The book of Daniel contains some of my favorite Bible stories. From the interpretation of dreams to being thrown into a furnace and into a lion’s den, Daniel and his three pals, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, have quite the adventure in Babylon. Of course, who can forget the writing on the wall and Nebuchadnezzar turning into an animal? Even the popular “Daniel Fast” comes from Daniel 1:8-16

Today, when I started my reading of Daniel, I was struck by the description of Daniel, his buddies, and all of those young people Nebuchadnezzar deported to Babylon.

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.

Daniel 1:4 (NIV)

How old were Daniel and these other people taken from Judah? The NIV calls Daniel and his contemporaries “young men,” but different versions like the King James use the term “children” and others “boys” or even “lads.” Now, when I think of young men, children, boys, and even “lads,” I get several different images of how old these people are. Since so many other words were used to describe their ages, I looked up the word in Hebrew that’s being translated here. That word is “yeled,” (יְלָדִ֣ים ) and it’s used 26 other times in the Old Testament. 

I examined the context of this word in these 26 instances of its usage in the Old Testament. I will share four verses with you, along with a brief description of the context of each verse.

The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.

Exodus 1:17 (NIV)

This verse describes newborn male children. Specifically, the newborn males that Pharaoh ordered killed. 

He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

2 Kings 2:24 (NIV)

When Elisha was mocked by a group of “boys,” he called down a curse on them, so two bears mauled them. 

“The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”

Zechariah 8:5 (NIV)

This verse is in contrast to the previous verse regarding age. 

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age.”

Zechariah 8:4 (NIV)

In these three instances, we see one case where the described age is irrefutable (Exodus 1:17) and two cases where we might have to think a bit to determine the age ranges. I’ve studied 2 Kings 2:24 before and decided that this group of “boys” were a group of teenagers. Zechariah doesn’t give us much to go on since the “boys and girls” are contrasted with “men and women” who are very old. However, when I think of boys and girls out playing in the streets, I picture them between the ages of 8-15. Therefore, I’d say Daniel and the other young men who were taken to Babylon were between the ages of 10-15.

When I think about Daniel’s age and his decisions as a young man, I think about the young men who attend my church. Although they might appear carefree as they play basketball in the streets and do all the things that young people do. When I think of Daniel, I’m encouraged about where they might be headed. 

Even though Daniel and his friends were of royal blood and had a royal education, it’s safe to say that they didn’t have the best role models. They were also surrounded by idolatry. Yet when they were tested, they passed the tests. It would have been easy for Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to go with the flow and eat the food given to them by the king. Yet, they didn’t. 

Contrast Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah with our young people today. They are surrounded by idolatry and have their pick of role models. Many of whom might not be the best. If Daniel et al. could make the right choices in a pagan society because they were taught the right way to go, then I believe the young people of today who are taught the right way can also make the right choices when the time is right. After all, they have been pointed to the same God, and he doesn’t change.