Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah
May 2, 2014
Scripture: Daniel 1:1–12:13
Synopsis: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah are four Hebrew young men who are Third Culture Kids in the land of Babylon, while their faith in their God gets tested in three specific ways: Extravagant lifestyle offered, Obedience preferred; Names changed but heart stayed true; Passionate Worship at the risk of their lives. As people in this city: Abu Dhabi, a foreign city in a foreign country, we will go through these same tests. How did they respond? Will we respond as they did?
Did anyone go camping over the winter, it’s beautiful out in the desert, with an air-conditioned 4x4 for maybe a night or two. But how long would you like to be out there, as unwilling immigrants who have been moved from your homeland of Israel, across almost 1000 miles of desert, probably roped or chained to several other Israelites, possibly after witnessing the death of your parents when the Babylonians conquered the nation of Judah in 606 B.C.
From the Book of Ezra 7:9 “For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him.”
This journey took Ezra four months, most likely longer for the captives.
This is a story about Third Culture Kids, TCK’s are children raised in a culture different from their parents, but not accepting the new culture totally thus creating a third culture. I only want to focus on four of them: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, not well know by their own names, rather known by their given names: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and Daniel.
Imagine being taken by force and made to go to a far away country. Many of the young people are saying, “That’s what happened to me. My parents made me come here; this is not where I belong. The interesting thing is God’s plans for us are above our thoughts and imaginations. Even as God had a plan for these four Hebrew young men, He has a plan for each of us.
King Nebuchadnezzar was strong emperor, he knew that in order to control other countries, he had to assimilate leaders or future leaders, so he put these young men went through some serious heart tests.
The first test was: extravagant lifestyle offered, obedience preferred.
They were recognised as youths without blemish, of good appearance and skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace. They were attractive and smart, able to learn. The king offered the best Babylon had to offer, a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years by the wisest teachers and groomed to be leaders.
This seems like the perfect opportunity. In today’s terms, they were offered a full scholarship, including five star meals, but there were some terms and conditions.
The first condition was hidden, eat the best food, but the best food of the Babylonians was not kosher, maybe it was pork, shellfish, or other food not permitted to Israelites. Maybe it was too much wine, to keep a steady head. All we know is that Daniel challenged the idea, along with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Was this wise? To refuse the king’s food was suicide, or at the very best kicked out of the program. But God honoured their commitment and allowed them to be tested after 10 days. Vegetables and water only for ten days and then when it was seen as good, for the full 3 years. If it were I, I think I’d have broken, 3 years without meat, nothing else to drink but water. I wonder though how many of the other students as the first test got passed and then the years went on changed their diet to the same diet. One of the mixed blessings of places of education is peer pressure, I wonder if these 4 Israelites created positive peer pressure, all I do know for sure is that after the three years, reading from verse 18-20:
“The king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom."
At the end of their university they were 10 times wiser than all others in their academic field.
Think about your own lives, to many of us here, working in the UAE is a chosen opportunity, a time to earn and save, pay off debts, send money home to families, attend private schools, study, work and live among people from different cultures, countries and religions. Is there anything hidden in the terms and conditions for being here that might draw you away from God and how are you choosing to stand up against it. I’ve heard from friends in the construction field, that language is challenging, in the education fields, honouring those in authority is difficult, in schools, loving other people from other countries can be trying. Think about your own lifestyle, where is the challenge? Take the 10 day test, that may be 2 weeks if you are working 5 days a week, choose to live Godly, to respond Godly, to be salt and light and after 10 days do a self inspection or ask someone else. You will see that when you are faithful to God, He is more than faithful to you.
The second test was: names changed but heart stayed true.
The second test happened at the same time but with a slightly different version. As I said before King Nebuchadnezzar tested these young men’s hearts. What can be more important to someone than their name, especially in Israel where names were given as a prophesy and blessing over children. In the case of these four young men each of their names were about God and so the king changed them to serve the new countries idols:
DANIEL meaning “MY JUDGE IS ELOHIM.” got changed to BELTESHAZZAR meaning “BEL IS MY JUDGE.”
HANANIAH meaning “UNDER YAHWEH’S GRACE.” got changed to SHADRACH meaning UNDER AKU’S COMMAND.
MISHAEL meaning “WHO IS WHAT GOD IS?” got changed to MESHACH meaning WHO IS WHAT AKU IS?
AZARIAH meaning “SERVANT OF YAHWEH.” got changed to ABEDNEGO meaning SERVANT OF NEGO
This battle must have been difficult and hard in the minds of the young men. We see the battle mostly in Daniel’s story, as he is the subject of this book. But lets have a quick look:
Among themselves and in their prayers they keep their original names: 2:17-18 “Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.”
But when it came to dealing with the king he said his name was Belteshazzar
2:26 “The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar”
4:8 “At last Daniel came in before me—he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god”
4:19 “Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar”
Daniel even called his friends by their new names in the King’s presence: 2:49 “Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king's court.”
But in chapter 5 we see a change, when the new queen remembers who helped Nebuchadnezzar with his dreams, she calls him Daniel. 5:11-12
“Here is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”
From that point on he is called Daniel apart from chapter 10 when he again sees a vision affecting all nations.
In todays world I see this happening in three different circumstances, the first being when someone’s name is a language that the person addressing them cannot pronounce and so another name is given, or when someone chooses to change their own name because they have changed their faith and their previous name is bound to a false god.
The third is not really a name change but an identity change and this is what I think Nebuchadnezzar wanted to do. That circumstance is a country passport change. I am South African and many of my compatriots have decided that they would prefer other passports, some UK, some Australian, some New Zealand, basically any country that will have them. Some of these people have gone so far as to stop supporting our Rugby Team, the Springboks, but for the majority, their passport may have changed but their heart remains South African, I think this is how it was with the Israelites we see it over and over again, with Ezra and Nehemiah and others, their place of living may be somewhere else but their heart and passion was for Jerusalem.
Here in our lives and times, we have been given a new identity, a new life, a new kingdom to call our own, the Kingdom of Heaven. In our situation, we actually need to change our heart and identity to this new Kingdom. We may live in this world but this world is not our home, so is our hearts. Are we longing for the place that named us and are we looking ahead to a time when we will receive a new name, a new body, and a new place to live. Gal 2:20 says we are crucified with Christ therefore I no longer live… but so often our lives and our desires are caught up in this world.
Think about your life, your heart, and your passions. Is your heart linked to your identity in Christ?
The third test was Passionate Worship at the risk of their lives.
The next few chapters are some of the most remembered Sunday School Stories, who can forget Daniel in the Lion’s Den and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Fiery Furnace.
Following the storyline, Daniel explains the King’s Dream and gets himself and his three friends great jobs in the government. Chapter 2:48-49:
“Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.”
When we have authority’s favour along with the blessings of God, people are not happy, but God has a way of making all things work together for our good.
As we all know our heart attitude is more important to God than our actions, and when our heart is right we will follow up with actions.
So we see in 3:13-18:
"Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Their attitude was rescued or burned we serve God. The result was: 3:28-30
Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
The same result occurred because of Daniel’s obedience: 6:25-28:
Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel,
for he is the living God,
his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion shall be to the end.
He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders
in heaven and on earth,
he who has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions.”
So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
Coming back to the present, do I think we will have to face the Lions or the Furnace? Maybe at some point we might, but currently we live in a country where the ruling family and the set laws are not against Christian Worship, but this is an Islamic Country, in the middle of other Islamic Nations, as we have seen during the Arab Spring, things can change very quickly. Would you be willing to stand for God at the cost of your life?
How about at the cost of your job? Or the cost of your popularity at school? Or your place on a sport’s team? Each of us at some time face opportunities to serve God publically, although each of these opportunities has a cost. Each of these 4 young guys paid the cost, and the end result was greater because they followed God. Make no mistake; it doesn’t always turn out the way we want.
Look at Hebrews 11:32-38:
"And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two,they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth."
We are called to worship God, whatever the cost, sometimes there will be blessings that come from obedience, other times it will seem like everything is failing. Still we worship; still we praise Him
Conclusion: All of us in this congregation are in a foreign land, not all of us have the same privileges these four young men had, but at some point we will go through similar circumstances.
We will be tested in our obedience to God, our loyalty to the His Kingdom, our choice to worship Him in all circumstances.
How will you respond? Can you say as Job said, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” or as the young men said in 3:17-18:
“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Is your identity truly in Christ? Do you use your blessings to obey Christ?
These 4 TCK’s chose a better meal, a better identity, a true worship. We get the same opportunity in Communion Table, as we will partake in soon. Choose to obey, live for and Worship Christ in all things.