Imagine that your fourteen-year-old is suddenly jerked away from you and taken to Beijing. Xi Jinping, the paramount leader of the most powerful communist nation, puts your teen and several of his friends into intense language study, indoctrination into Marxist ideology, and promises that if they submit, they will rise to prominence right at the center of the centralized power of China. How would your teen react to this dislocation and the challenge to their childhood faith in God and his Word? Does the God of the Bible ever allow one of his teenage kids to face this kind of pressure?
In 605 BC it wasn’t China, the second most powerful nation in the world, but Babylon, the most powerful kingdom in the Middle East, that took teens from the Judean House of David and the nobility five hundred and forty six miles across the Fertile Crescent to Babylon. The first thing Nebuchadnezzar did was immerse them in Babylonian culture and make them big promises.
“Now Nebuchadnezzar, the king, ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring some of the sons of Israel from the seed of the royal family and the nobility—young men without any marring blemish, good looking, and having the capacity to have success in attaining wisdom, knowledge, and discernment, young men able to stand in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the “scroll” (the core learning of Babylonia) and the language of the Chaldeans.
Nebuchadnezzar assigned them a daily portion of the king’s daily food—the royal provisions of food he ate and the wine he drank. He designated a three-year training period and after the three years, they were to stand in the presence of the king.
Now it happened that from among these who were chosen there were four Judean boys—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And the chief officials gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-nego.” Daniel 1:3-7
The Judean royals had names that indicated their heritage as worshipers of Yahweh. The Hebrew name, Daniel, means “God is my judge.” It is changed to Belteshazzar meaning “May Bel (an alternative name for Marduk, Babylonia’s chief god) protect his life.” Hananiah means “Yahweh is gracious.” It becomes Shadrach meaning “command of Aku” (the moon god). Mishael means “who is what God is?” It becomes Meshach, “who is what Aku is?” And Azariah means “Yahweh has or will help.” It is changed to Abednego, “servant of Nebo” (the son of Marduk and the second greatest god in the Babylonian pantheon).
The name changes, the diet and drink, and the three year course in Babylonia’s premier educational institution—it’s all to bury the past and open their hearts and lives to their Babylonian future. Will these four teens abandon their faith in the God of Moses and leave obedience to the Law behind? That’s the tension.
LORD, help us not to be afraid as believers to have our brightest kids exposed to a world class education, even at schools like Harvard or Yale, if you open the door. Give us confidence by the example of Daniel and his three friends who you allowed to be educated by the greatest minds of their day and even helped them to excel in their secular studies.
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