It’s taken only eight weeks to get through Daniel 1. Just wait until we get to chapter 7 (sometime in 2013, if we’re lucky). You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
Before we turn the page to chapter 2, we’re going to pause and take inventory of what’s happened in chapter 1. It may be obvious to you – but then again, maybe it’s not – that chapter 1 functions as an introduction to the rest of the book. It sets the stage for everything to follow. So let’s reflect on how it does this.
Chapter 1 gives us the time and place (a.k.a. the setting) for the entire book. Everything that follows takes place during the exile of the Jews in Babylon. And everything that follows takes place within earshot of the court of foreign kings – first of Babylon and then of the conquering Persians. Chapter 1 actually spells out the timeline for the book, give or take a couple years: it begins early in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (v. 1; ca. 605 B.C.) and goes all the way to the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia (v. 21; 538 B.C.)
The fact that the book unfolds during the exile is not insignificant. The exile was a time of immense theological uncertainty for the Jews; it constituted a crisis that threatened the very tenets of their faith. (See Danny Boy of Babylon for details on this crisis.) The message of the book will, in part, address this crisis. It will speak to the deep questions that plagued the people of God during the sixth century B.C. – and to questions that still bother us today.
Chapter 1 also introduces us to the key players of the book. Most obviously, we meet Daniel and three other Hebrew boys who stayed faithful to their God in exile. We learn what kind of person Daniel is – namely, the epitome of a wise man. (See Wisdom: Finding the Right Way to Do the Right Thing for more on this.) He will need all the wisdom he can muster for the chapters that follow.
We also meet the foreign king who dominates much of the book – Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon. For now, it’s enough to know the name of the king who brought God’s people to their knees. As soon as we get to chapter 2, we’ll learn a whole lot more about him.
The final major player that we meet in chapter 1 is Israel’s God, the one apparently defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and his god(s). (See Don’t Miss This for the fuller story on this.) Although His temple is destroyed, His home furnishings are hauled off to Babylon for the house of Bel or Marduk, and His people are subjected to exile and foreign rule, this God is nonetheless at work throughout chapter 1 (and, by implication, throughout the rest of the book). Three times in chapter 1 He is said to “give” someone something (vv. 2, 9, 17), when on the surface it would have looked like they achieved it for themselves. The narrator will not let us hold such a thought for long. God is always at work behind the scenes. His hand is in every event that transpires.
Finally, chapter 1 lays out for us the theme that drives the entire book – the sovereignty of God, the King of kings. The entire book of Daniel is focused on the relationship between the King who reigns forever and the reigning human king, between God and the gods of human kings. (See Don’t Miss This for more on this issue.)
In addition to laying these foundational elements of the book, chapter 1 also weaves a few colorful threads into its tapestry – threads that subsequent chapters will pick up and work into their particular stories. These threads include wisdom, dreams, the relocated temple vessels, and the “magicians and enchanters” of v. 20. You will just have to keep reading to see where these threads take us!