Notes on Daniel
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 1 September 2009; Revised 30 October 2015
Scripture: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). The text for this chapter may be found here. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the article. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here. Citations for Talmud tractates are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); found at Halakhah.com.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish nature of Scripture I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament) and Besekh (New Testament), as well as the terms Yeshua (Jesus) and Messiah (Christ).
Vocabulary: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB."
Please see the Introduction for background information on the book of Daniel, interpretative approaches and historical context.
1- The third year would probably be 606 B.C., although a number of scholars say the deportation took place in 605 B.C. Jehoiakim (Heb. Yíhoyakim, "YHVH raises up"), son of the good king Josiah (Heb. Yoshiyahu). His name was originally Eliakim (Heb. Elyakim, "God is setting up"), but Pharaoh Necho of Egypt changed it to Jehoiakim. He as 25 years old when he placed on the throne by the Egyptian Pharaoh in 609 B.C., replacing his brother Jehoahaz who had reigned only three months before being taken captive to Egypt where he died. Jehoiakim reigned eleven years. His reign is summed up in 2 Kings 23:37, "he did evil in the sight of the Lord." He (1) taxed the people to pay tribute to Pharaoh; (2) exploited the people to build his own splendid house with expensive furnishings (Jer 22:13-23); (3) executed the prophet Urijah (Jer 26:20-23); (4) burned Jeremiahís prophecies (Jer 36:22-23); (5) and other assorted abominations (2Chr 36:8).
Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonian Empire, ruled 605-562 B.C. or 44 years. Actually Nebuchadnezzar wasnít king when he first besieged Jerusalem in 606. He was the son of King Nabopolassar and he had led the Babylonian army to conquer all of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptian army at the famous battle of Carchemish located next to the Euphrates River in present-day Turkey (Jer 46:2). He continued his campaign to the south and came to Jerusalem to inform King Jehoiakim that he had a new master. Jehoiakim surrendered without a struggle.
Usually in Jeremiah and always in Ezekiel the Babylonian king is called Nebuchadrezzar, although modern Bible versions translate it as Nebuchadnezzar for consistency. Nebuchadnezzar is used in 2 Kings, Jeremiah (2x), Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. The spelling Nebuchadrezzar is closer to the Babylonian Nabu-kudurri-usur ("O Nabu [the god], protect my offspring/boundary"). The explanation for this unusual difference in spelling is that Nebuchadrezzar represents the Aramaic spelling, but the Hebrew spelling changed the "r" to an "n." Historical research has shown that such a change was an accepted philological practice (Miller).
2- The LORD is identified as the real reason that Nebuchadnezzar took control of Judah. God is not subject to the whims of world leaders, but has firm control. Falling into his hand in 606 B.C. and culminating with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. marks for some interpreters the beginning of the "times of the Gentiles" mentioned by Yeshua (Luke 21:24). This is the period of time that the Gentile nations would dominate the whole land of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar took tribute from Jehoiakim in the form of vessels from the Temple and people. Shinar is an old name for Babylon (Gen 10:10) and known to secular archaeologists as Sumer. His god refers to Bel, the chief god of the Babylonians, also known as Marduk, possibly originally the deified Nimrod (DSB).
These two verses summarize the fulfillment of prophecy:
"Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, `Because you have not obeyed My words, 9 behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,' declares the LORD, `and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. 10 `Moreover, I will take from them the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 'This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years." (Jer 25:8-11)
"to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete." (2Chr 36:21)
3- Chief (Heb. rav, master, great one), a title later given to teachers in Israel. Officials (Heb. saris, a court official or eunuch), KJV has "eunuchs." A eunuch is a castrated man, in particular one castrated early enough to have major hormonal consequences.
Saris does not automatically mean "eunuch" in Scripture, which must be determined by the context. The term "eunuch" arose with the known practice of castrated men being utilized in key positions in the various nations of the ancient Near East. However, it is extremely doubtful that Israel employed eunuchs because of the Torah regulations concerning them. By the Torah no man could be a priest with crushed testicles, whatever the cause (Lev 21:20). In Israel priests were often advisers to the king (1Kgs 4:2). However, a more stringent requirement affected all Jewish males: "No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD" (Deut 23:1).
In ancient times servants or slaves of Gentile kings were usually castrated in order to make them safer servants since they performed such personal services as making the ruler's bed, bathing him, cutting his hair, carrying him in his litter or even relaying messages. Some men voluntarily swapped their reproductive organs for a hope of exclusive access to the emperor that would bring wealth and influence. Political eunuchism became a fully established institution in the ancient Near East. Various Scripture passages allude to the practice among Gentile nations (Est. 2:3-5; 4:4-5; Isa 56:3-4; Jer 38:7; 41:16). In Acts the evangelist Philip meets a eunuch who was a court official of Queen Candace of Ethiopia (Acts 8:37-39).
Royal (Heb. melekh) family (Heb. zera), lit. the kingís seed. The royal family would be relatives or descendants of the Judean king. Nobles, Heb. partam, a Persian loanword that refers to a prince or nobleman. Men belonging to the Judean aristocracy. Henry Morris (DSB) speculates that by being placed under the master of the kingís eunuch-officials then Daniel and his friends must have consented to be made eunuchs in order to have a testimony in the Babylonian capital. Morris puts Danielís action in the category of "eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 19:12), thereby fulfilling the prophecy given by Isaiah to King Hezekiah.
"Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the word of the LORD of hosts, 'Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day will be carried to Babylon; nothing will be left,' says the LORD. `And some of your sons who will issue from you, whom you will beget, will be taken away, and they will become officials [Heb. saris] in the palace of the king of Babylon.' " (Isa 39:5-7)
First, the text does not say that Daniel was a descendant of Hezekiah. Verse 6 indicates only that Daniel was of the tribe of Judah, although likely from a wealthy family. Second, the text does not say that Daniel was made a eunuch. If Daniel was actually made a eunuch, then it would not have been by choice, considering Danielís determination to live by Godís law. There is no mention of Daniel and his friends being married, so they may have been voluntarily celibate. The appointment of Jewish men to high government posts seems highly unusual. Since they were allowed to choose their diet based on their own laws, itís very likely they were not required to be made eunuchs.
4- Youths, Heb. yeledim, may refer to children, boys, or young men. Persian youths began their education at age 14, so that practice probably pertained to the Babylonians as well (Miller). Daniel and his friends were teenagers at the time of their captivity. Defect, Heb. mum ["moom"], a physical blemish or defect; also a moral stain. The king required high standards for those who served him. Showing intelligence: The boys were to receive the equivalent of a liberal arts college education, so they had to score high on the Babylonian SAT. They had to have the capacity for learning or comprehending information. Literature of Babylon was written in cuneiform, which was made up of wedge-shaped characters, commonly engraved on clay tablets. The course of study would include mathematics, astrology, laws and legal rulings, religion, economics and history. The official language of Babylon was Aramaic, which should not be confused with Arabic. The boys would need to become multi-lingual, speaking at least Hebrew, Aramaic and later Persian. Chaldeans, Heb. kasdim, refers generally to the ancient people that dwelled in the lower Euphrates and Tigris and became the dominate population in Babylon (BDB 505). The word sometimes refers to a special class of Babylonian wise men or priests, as in 2:4, and that is probably the meaning here.
5- The boys were moved into the freshman dorm and informed of the meal regimen. Kingís choice food refers to food prepared for the king. The word for "food," Heb. patbag, is a Persian loanword that refers to a portion of food for a king or delicacies (BDB 834) and occurs only in Daniel (1:5, 8, 13, 15-16; 11:26). The kingís menu was the best food in the empire. Three years was also the vogue in the Persian empire for education youth. Personal service, lit. "stand before." These young men would have regular contact with the king and render whatever services he desired. The level of government service would be determined by an examination at the end of the training.
6- Among them: These four werenít the only young men taken to Babylon. According to historians Nebuchadnezzar also took the top young men from Syria, Phoenicia and Egypt. Daniel, Heb. Daniíel (God is my judge); Hananiah, Heb. Hananyah (Yah [the LORD] is gracious), Mishael, Heb. Mishaíel (Who is what God is?), the idea being that there is no god like the God of Israel; and Azariah, Heb. Azaryah (Yah has helped or will help or is my help). These were common names in Israel and appear elsewhere in the Tanakh. In the Hebrew text the names are listed alphabetically.
7- Commander, Heb. sar, which occurs slightly over 400 times in the Tanakh can mean chieftain, chief, ruler, official, captain or prince (BDB 978). It had a wide application in reference to significant social stature and authority, whether nobles, military generals and captains, government officials, tribal leaders, or priests. KJV has "prince," but this title seems inappropriate for this position. "Commander" is more of a military title and likewise seems out of place. NIV has "chief official" and CJB has "chief officer" which are much better. Ashpenaz assigned new names to the new servants of the king, perhaps because they would be easier to pronounce by the king. All the names attempt to translate the meaning of the Hebrew names into the closest equivalent in Babylonian culture and seek to honor the Babylonian pantheon. In the multi-lingual societies of ancient times having names in more than one language was common. The Egyptian Pharaoh gave Joseph an Egyptian name (Gen 41:45). Hadassah is known by her Persian name Esther (Esth 2:7). Persons might also be given names by their parents from other languages or voluntarily take other names. In the Besekh the Jewish apostle Simon is known as Peter, a Greek name, and Cephas, an Aramaic name. Saul became known by his Roman (Latin) name, Paul, which may have been taken upon being granted Roman citizenship. In the case of Daniel and his three friends there was no choice in the matter.
Belteshazzar, Heb. Beltíshatzar (protect his life), the name given to Daniel. Shadrach, Heb. Shadrakh (the command of Aku, the moon god), the name given to Hananiah. Meshach, Heb. Meishakh (who is what Aku is), the name given to Mishael. Abed-nego, Heb. Aved-Nígo (the servant of Nebo), the name given to Azariah. No deity named "Nego" has been identified and is thought by many interpreters to be an intentional textual corruption of Nebo, a form of Nabu, the god of wisdom and writing, who is mentioned in Isaiah 46:1 and Jeremiah 48:1. Morris rightly observes that the young men probably resented being given such idolatrous names, and they resolved more firmly to stay true to the God of Israel at all costs.
8- Daniel spoke for his friends (verses 12-16). Made up his mind is lit. purposed in his heart. The verb emphasizes a decision made after careful consideration. Daniel and his friends chose to set themselves apart from their peers who were going along to get along. They were more concerned with pleasing God than job advancement. Defile: Heb. gaíal, to pollute, stain or defile and is the result of becoming unclean and failing to restore oneself to a clean state. Gaíal is a late word, occurring only eleven times in the Tanakh. Gaíal is used of very serious moral defilement, such as shedding blood (Isa 59:3; 63:3; Lam 4:14), being disqualified from the priesthood for unlawful intermarriage (Ezra 2:62; Neh 7:64; 13:29) and desecrating the temple altar (Mal 1:7, 12). Of interest is that in Malachi the defilement occurred from offering lame and diseased animals for sacrifice. In Danielís mind the kingís food posed a serious threat to his relationship with God.
There were six types of ordinary uncleanness: diet (Lev 11), childbirth (Lev 12), skin disease (Lev 13−14), mildew (Lev 14), genital discharges (Lev 15), and touching a corpse (Lev 22).
Why did God insist on distinguishing clean and unclean? Ultimately uncleanness defiles the people, the sanctuary and the land. God imposed serious consequences on uncleanness. Access to the tabernacle was restricted (Lev 7:19-21). Failure to remove uncleanness could result in being cut off from Israel (Lev 7:21; Num 19:20). Removing uncleanness was very important for Israelite community life and consisted of avoiding contact with other people for a specified time period (e.g., Lev 13:4-5; 15:19-28), washing at the end of that period and making a sacrificial offering for atonement.
In order to understand Danielís aversion to the kingís food, we must consider the history of Godís instructions on diet. Following the global flood God gave this instruction on diet to Noah:
"The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood." Genesis 9:2-4
At Sinai God restricted the diet of His covenant people by distinguishing between clean and unclean. "Clean" could be eaten and "unclean" must be avoided. All grains, fruits and vegetables are clean. The Torah defines four categories of clean animals (Lev 11:2-3, 9, 13-19, 21): (1) cud-chewing animals with cloven hooves; (2) fish with fins and scales; (3) winged insects with jointed legs. Unclean animals are those that do not fit within these groups. With regards to birds God had originally given all birds as potential food, but in Leviticus 11:13-19 specific carnivorous and scavenger birds are prohibited. Thus, any bird not on this list would be clean for consumption (Deut 14:11).
Other stipulations were given that also affected diet. God proscribed consumption of blood and fat (Lev 3:17; 7:23). Leaven was to be removed from houses and not eaten during Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 12:19). No meat was to be eaten that had been sacrificed to an idol (Ex 22:20; 34:14-15; cf. Acts 15:20; 1Cor 10:28; Rev 2:14). Slaughter of animals must drain the blood from the carcass (Lev 17:13; Deut 12:16). A young goat was not to be boiled in its motherís milk (Deut 14:21). A mother bird sitting on eggs and her young were not to be taken together (Deut 22:6).
The apostles agreed with the Torah guidelines and decreed at the Jerusalem Council, "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well" (Acts 15:28-29).
The apostles could have confidence that this instruction came from the Holy Spirit and could be expected of Gentile disciples because the ban on eating blood is as old as Noah. Godís further commandments to Moses requires that aliens (Gentiles) sojourning with Israel keep most of the dietary laws (see Ex 12:19; Lev 17:12; Num 15:16; Deut 14:21, 29). Under the New Covenant Gentiles experience salvation by being granted citizenship in the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12-13, 19).
Bible scholars have debated for centuries why God imposed such stringent rules for consumption of meat. Some think He was just being arbitrary. Some think God was concerned about preserving the environment and ecology. Some think it was symbolic or just a ceremonial requirement for worship at the Tabernacle. A popular assumption is God made the rules for the sake of hygiene, since He knew what would be safe to consume. Ancient people did not have our modern knowledge of bacteria and parasites. As for the hygiene hypothesis, Wenham makes this observation:
"First, hygiene can only account for some of the prohibitions. Some of the clean animals are more questionable on hygienic grounds than some of the unclean animals. If ancient Israel had discovered the dangers of eating pork, they might also have discovered that thorough cooking averts it. In any event, trichinosis is rare in free-range pigs.
"Second, the Old Testament gives no hint that it regarded these foods as a danger to health. Motive clauses justifying a particular rule are a very characteristic feature of Old Testament law, yet there is never a hint that these animal foods must be avoided because they will damage health. Yet this would have surely have constituted an excellent reason for avoiding unclean food.
"Third, why, if hygiene is the motive, are not poisonous plants classed as unclean? In recent years, several secular sources that have seriously looked into this matter have acknowledged that health does not explain these prohibitions." (Wenham 167-168)
God actually gave the reason for His diet plan and it is quite straightforward: "You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; and you shall not make yourselves detestable by animal or by bird or by anything that creeps on the ground, which I have separated for you as unclean. Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine." Lev 20:25-26 This explanation for Godís diet plan is affirmed by orthodox Judaism.
"In his book "To Be a Jew" (an excellent resource on traditional Judaism), Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin suggests that the dietary laws are designed as a call to holiness. (Wenham supports this view.) The ability to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, pure and defiled, the sacred and the profane, is very important in Judaism. Imposing rules on what you can and cannot eat ingrains that kind of self control, requiring us to learn to control even our most basic, primal desires." (JVL)
Therefore, there are at least three reasons why the kingís rich food was unacceptable to Daniel: (1) the diet likely included pork, horseflesh and shellfish; (2) slaughtering animals likely did not insure that all blood was drained; and (3) the animals likely had been offered sacrificially to pagan deities before being sent to the king. Wine was a common beverage in Bible times and there are no biblical injunctions prohibiting its consumption. Daniel may have deemed the wine unclean if it had been dedicated to a pagan deity or if it had been mixed with blood. Modern Judaism prohibits consuming grape products made by non-Jews.
It might seem as if Daniel is being overly sensitive. Surely he could have reasoned as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 not to question the source of the kingís food. Of course, he likely knew the content of the Babylonian diet and with knowledge comes accountability. In contrast to the standard practice for removing uncleanness the instructions of Leviticus 11 on the types of unclean animals provides no guidance for purification. If eating meat from an unclean animal were to be considered in the same category as touching the carcass of an animal (Lev 11:24-25), then defilement would only last until evening on the day the offense occurred. However, Danielís concern no doubt sprang from a desire for holiness and to maintain that relationship with his God required abstaining from unclean food and the pagan religious nature of the food preparation.
Sought permission, Heb. bakash, to request, to seek. Daniel was respectful and endeavored to persuade the official rather than being belligerent. He did not want to risk insulting the king.
9- Ashpenaz was not a believer in the God of Israel, but from him Daniel received favor, Heb hesed, in this context means goodwill, and compassion, Heb. rachamim, is plural of racham and means sympathies or tender feelings. Again God is given the credit for this accomplishment.
10- Ashpenaz feared the king because he would be held responsible for the welfare of the young men in his care. If he failed he would be executed. The statement the youths who are your own age (NIV has "the other young men") probably refers to boys from countries other than Judah enrolled in the training program.
11- Overseer: Heb. melzar, refers to an overseer or guardian. The KJV renders the term as a proper name, but the presence of the definite article in the Hebrew makes this unlikely. This man was a subordinate of Ashpenaz appointed or assigned to watch over and care for them.
12- Test: Heb. nasaw, to prove by evidence. Please test softens the emphatic "test now" of the Hebrew. Vegetables (KJV "pulse") is Heb. zeroaim and refers to that which is grown from seed, so it would include not only vegetables, but fruits, grains and bread made from grains. Danielís diet is much like many so-called modern diet plans. Daniel was not suggesting that eating meat was wrong, as claimed by radical vegetarians, since a meat diet was permitted and in some instances, like Passover and other sacrifices, even commanded in Godís Law.
13- Daniel did not want to carry out his diet in seclusion, but under the surveillance of their overseer. From the overseers point of view Daniel was assuring accountability in carrying out the plan and the overseer would know what to attribute the outcome of the test. His testimony to Ashpenaz would be vital.
14- Whether the overseer obtained approval from Ashpenaz or stuck his own neck out is not clear from the text. However, the test was carried out exactly as requested.
15- Amazingly their appearance was better than before. Fatter suggests they gained weight. This had to be a miracle, because itís not likely that a vegetable diet for just ten days would make a visible difference such as this. Does this mean we should all go on vegetable diets? The apostle Paul answers with an emphatic No! (1Tim 4:1-5) As God told Noah, "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood." (Gen 9:3-4)
16- The successful outcome of the text insured that Daniel and his friends would be able to maintain their preferred diet.
17- The words God gave again accounts for the situation. God gave all four young men two important gifts for their service to the king. Knowledge, Heb. madda, knowledge, science or thought. This suggests they understood the scientific method and had the ability to absorb the information available in that culture. Intelligence: Heb. sakal refers to wisdom and prudence in using knowledge. Daniel was given a special gift that of being able to understand and interpret visions and dreams. The rest of this book contains a number of visions. A vision could be described as a waking dream. Sometimes the image is a still photograph and sometimes it is an action scene, much like a video. A vision in Scripture is not a product of oneís imagination.
18- When the three years were completed and the tests passed, Daniel and his friends were duly presented to the king along with other successful students.
19- Nebuchadnezzar found that Daniel and his friends far excelled their peers and as a result gave them direct appointments to the kingís staff. Thatís like graduating from college and your first job is working for the President.
20- Ten times: lit. ten hands, is an idiom for "far superior." This statement likely refers to the total length of service to Nebuchadnezzar and not what they had done for the king when first appointed. Magicians and conjurers were typical advisers to pagan kings. Nebuchadnezzar discovered that Daniel and his friends were far better. Magicians: hartōm, magician (BDB 1093), appears in both Aramaic and Hebrew (TWOT ß738b). It is used of Egyptian magicians who served Pharaoh (Gen 418; Ex 7:11), so the word may be Egyptian in origin. In Daniel hartōm occurs only in the Aramaic portion. Hartōm refers to someone who engages in occultic practices related to divination. Because hartōm is related to the word heret, stylus or engraving tool, some translations take hartōm to be a scribe. Here "magicians" seems to be parallel to the terms for the other men the king called. Conjurers: Heb. ashaph, conjurer or necromancer (BDB 80). This word is found only in Daniel and may refer to an astrologer, enchanter, or exorcist (TWOT ß181).
21- Daniel probably lived 85-90 years. The reference to the first year of Cyrus does not mean that is when he died. The statement means that Daniel remained or continued into the reign of Cyrus. The thrust of this verse is that Daniel lived through the entire period of exile and witnessed the collapse of the Babylonian Empire, fulfilling prophecy.
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