Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7 To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed- Nego. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself… Daniel 1:6-8
Daniel and his friends lived in one of the darkest times in the history of their country. They had just witnessed the destruction of their capital city, and the deaths of many of their friends and families, of which many suffered atrocities too morbid to be mentioned here. And then, among those that survived, these four were chosen to become servants in Babylon. They were taken against their will from their families, brought to a strange land were they spoke a language that they did not know, and then were most likely made eunuchs (Ouch!). All their dreams and desires as young men with a promising future have vanished away. They were no longer free. They were slaves in a foreign land.
However, in stark contrast with the reason their country was given over to the Babylonians by God (Israel's disobedience, that is), the four friends were committed to serving God. Whether or not they had always been that way, I don't know. Maybe they weren't that way in their own country. Maybe they, like many of their countrymen, mocked the idea that God would ever judge them. In Israel they were well-off young men. They were well educated. They were good-looking. In the time when most of Israel had turned away from God, there is a good possibility that God was not in the thoughts of these four young men either… at least not until their whole world was shaken.
It could have been that these four young men made commitments to God on their way to Babylon. The nights they spent in fear and mourning as the babylonian army celebrated their spoils with drunkenness around them gave them time to think about writings of the prophets that had foretold that such destruction would come if they continued in their rebellion against God. They probably thought about Jeremiah, that prophet whom everyone hated, and how he had been right all along.
In their captivity they made commitments to God. “We are sorry God, for all we have done. No longer are we free people in the land of our fathers, but slaves to a foreign people. Yet, now we know that only you are God, and only you are to be feared. In our darkest hour, O God, we give ourselves to you. Even in the face of death, we will bow before no other god, nor will we defile ourselves with pagan things. To you we give up our lives.”
But just as we are, the faith of these young men was challenged. They, just like we, were brought into a culture that wanted to change them.
The first order of business for the babylonians was to change the names of these young men. All of their given names had to do with the God of their fathers, the one true God. Daniel's name means “God is my Judge,” Hananiah's name means “God who is gracious,” Mishael's name means “Who is like God?” Azariah's name means “God has helped.” However, the babylonians called Daniel, Belteshazzar “Prince of Bel (a pagan god),” Hananiah they called Shadrach “Command of the moon god.” Mishael they named Meshach “Who is what Aku (the moon god) is?” Azariah they named Abednego “servant of Nabu (babylonian god of wisdom).”
All of their new names were now associated with foreign gods, of which it was a sin to worship.
Names were really important back then. They held a lot more meaning then they do for most people now. Names were often given to people based off of a special event, or the child's destiny, or to make a statement of praise and thankfulness for what God had done. For example, Azariah's name meant “God has helped.” This is probably a reference to something that God had helped his family with in a remarkable way, perhaps regarding his birth. His name was memorial that he might always remember how God had helped his family. Now he was to be called “Abednego,” meaning “servant of Nabu,” as if the babylonians were taunting him saying “God is not helping you any more – now you are a slave to Nabu.” Every time anyone yelled out one of their new names, the enemy was trying to crush their spirit, cause them to forsake the God of their fathers, and to conform them to their mold.
Even so, Satan does the same thing to believers now. He often whispers names into our ears, hoping we will begin to call ourselves by those names. He whispers names like 'failure' 'undisciplined' 'hopeless' 'addict' 'fearful' and list goes on. As born-again believers, we are none of those things, however, if we begin to believe that we are those things, we will begin to act like those things. The key is that we must never call ourselves by the names that the enemy gives us.
That's why I believe that Daniel and his friends were so successful in serving God in Babylon. Everyone else may have called them by their new names, but they did not call themselves those names. No, when the four of them got together, they called each other by the names given to them by God! “God is helping you, Azariah!” “We may have messed up back in Israel, but God is gracious, Hananiah!” “God is your judge, Daniel, don't give in to their threats.” “They may be strong, Mishael, but who is like our God?!”
Their names will become essential to their spiritual survival in Babylon. From the beginning they were to face many tests and hardships. Certainly, like Paul the Apostle, they would say, “God's grace is sufficient. He will carry us through the hard times.” During their time of training, although they only ate vegetables, they were stronger than any of the other young men and 10 times better in every way. I'm sure they could say, “God has helped us.” When they came out of the fiery furnace unscathed, I'm sure they shouted, “Who is like our God!?” And when Daniel emerged from the lions den I bet he said to himself, “God is my judge. I have served him and he has found me guiltless, and He has saved me!”
Even though the world and the devil called them something else, they refused to let it change them. Instead they called themselves what God had called them. We must do the same thing.
When you repent of your sins, and accept the sacrifice that Jesus Christ has made for you, all of your past is wiped away. You are no longer that old sinner, but you are made blameless, faultless. God considers you as righteous as Jesus Christ. When you make Christ your Lord, you are no longer of this world or its kingdom. You are translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son (Col 1:13). Satan no longer has jurisdiction over you, and even though you live in his world, you are not under his rule. You answer to a higher authority. What Satan calls you doesn't define you, for you call yourself what God calls you.
Don't ever call yourself a failure. Don't ever call yourself stupid or slow or weak. Don't ever call yourself undisciplined. God never calls his children those things.
Consider Peter, that great Apostle, whose name was changed from Simon. Peter means 'a rock.' Every time Jesus called his name, he was saying, “you are as solid as a rock, you will be the rock-solid leader of my church.” Surely Peter never thought of himself that way. In his first encounter with Jesus, Peter (Simon) told The Lord, “depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Peter saw himself as a failure, as not worthy. But Jesus saw him differently, “Do not fear, from now on you shall catch men.” And when Peter's darkest hour was upon him, after he had denied three times his Lord, God made sure to single him out after Jesus had been risen:
he (the angel of The Lord) said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here….but go, tell His disciples – AND PETER – that He is going before you… – Mark 16:6-7
I've always thought about the thoughtfulness of God to specifically mention Peter's name here, since he had denied Jesus three times, but I hadn't thought about the fact that He still referred to him as 'Peter,' the rock. In a time when Peter was certainly feeling like a spineless coward, Jesus made sure to send the message that he was still 'the rock' in His eyes! Glory to God!
What has God called you? One great passage of scripture that fits in well with what we are talking about here is found in 1 John 1:12:
I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for His name's sake…I have written to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one. 1 John 1:12-14
This scripture is a generalization since John is writing to all believers. He is telling us what God calls us. God calls us 'Forgiven, Knowledgeable, Strong, Overcomers.' Are these things true about you? Well, was Peter a rock when he denied Jesus out of fear? It didn't seem like it. But God sees the end from the beginning. He sees you as strong. He sees you forgiven. He sees you as an overcomer. God doesn't need circumstances to match His words. His words change circumstances! Speak His words, call those things that be not, as though they were, and you, too, will change circumstances.
Consider Gideon, the man who hid in fear of his enemies. What did the Angel of The Lord call him?
“The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!” Judges 6:12
The One who sees all sees beyond what you are now. You need to also see yourself that way. How can you know what God says about you? Look to His word. It's filled with everything about you that you may have never known.
Don't let the world or the devil or those around you define who you are. Let the One with the final word define you. It doesn't matter what your past looks like. God doesn't consult your past when determining your future. Get in agreement with what God says about you. His word will be planted in you like a seed, and in time will grow into a fruitful tree; your leaf will not wither, and whatsoever you do will prosper! (Psalm 1)