Summary: The first chapter of Daniel establishes that God is the focus of the Book. God reigns over the nation and over the individual. His sovereignty is central to every event that is recorded.
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore, he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, ‘I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So, you would endanger my head with the king.’ Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, ‘Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.’ So, he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. So, the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
“As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore, they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.” 
The nation had been conquered. The ruthless invaders were cruel beyond belief. Many of the people had been transported to a foreign land where they would serve the people who had conquered them. Young women were forced to gratify the fallen desires of their conquerors, young men were castrated and forced into slavery. No doubt, many people imagined that God had deserted them. However, God had not deserted anyone—they had deserted Him.
Daniel is the hero of the Book he wrote. That is the conclusion we would naturally draw by listening to most sermons drawn from the Book. However, I suggest that we will miss a significant truth if we adopt that view. Three times in this first chapter, we read something quite different from the common perception. In the first verse, we read, “The Lord gave Jehoiakim” into the hand of the Babylonians. Then, in the ninth verse we note, “God gave Daniel favour and compassion in the sight of the chief eunuch.” Finally, in the seventeenth verse we read that, “God gave [the four youths] learning and skill.” If we wish to assign a theme to the book, it would be more appropriate to speak of God’s sovereignty, His judgement of His wayward people and His watchful care over His servants, even when everything stands against them.
In this message, I invite each of us to focus on the Living God rather than on His servant. In our own lives, it is easy to become distracted as we look at what is happening in our lives. Rather than seeing the hand of God guiding and directing us, we see what is happening and how that has an impact in our immediate lives. I’ve lived longer than I deserve, and I’ve witnessed some stupendous events during the few years of my life. I can say with conviction that I have done nothing of consequence, except to be an instrument of God’s grace. It is the Living God who has worked not only in my life, but in the life of all whom I have known through close association. We used to say down in Texas, “God can hit some mighty straight licks with some mighty crooked sticks.” Recognising that I am at best a crooked stick, I have made it my ambition to be a crooked stick in the hand of the True and Living God.