1 Now it happened during the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign over Judah, the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched against him and laid siege to Jerusalem, Judah’s capital. 2 The Lord gave Nebuchadnezzar the victory and allowed him to take King Jehoiakim of Judah as his prisoner. At the same time, He permitted the Babylonian king to rob God’s temple of some of its sacred vessels and carry them away to Babylonia (called Shinar), which was the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, to fill the treasury of his own gods, Marduk and Nebo.
3 After the king returned home, he commanded Ashpenaz, chief of the royal eunuchs, to bring some of the Israelites who had been taken captive to the palace. These included members of Judah’s royal family and the nobility. 4 He was looking for potential candidates from the exiles to serve in his court, fit young men with no physical or moral infirmities, handsome, skilled in all wisdom, knowledgeable, discerning, and understanding. Those selected would be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans, the people who lived in Babylonia. 5 As part of their assimilation into Babylonian court life, the king offered them a daily portion of food and wine from his own table. They were to be educated for three years before serving in the king’s court. 6 From among Judah’s exiles, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were selected. 7 Ashpenaz, chief of the royal eunuchs, gave them Babylonian names to signify their new identities in a foreign place: Daniel he renamed Belteshazzar; Hananiah, Shadrach; Mishael, Meshach; and Azariah, Abed-nego.
Nebuchadnezzar seizes the wisest, strongest, and most powerful people in each land he conquers and deports them to Babylonia. This serves three purposes: it gives the government an unending supply of capable people; it further cripples the conquered nation, rendering them helpless; and it ensures the conquered nation will not want to retaliate because their own loved ones live in the conquering land.
Daniel and his friends are among these deportees. When they arrive in Babylonia, they are expected to assimilate to the Babylonian way of life; this includes changing their names. Nebuchadnezzar renames the deportees to complete their conversion to the Babylonian society and to demonstrate his status as their master.
8 Although the king ate only the finest Babylonian fare, Daniel was determined not to violate God’s law and defile himself by eating the food and drinking the wine that came from the king’s table; so he asked the chief of the royal eunuchs for permission not to eat the food.
Daniel’s concern is the food has been offered up to Marduk and does not meet Israelite dietary laws.
9 Now God had given Daniel special favor and fondness in the eyes of the king’s chief eunuch. 10 Still the eunuch was concerned.
Ashpenaz (to Daniel): Belteshazzar, your request puts me in a difficult position. I am afraid of what my lord the king might do. He has ordered that you are to eat the food and drink the wine prepared for his table. What will happen if he sees you and your friends over time in poorer health than the other young men your own age? I am certain he will have my head.
11 When Ashpenaz refused, Daniel reasoned with the guard whom the chief of the royal eunuchs assigned to watch over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
Daniel (to the guard): 12 Please, do us a favor. Put us, your servants, to the test for the next 10 days. Give us a vegetarian diet and water. 13 When the time is up, you can see for yourself our condition and compare it to the condition of the other young men who are eating from the king’s table. Then, after you have seen what has happened, do whatever you think is best with us, your servants.
Daniel and his companions ask for a diet consistent with God’s instructions to His covenant people: vegetables and grains, without the rich cuts of meat that are normally a staple of those who eat at the king’s table. They also want to exclude any wines or mead because they intend to avoid any unnecessary entanglements with Babylonian culture. Most of those meats and wines have been offered to the Babylonian gods, and Daniel wants no part of that. Daniel and his exiled friends may have to live in Babylon, but they don’t have to be absorbed into the culture. Every bite of every meal reminds them that they are different.
14 So the guard agreed to do as Daniel requested. He tested them on a diet of only vegetables, grains, and water for 10 days. 15 When the 10 days were up, he looked them over and noticed that Daniel and his friends were better off than all the young men eating from the king’s best foods. They looked healthy and well nourished, 16 so the guard continued to hold back their royal rations and replaced them with a strictly vegetarian diet. 17 Through all of this, God conferred upon these 4 young men superior abilities in literature, language, and wisdom. God had given Daniel an additional gift, too: the ability to interpret visions and dreams. 18 When the 3-year period of training and conditioning, as set by the king, was over, the king sent for the candidates; the chief of the royal eunuchs himself escorted them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king interviewed all of them and found that none of the candidates were any better than Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; so they were each assigned an important place in the king’s court. 20 When the king inquired further into their grasp of wisdom and understanding, he discovered that they were better prepared than all the magicians and enchanters in his empire, even 10 times better. 21 This is how Daniel came to serve the royal court, a position he safely held until the first year of King Cyrus when his Persian army conquered Babylonia.