Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility,youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. Daniel 1:3–7
“You are those who justify yourself before God,” Christ told religious men, “but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:14–15). Six centuries before Christ, Daniel was also confronted with the conflict between man’s religion and God’s reality. Brought to Babylon, “the glory of kingdoms”(Isa. 13:19), Daniel came face to face with man posturing as god.
Babylon provided every reason for the human heart to feel justified, holy, and confident apart from God. Its armies were sovereign, its economy was supreme, and its schools were superior to all others in its time. Of the famed seven wonders of the ancient world, two came from Babylon—the Ishtar Gate and the Hanging Gardens—making Babylon the most represented of the ancient kingdoms. The city itself was a wonder sought for and praised by nations for centuries.
All this glory vanishes when we consider the situation from God’s perspective. The towering ziggurat, the glistening tiles of the Ishtar Gate, the lush gardens with their exotic trees—all are ignored by Scripture. In fact, of all the celebrated wonders of the ancient world, only one is ever mentioned by Scripture, and that, only as an impotent fraud (Acts 19:35–41).
God is not hoodwinked by human pretensions. Behind the polished casing of the Pyramids of Giza, He saw the oppression and cruelty of the Pharaohs. Beneath the stately columns of the massive Temple of Artemis, He saw the avarice and objectification that kept it standing. And in Babylon, He saw the presumptuous defiance of humanity. The writings of His prophets warned Daniel to look beyond the outward appearance and rely on God for insight (1 Sam. 16:6–7, Prov. 3:1–8). Armed with this knowledge and a determination to follow God in spite of the cost, Daniel was prepared to do the impossible.
Illustration by Kitti Touzeau