N Story 97, we read of Jehoiakim, the wicked son of the good King Josiah. While Jehoiakim was ruling over the land of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, the great conqueror of the nations, came from Babylon with his army of Chaldean soldiers. He took the city of Jerusalem, and made Jehoiakim promise to submit to him as his master, a promise that Jehoiakim soon broke. And when Nebuchadnezzar went back to his own land he took with him all the gold and silver that he could find in the Temple; and he carried away as captives very many of the princes and nobles, the best people in the land of Judah.
When these Jews were brought to the land of Chaldea or Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar gave orders to the prince who had charge of his palace to choose among these Jewish captives some young men that were of noble rank, and beautiful in their looks, and also quick and bright in their minds, young men who would be able to learn readily. These young men were to be placed under the care of wise men, who should teach them all that they knew, and fit them to stand before the king of Babylon, so that they might be his helpers, to carry out his orders; and the king wished them to be wise, so that they might give him advice in ruling the people.
Among the young men thus chosen were four Jews, men who had been brought from Judah. By order of the king the names of these men were changed. One of them, named Daniel, was to be called Belteshazzar, the other three young men were called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. These four young men were taught in all the knowledge of the Chaldeans; and after three years of training they were taken into the king's palace to stand before the king.
After they came to the palace the chief of the princes in the palace sent to these men as a special honor some of the dishes of food from the king's table, and some of the wine that was set apart for the king and his princes to drink. But both the meat and the wine of the king's table had been a part of the offerings to the idols of wood and stone that were worshipped by the Chaldeans. These young Jews felt that if they should take such food they, too, would be worshipping idols. Then, too, the laws of the Jews were very strict with regard to what kind of food might be eaten, and how it should be cooked. Food of certain kinds was called "unclean," and the Jews were forbidden to touch it.
These young Jews, far away from their own land and from their temple, felt that they must be very careful to do nothing forbidden by the laws which God had given to their people. They said to the chief of the nobles in the palace:
"We cannot eat this meat and drink this wine, for it is forbidden by our laws."
The chief of the nobles said to Daniel:
"If you do not eat the food that is given you, the king will see that you are not looking well. He will be angry with me for not giving you better care. What shall I do? I am afraid that the king may command me to be put to death."
"Give us vegetable food, and bread. Let us eat no meat, and drink no wine for ten days; and see if we do not look well-fed."
The chief of the nobles, to whose care these young men had been given, loved Daniel; as every one loved him who knew him. So he did as Daniel asked. He took away the meat and the wine, and gave to these young Jews only vegetables and bread. At the end of ten days the four young men were brought into the room where the great King Nebuchadnezzar sat; and they bowed low before him. King Nebuchadnezzar was pleased with these four young men, more than with any others who stood before him. He found them wise, and faithful in the work given to them, and able to rule over men under them. And these four men came to the highest places in the kingdom of the Chaldeans.
The four young men before the king
And Daniel, one of these men, was more than a wise man. He was a prophet, like Elijah, and Elisha, and Jeremiah. God gave him to know many things that were coming to pass; and when God sent to any man a dream that had a deep meaning, like Joseph in Story 16, Daniel could tell what was the meaning of the dream.
At one time King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed a dream which troubled him greatly. When he awakened he knew that the dream had some deep meaning, but in the morning he had forgotten what the dream was. He sent for the wise men who had in times past given him the meaning of his dreams, and said to them:
"O ye wise men, I have dreamed a wonderful dream; but I have forgotten it. Now tell me what my dream was, and then tell me what it means; for I am sure that it has a meaning."
The wise men said:
"O king, may you live forever! If you will tell us your dream, we will tell you its meaning. But we have no power to tell both the dream and its meaning. That only the gods can know."
The king became very angry, for these men had claimed that their gods gave them all knowledge. He said:
"Tell me the dream, and its meaning; and I will give you rich reward and high honor. But if you cannot tell, I shall know that you are liars, and you shall be put to death."
The wise men could not do what the king asked; and in great fury he gave command that all of them should be slain. Among these men were Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; and these four Jews were to be slain with the rest of the wise men. Daniel said to the chief captain, who had been sent to kill the wise men:
"Give me a little time; and I will call upon my God. I know that he will help me to tell to the king his dream and its meaning."
So time was given; and Daniel and his three friends prayed to the Lord God. That night the Lord gave to Daniel the secret of the king's dream and its meaning. Then Daniel gave praise and thanks to the Lord; and in the morning he said to the king's captain:
"Do not kill the wise men. Take me before the king, and I will show him his dream and its meaning."
Then in haste Daniel was brought before King Nebuchadnezzar. The king said to him:
"Are you able to tell me the dream that I dreamed and the meaning of it?"
"The wise men of Babylon, who look to their idol-gods, cannot tell the king his dream. But there is a God in heaven who knows all things; and he has given me his servant to know your dream and the meaning of it. This is the dream, O king. You saw a great image, tall and noble-looking. The head of this image was of gold, his breast and his arms were of silver, his waist and his hips of brass, his legs of iron, and his feet and toes were of iron and clay mixed together. And while this great image was standing, you saw a stone cut out without hands; and the stone rolled and dashed against the feet of the image; and the whole image fell down; and was broken in pieces; and was crushed and ground into a powder so fine that the wind blew it away like chaff. And you saw the stone that struck the image grow until it became a mountain, and it filled the whole world. This was your dream, O king."
And Daniel went on, and said:
"And this, O king, is the meaning of the dream. God has shown to you what shall come to pass in the years that are to be. You are that head of gold, O king; for that head means your kingdom that now is. After your kingdom has passed away, another kingdom shall take its place; the shoulders and arms of silver. That kingdom shall be followed by another,—the waist and hips of brass; and after that shall come one more kingdom, that of iron. But as you saw a stone cut out without hands; so while the last of these kingdoms shall be standing, the Lord God of heaven shall set up his kingdom. And God's kingdom like that stone, shall be small at first, but it shall break down and destroy all those kingdoms. They shall pass away and perish before it. And as you saw the stone grow into a mountain, so God's kingdom shall become great, and shall rule all the lands. And that kingdom of God shall never pass away, but shall last forever."
When King Nebuchadnezzar heard this he was filled with wonder. He bowed down before Daniel, and worshipped him, as though Daniel were a god. Then he gave to him great presents, and made him ruler over the part of his kingdom where the city of Babylon was standing. He gave to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, Daniel's friends, high offices; but Daniel himself he kept in his palace, to be near him all the time.