Daniel in the Culture’s Den Part One
by Hal Lindsey
When your world seems to be falling apart, God still “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NASB)
In these troubled a time, that’s a wonderful verse to remember. One of the best examples of it can be found in the story of four boys — each about 13-years-old. Their names were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. In 606 BC, their lives were shattered when the mighty Babylonian Empire overthrew their homeland of Judah, and took them captive.
There are tremendous parallels between what Daniel faced and what Christians face today. We in America haven’t been taken to a new country, but we have watched as a new country has formed around us.
Daniel 1:3-4 says, “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding, and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king's court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.”(NASB)
The Chaldeans had conquered the city-state of Babylon, and made it their capital. It was called the Babylonian Empire, but the people in charge were Chaldeans. So, for this period, we can correctly say “Babylonians” or “Chaldeans.”
Daniel and his friends were among the captives chosen for high-level work within the Babylonian kingdom. The Chaldeans chose boys that were 13 or 14-years-old because that was old enough for them to learn the new culture well, and young enough to be fully susceptible to what we might call “brainwashing.”
They chose the best and brightest young men. This served two purposes. It removed from the conquered people potential leaders who might be able to foment future rebellion. Also, it constantly replenished the pool of talent in Babylon. They correctly saw human beings as the most valuable asset they could plunder from another culture.
Imagine what it was like for these four boys. They had been taken from their families, their homes, and their country. They had been removed from all that was familiar, taken to a foreign land, and thrown into an environment dedicated to making them lose all their old religious and cultural values.
If you or I could go back in time to the Babylon of that era, we would be impressed. Even if you live in one of today’s great cities, Babylon’s giant walls and hanging gardens would leave you in awe. So, imagine what it felt like for these boys from Judea. The brainwashing began with the grandeur of the architecture, and the city itself.
When the king said to “teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans,” it meant more than to go to class. It meant to immerse them in the Chaldean culture. We all think both abstractly and linguistically, so it was no small thing to teach them the new language. To do so was also teaching them a new way of thinking. Seemingly small things like style of clothes can also have a profound impact on manner of thought.
Daniel 1:7 says, “Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach, and to Azariah Abed-nego.” (NASB)
New names were part of the process of giving the captives a new context within which to see the world. At birth, these four boys had been given Hebrew names that would always remind them of the greatness of the God of Israel. But the new names were all pagan.
The Chaldeans used a carrot and stick approach. The king’s subjects lived under the constant threat of a death penalty used freely and without hesitation. But if they lived obediently, they were given praise and stature. As we look at the names, notice that each of the new names is enormously flattering.
“Daniel” means “God is my Judge.” His new name, “Belteshazzar” meant “Prince of Bel.” Bel for the Chaldeans was the equivalent of Zeus to the Greeks. Naming Daniel Bel’s Prince shows that they saw Daniel as the epitome of human perfection.
“Hananiah” means “Jehovah is gracious.” That name would always remind him that God deals with us in grace — that His love and salvation are unmerited. The Chaldeans renamed him “Shadrach,” meaning “illumined by the sun god.” Wow. For them, that was high praise.
“Mishael” means “Who or what the Lord is” — an amazing name that constantly reminded Mishael of God’s name for Himself, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14 NASB) They renamed him “Meshach,” meaning, “Who is Ishtar?” Ishtar was the Chaldean goddess of love.
“Azariah” means “the Lord is my help.” They renamed him “Abed-nego,” meaning “the servant of Nego.” Nego was the god of wisdom and intelligence. As with the other names, this was high flattery — the kind of thing that might sweep anyone off his feet.
In all this and more, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah stayed true to the Living God. These boys thrived in terrible adversity. How can we prepare our own children for the brave new world of today and tomorrow? And how can we prepare ourselves?
Next week, I hope to look at answers to these questions in Part Two of “Daniel in the Culture’s Den.”