The harrowing and miraculously concluding tale of Daniel’s survival in the Lion’s Den is generally well-known and told for kids. After all, it is exciting and makes for great stories and crafts. The fiery furnace rescue of Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego is an equally thrilling tale. But how did those children of God get to where they were in the first place? And what else did they do? This lesson takes a look at the early days of Daniel’s Babylonian captivity and how he chose to honor God above all else.
Note: this lesson can be broken into two parts if desired (one for the vegetable and water portion and another for the dream interpretation).
Lesson focus: God wants us to honor HIM first and foremost; He promises to reward our faithfulness with positive results, but poor choices will lead to negative consequences.
Passage: Daniel 1-2
Target Audience: Kindergarten-6th Grade (adaptable older or younger)
Materials Needed: White boards and white board markers; healthy and not-so-healthy snacks (carrots and chocolate bars, celery and Oreos, etc.); foam or paper crowns; poster paper; magazines; scissors; glue.
Start out with a little “would you rather…” challenge. Provide students with some choices between healthier and not-as-desirable options: would they rather have a carrot stick or a chocolate bar? Lie down with a pillow or do 15 jumping jacks? Write ten sentences or watch a video? After going through a few decisions, explain that not all of life involves choices. What seems like the fun or desirable thing to do is not always the right thing to do, and God wants us to honor HIM in all of what we do. Today we are going to hear a story about someone who did that.
Have you heard the story of Belteshazzar, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? You might not recognize the names, but Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego are some Old Testament heroes we know and study. Explain a little background: Daniel and a few of his friends were taken from their home to Babylon, where they were supposed to learn how to work for the king. Imagine being suddenly taken from your home and family and stuck in a new country with strange rules and language to learn. How would you feel?
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia[a] and put in the treasure house of his god.
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.[b] 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
Now, the King had a special training plan for the young students, and he gave them all very special food to eat. But Daniel had special instructions from God not to eat certain foods. He knew God wanted him to stand up for what He knew was right, and he worked hard to bargain a test so that he could have what he needed…
But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your[c] food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.” 11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. 17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
So what happened? Why did these foreign people see something so special in the young Israelites? Obviously, choosing the right thing resulted in blessing from God. Daniel got a job promotion and public recognition! But notice that he didn’t claim the glory…he gave GOD credit for good things.
Note: pause here if making the lesson a two-parter
Now, Daniel served the king for awhile, but then he encountered his first challenge. The king had a strange dream. Have you ever had a bad dream? (Allow some time to share)Well, King Nebuchadnezzar had a scary dream, and he wanted to know what it meant. In those days, God often told people things using dreams. Well, the king knew this dream was important, but he couldn’t figure out its meaning. Even worse, he couldn’t remember what happened in the dream! He asked all of his helpers and experts, but no one could figure it out. The king was so upset that he said he was going to kill all of the advisers. This included Daniel, too! (Daniel 2:1-14)
So Daniel approached the king’s aide with a request. Pay careful attention to how he acts:
14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. 15 He asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16 At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.
17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.”
How did Daniel act? He spoke with respect and tact. When he prayed for wisdom, he first praised God and thanked Him. What do you think God did in response? (Hopefully this trend is apparent after the previous story) He blessed Daniel and answered his prayers! He knew and interpreted the dream…
Note: as you read the description of the statue, it can be fun and interactive to have students draw their mind’s-eye view of it on a white board or paper. They could even each draw one and compare…or split into groups and draw as a team.
31 “Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.
Explain how Daniel interpreted the dream. He told King Nebuchadnezzar (verses 36-45) that several kingdoms would be coming one upon another. Eventually, a GODLY kingdom would come and rule over all of them. Again, Daniel is putting the attention and importance back on God. No earthly ruler or kingdom can possibly compare to His. How is this important to us? Think about it: we live in a wealthy and powerful country. But we still have problems. Any government based on people cannot be perfect, because people are not perfect. Only if we seek God will we succeed. And how do we know His will? (Take suggestions: prayer, Bible study, etc.) In the end, only HE wins!
Making good choices collage: provide students with magazines, glue, scissors and paper. Instruct them to create a collage reminding them to make positive and healthy choices for physical, spiritual, and mental well-being. Encourage them to add words like “prayer” and “stand for HIM,” and advise that they hang in a prominent spot at home.
Heavenly Kingdom crown (younger students especially): use foam or cardboard craft crowns as a basis. Have students decorate with markers, craft jewels, glitter, stickers, or puffy paint. Add an arrow pointing up and a caption that reads “royalty in the Heavenly kingdom” (or similar phrase).
Close with prayer and reminder of God’s work in our lives. Ask God for wisdom and strength in making choices, and also for discernment of His will. Ask God to help us honor Him in all that we say and do.
Here are some more resources for teaching the book of Daniel: