Bible Study on Daniel 1:17-21 | Passing the Test

Studies on Daniel | Passing the Test | Daniel 1:17-21

Text (American Standard Version)

17 Now as for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 And at the end of the days which the king had appointed for bringing them in, the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding, concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his realm. 21 And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus.


God gave Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah “learning and skill in all literature and wisdom.” This passage itself demonstrates the wisdom in literature that God gave Daniel. This text serves an important function of Scripture in demonstrating God’s faithfulness to those who are faithful to him.

On the other hand, this passage is very good literature. Throughout the rest of the Book, Daniel is going to be interpreting and receiving various visions and dreams. Before we ever encounter those dreams, Daniel informs us that God gave him understanding of such dreams.

We typically don’t think of the Bible as “literature.” We come to it, not to be intrigued by its characters, but to understand the Will of God for our lives. This is the way it should be.

However, the more I read Scripture, the more amazed I am at the way God had his authors write. I really enjoy reading a good mystery and trying to figure out what character committed the crime. For a good mystery novel to work, the writer must spend a good amount of time in forming his or her characters and providing insight in to how they tick. Here, God inspires Daniel to do the same thing-to develop characters so that what we read later in the book makes good sense.

Notice that God gave these youths skill in “literature and wisdom.” There is a distinct difference between knowledge and wisdom. “Knowledge” is a comprehension of facts and “wisdom” is knowing how to apply those facts.

The ability God gave Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah may have been demonstrated in competitions with other youths, for such was common in that time period.

Visions and dreams were often used by God in the Old Testament to demonstrate his will to his servants. Jacob had a dream in which God promised to multiply his descendants (Gen 28:10-17). Joseph is probably the most famous dreamer in the Old Testament-God informed him of his elevated position vis-à-vis his brothers and allowed him to interpret Pharaoh’s dream about the coming famine.

The king found none among his sages like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Even Nebuchadnezzar could not escape the great things the Lord had given them.

“Standing before the king” carries the connotation of serving in his court.

Nebuchadnezzar found these four Hebrew youths “ten times” better than his own magicians and enchanters. The “ten times” is certainly hyperbolic, but the point is quite evident: Nebuchadnezzar found these Hebrews far better than those who were brought up on Babylonian wisdom to be magicians and enchanters. Additionally, Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream before the testing of which we read in this chapter. This testing took place “three years” after the youths arrived in Babylon (1:5). However, Daniel interpreter the famous dream “in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar” (2:1). That Daniel can interpret that troublesome dream before he’s finished with all his Babylonian education likely made quite an impression on Nebuchadnezzar.

That Nebuchadnezzar found these four youths “ten times better” than his own magicians and enchanters was likely not lost on those magicians and enchanters. “Certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego of not bowing down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image” (3:8). Although not certain, it’s possible that the “certain Chaldeans” included some of Nebuchadnezzar’s sages. Once Darius took over the kingdom, he “planned to set [Daniel] over the whole kingdom” (5:3). Others of Darius’ chief court devised the praying-to-Darius scheme to wrestle the kingdom away from Daniel. It’s possible that a long-seated hatred of Daniel brewed in the “presidents of satraps” of Darius because Daniel had far surpassed them in the days of Nebuchadnezzar.

The Babylonians had many magicians, for they believed in a long line of good and evil spirits who could be controlled by magic. God has long condemned means to gain revelation through wizardry. “There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you” (Deut 18:10-12). “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).

If God banned such practices in Israel and had banned those who practice them from the heavenly city, why did he allow Daniel to use them? I don’t really believe Daniel did use these practices. The text in Deuteronomy comes immediately after the passage where God promises to raise up another prophet like Moses. The people, in other words, didn’t need to turn to various magical means to learn from gods; the living God would reveal himself. In banning different magical arts, God’s basic message is: “You don’t need those forms to learn what the gods have to say. I will reveal myself to whom I will and you will have no problem knowing my will.” In the case of Daniel, God sent the dreams to Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel as part of revelation.

This Bible class lesson was originally taught by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.

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