Daniel 1: Taken to Babylon

Oct 25, 2022 4:05 PM
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Daniel 1

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Daniel 1 serves to provide context for the rest of the book. It tells us the who (Daniel, Azariah, Hananiah, and Mishael), what (wisdom), when (the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign), where (Babylon), and how (captivity).

The Beginning of Captivity

We are told that the siege of Jerusalem occurs during the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign. Jehoiakim’s reign began in roughly 609 BCE,[12] so the siege took place some time during 606 BCE. Israel’s defeat had already been prophesied and was punishment for disobedience to YHWH. Daniel confirms this with the phrase “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand.” During the siege, not only does Nebuchadnezzar take control of Jerusalem, and thus the kingdom of Judah, but he also pillages the Temple and takes people captive.

Where is Shinar? Nebuchadnezzar transports his stolen goods to Shinar. Shinar is the ancient Hebrew name for the land in southern Mesopotamia, which includes the city of Babylon. Either, Nebuchadnezzar took it to a temple or shrine that was within his kingdom but not in Babylon, or the author simply referenced the whole region, instead of of singling out Babylon.
Who is Nebuchadnezzar’s god? The stolen treasures from the Temple are given to “Nebuchadnezzar’s god.” Presumably, this is Nebu or Nebo, who is referenced in the famous king’s name.

Nebuchadnezzar commands Ashpenaz, the chief of the eunuchs to bring very specific types of people back from Israel to serve in Babylon. The requirements Nebuchadnezzar sets for these captives are listed and discussed below. From them, we can gather that he only wanted the best and brightest. Not only does that give us a glimpse of what their purpose would be in Babylon, but it is also strategic in inflicting further damage to Israel. Today, this same principle occurs when high achieving students, craftsmen, and other skilled workers immigrate from so-called third world countries to so-called first world countries. This process removes the top earners and expertise from the population, forcing the new “top” to be less and less skilled. We call this phenomenon brain drain.

Requirements for Captives

Asphenaz was told to take royals and nobles from the Israelite who possessed the following qualities

youth, unblemished, good lucking, suitable to teach, intelligent, and capacity to serve (were they eunuchs then?) They were taught the ways of Babylon

  • Young → how did they define “young”?
  • Unblemished → they were not to have any disabilities or deformities
  • Good looking → why did the king restrict his order to attractive people?
  • Suitable to teach → i.e. people who learn quickly and are likely to be willing to learn
  • Intelligent → each of these people must have already proven themselves in some way in Israel
  • Ability to serve the king → usually, only eunuchs served the king (evidenced by the fact that Ashpenaz was chief of the eunuchs); the people taken were either already eunuchs or made in to eunuchs (so this requirement probably excluded anyone who was married)[13]

Who Was Taken?

In addition to the titular Daniel, this chapter identifies several key people both in Israel’s history and of importance as we read the text. The following people are identified:

  • Jehoiakim → king of Israel (defeated)
  • Nebuchadnezzar → king of Babylon
  • Ashpenaz → chief of eunuchs
  • Daniel → author of the book, a captive youth who is trained to serve in the kings court
  • Azariah → friend of Daniel, a captive youth who is trained to serve in the kings court
  • Mishael → friend of Daniel, a captive youth who is trained to serve in the kings court
  • Hananiah → friend of Daniel, a captive youth who is trained to serve in the kings court

Meaning of Names

Names are important—aside from the fact that they identify us. In most cultures, names are not widely selected or given on a whim. In these cultures, names are thought about strategically, balancing meaning, aesthetic, and modern connotation. The best Biblical example is that of Abraham. God changed his name to “father of the nations” as part of the promise to create whole nation’s from Abraham’s seed.

The practice of changing someone’s name to signify ownership is not just found in the Bible. Many cultures subscribe to this belief as well. In the animated movie Spirited Away, the main character’s name is taken from her by a witch who becomes her employer and a friend tells her thats how the witch controls people. The main character must remember her true name if she ever expects to leave. I tell you this to remind you that names are powerful and many cultures recognize this.

When Daniel and his friends arrive in Babylon, their names are changed. There are a few reasons why this may have occurred:

  1. Language Barrier: While I imagine there were plenty of bilingual people, the language of the Babylonians and Israelites were not the same. This could have made pronunciation of the names more difficult. Modern examples include a friend of mine whose birth name is Jin Yun, but she goes by Sara, a co-worker named Guillermo who goes by Will, and an acquaintance whose name is Shahir but goes by Shawn.
  2. Assimilation: Regardless of the “why,” any time a person changes their name from their native tongue to “the more acceptable tongue” it is a method of assimilation. In the examples I used above, each of these people chose new English names (or an English version of their name) of their own free will—though since I am not them, I cannot speak to how much pressure they felt to make that decision from people butchering their birth name. However, it still stems from a desire to “fit in.” Similar practices happen in the black and African-American community here in the United States. Many of my friends have a “black” name that is used among friends and family, and an “English” name that goes on resumés and job applications.
  3. Dissassociation: All four Israelites have the name of God embedded in their Hebrew name. When their names are changed, Yah (YHWH) and El (Elohim) are replaced with Bel, Nebu, and Aku, Babylonian deities. It seems that the Babylonians wanted to erase the presence of the Hebrew God and replace Him with their own gods.

Daniel (Beltashazzar)

The name Daniel means “God is my Judge.”[1] “El” in Hebrew means God and is the singular of “Elohim,” the word often used to reference YHWH when not calling Him by name. Ashpenaz renamed him Beltashazzar, meaning “Bel protects my life.”[8] “Bel” is a name associated with Babylonian god Marduk. Marduk was considered a chief god (much like Zeus and Jupiter—in fact he was associated with the planet Jupiter).[9]

Hananiah (Shadrach)

Hananiah meas “God has favored.”[4] In Hebrew, the -iah ending is actually “Yah,” or YH, a shortened version of YHWH. Ashpenaz renames him Shadrach. Although I was not able to find the meaning of Shadrach, it is possible the -ach ending is a reference to Aku, a Babylonian moon-god.[10] Note, in the New Testament when you see the name Ananias, it is the Latinized version of Hananiah (I find this interesting because it seems this remained a popular name).

Mishael (Meshach)

Mishael means “Who is what God is.”[3] He is renamed to Meshach. Like Shadrach, I could not find the exact meaning of this name (though Nameberry suggests it means “Who is what Aku is”—which would probably be accurate for a Hebrew translation, but it may have had a different meaning in the language of Babylon), and it too may reference Aku.[10]

Azariah (Abed-Nego)

Azariah means “YHWH (Jehovah) has helped.”[2] Ashpenaz gives him the name Abed-Nego, which references the Babylonian god Nebo. Abed-Neko means “servant of Nebo.” Nebo was the Babylonian god of vegetation and the art of writing.[11] Interestingly, Azariah and his friends spend 3 years as vegetarians and master literature and other forms of wisdom when they reach Babylon.


Jehoiakim means “YHWH (Jehovah) rises up.”[5] He was the king of Israel at the time Babylon began taking Israelites and was actually placed on the throne by Egypt. His reign is covered in 2 Kings 23:34-24:19 and 2 Chronicles 36.


Nebuchadnezzar means “may Nebo protect the crown.”[6]


Ashpenaz means “I will make prominent the sprinkled”[7] Again this is telling, as he is the partially responsible for the rise of Daniel and his friends in the kingdom.

Treatment in Babylon

The text says the captives were given a daily ration from the king’s best supply. This tells us that they were not given so freely that they had unlimited food or could eat to their own satisfaction the way a free person could, but what they were given was the best of the best. This is a stark contrast to American Slavery which produced cultural dishes like chitterlings and chicken feet within the black community because slaves were given the left overs.

In addition to receiving quality food, the captives were given 3 years of education in all things Babylonian. This is interesting for a few reasons:

  • Whatever they were expected to do after their training, must have been highly skilled. 3 years is a little more than an associates degree and a little less than a bachelor’s degree, generally speaking. When you consider how much general education is plugged into our education system, it is very reasonable to think many of our highly skilled professions could be taught in 3 years. Whatever they were learning, it was not just to serve tea and clean the palace.
  • There is a parallel in that Christ’s ministry was just a little over 3 years (and it also started with a fast!) This means that the disciples spent roughly 3 years learning all they could from Christ the same way Daniel and his friends spent 3 years learning all they could in Babylon.

The Fast

This section is under construction

References and Footnotes

  1. The meaning of “Daniel” was taken from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon and is generally referenced as “Strong’s H1840”
  2. The meaning of “Azariah” was taken from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon and is generally referenced as “Strong’s H5838”
  3. The meaning of “Mishael” was taken from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon and is generally referenced as “Strong’s H4332”
  4. The meaning of “Hananiah” was taken from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon and is generally referenced as “Strong’s H2608”
  5. The meaning of “Jehoiakim” was taken from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon and is generally referenced as “Strong’s H3079”
  6. The meaning of “Nebuchadnezzar” was taken from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon and is generally referenced as “Strong’s H5019”
  7. The meaning of “Ashpenaz” was taken from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon and is generally referenced as “Strong’s H828”
  8. Why did Nebuchadnezzar change Daniel’s name to Belteshazzar?”. GotQuestions.org; visited July 13, 2022
  9. Marduk | Babylonian god”. Encyclopedia Britannica; visited July 16, 2022
  10. Meshach”. Nameberry; visited July 16, 2022
  11. Nabu | Babylonian deity”. Encylopedia Britannica; visited July 13, 2022
  12. Jehoiakim | king of Israel”. Encyclopedia Britannica; visited July 16, 2022
  13. Was Daniel made a eunuch in Babylon?”. GotQuestions.org; visited July 13, 2022

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