“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. …6 Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 7 Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego” (Dan. 1:1,6).

One of the great biblical heroes is the prophet, Daniel. His story is one of great interest for he lived during a tumultuous time in Jewish and world history. The narrative begins in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.), king of Judah.  Jehoiakim was 25 years old at his accession of power.  He was the second son of the good king Josiah.  His elder brother Johanan should have been the crowned king but Pharaoh Necho of Egypt raised Jehoiakim to the throne instead.  This was done over the choice of the people who had nominated Jehoahaz to be king.

Jehoahaz was Jehoiakim’s younger brother. Pharaoh Necho thought that he could control Jehoiakim. The king of Judah was expected to pay tribute to the Egyptian ruler for Josiah’s part in siding with Babylon against Egypt. At first, the tribute money was paid. 

Jehoiakim taxed the people. But then, Pharaoh Necho suffered his great defeat from Babylon at the Battle of Carchemish.  As a result of that battle, the ruler of Egypt last all the territorial holdings between the Euphrates and the Nile.  He left Judea and never returned.

As the king of Judah, Jehoiakim reigned for eleven years.  He was a ruthless and ungodly ruler. “His eyes and heart were only for courteousness, shedding innocent blood, oppression, and violence” (Jer. 22:13-17).

He built his house by unrighteousness and without mercy, using his neighbor’s service without wages.

Jehoiakim had built by forced labor a splendid palace that violated the Law of the Lord. The personal good life and temporary political freedom came to an end in the third year of his reign. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon returned from Carchemish, marched to Jerusalem and subdued the king. It was Nebuchadnezzar original intention to take Jehoiakim in bondage to Babylon but the Chaldean ruler had a change of heart.  Remembering his former ally Josiah, Nebuchadnezzar decided to make Jehoiakim a vassal.  Later, he would regret that decision.

In place of the king, Nebuchadnezzar did take part of the great wealth of the house of God plus political hostages in selected children of Israel (1:3).  By all this to happen God manifested His justice. Once the people of the Lord had brought the images of other gods into His temple.  Now the Lord allowed the holy vessels to be carried into the treasuries of other gods. Once the people of the Lord absorbed the children of other nations.  Now, the children of Judah would be held captive in exile.

When Nebuchadnezzar made his decision to deport the children of Palestine, he entrusted the matter to Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs.  The young people had to meet six specific qualifications.

The young people had to be physically sound.

The young people had to be intelligent.

The young people had to possess a great capacity to learn.

The young people had to be teachable.

The young people had to have gift for languages.

To honor those selected for deportation, Nebuchadnezzar appointed them the best food and drink of the kingdom (Daniel 1:5). In all of this the king was politically wise for he was building for the future.

In the years to come, the young captives would be assimilated into the Chaldean culture but still able to function as ambassadors to foreign nations or conquered territories.  Among those selected for service were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The Hebrew name Daniel means “judgment of God.”  He was of the tribe of Judah and a member of the royal family.  In time Daniel would be honored for his great wisdom and deep devotion to the Lord.  Ezekiel paid honor to him and place him in the esteemed company of Noah and Job.  Josephus called Daniel one of the greatest prophets. Even the angel respected him for Gabriel called him a man greatly beloved.

Daniel was destined to lead a long and active life in the courts and councils of some of the greatest rulers ever to have lived in the persons of Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, and Darius.  It is believed that Daniel finally died in Persia at Susan, where he lived to a very old age. If little is known of the end of Daniel’s life, his earlier fate and that of his friends, is more familiar. As captives of Nebuchadnezzar, all of them had a change of names.

Name                          Hebrew Meaning

Daniel                         God is my judge

New Name                 Chaldean Meaning

Belteshazzar                The keeper of the hidden treasures of Bel

Name                          Hebrew Meaning

Hananiah                     The grace of the sun

New Name                 Chaldean Meaning

Shadrach                     The inspiration of the Lord

Name                          Hebrew Meaning

Mishael                       He that is the strong God

New Name                 Chaldean Meaning

Meshach                      Of the goddess Shach (i.e. Venus) 

Name                          Hebrew Meaning

Azariah                       The Lord is help

New Name                 Chaldean Meaning

Abednego                    The servant of shining fire

From the vantage point of time, the opening words of the narrative seem almost exciting. The romance of war is in the air. There is the trauma of young people being carried away captive to a foreign land to be reared in a golden palace. There is the opportunity for the captives to be educated by the greatest men of science. There is the comfort of being among a few faithful friends. The story throbs with life, danger, and political greatness.

What must not be forgotten is that a nation was being destroyed bit by bit. Judgment came in part because a corrupt king was sitting on the throne of what was once the theocratic kingdom. So great were his sins that the LORD gave Jehoiakim into the hands of the king Babylon. Rulers and leaders should remember that all power and all positions in life are in the Lord’s hands. The Lord gives such honor and the Lord can take them away. As the narrative is reviewed, several spiritual lessons come to mind.

It is always sad when the people of God and the possessions of the Lord find their way into the house of false gods. When the Lord allows this to happen, there is usually a greater spiritual truth to be learned and that is God demands worship with a right spirit.

The world is anxious to transform God’s people by force if necessary by change of names if possible (Dan. 1:6-7) and by acts of kindness when practical. 

As seen so often in the study of the prophets, all judgments begin first in the house of God.

When adults of the covenant violate their holy commitments, the children suffer as greatly as all others. It is possible for children to stand fast in the faith. One grand historical example of this is what took place during the Children’s Crusade, about eleven hundred years after the death of Christ.

The word “crusade” comes from a word meaning “cross.” Those who took part of this new holy cause sewed a cross in color upon their sleeves. There was an immediate response to Pope Urban’s appeal to liberate Jerusalem, which had been captured by the Moslems. Great preparations were made. Blacksmiths churned out shields and swords, stirrups and armor to protect the new defenders of the faith.

Finally, in 1099 the First Crusade got underway. From different parts of Europe and by various means an army came together and marched on the Holy City of Peace. And Jerusalem was taken. The Turks were slaughtered. A great celebration took place in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was believed to have been born.

Though Jerusalem was retaken from the Turks the city was not easy to keep. The Turks returned with a vengeance and Jerusalem fell once more to their jurisdiction. New crusades were launched one of which led by the English king, Richard the Lionhearted (king, 1189-1199). In the end all the crusades failed. But why?

The Children’s Crusade

In June, AD 1212 in France an unusual boy named Stephen believed he knew the answer. Simply enough, the wrong people were doing the fighting. Stephen said that Christ appeared to him and promised that he and other young people would do what the adults had been unable to accomplish. The children were to march in faith on the holy city. They were not to put their trust in swords but in the Lord of Hosts who would perform miracles on their behalf. According to Stephen, God would cause the seas to roll back to allow the children to march to Jerusalem on dry land like Moses and the children of Israel had walked through the Red Sea.

Stephen called the children of France to join him in a new crusade and the young people came. By the thousands they came. Mothers and fathers could not stop them from coming. When word reached Germany, another boy, Nicholas from Cologne, felt the call of destiny. He offered the same challenge to the youth there. “Join me!” He cried, and the youth of Germany responded. Mostly boys around the age of 12 went off to the great cause but some girls went as well. As the German children marched up the Rhine they sang songs such as:

“Fair are the meadows,

Fairer still the woodlands,

Robed in the blooming garb of spring:

Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer,

Who makes the woeful heart to sing.”

Like most great adventures in life the journey was easy at first. The children passed through the valley of the Rhine with its many towns and villages. There was food enough for all. But the situation changed when the children had to leave the river to march through the forests of Switzerland where the land had not been developed. Food became scarce. Robbers and wild animals loomed about and fell upon the children who were the most helpless. Eventually the terrifying cliffs of the Alps came into view. Some young people turned back. Others moved forward only to die upon the Alpine slopes. But there were others who made the climb and came down upon the plains of northern Italy. On to the sea the children marched.

It was at this point that the greatest disappointment took place for the sea did not roll back for them as they had been led to believe. Devastated, many of the young people made no more attempts to get to the holy land, but became assimilated into the Italian community. The rest pressed on against all odds. The children who had followed Stephen marched through France to the city of Marseilles on the coast. The sea did not open up for them either. But there was hope. Some merchants offered the children the use of their ships. Seven ships were available, capable of holding 700 men. The children boarded the vessels and sailed away. No one heard of them again for eighteen years. The sad story came out from the lips of a survivor released by the Sultan at Cairo.

According to the narrator, two ships had been driven by a storm upon the rocks. Everyone on board perished. The generous merchants were in reality slave traders who sold the rest of the children to the Mohammedans. However, as one survivor swore, he never knew of a single person to accept the faith of Mohammed and deny Christ. It is a tender thought. Though the children never saw the Holy Land, they kept the faith.

Leave a Reply