In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and ofthe 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.
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Daniel 1 (ESV)
Daniel and his friends were ripped from their homeland and families. Most likely they became eunuchs and were forced to learn the language and ways of the Babylonians. Even their names were changed from ones honoring Yahweh the true God, to ones honoring the false gods of their captors. This is a tragic tale.
As great a misfortune as this was, God's hand was the one steering the wheel. "And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand." The providence of God is seen all throughout the book of Daniel. Because of Judah's idolatry and lack of faith in their God, the Lord gave them over to destruction. But it was not without purpose. God used Nebuchadnezzar to spread out His people into many nations. Some were forcibly removed, while others fled from the coming wrath into countries like Egypt and Greece. Looking back on history, we can see that this is what God desired all along.
Daniel and his friends had to adjust to a new culture that was hostile towards the worship of Yahweh. The first challenge they faced was with food that defiled the body. Yet Daniel trusted God to rescue them from this dilemma. After only eating vegetables and drinking water for ten days, they became fatter than the rest of their peers. God had miraculously nourished them. This had to be a great comfort to the four young men. To know that God is still with you while you are in tribulation brings a person peace beyond compare.
God propelled them to the highest offices in the land, particularly Daniel. God purposed this to forward His plan of redemption for His chosen people. The kings of this world came to know who Yahweh is and of His great power. Knowledge of the God of the Jews spread far and wide. Yet this was only a shadow of the things to come.
Fast forward 600 years when Jesus entered our world. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. He died on the cross in order to pay the penalty for our sins. Three days later He rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Many witnessed His resurrection and began to proclaim this good news. They travelled to many other nations, first going to the Jews, whom God had spread out during the Babylonian exile. Many Gentiles came to faith in Christ as well.
Daniel's misfortune was tragic, yet God had purposed it for our good. The gospel has gone out to all the world and we are the benefactors of Daniel's griefs. God's providence in seen in suffering. This is no more apparent than at the cross. Daniel is just a type. Jesus took upon Himself the wrath of God that should have been directed at us. By His shed blood, He has washed away your sins. Repent and believe this good news! Jesus died for you!
(If you want to hear more about God's providence in suffering, click here to listen to my sermon on Daniel 1.)