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Daniel - A Remarkable Man

Daniel with lions

by Dennis Pollock

Of all the heroes of the Old Testament, Daniel ranks as one of my favorites. He was a prophet, but he wasn’t your typical prophet. He didn’t go around preaching repentance to Israel – which wouldn’t have made much sense anyway, since in his days Israel had been conquered and its people scattered. You might say that Daniel was a sort of part-time prophet. His day job was civil servant and adviser to kings. But at certain points throughout his life God used Him to record special revelations, and demonstrated His mighty hand through him.

Although Daniel was born in Judah, he was taken to Babylon with some of the first groups of captives, after Jerusalem had been conquered by the Babylonians. He was still a young man. King Nebuchadnezzar had told his army captains to be on the lookout for young men, smart, good-looking, and capable, that might serve in various positions in his government. Daniel and three of his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah obviously impressed their captors, and were selected to be groomed for leadership positions in Nebuchadnezzar’s government.

That was the good news. There may have been some bad news as well. Kings in those days had wives – in fact a whole lot of wives. These monarchs could have essentially whatever they wanted, and when it came to beautiful women, they wanted plenty. Their palaces were overflowing with lovely ladies. Kings typically had so many wives that most of them would be lucky to see the king a few times a year. They would be called to sleep with the king for one night, and then return to the harem quarters where they would have little to do until the next time the king called for them – perhaps several months later.

Traumatic Beginnings

With all these good looking ladies hanging around the palace, kings in those days knew full well that the opportunities for them to get involved with some of the young men would abound, and so they employed an effective but exceedingly cruel practice to make sure that their ladies remained true. All of the male workers who spent much time in and around the palace were castrated and made eunuchs. This was possibly the experience of Daniel and his three friends. Again and again we read of how they related to and reported to “the chief of the eunuchs.” (NKJV)

There is some debate among Bible scholars over whether Daniel was a eunuch. The term “chief of the eunuchs” was also a term that could simply mean “chief official.” So we cannot be certain that Daniel was made a eunuch. But the fact that there is no mention of his wife or children throughout the book that bears his name makes it at least possible, and perhaps likely. In any case, Daniel’s being taken captive to a foreign land and forced to serve a pagan king must surely have been a traumatic experience for the young man. And if indeed he was made a eunuch, this would have multiplied the trauma a hundredfold.

Daniel’s Refusal

Daniel was enrolled in special training classes to learn the literature and the ways of the Babylonians. He was also given a new name – Belteshazzar. And he was given a new diet. The king wanted these young men looking like, talking like, and responding like true Babylonians. It is interesting that Daniel did not object to the name he was given, and he accepted the training classes that were forced upon him. It was only the diet that he balked at. Daniel was a conscientious follower of the laws of Moses.

The Mosaic laws clearly forbade the eating of certain types of foods. When Daniel saw what foods they were expecting him to eat, he went straight to the chief of the eunuchs and asked permission that he and his friends might not defile themselves by eating that which was unlawful. They would eat vegetables and drink water instead. The chief didn’t care personally what foods these young Jews ate, but he knew that the king was expecting him to make sure they ate the rich foods of Babylon and attained the stature of a servant of the king. No skinny little fellows hanging around the palace!

The man told Daniel it could put his life in jeopardy, if the king were to see Daniel and his buddies looking like scarecrows and figure out that his chief of the eunuchs was not strictly obeying his orders for the boys’ dietary provisions. Daniel begged for a ten-day test, after which the chief of the eunuchs could examine them and see how they looked. The man agreed, and after ten days, the boys looked better than all their peers and so he left Daniel and his friends to eat as they pleased.

This story is not nearly as exciting as the lion’s den story or the fiery furnace story we read about later in the Book of Daniel, but it is incredibly revealing about the kind of character possessed by this young Hebrew man. Daniel was a man of principle. He came by it early and never departed from his commitment to his God. He would risk his life for his beliefs, his principles, and His God, and he learned that when he did, God honored that commitment and made sure that he was kept safe, even in the foreign, hostile atmosphere of the palace of Babylon.

Daniel and his friends excelled in their studies, and the Bible says, “As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom.” But Daniel was not only gifted in natural areas. We are told, “Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” This young man had a gift unsought and no doubt unexpected, that enabled him to hear the voice of God, and perceive spiritual things as few men ever have. The king was impressed, and the Scriptures record: “And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm” (Daniel 1:20).

Daniel Continued…

One of the most telling statements about Daniel, however, is found in a simple sentence that most people pass over. At the end of the first chapter we read, “Thus Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus” (Daniel 1:21). Daniel lived to be an old man, and in fact he outlived six different kings of Babylon. Over the course of seventy years, Daniel lived through the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, his son, Evil-Merodach, and his son and his son and his son and his son, up until the day when Belshazzar was killed by the Medes and the Persians the night Daniel interpreted the handwriting on the wall for him.

Even more amazing, when the Medes and the Persians took over as the ruling empire in that part of the world, Daniel was asked to serve their leader, Darius, something which was rarely done. By this time, he would have been probably in his late eighties or early nineties, and it was at this age that we read of that famous lions’ den story. Most of the pictures of Daniel with the lions portray him as a good-looking young man, but in truth he was an old man, no doubt wrinkled and having lost his youthful good looks many decades ago.

The fact that Daniel’s life and career spanned so many different kings and administrations, and that he was often in a place of leadership within governments of nations that had almost nothing in common with Daniel’s native Israel, reveals a remarkable aspect of this amazing man. Daniel was clearly a likeable and winsome man. There is no other explanation for the favor he gained with so many and such varied heads of state.

Committed – but Likeable

Daniel with BelshazzarSome people’s passionate religious fervor tends to make them less than likeable. They hold their opinions rigidly and harshly, and display obvious loathing for anything other than their own views and ways. They make it plain that if you don’t think like them, talk like them, and dress like them, you are a despicable person utterly unworthy of their attention. But we don’t find this in Daniel. This man had the remarkable ability to hold firmly to his convictions, while still remaining pleasant and agreeable with men and leaders with whom he had very little in common. Of course this attribute was also powerfully seen in our Lord Jesus, who could eat with and relate to tax collectors and ungodly men in a way that attracted them not only to Him but to His Heavenly Father. The proud Pharisees seemed unable to grasp that it is possible to be passionately devoted to God and yet still relate to those who are far from Him.

When you read the book of Daniel, and learn of the amazing miracles which God did in his life and the lives of his friends, you might get the impression that with Daniel, there were miracles and life-threatening challenges happening every day. But this is far from the truth. The Book of Daniel is an accounting of the highlights of his life. Ordinary events rarely make the evening news. You never hear a news piece about a man who woke up in the morning, ate his breakfast, went to work, returned home in the evening, watched a little television, and went to bed. But the fact is that these kind of days are precisely the substance of the vast majority of our days.

So it is with the Bible. If we were to read about every single day of every single Bible character, it would take a tractor-trailer to haul our Bibles around. But of course God knows that this type of book would be totally impractical, and He is a very practical God. So in the book of Daniel we read of the highlights of his life. But it is important for us to realize that when Daniel and other Biblical heroes weren’t experiencing dramatic miracles and life-threatening situations, they were walking quietly, steadily, and faithfully with God. It was their faithfulness in the quiet, ordinary days that qualified them to be used mightily in the dramatic, spectacular ones.

Dreams and Visions

When we think about Daniel, we often think about dreams and visions. The last half of the Book of Daniel contains some amazing revelations the prophet received from God. And if we didn’t know better, we might assume that Daniel was constantly receiving divine dreams and visions every day of his life. But in fact there are only five dreams and visions given to Daniel that are listed in the book. And four of the five did not take place until the first year of King Belshazzar. By this time Daniel was an old man, probably in his mid to late eighties. So we must not conclude that Daniel’s life involved one vision after another. Like the rest of us, most of Daniel’s days were very ordinary ones.

Perfect Character

Again, we find the same thing in our Lord Jesus. As we read through the stories of His brief three years of ministry, we sometimes forget that He walked with God quietly in all those previous years when there were no miracles, there was no fame, and His responsibilities seemed so very ordinary. But Jesus at twenty-five working as a carpenter was just as pleasing to His Father as Jesus at thirty-two cleansing the lepers, raising the dead, and proclaiming the kingdom of God to tens of thousands.

There is a very good reason why we find the attributes of Daniel’s amazing character manifested in Jesus Christ. In truth, it was the character of Christ which was reflected (although imperfectly) in Daniel. For it is not Daniel but Jesus who is a model to all men and women everywhere about the kind of character that brings favor with God and men.

But it is not as though we must simply seek to imitate Jesus Christ, and all will be well. Through the new birth God implants the very nature and character of Jesus in the hearts of men and women, and then commands us to abide in Him. As we do, we find a special kind of fruit growing in us, which the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit. Love, peace, integrity, faithfulness, patience, humility, and all the various manifestations of the nature of God are revealed gradually in the children of God. Just as little children are sometimes said to bear a resemblance to their fathers, so we who are in Christ will come to bear a resemblance to the One whom the Bible calls “the everlasting Father.” Yes, Daniel was a great man, but his integrity, courage, and faithfulness pale in comparison to Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son.


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