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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.
Cyrus allows some of the Judean exiles to return home around 538 b.c.
2 In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign,[a] the king had a dream that disturbed him so much that he was unable to fall asleep. 2 So the king sent for his usual advisors—magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and other Chaldean wise men—to come and help him understand the dream. They came and stood before the troubled king.
Nebuchadnezzar (to his advisors): 3 I’ve had a dream that has disturbed me. I know I am not going to have any peace until I know what it means.
Wise Men (in Aramaic):[b] 4 Long live the king! We are your servants. Tell us your dream, and we will tell you what it means.
The king has his suspicions about his advisors, so he purposely makes the task more difficult.
Nebuchadnezzar: 5 My mind is made up; my decree is firm. If you do not tell me what I dreamed and what it means, you will be torn apart, limb from limb, and those houses of yours will be turned into piles of rubble. 6 But if you do tell me what I dreamed and what it means, then you can expect to receive great honor, gifts, and other rewards as I see fit. So tell me the details of the dream and what it means.
Wise Men: 7 Perhaps the king should first tell his servants what he dreamed; then we can tell him what it means.
Nebuchadnezzar: 8 It’s obvious to me that you are just buying time, hoping to figure a way out of this, because you can plainly see I will do as I’ve said. 9 If you do not tell me what I dreamed, then there can be only one fate for you: death as I have decreed. You have conspired to lie and deceive me until the situation turns around. But it won’t. I will not change my mind. So tell me, right now, what I dreamed. If you can do that, then I will have some assurance that you can tell me what it means.
Wise Men: 10 No one on earth is able to do what the king demands. And never in history has a great and powerful king, such as yourself, asked this sort of thing of any magician, enchanter, or wise man. 11 What the king requires is far too difficult for any human being. Only the gods can reveal it to the king, and they do not live among us mortals.
12 When the king heard their reply, he was absolutely outraged and ordered that all the so-called wise men of Babylon be put to death. 13 So the decree was issued, and the king’s officials began to round up all the wise men in Babylon for execution; officers were sent to find and kill Daniel and his friends, too, for they were renowned for their wisdom. 14 As Arioch, the chief of the royal guard, was searching for the wise men of Babylon to kill them, he came across Daniel. Daniel responded to the situation shrewdly and with discretion.
Daniel: 15 What has happened? Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?
Arioch did his best to explain the situation to Daniel. 16 So Daniel entered the palace and asked the king to give him a little more time so that he could come back and tell the king both what he dreamed and what it all meant.
17 After Daniel made his request, he returned home and told his friends—Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—what was going on. 18 He asked them to pray and plead for mercy so that the God of heaven might reveal this mystery. If Daniel and his friends could tell the king what he wanted to know, then they would not be put to death along with the other wise men of Babylon. 19 Then, one night, the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision, and so Daniel offered this blessing to the God of heaven:
20 Daniel: Praise the name of God forever and ever,
for all wisdom and power belong to Him.
21 He sets in motion the times and the ages;
He deposes kings and installs others;
He gives wisdom to the wise
and grants knowledge to those with understanding.
22 He reveals deep truths and hidden secrets;
He knows what lies veiled in the darkness;
pure light radiates from within Him.
23 I recognize who You are, and I praise You, God of my ancestors,
for You have given me wisdom and strength.
And now You have graciously revealed to me what we asked of You,
for You have revealed to us the king’s dream and its meaning.
8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded and show sympathy, love, compassion, and humility to and for each other— 9 not paying back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repaying the bad with a blessing. It was this you were called to do, so that you might inherit a blessing. 10 It is written in the psalms,
If you love life
and want to live a good, long time,
Then be careful what you say.
Don’t tell lies or spread gossip or talk about improper things.
11 Walk away from the evil things in the world—just leave them behind, and do what is right,
and always seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the Lord watches over the righteous,
and His ears are attuned to their prayers.
But His face is set against His enemies;
He will punish evildoers.[a]
13 Why would anyone harm you if you eagerly do good? 14 Even if you should suffer for doing what is right, you will receive a blessing. Don’t let them frighten you. Don’t be intimidated, 15-16 but exalt Him as Lord in your heart. Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope. Keep your conscience clear so that those who ridicule your good conduct in the Anointed and say bad things about you will be put to shame.
Peter urges us always to be ready to give a reason for the hope that lives within us. But it is important that it be done not with arrogance and contempt, but with gentle ness and love—the same virtues that should guide our responses to any hostile challenge. This is one way we can glorify Jesus as King over all our lives—by exalting Him with both our emotions and our intellect.
17 For if it is the will of God that you suffer, then it is better to suffer for doing what is right than for doing what is wrong. 18 The Anointed One suffered for sins once for all time—the righteous suffering for the unrighteous—so that He might bring us to God. Though He died in the flesh, He was made alive again through the Spirit. 19 And in the Spirit, He went and preached to those spirits held captive. 20 It was these who long ago lived in disobedience while God waited patiently as Noah was building the ark. At that time, only a tiny band—eight people—was spared from the flood.
21 The water through which the ark safely passed symbolizes now the ceremonial washing through baptism[b] that initiates you into salvation. You are saved not because it cleanses your body of filth but because of your appeal to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King. 22 Now He has entered heaven and sits at the right hand of God as heavenly messengers and authorities and powers submit to His supremacy.
4 Since the Anointed suffered in the flesh, prepare yourselves to do the same—anyone who has suffered in the flesh for the Lord is no longer in the grip of sin— 2 so that you may live the rest of your life on earth controlled not by earthly desires but by the will of God.
The reality of suffering in the world causes many to question the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving God. A God of power and love is expected to be both able and willing to remove suffering from our lives. Ultimately, God will make all things new and end suffering, but for now God allows it and calls us to rejoice in the midst of it. Though we may not understand it, pain and suffering have a purpose in God’s plan, and our Creator is not immune to it. Through Jesus God enters into our suffering; now we are called to enter into His.
3 You have already wasted enough time living like those outsiders in the society around you: losing yourselves in sex, in addictions and desires, in drinking and lawless idolatry, in giving your time and allegiance to things that are not godly. 4 When you don’t play the same games they do, they notice that you are living by different rules. That’s why they say such terrible things about you. 5 Someday they, too, will have to give an account of themselves to the One who judges the living and the dead. 6 (This is why the good news had to be brought to those who are dead so that although they are judged in the flesh, they might live in the spirit in the way that pleases God.)
65 You have handled Your servant well,
O Eternal One, as You promised.
66 Help me to learn good judgment and knowledge
because I believe Your commandments.
67 Before I had trouble, I strayed from the true path, the path of righteousness,
but now I live according to Your word.
68 You are truly good, and Your acts are too;
teach me what You require.
69 The proud smear me with their lies;
I will keep Your instructions wholeheartedly.
70 Their hearts are dull and callous;
I am delighted to study Your teaching.
71 It is a good thing that I was humbled
because it helped me learn Your limits.
72 Your teachings are more valuable to me
than a fortune in gold and silver.
73 Your strong hands formed me and established me;
give me understanding so I can learn Your commands.
74 Let those who fear You see me and rejoice
because I hope in Your word.
75 I know, O Eternal One, Your rulings are right,
and when You humbled me, You did so out of faithfulness.
76 Now let Your unfailing love be my comfort,
in keeping with Your promise to Your servant.
77 Shower me with Your compassion so that I may live
because I find great joy in Your law.
78 Let the proud be humiliated,
for they sabotage me with a lie;
still I will fix my mind on Your directives.
79 Let those who fear You and know Your testimonies
come back and find me.
80 Let my heart be whole, my record according to what You require
so that I will not be humiliated.
14 Happy is the one who always fears the Lord,
but the person who hardens his heart to God falls into misfortune.