Summary: Do you know who you are when your face with hardship and uncertainty?
Who Am I?
Who are we? What makes you, you and me, me?
About 2,617 years ago, the President of Iraq led his troops into Israel and smashed his way into the city of Jerusalem. Some of the locals were able to escape, but thousands of old men and women were slaughtered. Many more women were raped and then thrust through with bayonets, and hundreds of little kids were cut down in the streets. All of the young men were rounded up and most of them were executed, but the very best of them were kept alive and forced to march back to Iraq, naked, and chained together.
When they arrived in the ancient Iraqi capital of Babylon, the very best of the young men were castrated (2Ki 20:18), then sent to university for 3 years.
They had just lost so many things, and now life was completely different to what they were used to. Their homes and neighbourhoods, their families, their culture, their religion, their names, their short-term plans for getting married and having a family of their own, and their long term plans for the success of their nation—all were now gone.
They lost their short-term future (wife and family) with their castration. Daniel was probably a descendant of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, and if so may very well have been included in a prophecy made years before by Isaiah to King Hezekiah:
2 Kings 20:18 ‘And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’
They had also lost their long-term future—Jerusalem had been conquered by Babylon, so the coming of the Messiah was no longer possible. The kingdom of Israel had been destroyed 100 years earlier by the Assyrians in 722BC, and now the Judeans had been wiped off the map. There is nothing left for God’s people.
The Judeans had lost everything, so, humanly speaking, there was no point in keeping their old identities. But the fact that they did, and the fact that they ended up being 10-times-better than their peers who caved in and followed the crowd demonstrates that only by being true to God can we achieve our true identity and true potential.
Their names were exchanged for names that were similar in meaning, but related to heathen gods
Daniel God is my Judge Belteshazzar May Bel protect his life
Hananiah God is Gracious Shadrach Follower of Aku (Sumerian Moon god)
Mishael Who is like God Meshach Who is like Aku
Azariah God is my helper Abednego Servant of Nego/Nabu (god of wisdom)
But it is uncertain that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were actually the names given by the Babylonians. There was a bit of mischief going on here. Evidently the captives played games with the names. Nebuchadnezzar, for example, was not really Nebuchadnezzar. He was really Nebuchadrezzar, (predominantly in Jeremiah and Ezekiel) and corresponds to the Akkadian nabu-kudurru-uṣur — “Nabu protect(s) the eldest son.” Kudurru also refers to boundary stones which mark grants of land, so an alternative reading could be “Nabu protect(s) the boundary markers.” But the name Nebuchadnezzar is from the Akkadian Nabu-kụdanu-uṣur, which means “Nabu protect(s) the mule,” a corruption devised among opposition groups in Babylon which would naturally appeal to foreigners such as Jews.
In other words they had lost their identities. They were now faced with a completely different landscape, so why not just go along with everyone else—in the discos and nightclubs of Babylon, watching the DVDs of Babywood, forgetting the values of their parents and culture. They were in a totally new place and their were no friends or relatives to check up on them—they were all dead anyway, so who would even care?
But Daniel saw no future in losing his identity. He was Daniel and he was not going to accept the new persona thrust upon him. Although he had no choice in any of these things there was one thing remaining that he still had control over—his food. He was a prisoner of his circumstances, but that was not going to be the means of ignoring all the values he had been taught. So he asked for the simple food of his homeland.
This is not just a matter of diet, and Daniel is not a “come-what-may” health reformer. The fact that he had won the favour of the chief steward (who was prepared to risk his life to grant Daniel’s request) demonstrates his ability to relate to others in a civil manner. Yes, what we eat is important, but this chapter is more about identity than health reform. And notice the outcome of this—Daniel and his 3 friends kept their identity by being true to God, while the dozens of others with them just went with the flow. The irony is we never knew their names. They wanted the freedom to do what everyone else was doing and they were lost to history. But Daniel and his friends have their identities established in history because they found their true identity in being true to God.