March 26 I Tuesday
“The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.” —Daniel 1:7
After centuries of God warning His people through the prophets to turn from their disobedience and idolatry, these prophecies were finally fulfilled in Israel’s exile. Babylon conquered the kingdom of Judah and turned life upside down for most of these Israelites. They were forced to make a 900-mile journey to Babylon’s capital city, the commercial and intellectual hub of its day. Israel’s best and brightest were taken into the king’s service, where they were taught the language, literature, politics and faith of the Babylonian people. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
Cultural assimilation was a common practice for conquering nations, particularly among the young who are still quite moldable. Philosopher and apologist John Lennox says in his commentary on Daniel, “It was an early attempt at social engineering with the objective of obliterating inconvenient distinctions and homogenizing people so they would be easier to control.” The goal was to re-educate these young Israelites, reshaping their perceptions according to Babylonian ways of life.
One way Babylon did this was by assigning new names to these young Israelites. Names in the ancient world were of great significance, and these specific name changes were an attempt to dissuade Daniel and his friends from the faith of their youth. For example, Daniel means “God is my judge,” but his new name, Belteshazzar, means “May Bel protect his life.” Hananiah means “The Lord shows grace,” but Shadrach means “I am fearful of God.” Mishael means, “Who is like God?” whereas Meshach means “Aku is God.” And where Azariah means “The Lord helps,” Abednego means “Slave of Nabu.” Their Hebrew names praised the faithful and relational God of Israel, but the new Babylonian names tried to assimilate Daniel and his friends into the fickle, uncertain and polytheistic religion of Babylon.
As Christians, we might feel a similar pressure to change or silence our identity. We have all likely experienced moments where we refrain from bringing up matters of faith in conversations about social issues, perhaps because our workplaces discourage it or we don’t want to make people uncomfortable. “Babylon” will also try to influence our beliefs, making us think that God is fickle, loving one day and angry the next. The truth, however, is that God is constant. He is love, and He loves us because He loves us. Even His discipline comes from a place of love to produce His righteousness within us. Though “Babylon” is resolved to silence and reorient us, our faith, identity and resolve are to be rooted in the God of Daniel and his friends: the incomparable Judge who loves us, helps us and shows us grace.
Prayer: So many doubt You, God, but I know that You are greater than any negative voice. Work through me, Lord, to break the resolve of Babylon in their hearts. Thank You, God.