I understand the overarching theme of the book of Daniel to be that God is sovereign despite what things may look like. One of the challenges followers of God experience is that, although God is sovereign, God sometimes allows things to occur that we do not understand, and life may not go the way we envisioned. But even amid those realities, God is still in control.
I must admit that Daniel 1 begins in a way that is less than confidence-building for Daniel and his fellow citizens. It begins by acknowledging that the nation of Judah had been overcome by King Nebuchadnezzar and the powers of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar and his army overran the city of Jerusalem, plundered the temple, the king of Judah and multiple other people from the community were taken to Babylon in chains, and the land left scarred.
In addition to human bodies being taken to Babylon, artifacts from the temple in Jerusalem were taken and placed in the temple of Marduk, Babylon’s primary god. This was nothing short of an embarrassment for Judah because outside of Ba’al, Marduk was the biggest competitor to the Hebrew god, Yahweh. This left God’s children with a serious question to ponder. What did it mean for the armies of Marduk to overpower the armies of Judah?
At first glance, the actions recorded within Daniel 1:1-2 are a disaster. But, is that really the case? The writer of Daniel leaves multiple clues throughout these two verses that show that’s not what’s really going on. The writer tells us that Nebuchadnezzar’s victory was possible only because God allowed it.
The point the writer was making was that Nebuchadnezzar’s victory came not because of his military might but because God allowed it to occur as part of a larger plan God had going. Based on all that we know about Judah’s relationship to God, we know what that plan was. Due to Judah’s ongoing sin, God decreed that God would allow them to be overtaken by a stronger nation. Nebuchadnezzar just so happened to be the king of that nation.
If what I believe is true and the overarching theme of Daniel is God’s sovereignty, I can understand why an initial reading of Daniel 1:1-2 would leave people with multiple unanswered questions about God and God’s trustworthiness. Why does God sometimes allow evil to prevail? Why does God not always show God’s self strong immediately?
What Daniel and friends, King Nebuchadnezzar, and anyone who was paying attention learned through the overall events recorded in Daniel was that God was sovereign and greater than any other god, king, or nation. Because of this, God’s followers could stand strong in the face of uncertainty. When they did stand strong, God was pleased with them. God’s enemies were also to recognize God’s authority and standing as the supreme God who was greater than any opposition. If God’s enemies did not understand that, God would hold them accountable and punish them.
Daniel is ultimately a story of hope. Hope because God was, and still is, on the throne ruling over the world and humankind. Because God is in control, God’s followers will not only survive hard times, but they can also thrive for God’s glory.