Daniel 1:1 The Stage is Set


The first verse of Daniel chapter one sets the historical context of the book of Daniel. It also introduces the first controversy of Daniel: dates!

The first verse of Daniel Chapter 1 sets the historical stage for the book of Daniel. Early in the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, in the year 605 BC, Babylon, the rising regional power, came to Jerusalem.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem and besieged it.

Daniel 1:1

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah

Jehoiakim ruled the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah from 609-598 BC. He was the son of Josiah, who was the king of Judah from 640-609 BC. Originally named Eliakim, Jehoiakim did not inherit the throne from his father Josiah. That honor went to Eliakim’s brother, Jehoahaz. Eliakim only became king when Pharaoh Neco of Egypt deposed his brother after only a reign of three months. The sequence of events is a little complicated, so it requires a little more explanation.

Josiah is often described as the last “good” king of Judah. During his reign, Judah saw a return to worship of God and a rejection of pagan religions. During the early part of Josiah’s reign, the ancient world was dominated by two empires: Egypt in the south under Pharoah Psamtek II and Assyria in the north under king Ashurbanipal. While Egypt and Assyria had historically been enemies, Psamtek II was an ally of Ashurbanipal because Assyria had placed him on the throne as a vassal ruler after expelling Kushite invaders from the south of Egypt.

The balance of power switched in 631 BC with the death of Ashurbanipal. Without a clear heir to the throne, Assyria erupted in civil war. Sensing that Assyria was in a weakened state, several former vassal kingdoms took the opportunity to declare their independence. In 626 BC Nabopalassar declared himself the king of Babylon and in 625 BC Cyaxeres declared himself king of the Medes.

Both the Medes and the Babylonians proved themselves capable of not only being able to defend their claims against Assyrian military might, but were also able to mount an offensive. In 614 BC, the Medes sacked the city of Assur, the ancestral home of the Assyrian empire. This led to an alliance of the Medes and the Babylonians and two years later, in 612 BC, the combined armies sacked Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. The king of Assyria, Sin-sar-ishtun, died during the siege of Nineveh, and while the strength of Assyria was greatly diminished, remnants of the once powerful Assyrian army retreated west to the city of Haran. 

Seeking to prevent Babylonian domination of the region, Egypt moved to support the Assyrian remnant. In 609 BC, Pharoah Neco II, the son of Psamtek II, passed through Judah on his way to join the Assyrian army in the city Carchemish.

Rather than let the Egyptians move freely through his nation, as Neco had requested, Josiah decided to oppose the Egyptian army at Megiddo. The battle ended in defeat for Judah and Josiah was mortally wounded. Victorious, Neco continued north to join the Assyrian army near Haran.

Judah After Josiah

After the death of Josiah, his son, Jehoahaz (sometimes referred to by the shortened form of his name, Joahaz) became king. The Bible says “he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord,” but he was only able to do evil for three months. When Neco returned from the north on his way back to Egypt, he deposed Jehoahaz and made him a captive. Neco placed Eliakim, Jehoahaz’ brother on the throne and, in a show of dominance, changed his name to Jehoiakim. Neco also imposed a tribute of “a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold” on Judah.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem and besieged it.

Judah remained a vassal state of Egypt until 605 BC. Nebuchadnezzar, the crown prince of Babylon, led the Babylonian army to the city of Carchemish where he decisively defeated the combined armies of Egypt and the Assyrians. Nebuchadnezzar’s victory established the Babylonians as the dominant power in the region and spelled the end of the Assyrian empire.

Two months after the Battle of Carchemish, Nabopollasar died, and Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon to be crowned king. Nebuchadnezzar then rejoined his army and campaigned in the surrounding regions, consolidating his power. It was probably during this campaign that he came to Jerusalem. Since existing Babylonian records do not specifically mention a prolonged siege of Jerusalem, it was either very brief or Jehoiakim surrendered after a show of Babylonian military might. Either way, Jehoiakim remained ruler of Judah but become a vassal of Babylon.

The First Controversy: A Matter of Dates

Of note, the date given by Daniel for the first deportation differs from the date given for events in the book of Jeremiah.

The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (that was the first year of the Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.

Jeremiah 25: 1

In short, Daniel writes Nebuchadnezzar came to Babylon in the third year of Jehoiakim, but Jeremiah writes the first year of Nebuchadnezzar aligns with the fourth year of Jehoiakim.

The discrepancy between Daniel (third year of Jehoiakim) and Jeremiah (fourth year of Jehoiakim and 1st year of Nebuchadnezzar) is cited as a historical error for scholars who support a late date for the authorship of Daniel. You can read more about the arguments here, but the date that Daniel was written is important because an early date (6th century BC) means that portions of Daniel clearly supernaturally predict future events while a late date (2nd century BC) changes these prophetic predictions into a recitation of recent history.

The details of the dating get a little complicated, and you can read a more detailed discussion in another future post, but the most likely explanation for the discrepancy is a difference in the method of counting the years of a ruler. There are many variations, but two major methods of counting the years of a ruler differ in how the first year is counted. In the first, known as the accession year method, the year a ruler becomes king is counted as the accession year. The year after the following new year is counted as year one. In effect the accession year is counted as year zero.

In the second method, known as the non-accession year method, the year a ruler becomes king is counted as year one. Year two then begins with the next new year. We know the Babylonian Chronicles use the accession year method, so it would make sense that Daniel, a Babylonian official, would use the accession year. Jeremiah, however, uses the non-accession year method. Therefore, when Daniel writes of the third year of Jehoiakim, his is referring to the accession year of Nebuchadnezzar (year 0) and the third year after the accession year of Jehoiakim. Jeremiah, however, is referring to the year Nebuchadnezzar is crown king (year one) and the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign (year four).

Next: Daniel 1:2 Nebuchadnezzar Raids God’s Temple
Related: When Was the Book of Daniel Written and Why Does it Matter?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *