The first chapter of Daniel can be read as a simple, but encouraging, story about living in the midst of a world that does not share one’s values. It is that. But it is also a story that sets the tone and previews the book. This can be seen in at least five ways.
(1) Chapter one sets the stage chronologically from the “third year of the reign of Jehoiakim” (v. 1) to the “first year of King Cyrus” (v. 21), that is, from 605 to 539 B.C.
(2) Chapter one sets the stage historically in the narrator’s note that the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (v. 2).
(3) Chapter one sets the stage theologically. In noting that the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand, we see an important theological element of the book, namely, that all the empires of the world are under the sovereign control of God. This sovereignty is not only at the national level, but it is at the personal level as well. This is evidenced in God influencing the royal official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel (1:9).
(4) Chapter one sets the stage literarily. This can be seen in several ways. In this chapter we are introduced to most of the main characters in the book. We also note the piety of Daniel and his friends, a quality that will be on display throughout the book. It is frequently noted that Daniel is one of the few characters in Scripture for which nothing negative is recorded. The reference to “the articles from the temple of God” (v. 2) foreshadows the events of Daniel 5. The narrator’s comment that God gave Daniel understanding of “visions and dreams of all kinds” (v. 17) is preparatory for Daniel’s interpretations and reception of dreams and visions through the book.