Daniel chapter 1 introduces the book, its message, and its major themes in intriguing ways, drawing the reader into its story, prophecy, and application. One way it does this, quite profoundly, is by inclusio (i.e. placing similar material at the beginning and end of a passage/text). As Goldingay explains, “Thus the chapter opens with Nebuchadnezzar but closes with Cyrus, opens with the beginning of the exile but closes with the beginning of the return, and shows how Daniel links the two” (c.f. Dan. 1:1-2, 21). In other words, at the front and back end of chapter 1 the pagan king who ordered the exile and return, respectively, is referenced, while Daniel’s life of faithfulness bridges the two.
This inclusio of exile and return in chapter 1 is significant to the book’s narrative and application. “The verse’s [1:21] concern,” Goldingay writes, “is…to assure its hearers that Daniel lived safely through their long exile: and so may hearers through theirs.” In fact, even more important than living safely, he lived faithfully through his exile. Daniel’s devotion to God, expressed by his refusal to eat the king’s meat and wine, foreshadows his later devotion (chap. 6), as well as that of his friends (chap. 3), and models for readers what faithfulness in a pagan culture looks like.
Consequently, central to the narrative and message of Daniel is this theme: living in exile. As a young Judean Daniel was stripped from his home and brought to the Babylonian court to live, learn, and work; and as far as we know, he never returned home. The book, however, not only testifies to his experiences, but does so with pedagogic intention; that is, the book aims to teach, encourage, and inspire through it’s protagonist, Daniel (and other significant characters). The book is meant to be read, digested, and contemplated by readers with a view to their own ‘exilic’ circumstances – it was, after all, likely originally composed with Jews living beyond the Jordan in mind.
Roughly 500 years later, the Apostle Peter referred to the church as “elect exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1) and “sojourners” (2:11). Like Daniel, we also live as people in exile, albeit journeying homeward. Our citizenship is in heaven, where our inheritance – imperishable, undefiled, and unfading – awaits us. May we, therefore, learn from Daniel’s example of faithfulness, being inspired by his courage and guided by his wisdom, in order that those who stand against us, “may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (2:12).