The story of Daniel is much more than a children's story about a den of lions. It is a metaphor for manner in which the righteous should respond when placed in harm's way. The lion is a symbol for Babylon; the animal was iconic for the ancient city. In addition, scripturally speaking Babylon is symbolic for the kingdom of Satan-a synonym for the wickedness of the world.
As soon as Daniel is brought to Babylon then, he is thrown into a figurative den of lions-the kingdom of Babylon. His story is about how to survive when surrounded by the ferocious carnivores of this wicked world. In chapters 1, 3, and 6, we see Daniel's fortitude in not defiling himself with the king's meat; we see Daniel's companions not defiling themselves by worshipping the king's idol; and we see Daniel's persistence in prayer despite the evil designs of his jealous enemies. In all of these instances, righteousness is chosen over worldliness, discipline is chosen over compromise, and trust in the promises of God is chosen over reliance in the arm of flesh.
What is the lesson? Do we have the strength of character to stick to our beliefs amidst overwhelming opposition? Do we trust the Lord enough to be cast into a burning furnace or a den of lions and come out unscathed? Do we value the principles of our religion and our God above our very lives? That is the question we must ask as we read the Book of Daniel.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Twenty-six hundred years ago, Babylon was the world’s great superpower. One ancient historian described the walls of Babylon that surrounded the city as more than 300 feet (90 m) high and 80 feet (25 m) thick. “In magnificence,” he wrote, “there is no other city that approaches … it.” (Herodotus, The History of Herodotus, trans. George Rawlinson, 4 vols. (1875), 1:244)
In its day, Babylon was the world’s center of learning, law, and philosophy. Its military might was unparalleled. It shattered the power of Egypt. It invaded, torched, and looted the Assyrian capital, Nineveh. It easily conquered Jerusalem and carried away the best and brightest of the children of Israel back to Babylon to serve King Nebuchadnezzar.
One of these captives was a young man by the name of Daniel. Many scholars believe that Daniel was between 12 and 17 years old at the time. Think of it, my beloved young Aaronic Priesthood holders: Daniel was very likely your age when he was taken into the king’s court to be educated in the language, laws, religion, and science of the worldly Babylon.
Can you imagine what it would have felt like to be forced from your home, marched 500 miles (800 km) to a foreign city, and indoctrinated in the religion of your enemies?
Daniel had been raised as a follower of Jehovah. He believed in and worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had studied the words of the prophets, and he knew of God’s interaction with man.
But now, at a very young age, he was a prisoner-student in Babylon. The pressure on him must have been immense to abandon his old beliefs and adopt those of Babylon. But he stayed true to his faith—in word and in deed.
Many of you know how it feels to defend an unpopular truth. In the Internet slang of today, we talk about getting “flamed” by those who disagree with us. But Daniel wasn’t just risking public ridicule. In Babylon, those who challenged the religious authorities understood what it means—figuratively and literally—to be “flamed.” Just ask Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. (Daniel 3)
I don’t know if it was easy for Daniel to be a believer in such an environment. Some people are blessed with a believing heart—for them, faith seems to come as a gift from heaven. But I imagine that Daniel was like many of us who have to work for our testimonies. I’m confident that Daniel spent many hours on his knees praying, laying his questions and fears on the altar of faith, and waiting upon the Lord for understanding and wisdom. (Ensign, Nov. 2015, 76)
David R. Stone
We do not need to adopt the standards, the mores, and the morals of Babylon. We can create Zion in the midst of Babylon. We can have our own standards for music and literature and dance and film and language. We can have our own standards for dress and deportment, for politeness and respect. We can live in accordance with the Lord's moral laws. We can limit how much of Babylon we allow into our homes by the media of communication.
We can live as a Zion people, if we wish to. Will it be hard? Of course it will, for the waves of Babylonian culture crash incessantly against our shores. Will it take courage? Of course it will. ("Zion in the Midst of Babylon," Ensign, May 2006, 90-93)
Daniel 1:1-4 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar
Thanks to the Book of Mormon, we have a good understanding of the history of Nebuchadnezzar's role in the destruction of ancient Jerusalem. We recall that Nephi's story begins in the first year of Zedekiah's reign (1 Ne. 1:4). However, the story of Jerusalem's submission to Babylon starts earlier than that.
King Jehoiakim reigned before Zedekiah. Babylon was the new power in the area and was expanding its regional influence. During Jehoiakim's reign, Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem. The king captured Jehoiakim and took him back to Babylon in fetters. He also took with him the holy vessels of the temple of Solomon (2 Kgs. 24). A similar fate befalls the next king, Jehoiachin as well (2 Chron. 36:9-10). Zedekiah is next and is actually put into power by Nebuchadnezzar himself as a vassal king of a vassal state (2 Kgs. 24:17).
The sense we get from the Book of Mormon is that there was no trouble with Babylon until Zedekiah was king for several years. This is a false impression. In fact, Babylon had already taken power. The difference was that the city had never been overrun; the buildings had not been burned and destroyed; the temple had remained intact; and by and large, the inhabitants had not been killed and taken captive. So during Lehi's short ministry, the Jews in Jerusalem, personified by the political ignorance of Laman and Lemuel, didn't think destruction of their city was even possible (1 Ne. 1:19-20; 17:22).
We need to understand that it was in the earlier siege, during the reign of Jehoiakim, that both Daniel and Ezekiel were captured and taken to Babylon. They were an elite group of educated and influential Jews, "well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge and understanding" (v. 4). Ezekiel and Daniel are already in Babylon by the time Lehi starts preaching.
Daniel 1:8 Daniel... would not defile himself with... the king's meat, nor with the wine
Not all of the Jewish captives were repulsed by the thought of eating the king's meat. Theoretically, there was nothing wrong with eating Babylonian food. But according to the Law of Moses, many foods were forbidden (Lev. 11).
Perhaps Daniel was concerned that some forbidden component would be prepared with the king's meat and thereby he would be defiled. For him, it was a violation of the spirit of the Word of Wisdom of his day. As Paul said, "to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean" (Rom 14:14). Daniel didn't want to take any chances, and the Lord honored his devotion to the Law.
L. Tom Perry
Daniel was brought into a strange land with strange customs, a strange environment, and a very different religious heritage (see Dan. 1).
Daniel's first test in being "in the world" came when the servant of Nebuchadnezzar ordered him to drink of his wine and eat of the "king's meat." Daniel "purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank" (Dan. 1:8).
The servant argued that the king had made him responsible for training these young men, and had commanded they should eat and drink the same as the others. If they did not, the king would see that they were growing weak and thin, and would surely have the servant killed. Then Daniel begged that he and his friends be allowed to follow the health habits that had been given to them. His request was that they be proved for ten days-for ten days they would feed upon grains and drink water, to see if they were not healthier than all the rest.
Daniel's strategy was most interesting. He did not challenge the beliefs of the Babylonians. Instead, he volunteered to conduct a test as to which way was best. The servant agreed to the test. For the next ten days, Daniel and those who were with him ate and drank only of the things that they knew they should. At the end of the tenth day, Daniel and his friends were found to be healthier and stronger than all the rest. Daniel soon found that he did not have to adopt a different standard of values when he was "in the world."
I remember that as a young executive many years ago, part of my job involved attending dinners sponsored by different business groups. Each dinner was always preceded by a social hour. I felt very uncomfortable in these settings. After the first one or two dinners, I started coming late to miss the social hour. My boss thought this was not a good practice because I was missing valuable time associating with business leaders. Still, I felt awkward visiting in groups where I was the only one without a drink in my hand. I kept wondering what to do with my hands. You can always put one hand in your pocket, but you look a little foolish with both of them there. I tried holding a glass of 7-Up, but it had the appearance of an alcoholic beverage.
Finally I went over to the bartender and asked him if he had any drink that was distinctively different in appearance from an alcoholic beverage. He went into the kitchen and came back with a half gallon of milk and poured me a glass. Pouring a glass of milk at a cocktail hour was a unique event. It seemed to attract the attention of everyone, and I became the target of a lot of jesting. It embarrassed me at first, until I discovered that I was meeting more business leaders than I had at any previous gathering. I found that I did not have to violate Church standards to become a viable, contributing member of my chosen profession. It was more the case that success came because I did adhere to my values.
It soon became a practice at the social hours in that community to always have a carton of milk on the bar. I was amazed, as time passed, by how many of my associates were joining me for a glass of milk during the hour that we spent together. I found, just as Daniel did, that being different in the world brought some interesting reactions, but obedience to the Lord's law is always associated with His blessings. ("'In the World'," Ensign, May 1988, 13)
Daniel 1:15 at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all
Our generation values tan skin and a thin build; Daniel's generation valued being fair and fat-fleshed.
L. Tom Perry
Many times in your life you will be tested, tried, and tempted to use things that you have been taught are not good for your body. You may be ridiculed and laughed at when you refuse to partake of them. But just as Daniel of old received strength by obeying the Lord's commandments, you too will be blessed in the same way.
The Lord's laws are eternal. Just as surely as we follow them, we will receive His blessings. He has promised us that "all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health, ... wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint." (D&C 89:18-20.) Daniel passed the first test and was blessed by the Lord.
At the end of the three-year training period, these young men were brought before the king to be judged. Daniel had not wasted his time and had studied hard. His efforts had blessed him with "knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom." (Dan. 1:17.) He was now prepared for the test to be given him by the king.
As the king met with them, he found none to be like Daniel. In all matters of wisdom and understanding that the king inquired of him, Daniel was found to be ten times better than all of the king's wise men. ("'I Confer the Priesthood of Aaron'," Ensign, Nov 1985, 46)
Daniel 1:20 he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers
Vaughn J. Featherstone
Consider that these four young men were ten times better. They were part of an elite, hand-selected group who were the best of the best. Imagine being ten times better than all the others who were also hand selected.
...In the end, they were more than that-they stood in royal priesthood dignity before the king and defied him with power and assurance. Not even his kingly authority could force them to compromise the least or greatest commandments of God.
The names Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah will be emblazoned in the eternities for all to honor, for these three great men and Daniel had Christ's image in their countenance and His law in their hearts. (The Incomparable Christ: Our Master and Model [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 152 - 157)