What’s in a name?

Plenty in Daniel’s case:

Dare to be a Daniel,

Dare to stand alone!

Dare to have a purpose firm!

Dare to make it known.

626BC?Born0 yrs 
609BCDeath of king Josiah15
607BCDaniel taken captive to Babylon17Dan 1
606BCNebuchadnezzar’s Image dream182
605BCThe fiery furnace193
585BCDestruction of Jerusalem
Death of Zedekiah
582BC?Nebuchadnezzar’s Tree Stump dream
Nebuchadnezzar humbled
549BCVision of the Four Beasts777
547BCVision of the Ram and the Little Horn798
539BCBelshazzar overthrown by Cyrus
Daniel’s prayer and 70 weeks prophecy
World history revealed to Daniel
The final visions
537BCDaniel in the Lion’s Den896
536BCVision of the Man of One
Encounter with Angels

When the cream of Judah’s youth were taken captive to Babylon in 607BC, they were to be totally rebranded – butchered, brainwashed and beaten if necessary, into total submission. With any dreams of a future family cruelly removed, all their hopes were to centre around the ruler who was now to be their god: Nebuchadnezzar. He alone was their future and the over-awing splendour of Babylon was the world that would shape them. They were to be moulded in his image, and images meant a lot to Nebuchadnezzar. To complete the process, they each were given a new name. In Daniel’s case, a statement needed to be made that he would hear loud and clear. Daniel, the “judgment of [Israel’s] God” was now obsolete. Belteshazzar, “keeper of the hid treasures of Bel” was his new brand, and a great honour it was. Appropriate it would be, too, for a man who seemed to be able to see what was hidden from everyone else.

Only in Daniel’s case, it never worked. Around 70 years later the similarly named Belshazzar, in a drunken terror after seeing that the writing was on the wall, was advised to call for this aged seer. When he met him, his opening words were, “Art thou Daniel, which art of the captivity of Judah …” Maybe one of the greatest character references ever given! The young prince of Judah was now a very old courtier of Babylon, but the man of faith inside had never changed at all. If he had accepted the rebranding, Belteshazzar may, at best, have been half a name on a shard of stone in a dusty archaeological museum somewhere.

As it turned out, Daniel is one of the most loved books in the best-selling book in the world. His is a name that will live forever.

So what was Daniel really like?

His character was moulded at a very young age. The qualities that endeared him to his captors were developed in his youth in the court of Josiah—not in Babylon. And they stood out. The first obvious thing was his looks. He was a handsome young man; but more than that, he had the demeanour of nobility. It was one of royalty: not arrogant, but dignified; well educated, but not just a fountain of knowledge—rather, a well of wisdom. His learning was wide and his understanding deep. His discernment was noticeably superior to his peers and because he could manage himself, he could manage others.

And of course, he was daring! Nobody stares down a despotic ruler with the power of life and death without a good deal of personal courage. Nor does one stare down a den of lions, for that matter. Faith enabled his bravery, but the basic ingredients were there to work with.

But more than that, he was steadfast. From adolescence to old age he never really changed his outlook or behaviour as a man of faith. So reliably faithful to God was he that it became a weakness his enemies could and did exploit. In matters of religion, he was totally predictable and therefore, to the wrong type, totally vulnerable. Or so they thought. In fact, it made him impregnable.

For all these qualities, he was a humble, self-effacing man. Great rulers promoted him to great power without ever feeling personally threatened. They could make use of his insight without fearing his ego. Above all else there was one fundamental attribute that set him apart. Something described as “an excellent spirit.” This seems to be the key to knowing what he was really like. It is repeated three or four times, that he had in him an “excellent spirit.”

What does that mean? Simply that his attitude to life and the way he conducted himself made an indelible impression wherever he went. It was the dignity and the respect that he showed to others; the careful way that he answered people such that there were men who were brutal, of whom it was said they had a tender love for him. He was able to solicit from men who were hardened in cruelty a tender affection towards him because he had an excellent spirit in him. One example was Asphenaz, the prince of the eunuchs, and another Arioch, the chief of the executioners (or slaughtermen!). Daniel’s demeanour was wonderful.

He pleased God and men

Everywhere he went, with just the turn of a phrase he could turn away the wrath of kings, change the attitude of courtiers. They saw in him a disposition that was warm and appealing, something noble that shone forth from him. And he was able to maintain that throughout his whole life: it never left him. Elsewhere in Scripture it was said of Samuel, and Jesus, that they grew “in favour with God and men.” Daniel had the same spirit. He pleased God and men. He did the right thing, in the right way.

Daniel and Ezekiel were around the same age and spent their childhood and early teenage years in Jerusalem. Together they carried the mantle of Jeremiah into captivity and though they lived around 80 kilometres apart in Babylon, they surely remained close friends. Some years later, what still remained in Jerusalem was spiritually decayed beyond repair. In his 14th chapter, Ezekiel wanted to show the elders in exile the inevitability of Jerusalem’s destruction. He chose to do so by contrasting their wickedness with examples of righteousness. He cast his mind over Israel’s long history and came up with three names. Even these righteous men, said Ezekiel, wouldn’t be able to save the nation from its final destruction. They were Noah, Daniel and Job. Daniel was just 30 years of age! Already his example was famous in Israel, even in captivity, and already he was seen as a saviour. Six years later, in Ezekiel 28, in his tirade against the treacherous king of Tyre, he used Daniel as the international ‘gold standard’ of wisdom.

Biographically speaking, here is a truncated record of Daniel’s life:

He was born around 626BC of royal stock. His relationship to King Josiah is not certain, but it was close. His childhood was lived in an era of spiritual regeneration, following the rediscovery of the book of the Law, and the palace walls echoed with the words and prophecies of Jeremiah. When he was around 15 years old, Josiah was killed in battle. Three years later the marauding king of Babylon arrived at Jerusalem and as was the standard practice of invading rulers, Nebuchadnezzar deported the Jewish intelligentsia and forced them to relocate to Babylon. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah—all extraordinarily gifted young princes—selected to serve as chamberlains in the royal court. They were made eunuchs. This was a cruel blow to any man’s self-worth but especially to a young man. They were of royal blood but with no chance of royal offspring.

The young prince found himself in the city that had come to dominate the world. All around him was a scene of oriental beauty. The Euphrates flowed through it. The streets were filled with temples full of cedar roofs and golden altars—all guarded by bronze bulls. The temple of Bel the Dragon flowed with wine, and was enriched by the tithes of nations. The gates were inscribed with records of heroic deeds. The walls spoke of stupendous power. Over all this rose the hanging gardens, where the forests and flowers of the Median mountains smiled in the desert sun. It stood on both sides of the river, surrounded by a wall 20 metres thick, 90 metres high.

Daniel the young man

Daniel, who was already an accomplished scholar, achieved remarkable proficiency and expertise in many disciplines, along with his three colleagues. The attempt to rename and refashion them in the Chaldean image had a galvanizing effect on all four. Presented with the intoxicating diet of the king, they said ‘No,’ echoing the Rechabite ‘No’ a number of years before. On the eve of Daniel’s captivity, Jeremiah visited the Rechabites as recorded in Jeremiah 35 and was profoundly impressed by these young men. To be associated with a family which God had promised would “never lack a male descendant must have struck a chord with the remnant of faith at the time. ‘No’ was the right way to go. With similar determination, Daniel and his friends survived in Babylon on a meagre diet of legumes and water. Miraculously their appearance was even healthier than their peers who partook of the royal dishes.

Daniel heroically averted a royal decree issued soon after to slay all the wise men of the kingdom for their failure to help Nebuchadnezzar recall a mysterious dream he had seen. With less than 24 hours to live, he and his colleagues entreated heaven that the dream be revealed, and their request was granted. Daniel proceeded to remind the king of his dream, and provided him with a striking prediction of the future.

Nebuchadnezzar was mightily impressed. He promoted Daniel to the position of governor of the entire province of Babylon and prime minister over all the wise men of Babylon, whose lives were spared.