In the book of Deuteronomy Almighty God brought Israel out of slavery to Egypt, gave the law at Mt. Sinai, and brought the people to the borders of the promised land (Deut. 1:19-20). Moses sends out 12 spies to survey the land. (Numbers 13:1-3). However, division results. “The people are stronger and taller than we are” is the majority response.” Even though Moses assures the people that God will fight for them just as he did in Egypt, they do not trust God to fulfill His promises (Deut. 1:29-33). Fear leads to disobedience which leads to severe punishment. Because of various acts of disobedience, the Israelites living at the time are barred from entering the promised land. The only exceptions are Caleb and Joshua, the two members of the scouting expedition who encouraged the Israelites to obey God’s command (Numbers 13:30). Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and almost 600,000 of the original Israelites are kept from entering the Promised Land. Truly a remnant.
Does this lack of allegiance of God’s people continue throughout the Bible? Sadly it does. Let’s
skip ahead hundreds of years from 1440 B.C. to 165 B.C. and the times of Daniel and his friends.
Three Stalwart Souls
Just as with Joshua and Caleb who were chosen amongst the masses to enter the Promised Land, we will now focus on a small circle of designated men whom God set apart to change history. The second chapter of the Book of Daniel is centered around King Nebuchadnezzar’s having a most disturbing nightmare—made even more disturbing by the fact that he could not even remember it! He assembles all the magicians and sorcerers and insists, under penalty of death, that they interpret this mysterious nightmare. Everyone is totally baffled—how can they interpret a nightmare if they don’t even know what it is? However, there is one amongst them who will seek the One True God for the secret to this mystery. Thus begins the illustrious saga of how Daniel became the equivalent of Prime Minister of Babylon and, at his request, had Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego appointed as his assistants. This, however, is the middle of our story. First, we need to look at the backstory of the cast of characters in our saga.
Their Character-Building Years
There were approximately 75 youth, the cream of the crop, 20 years of age, who were taken from the royal court of Judah to Babylon to be trained in Babylonian affairs. Their early years in their homeland would have been spent in thorough training in upholding the sacred laws of their God. The New Testament equivalent of this is 2 Timothy 2:15:
2 Timothy 2:15 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.
When the Babylonians came, these young men left the safe confines of their families and were forced to live 1,500 miles away from the rules and security of their upbringing. Would they stay strong as a rock or become like shifting sand? Out of all of the 75 youth, only four of them persevered as unflinchingly loyal to Jehovah: Daniel and his three friends.
What followed would be a three-year indoctrination into the pagan Babylonian culture. Yet, God used this period as a “boot camp” of toughening for what He was preparing them for. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego complied with the Babylonian rules insofar as they did not conflict with God’s laws. Jewish youth reared on the holy Torah of God’s Word were now thrust into a society of idol worship. Their names were changed to indicate idol worship.
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.” (All in honor of Babylonian idols)
Even in what they ate and drank they had to be different to stay true to God. Daniel asked permission for all the Jews not to defile themselves by drinking wine and other alcoholic beverages. (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14: 3-21).
Even today, the notion of separating yourself from standard social mores causes people to stand out and appear different. I know of two men—one young and the other a senior executive—who were willing to stand out from all the others by not drinking. The younger immediately got the reputation as the designated driver at his new college. The senior executive went to a prestigious business conference where a considerable number of alcoholic beverages were offered. He actually received the title of “the man who doesn’t drink.” Noted speaker, Steve Farrar, states that “the righteous man is known by what he will never do.” In addition, we have an example of high schoolers who chose to take a stand against human trafficking, and all demonstrated their abhorrence of it through an event called “Dressember.” Each one of the young men wore a tie and button-down shirt while each young lady wore a dress or skirt and blouse for all 31 days of December. Those who did stood out among the student body, for many of their peers opted for hoodies and sweatshirts instead. Each one of these individuals chose to stand up for their convictions and verbalize their beliefs. The Bible references standing out for a noble cause as separation.
Numbers 6:2-3 New King James Version (NKJV)
“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord,
he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink…”
Another part of Daniel and his three friends’ indoctrination was learning the sacred language, magic formulas, and rituals of Babylon. How difficult this must have been for them because of their knowledge of the many verses against “mingling” the clean and the unclean in the Bible.
Deuteronomy 22: 9-11 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
“You shall not plant your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole crop be forfeited [under this ban], the seed which you have sown and the yield of the vineyard forfeited to the sanctuary.You shall not plow with an ox [a clean animal] and a donkey [unclean] together.You shall not wear a garment of mingled stuff, wool and linen together.”
How many Christians mingle the language of the world into their vocabulary to such a degree that people cannot make a distinction between Christian and non-Christian? Mingling the clean with the unclean means all the crop will be forfeited, for the unclean completely erases the clean.
This is a hard truth to swallow yet it is what the verses state. Very sadly I have observed solid Christians caught in difficult situations where exactly such results have occurred. College situations where drugs drugs and sex become more tempting, dating someone of another religion, peer pressure, etc. – it happens at times when you are more vulnerable than you realize.
The Babylonians tried countless ways to get the Israelites to mingle their holy religion with idolatry. If you in any way worship idols, you jeopardize your sonship with God. The Babylonians taught classes on how to interpret dreams and visions, the equivalent of palm reading, hypnosis, ouija boards, etc. Yet, it was not that knowledge that was used by Daniel and the other three youth to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:
Daniel 2:17-24 Amplified Bible
17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions,
18 So that they would desire and request mercy of the God of heaven concerning this secret, that Daniel and his companions should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.
19 Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night, and Daniel blessed the God of heaven.
20 Daniel answered, Blessed be the name of God forever and ever! For wisdom and might are His!
21 He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding!
22 He reveals the deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him!
23 I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers, Who has given me wisdom and might and has made known to me now what we desired of You, for You have made known to us the solution to the king’s problem.
24 Therefore Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon; he went and said thus to him: Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon! Bring me in before the king, and I will show to the king the interpretation.
The youths took solace in each other. This is fellowship of the deepest order, fellowship of the spirit not just social interaction—in addition, as we move forward, we will notice there is One more Who is Ever-present, and He will make all the difference. Look a bit harder at verse 24 and notice their concern for the Babylonian wise men. The kindness of these young men extends even to them.
On with our story…At long last, someone has not only told the King his dream and interpreted it BUT he has also predicted the future in full detail. Amazing! What is even more amazing is the king’s reactions. His first reaction is appropriate as he praises God as the God of gods but notice his subsequent action:
Daniel 2:46-47 New King James Version (NKJV)
Daniel and His Friends Promoted
46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, prostrate before Daniel, and commanded that they should present an offering and incense to him [Daniel].. 47 The king answered Daniel, and said, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret.”
YET, look at the complete turnaround of the King’s second reaction.
Daniel 3:1-5 New King James Version (NKJV)
The Image of Gold
“Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. 2 And King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to gather together the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 3 So the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered together for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 Then a herald cried aloud: “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5 that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up;” [90 feet high and 9 feet wide]
Notice that at the end of chapter 2, the king proclaims that Daniel’s God is “the God of gods and the Lord of kings” and now, two verses later, he builds a monstrous idol to himself to be worshipped by all the royalty, government, military, etc, or else they will die! Hundreds, perhaps, thousands of people are all to fall down at the exact time the music plays and worship him. Does he really think that the children of the true God of gods and Lord of kings would bow to a golden idol? Or will they find reasons within themselves to compromise? We will explore this line of reasoning next time.