The year was 605 B.C.,1 and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had sent his army against Jerusalem. G-d allowed the Babylonians to defeat King Jehoiakim because of the sins of the nation of Judah and the sins of her kings. The Babylonians had confiscated some of the furnishings from G-d's holy temple, and now they were taking them back to Babylon to be placed in the temple of the false Babylon god "Bel."2 King Nebuchadnezzar had ordered some of the young men who were members of the royal family and nobility to be brought to Babylon. He wanted young men who were in good health, intelligent, and handsome. Daniel was among those taken.

They had been walking for days; Daniel had lost track of how many weeks had passed. Each day was the same: awake early, bread and water for breakfast, and a long day of marching in the hot sun. Many of the captives had fainted and some that were too weak to walk had to be carried. A few of the captives had died from the harshness of the trip. They did not travel directly east to Babylon from Jerusalem, because the trip would have been impossible across the desert. Instead, they headed north along the fertile crescent and then south along the Euphrates River. This was the same route Abraham had taken to the promised land years earlier. Now, Daniel was being taken back to Abraham's homeland.3

Daniel was not surprised the Babylonians had taken over the city of Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah and others had repeatedly warned the nation that if they did not repent, G-d would turn them over to their enemies.4 Daniel's three friends -- Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah -- were also taken from Jerusalem. They prayed silently as they walked and repeated verses of Scripture they had memorized for strength and comfort.

After a journey of 500 miles,5 they arrived in Babylon. As they entered the city, they passed through the Ishtar gate, a double gate leading through double fortification walls. The walls were covered with patterns of flowers, geometric figures, and life-size animals, such as bulls, lions, and dragons. Once inside this magnificent gate, they proceeded along a stone-paved procession way into the heart of the city. The walls along the way were covered with enameled bricks, decorated with life-size lions. In the distance, Daniel could see the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon. These gardens were supported on terraces raised up into the air, and formed a man-made mountain that brought beauty as well as coolness to the city.6

Daniel and his friends were placed under the care of Ashpenaz, the chief of the court officials. It was Ashpenaz's job to see that they were educated in the culture and traditions of Babylon. The training program was supposed to last three years. One of the first things Ashpenaz did was to change the captive's names. Daniel's name, which in Hebrew means "G-d is my judge," was changed to Belteshazzar, meaning "Bel's prince." Bel was the patron god of Babylon. Hananiah, whose name means "the L-rd is gracious," was changed to Shadrach, meaning "illumined by the sun-god Shamash." Mishael's name was changed from, "who is like G-d," to Meshach, meaning "who is Ishtar," the Babylonian queen of heaven. Azariah, which means "the L-rd is my help," became Abednego, "the slave of Nabu," who was the Babylonian god of wisdom and education.7

"Daniel," asked Azariah, "why do you think they changed our names?"

Mishael added, "Why do they want us to eat the king's food?"

Daniel took a deep breath before he began. "I believe the king wants us to forget our past: our families, friends, homes and our G-d, and adopt pagan gods and traditions as our own. I will speak to Ashpenaz tomorrow and explain to him the laws G-d has given us."

The next day, Daniel approached Ashpenaz. "Sir, the G-d of Israel has given us special laws that forbid us to eat the king's food."

Ashpenaz liked Daniel, but he was afraid of King Nebuchadnezzar. "Belteshazzar," he said to Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you."8

Daniel was not satisfied with his answer, so he went to the guard whom Ashpenaz had placed over them. "For the next ten days, let us have only vegetables and water at mealtime. When the ten days are up, compare how we look with the other young men. Then, at that time, decide what to do with us."9

The guard agreed to this. To his surprise, after ten days he found Daniel and his friends healthier looking and better nourished than any of the young men who had eaten the king's food.
Because of their faithfulness, G-d made the four young men smart and wise. They read many books and became well educated. In fact, He gave Daniel a special gift so he could also tell the meaning of dreams and visions.10

After three years of study, the captives were brought before the king. Nebuchadnezzar interviewed them and found Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah to be ten times wiser than all the magicians and enchanters in the kingdom. Their superior wisdom and understanding earned them positions as advisors to the king.


"That's the end of chapter one," said Darryl. "Any questions?"

"That was great, Dad," replied Jamie. "You really know how to bring the story to life! I do have one question, though. How old were Daniel and his friends?"

Darryl responded, "Bible scholars believe Daniel was approximately seventeen years old.11 Daniel was still alive at the end of the captivity, which lasted seventy years.12 I hope you understand how brave Daniel was when he told Ashpenaz he could not eat the king's food. He was hundreds of miles away from his homeland, and he was a prisoner. The Babylonians could have taken his life at any moment, but Daniel was determined to be faithful to G-d, no matter what the cost." Darryl turned to Brian and asked, "Any questions?"

Brian was impressed, but thought to himself: I can't wait until he gets to chapter two. It's impossible to understand.

"Brian," Jamie nudged him, "do you have any questions?"

"Ah ... no, but I might have some later after we study chapter two," Brian mumbled.

Darryl chuckled. "Yes, chapter two can be pretty confusing. If you don't have any questions, let's look at it now."