The Prophets of Captivity: Daniel
The clash of weapons and the shout of warriors fill the opening scenes of the book of Daniel. Some of God’s people were led from the city of Jerusalem in chains, many of them young men of the royal family. Certainly this was not their expected destiny.
What is to be done when your whole world collapses? The Old Testament addresses this question through the lives of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah—three prophets who experienced the final, unstable years of the kings of Judah. During their lifetimes, Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of Babylon’s empire, initiated three waves of captivity which decimated that once-glorious realm. History and archaeology confirm these details, yet the biblical record does more than provide historical context. The Scriptures consistently point us to God and His perspective.
Daniel’s captivity occurred during Nebuchadnezzar’s first invasion. About eight years later, Ezekiel was taken in a second wave of captivity. Then, about 11 years after that, Jeremiah watched the final invasion unfold as God’s temple was burned and the city destroyed. God used each of these men as His messengers, and it’s still good for us today to consider their example.
Daniel and the First Wave
The first wave of Jerusalem’s captivity took place in 605 B.C. It represented a rather sudden turn of events in the history of the kingdom of Judah. Less than five years earlier, Josiah was the king. His reign turned out to be the final glory-days of the kingdom, when spiritual revival and moral strength could still be found. After Josiah’s death, the nation’s vigor quickly declined spiritually, morally, and even politically. Josiah’s son Jehoahaz was king for only three months before an Egyptian pharaoh removed him from the throne (2 Chr. 36:1-3).
Jehoahaz was replaced by his brother Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah. Jehoiakim was a godless man who had no concerns for the spiritual condition of the nation. The prophet Jeremiah was already serving the Lord at this time, and on one occasion his written words reached King Jehoiakim. The king simply sliced up the scroll with a penknife, burning the pieces in the fireplace as he relaxed in his winter house (Jer. 36).
This atmosphere was the backdrop for Daniel’s early years. He was probably old enough to remember some of the good years of King Josiah as well as the terror of Egypt’s invasion to depose Jehoahaz. With Jehoiakim on the throne, Daniel’s family would likely have expressed growing concerns about Judah’s spiritual decay as well as the threat of Babylon to the north. Soon those concerns were no longer theoretical but real. Daniel, probably a young man in his mid-teens, found himself shackled in Babylonian chains, marching across the miles to Nebuchadnezzar’s palace complex.
Bible readers would perhaps be familiar with some of Daniel’s story as a captive. He is remembered for explaining dreams, interpreting messages of judgment, and enduring a night in a den of lions. But what is sometimes lost among the facts of Daniel’s life is just how long he lived in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar ruled the empire for more than 40 years. Eventually Belshazzar, another Babylonian ruler, was killed when the Medes and Persians captured the citadel (Dan. 5). This took place around 539 B.C., when the armies of the Persian emperor Cyrus conquered the city of Babylon—a transition which did nothing to hinder Daniel’s ongoing ministry.
Daniel’s length of service is actually one of the underlying messages of his book. Before the record is given of his wisdom, courage, and amazing prophecies, the very first chapter indicates that “Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus” (Dan. 1:21 NKJV). In fact, we know he was still receiving messages from the Lord for at least two years after that (Dan. 10:1).
You Can’t Choose Your Future
Daniel’s life reminds us that we cannot choose our future. Whatever his boyhood aspirations were, we can be sure that a position as royal advisor to Babylonians, Medes, and Persians was not part of Daniel’s plans. Nevertheless, that’s where he found himself, living for more than 65 years in a foreign land and, we believe, dying there as well.
Yet although Daniel could not choose his future, he could still choose his response to an unexpected reality. His purposeful plan to remain devoted to the Lord (Dan. 1:8) is linked with his longevity in Babylon (Dan. 1:21). It was this Daniel who continued—the Daniel who purposed in his heart to honor God in all the things he could control, even though many other details were suddenly and completely beyond his control.
He was also known, even decades later, as the man who prayed three times a day at his open window (Dan. 6:10-11). We further learn that he grounded himself in the writings of God’s prophets (Dan. 9:1-2). Taking these points together, Daniel’s perspective as a captive is clear: He would make a plan to honor God, pray for God’s help to live out that plan, and center his thoughts on God’s perspective of history.
What will you do when your world collapses? Life is hard. Plans change. The powers that influence your life may shift dramatically in just a moment. But Daniel’s example remains effective. It is essential for each of us to make a spiritual plan, not merely some kind of five-year business plan for success. Spiritual plans are indispensable because they can be activated no matter where life takes you.
Then, depend on God in prayer, and keep reading the Scriptures. Like Daniel in captivity, Bible readers who plan and pray have always been the people who endure.