AN EARLY CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR
NEBUCHADREZZAR, King of the mighty city of Babylon, grew angry with the people of Judah and Jerusalem because they did not pay him the taxes he demanded, so he and his army came against Jerusalem and encamped against it and built forts round about. For three years the Hebrews were shut in like birds in a cage, until famine became sore in the city and there was no bread for the people to eat. At length the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, the soldiers swarmed into the city. They set fire to the king's palace, and to all the great houses and even burned to the ground the beautiful Temple of Solomon, which for three hundred years and more, had stood so proudly on Mt. Zion, and was the pride of the whole earth. One of the Hebrew poets described the sorrows of those days in the following words:
"How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people?
She is become as a widow that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces has become a tributary!
She weepeth sore in the night and her tears are on her cheeks;
Among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her:
Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow!"
The people's hearts were broken, not only because of the destruction of their beloved city, but also because the King of Babylon sent out the cruel command that many thousands of the Hebrews the very flower of the nation must march away from their home-land and all that was dear to them and go as exiles to distant Babylonia. We will see that Nebuchadrezzar could force them to take the hated journey, but he could not take away from them their loyalty to their God and to the teaching they had received from their parents and religious leaders.
Among these sad people were four young Hebrews of the royal family whose names were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They very soon attracted the special notice of their captors, as "youths in whom was no blemish, but well-favored and skillful in all wisdom, and endowed with knowledge, and understanding science and such as had ability to stand in the king's palace."
Nebuchadrezzar fancied that he would like to have these good-looking, bright boys for attendants in his court, in preparation for this he ordered that they should no longer be called by their own Hebrew names, but should bear instead the Babylonian names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. They were to be instructed in the learning and language of Babylonia for three years, and during this time were to have for food portions of the same dainties which the King himself ate. At the end of the three years, the young men, finely equipped in body and mind, should become attendants in the magnificent palace of the mighty King.
Nebuchadrezzar did not know the stuff these boys were made of. All through their childhood they had been taught the strictest sort of rules about food. Unless animals were killed in a certain way, prescribed by the Jewish law, the meat was called unclean, and if a Jew ate it, he was thought to be unclean also. Moreover the wine on Nebuchadrezzar's table was consecrated to the Babylonian gods; Daniel and his companions believed if they drank it, they would be recognizing those many gods as worthy to be worshipped.
The young Hebrews were conscientious objectors; they resolved that they could not touch the King's dainties, however delicious they might be; obedience to the religion of their fathers meant more to them than all else;; they were masters of themselves and loyal to their convictions patriots to their religion, we might call them, even in the face of danger; for to disobey the mighty King was no light thing in Babylon!
Daniel's loyalty had a twofold reward: The officer of the court, who had charge of the young men's diet, had grown to like the boys and to know their courage and firmness. When Daniel turned hopefully to him asking that he would allow them to use just simple vegetable food and pure water, he granted the request, and the result was that "at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and they were fatter in flesh than all the youths that did eat of the King's dainties."
Moreover, their God, to whom they were faithful, "gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom," so that at the end of the three years, when they were taken into the presence of King Nebuchadrezzar, "in every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the King inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians in all his realm."