The difference is obvious.

Daniel 1:17–21

As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

Now at the end of the days, when the king had said that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm. Thus Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus.

These kids are young—much younger than the magicians and astrologers. The Hebrew word for child is “yellid.” The Hebrew word for adolescent is “nar.” “Yellid” is the word used to describe Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in verse four. They were children when their “reeducation” began. After completing the three-year Babylonian prep school, they might be teens, but that’s all. We’re not talking about adults here.

So the contrast between these kids and the magicians and astrologers is all the more stark—which says more about the magicians and astrologers than it does about the kids. The magicians and astrologers are a bunch of phonies.

But we knew that already.

Even given the obvious phoniness of the magicians and astrologers, it’s still curious that Nebuchadnezzar valued these four kids so much more highly. If the magicians and astrologers were just for fun, they would be called jesters. The king takes them seriously enough to call them in on occasion.

Nebuchadnezzar deserves credit for his powers of perception, but the kids must be doing something right.

That something seems to be what we have seen already and what we will see more of later—they’re genuine. They’re different from the magicians and astrologers in that they aren’t phony. When the king interviewed them, they did well—much better than the crew he had been used to getting advice from.

I suspect there’s a psychological reason for this—they didn’t bring an agenda into their interview. They were just kids being quizzed by an adult. He’d ask a question and they’d answer it as best as they could. They may have been fresh from textbook study of the subject, or they might just be talking honestly about their feelings, or the weather, or whatever. They didn’t bring in all that “grown-up” baggage.

On the other hand, the magicians and astrologers, being what they are, always had an angle. Frankly, I’m hard pressed to even guess at what kind of baloney they spewed back then. Given all that, they might have been worried about losing their jobs—or even their heads.

They’re about to get a lot more worried.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.