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“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.” (Daniel 1:7 NAS95)
These four young men from Judah had been taken as prisoners of war away from their homes and families in order to enrich the court of the Babylonian king. Nebuchadnezzar believed in the value of disparate cultures, and wanted to gain the best from them, even as he trained them in his own ways. One step in the process was to change their names.
This is more significant than first appears. Each of these names communicates something about the faith of their people and of their parents. The Hebrew word for “God” is “El.” And so you can see that the name of God is part of both Daniel’s name (full meaning: God is my judge), and Mishael. God had revealed Himself to Moses and the nation of Israel by His personal name, Yahweh. In Hebrew names, this is often shortened to “Yah,” and so we can see that Hananiah includes this name (perhaps the full meaning is “Yahweh is kind”), and in the name of Azariah (perhaps the full meaning is “Yahweh is my help”).
Once kidnapped, these young men could not control by what names they would be called. But outside authorities, no matter how prestigious and powerful, could change the commitment of their hearts. And that is the larger story of Daniel 1 – not that non- believing men could affect the outer elements of our persons (that goes without saying); but that they could not man-handle the internal souls of these committed believers.
I would think that it would have been a distressing thing for these men to have their names changed in attempts to disassociate them with their godly past and to marry them to their pagan future. What we should notice in the text is that they did not whine and complain about this heavy-handed treatment. Rather, they chose to chart a course of faithfulness to their convictions from that internal center of their devotion: what they believed in their hearts and souls.
I’m not sure we keep that distinction clear. We in America howl at any perceived affront to our Christian rights, even as our souls follow the ways of the world in the pursuit of prosperity, devotion to pleasure, and the care of our own over others. Daniel and his pals, or whatever their names, honored the distinction more clearly.