Where are we? It helps to know a bit of background when putting the Book of Daniel into perspective. The book opens in 605 B.C., which puts us much closer to the coming of Christ than looking backward. But, it's important to remember what has occurred historically on the timeline of Scripture.
The days of Moses and Joshua entering the Promised Land have long gone by. We have had the judges and the kings attempt to regulate and rule over God's people. Most of the prophets have spoken forth their words, warning God's people of their waywardness. We have seen Israel and its 10 "tribes" (named from Jacob's offspring) go into captivity by the Assyrians. Now with beginning of the Book of Daniel, the so-called Southern Kingdom of Judah, including Jerusalem, has been captured by Babylon, and God's people are being placed into captivity.
Why? Not that God is ever without patience and grace, but it was time for discipline. The Jews had so many strikes against them, which they refused to address much less repent of. "The Lord gave...," them over into captivity. Keep in mind the phrasing, because it's not "Judah lost a war." God let it go, but His people were not gone from His sight or His intervention, which is where we find Daniel.
What do you hear when you say 'Babylon'? Babel. Remember the tower of Babel from Genesis? The people who tried to build "...a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name...." (Gen. 11:4) God sees their work and confuses their language, so they will not understand each other. It is not surprising that the ruling Babylonians in Daniel's time would include teaching candidates thinking of entering into the king's personal service "the literature and language of the Chaldeans [Babylonians]." (Daniel 1:4) Understanding those things was crucial to the unification and strength of the empire. Babylon was as much like its precursor Babel than ever in terms of wanting to make a name for itself.
Great care was taken in the selection of Daniel and the three other noble youths. Outside commentaries suggest there may have been several reasons why King Nebuchadnezzar wanted this type of candidate--to flaunt before the rest of the captives (i.e., "I have your best for my own, just like your treasures from the house of your God"); or, to have them as people of influence amongst the captives, even as they would be direct servants to him. Interestingly, Nebuchadnezzar does not demand that the young men change religions, only their names and their diet--and with the diet, we know Daniel had something to say.
More on that in the next post....