Exposition of Daniel 1:8–16 First glimpse of the unseen hand

Daniel 1:8–16

8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

Daniel did not refuse his new name, but he “placed on his heart” (NET margin) that he would not defile himself with the royal food and wine (verse 8). It is not totally clear what the nature of the defilement might have been. Some think it was related to Jewish dietary laws, others that the food had previously been dedicated to Babylonian gods, and still others that accepting this provision might symbolize a covenant relationship with Nebuchadnezzar that conflicted with Daniel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh. Whatever the reason, it is clear that Daniel saw this matter as an issue of loyalty to Yahweh. So, Daniel proposed an alternative to the chief of staff, Ashpenaz (verse 3). This required great courage, a trait Daniel will often exhibit.

In verse 9, we find that God had covertly influenced Ashpenaz to have sympathy for Daniel and his request. Once again we see that outward appearances do not tell the whole story. Ashpenaz does not outright deny Daniel’s request, but he does describe a serious risk if he allows this deviation from the king’s plans (verse 10). Daniel executes a shrewd maneuver by next approaching a lower official, the overseer under Ashpenaz’s command, and proposing a brief test of a revised diet (verse 11). This approach allows deniability for Ashpenaz while also giving the overseer the opportunity to quickly abort the test if the proposed diet is producing adverse results.

A little reflection will tell you that ten days is a very short time for a diet to make a visible change in someone’s appearance. Commentator Leon Wood says, “God’s direct intervention would have been necessary to effect this manner of observable change in so short a period.”[1] For Daniel and his friends to visibly surpass those eating a royal diet while themselves eating only simple fare such as vegetables, fruit and bread was enough to convince the overseer (verse 15). He took away the food and drink provided from the royal table and replaced them with vegetables (verse 16). On this notable day the overseer glimpses something no one else in Babylon has seen — the powerful hand of Yahweh to protect his own.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973)  42.

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