Summary: What we learn when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stand firm in faith. How did they do it? Why? Can we do it today?
Charles W. Holt
They Wouldn’t Bend, They Wouldn’t Bow, and They Wouldn’t Burn – WHY?
Daniel 1:3-7 and 3:12-18
The book of Daniel tells the story of…well…DANIEL! His character, courage and faith is its primary focus and is an inspiration to everyone who reads it. However, at the time of Daniel’s introduction in chapter one he is accompanied by three of his friends named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. These four are part of a large contingent of citizens (now captives) from Judah who have been brought into Babylon as part of the spoils of war. They did not choose to leave their home. They did not voluntarily choose to relocate in Babylon thinking it would be a great opportunity to seek a career advancement. Babylon was a place of idol worship. True enough it was a place of worldly elegance, intellectual advancement and wealth. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was, nevertheless, the living, breathing, representation of all that was wicked and detestable to any Hebrew man or woman. Going to Babylon was not only a physical disruption of their lives it was also a mental, emotional and spiritual earthquake. They must learn to adjust to their new environment or else outwardly conform while they rage inwardly against their circumstances. Not a pleasant thought.
Most of us know something about the feelings generated by change. The change could involve a move from one city or state to another. It could be a change in employment. It could be a change in a family relationship due to divorce. Imagine the trauma that children feel when their parents separate or divorce and a new mother or daddy enters into their world. Change can be very difficult to deal with. Some don’t learn to deal with it very well. Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Daniel would have to learn to handle it. The really interesting thing about this matter of change lies in the fact that they would learn to change within their environment while maintaining their personal integrity and without compromising their faith in God. This fact is one of the reasons the Holy Spirit has placed this story in our Bibles. It is a story of faith triumphing over unwanted and tragic circumstances. The Holy Spirit is saying, "They did it! So can you!"
Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had looted the house of God in Jerusalem and carried various articles from it into the treasure house of his god. He instructed a man named Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, "to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles." These would be pressed into the king’s service in the palace. They are described as, "young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans." Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are in this elite group. I think it is important to keep in mind that these young men are the cream of the crop, so-to-speak. Bright, handsome, intelligent, possessing gifts and abilities above the average. They were physically in the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Fabio class. Intellectually and creatively they were in the George Bernard Shaw, C. S. Lewis class. They would be taught in the language and literature of the Chaldeans. You might think they are about to disappear into the culture of the Chaldeans Will they survive this re-education process?
It was quite a process, which if successful, would mean a complete transformation from a Hebrew mind-set to a Babylonian mind-set. "And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king. Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abeb-Nego."
The first step taken by Ashpenaz, master of the king’s eunuchs, to re-educate these Hebrew young men was to change their identity by changing their names. He did it partly to show his authority over them and their subjection to him and as part of the process of making them naturalized Chaldeans. The whole intention is to gradually wean them away from the effects of their Hebrew roots by giving them new names. Their Hebrew names, received at their circumcision, are strongly tied to their God Jehovah. Their Jehovah-connection is the true core of their identity.
Daniel—God is my Judge;