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Knowledge with Zeal: Biblical Examples of Using God-Anointed Intellect in His Service



Daniel Interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream by Grant Romney Clausor, c. 1977.
Image: WorldImages

Daniel was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, most likely in the first group taken around 605 B.C. All that is known about Daniel is drawn from the Old Testament book that bears his name. Nothing is known about Daniel’s early life except for what is found in 1:3-4 that he was young, intelligent, handsome, part of the Jewish upper class, and showed potential for serving the king of Babylon. Daniel 1:4, 17 indicates that he and his friends were to be educated in order to serve in the court, specifically stating that they were educated in the literature, language, and wisdom of the Babylonians. The literature included writings on ethical values, aesthetic appreciation, morals, religious issues, and social attitudes.9 Norman Porteous holds that the language they were required to learn would have either been the neo-Babylonian language spoken in the king’s court or, more likely, the ancient Sumerian tongue used in their rituals and sacred myths.10

At the end of three years, they were to stand before the king (1:5). Being called to stand before the king could mean more than one thing. Either they would simply be presented as having finished their studies and ready for service, or it could mean that he would examine them personally to see if their education was satisfactory. It appears from 1:18-21 that the latter was the case, meaning that they had additional motivation to study hard since the king held the power of life and death over them. In the case of Daniel and his friends, God gave them great favor with the king.

Their teachers were the wise men or enchanters and magicians of the land. John Goldingay gives some excellent insight into who these people were:

The Babylonian sages combined many of the functions fulfilled by wise men, prophets, and priests in Israel, though they are to be distinguished from those cultic functionaries who were more especially concerned with the temple and its ritual. They were the guardians of the sacred traditional lore developed and preserved in Mesopotamia over centuries, covering natural history, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, myth, and chronicle. Much of this learning had a practical purpose, being designed to be applied to life by means of astrology, oneirology, hepatoscopy and the study of other organs, rites of purification, sacrifice, incantation, exorcism and other forms of divination and magic.11

Subjects such as astronomy, natural history, mathematics, medicine, chronicle, and perhaps myth would pose no religious conflict for the Jewish exiles, but most of the other subjects listed above represent various ways of practicing divination and were expressly forbidden by God (Leviticus 19:26, 31; 20:6). The high status of the magicians and enchanters is indicative of the depth of animistic practices in Babylon. How Daniel and his friends avoided being immersed in the occult during their three years of study is not revealed, but their later display of steadfastness of faith indicates that they must have done so (Daniel 3:1-27).

While most forms of divination are an abomination to God, the interpretation of dreams, known as oneiromancy, apparently is not. Because the Babylonians knew that Daniel had this gift and, therefore, was obviously in touch with a supernatural power source, they may not have been all that concerned that he did not participate in their other activities. However, the difference between Daniel and the others is that his interpretations always revealed the glory of God (cf. Daniel 2:31-45; 4:19-28), while those of other magicians tended to honor mankind.

Daniel applied his education well and spent many decades in the service of the king, holding many posts in the kingdom, including possibly becoming the top administrator in the reign of Darius the Mede (Dan. 6:2-3). That he excelled in his vocation, which would have required a substantial intellect, is abundantly clear from the biblical record. Daniel’s passion to live in obedience to God’s word is evident from the very beginning when he and his friends asked to be excused from eating food that was ceremonially unclean. As H.C. Leopold points out, receiving a Babylonian education and even taking on Babylonian names did not violate the consciences of Daniel and his friends. Eating the king’s food, however, which violated the Levitical food laws, was an entirely different matter.12 Abstaining from unclean food in the court of the pagan king of Babylon was not easy, but they preferred obedience to compromise (1:8-21).

Daniel’s competence in his job and his piety are both revealed in Daniel 6:1-5. His enemies could find no fault with him either in reference to the execution of his responsibilities or in the area of integrity. He was both competent and faithful. The subsequent trap that his enemies laid for him was a back handed compliment to his faith. They knew that they would catch him in prayer because he was both consistent and uncompromising.


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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2008

About the Author: Dave Johnson, M.Div., D.Miss. (Asia Graduate School of Theology, Philippines), is an Assemblies of God missionary to the Philippines. Dave and his wife Debbie have been involved in evangelism, church planting, and Bible school and mission leadership. Dave is the Managing Editor of Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, the director of APTS Press in Baguio City, Philippines and coordinator for the Asian Pentecostal Theological Seminary's Master of Theology Program. Facebook Twitter

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