Last time I thrilled you with a roll call of King Nebuchadnezzar’s staff. I’m sure you’ve been checking back hourly to see if I’ve written more of this compelling material. At the risk of disappointing you, I thought I’d write next about the guys you actually care about – namely, Daniel & Co., the good guys of the book.
After safely stashing the Jerusalem temple vessels in a Babylonian temple, Nebuchadnezzar turned his attention to the next battlefield: the minds of the outstanding Israelites he’d brought back to Babylon. This task he handed off to Head Honcho Ashpenaz, while the king himself mostly fades into the background (the narrator just calls him “the king” until the very end of the chapter). Ashpenaz’s assignment was to bring in the cream of the Israelite crop and educate them so they’d be able to serve on the king’s staff – and not as gardeners or cooks or even military; the training they’d receive would qualify them to serve as the king’s advisers. (Some of the titles for these advisers are magicians, enchanters, conjurers, sorcerers – not the resume most of us look for when we seek advice…)
This cream of the Israelite crop included royalty and nobility – credentials of position. But these politically important young men had two other kinds of credentials: external appearance and internal aptitude. They were unscarred, unblemished, and doggone good looking – in a word, heartthrobs. And they had brains to go with their brawn – given their positions we can pretty safely assume they’d already been highly educated at home in Jerusalem. They were also capable of ably fitting into a new system of learning and being able to master it. (For what this learning entailed, see Danny Boy of Babylon.) The words used to describe this qualification of aptitude are pretty common in “wisdom language” of the Bible (and the ancient Near East): “skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning . . .” That Daniel and his friends actually were wise (and not just capable of being wise) will be evident from their later actions. For now, we just know what we might expect from them.
During their three years of preparation, the group of trainees were served up a daily feast from the king’s table (more on this issue another day). Upon graduation they would be qualified to serve as personal advisers to his royal majesty, the great King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
This description of the curriculum and student life is found in chapter 1, verses 3–5. It’s not until verse 6 that we officially meet Daniel (“God is my judge”), Hananiah (“The Lord has been gracious”), Mishael (“Who is like God?”), and Azariah (“The Lord has helped”). Aside from being told they are from Judah, all we learn about them is that they’ve been given new names, names more appropriate for servants of a Babylonian king: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Many Babylonian names, like Israelite names, were short sentences with the name of a god as the subject. We’re not positive what these particular Babylonian names meant, but we can be pretty sure they all said something praiseworthy of a Babylonian god.
This is quite a lot for a Judahite to swallow, don’t you think? Acing classes in conjuring, sorcery, and magic? Being branded with the name of a Babylonian god? Yet Daniel lets all these things slide down without a hiccup. His beef (pun intended) won’t come up until the next verse (v. 8). I’m not so sure my priorities would have been the same as his, but I’m guessing that being “skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning” probably had something to do with his decision.
Next up . . . What’s his beef?