In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem, and besieged it.…
And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, etc. The introduction should perhaps clear up the chronology of ver. 1; give succinctly the history of the deportation to Babylon (this is given concisely by Keil, p. 70, references always to English edition); and describe the temple of Bel, in which the treasures were deposited (see Rawlinson's 'Anc. Mon.,' 3:343). After this, two topics demand attention.
I. THE AIM OF GOVERNMENT. Nebuchadnezzar had an eye for intellectual wealth as well as material. There might be stores of capacity, in his train of captives. These were to be brought out, developed for the public service. Herein a lesson as to the aim of government, not merely political, but of administration in general, whether in the family, the Church, or the nation.
1. To utilize all talents; e.g. those of the four.
2. To develop spiritual gifts. "Whatever would help to lay open the future or to disclose the secrets of the invisible would have become precious in Babylonian esteem. It became known far and wide that Divine communications, in the form of prophecy, had been vouchsafed to the Hebrew nation. Dwellers in Babylon might imagine that inspiration and prophecy were permanent endowments of this favoured people. To utilize these endowments might have been one object with the king."
3. To conciliate subjects. Government of any sort is of little value without the moral element, which consists mainly of love. An administration that is only feared is of little power and less use. The elevation of the few would conciliate the Hebrew many.
4. To maintain intercourse; e.g. through the few with the many.
II. THE CONDITIONS OF SERVICE. Nebuchadnezzar pointed out what would be requisite in these candidates for court service. They are for the most part the conditions of all ministration to the public weal, of effective ministry (not using the word in an official sense) in the Church of God. Here it may be desirable to distinguish between a man's being simply a Christian - a believer in the Lord Jesus - and being consecrated as one of the Lord's servants.
1. Conditions intellectual.
(1) Ability. "Such as had ability," etc.
(a) Some knowledge to begin with. "Cunning in knowledge."
(b) Capacity generally. "Understanding science."
(c) Special aptitude, i.e., for Chaldee science; i.e. the science of the magi. "Skilful in all wisdom" (see the original of first part of ver. 4).
2. Conditions physical. "No blemish, but well favoured." The king, no doubt, desired comeliness of person. We have here to do with it only on its ethical side, as expressing character, and so being a passport to the confidence of men.
3. Moral and spiritual. Not named by the king; but must be mentioned; illustrated, and enforced here. For these, see the career of the four, but especially that of Daniel. - R.
Parallel VersesKJV: In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.