation and work within their new world to serve the Lord. Their refusal to consume the king’s food and wine may seem like a small thing, but it was a major risk and a significant act of bravery. (Note: Scripture does not say explicitly, but the king’s menu probably violated the dietary guidelines in the Law of Moses; eating it would have “defiled” them; see v.8.) God honored their convictions and their resolve by making them healthier on a low-protein, low-carb diet than the rest of the boys on the rich royal diet (v.15). (Note: pastor Rick Warren and his California congregation have developed this idea into an entire wellness program. Check it out here.)
God’s special favor on Daniel and his friends did not end with physical blessings. God also gave them mental sharpness, educational excellence, practical wisdom, and spiritual discernment (v.17). At the end of their 36-month course of training they were presented to the king for an interview. His assessment: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah stood head-and-shoulders above their fellow captives. He immediately brought them on as consultants, and found them to be “ten times better” than his council of advisors (v.20)!
The commitments these young men made set the course for the rest of their lives, and they serve as examples to us. Like Daniel, we live in a culture that constantly challenges our convictions as believers. The pressure to conform is intense. But we learn in this chapter that when we “resolve” to take a stand for the Lord (v.8), He gives us strength to keep those commitments and he honors them with His favor. Stand strong today, my friend!