Daniel 1 tells the first of six stories about how Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah navigated Babylonian culture. Their reactions to their "wise man" immersion education program hold some surprises — in some situations, they decided to conform to the culture of their captors; in others, they temporarily demurred. But God blessed them and honored their faith as they participated in a toxic culture.

Daniel must be read in light of the historical context that brought the Judean men to Babylon. The year was 605 BC, and Nebuchadnezzar had just succeeded his father, Nabopolassar, as king of the rapidly expanding empire. Babylon had recently finished off the remnants of the formerly all-powerful Assyrians, who had been collecting tribute from Judah's kings.

Nebuchadnezzar moved his army against Judah and demanded tokens of submission, including young men from the royal family. These young men would go to the heart of the Babylonian empire and be subjected to a process that might be called "Babylonization." They would be trained to serve as agents of the empire either by returning home or, in the case of Daniel and his friends, by staying in Babylon and serving in the government.

Nebuchadnezzar put the captives on a course of study and a diet to make them educated and attractive for service in his kingdom. (Thin men were not considered good-looking; the art we have from this time period shows muscled warriors and pudgy wise men).

It's marvelous just how far Daniel and his friends were willing to go without recorded complaint or protest. Upon arrival, Nebuchadnezzar ordered that they be trained in the "language and literature of Babylon" (1:4). This seems innocuous—but take a look at what they studied. Archeological discoveries ...

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