“The chief official gave them new names…”Daniel 1:8
Do you know your own identity? Do you know who you are and whose you are? No matter where you are?
I know of four men who did. You’ve probably heard of them: Belteshezzar, Hannaniah, Mishael, and Azariah.
Oh, sorry. You likely know them as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Let me tell you some insights I gained recently as I studied the book of Daniel.
As I studied Daniel, I took some time, as I often do with narratives, to put myself into the position of the character or characters involved in the action. (I call it “Let’s Get Dramatic” in my book.) It’s amazing how much insight you can gain by acting out the action, or by at least playing it out in your mind as a movie. Let’s look more closely at these four young men. Their lives—no, the way they lived their lives—is quite a challenging example.
They were from Judah. In fact, they must have been of the upper class there as Nebuchadnezzar had told the chief of his officials to bring into the service of the king “some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility” (Daniel 1:3). These four young men of privileged background now find their circumstances quite changed.
In Judah In Babylon
Part of the royal family or nobility In captivity, under guard, serving a foreign king
Original names: New names:
Daniel (meaning “God is my judge”) Beltshezzar (probably “Bel protect his life”)
Hananiah (“the Lord shows grace”) Shadrach (probably “Command of Aku)
Mishael (“Who is what God is?”) Meshach (probably “Who is what Aku is?”)
Azariah (“the Lord helps”) Abednego (probably “servant of Nebo”
Can you imagine that? These men were followers of Yahweh. They were part of God’s chosen people. Even their given names showed their identity was tied to their God: Yahweh. Now someone is trying to alter that identity by giving them new names, names tied to the false Babylonian gods. These men must have been appalled at the change.
On top of all that, we see that they have been torn from all they had known:
- their people
- their land
- their culture
- their language
- their God
They had to learn a new language and a new culture (1:4). They were offered different foods, foods that would have been defiling for a Jew (1:8). And they were told to fall down and worship an image! (3:4-6)
Did they give in? Did they just accept it all, figuring that as prisoners they really had no choice in these things? Did they over time just let themselves be absorbed into this foreign culture?
Put yourselves in their shoes. What would you have done?
Well, Daniel tells us what they did. They did not forget their God. They did not forget His ways. We see that right away Daniel asked permission to eat only vegetables and drink water. Doing so would keep them from eating foods that were unclean.
And we see throughout the book of Daniel that these four men did not forget their God, no matter what went on around them, no matter what the consequences would be, they remembered their true identity:
- Daniel repeatedly let it be known that only God could reveal the meaning of dreams, and that God had showed him what these dreams meant. And Daniel willingly shared the meaning of the king’s dream, even though that meaning was likely to make the king unhappy.
- Even though the king had forbidden praying to anyone but himself, Daniel boldly stood before an open window and prayed to God. He remained faithful to God knowing that doing so would land him in a den of lions. (Daniel 6)
- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship the golden image King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. They were willing to give up their lives rather than to give up their God. (Daniel 3)
So I have to ask you even as I ask myself:
Do you know who you are and whose you are no matter where you are?
- As you have time, check out the book of Daniel, especially chapters 3 and 6. Get to know and be challenged by the faith of these men. (We’ll be talking more about them in future posts.)
- How would you answer these questions?
- Who are you?
- Whose are you?
- Are those parts of your identity ever influenced by where you are? Does your true identity show through in the various places you find yourself?
- At home?
- In church?
- At work?
- At school?
- When out with friends?
- What does the example of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego say to you personally about maintaining your true identity?
- Thank God for the example of these and other people of faith, who remind us that when we are faithful to God, we will find that He is always faithful to us.
- What do you think is one way we can more clearly show our true identity as we go about our daily lives?