“Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.” Daniel 1:6-7
Names and languages fascinate me, so I did some digging on what Daniel and his friends’ names originally meant, compared to what their new Babylonian names meant. And in this, I think you see the subtle, demonic, and crushingly effective strategy of the Enemy.
All four names had something in the name itself that referred to God. Here’s a pro tip: if a Hebrew name has “el” anywhere in the name (Elijah, Ezekiel, Daniel) that goes back to the Hebrew word for God, El. And if it has the syllable “yah” (Jeremiah, Micah, Zechariah) it’s a derivative of Yahweh.
Conversely, a Babylonian name with Bel, ach, or Nebu/Nego will relate to Baal, Aku, or Nebu respectively—the names of Babylonian gods.
So Daniel (God is my Judge) became Belteshazzar (Bel protect his life).
Hannaniah (Yahweh is gracious) became Shadach (Command of Aku).
Mishael (Who is what God is) was changed to Meshach (Who is what Aku is).
And Azariah (Yahweh has helped) became Abednego (Servant of Nebo).
Changing the names of the exiles was just one part of the Babylonian strategy. Daniel 1:4-5 lays out the full scope of the indoctrination program:
“Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them 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, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.”
Daniel 1:3-5 ESV
By the way, I can’t help making connections between what Daniel 1 lays out and what often seems to happen when we send our kids off to college. Take the best and brightest of a generation and send them away for three or four years.
Give them a new name (anyone have a nickname they got in college that they still go by?).
Teach them the language and literature of the culture. Give them a steady diet of the food and wine of the culture (both literally and metaphorically).
At the end of their four years of study, stand them before the provost for their commencement ceremony. They will have a degree conferred upon them that tells the world they have been thoroughly assimilated and enculturated, ready to represent their new culture in all walks of life.
It worked then and it still works. After seventy years in Babylon, many of the Jewish exiles were so comfortable with the culture that they didn’t want to leave.
This world wants to change me. It wants to feed me with its choice food. It wants me to speak its language. And it wants to take from me what identifies with God and get me to find my identity in lesser gods, which are no gods at all.
But Daniel 1-6 is about the resistance. It’s about refusing to assimilate. It’s the story of faithful people who faced the culture and said “You can change my name if you want to. But you will not change my allegiance.”
Lord, I may be in Babylon. But help me not to let Babylon be in me.