Daniel 1:1-7 – Living with integrity when a culture wants to cancel you (pt. 1)

I am currently reading a very good book by Pete Hegseth and David Goodwin called “Battle for the American Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation.” In it they talk about the great influence that socialistic, political, and anti-Christian “values” have had on the development of our education system since the late 1800s. They explore the concept of Paideia, a Greek philosophy or method of training and molding children to be a citizen with particular characteristics. I relate this to the concept of worldview. Our worldview is the collection of philosophies, beliefs, and experiences that we have that determine how we view the workings (both physical and spiritual) of the world. Paideia, then, would be the process of how we develop our worldview. The term pedagogy is closely related to the word Paideia.

The book explores the Western Christian Paideia, which has largely been the driving pedagogical practice in “western” society since the birth of the Christian church nearly 2,000 years ago. As the book emphasizes, this paideia has been, and is being, systematically removed from American public education for over a century.

Not only is Paideia how we develop our worldview. It is also the process by which we change our worldview, or our worldview is changed for us. It is an interesting concept to be aware of, at the very least, and it relates directly to the opening chapter of the book of Daniel. Here are the first seven verses of that book from the Old Testament.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 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. 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.

I briefly introduced the book of Daniel in my previous Bible Study post. The book is written in two parts. Chapters 1-6 tells various stories about the Israel captives Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. It focuses on telling the story of how faithful God-followers should live in a world that does not believe the same as they do (e.g. has a different worldview). Chapters 7-12 relate various visions of the future that God gave to Daniel, and their interpretation. Interestingly, the book is also written in two different languages – Hebrew and Aramaic. The Hebrew sections are likely written specifically to the Israelites as instruction and encouragement for them. The Aramaic sections, which was the regional language of the Middle East at the time, is written as a broader message to the Gentile nations among whom the exiled Israelites lived. It was to convey a message about the greatness of the God that Israel serves.

Let’s look at the particulars of these opening verses.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.

Daniel opens his book in the Hebrew language, giving the historical setting and context. Jehoiakim had become king of Judah in 608 B.C. and King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians invaded and conquered them in 605 B.C. In this year, the first group of Israelites, including Daniel and his friends, were deported to Babylon in that year. The second deportation, which included Ezekiel, occurred in 597 B.C. The final deportation and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple happened in 586 B.C. Writing to the Israelites, Daniel makes it clear that Nebuchadnezzar’s success in overthrowing Judah was because “the Lord gave” it to him. The utensils from God’s temple were delivered to the temple of the Babylonian god (probably Nabu or Marduk). This was culturally significant as it represented, at least in the minds of the Babylonians, that their gods had overcome the God of the Israelites. This is why it was so important for Daniel to point out early on that all that had happened to Judah (and Israel before it at the hands of the Assyrians) was at the direct command of God as punishment for their unfaithfulness to him. This overthrow of the kingdom had been foretold ever since the days of Hezekiah over a hundred years earlier – “Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. (Isaiah 39:6-7)”

Daniel continues the introduction.

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, …”

Daniel and his friends were part of the elite of Jewish society. They represented the best, the brightest, the most well-to-do, the most powerful. In other words, just as Nebuchadnezzar wanted to declare to the world that his gods were more powerful than the God of Israel, so too he wanted to declare that his country/culture/worldview was superior to any that existed in Israel. His choice to enculturate these young men was very deliberate – not a haphazard choice at all. These youths were destined to “stand in the king’s palace” both as servants and as tokens of conquest. And what was Ashpenaz, the king’s representative, to do with these youths? They were to be enrolled in the Babylonian Paideia!

“… 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.

Even though these young men were old enough to have already developed their own worldview, it was the Babylonian government’s plan to “educate” them with three years of “college” to indoctrinate them into a new worldview. Again, this was a very deliberate choice. They were to become good Chaldeans and participate in the pagan practices that were a part of the culture. We’ll look more at that next week as we see the first example, from the latter part of Chapter 1, of how Daniel and his friends resisted this indoctrination. One more thing, though, that Daniel included in his introduction is the following:

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 introduces himself and his friends by name, and also the Chaldean names that Nebuchadnezzar’s official assigned to them. There is great significance to the names listed, as shown below, gleaned from the NIV Study Bible notes.

  • Daniel – His Hebrew name means “God is [my] judge.” His new Chaldean name (Belteshazzar) means “Bel (or Marduk), protect his life!”
  • Hananiah – His Hebrew name means “The Lord shows grace.” His new Chaldean name (Shadrach) means “Command of Aku.”
  • Mishael – His Hebrew name means “Who is what God is?” His new Chaldean name (Shadrach) means “Who is what Aku is?”
  • Azariah – His Hebrew name means “The Lord helps.” His new Chaldean name (Shadrach) means “Servant of Nego/Nebo (Nabu).”

Names in the Bible and Middle Eastern cultures of the time carried significance in their meaning. This is why you find lots of emphases in the giving of specific names in the Bible (e.g. Abram/Abraham, Jacob/Israel, Jesus). All four of these main characters of the coming stories have original Hebrew names which invoke the name of the God of Israel. In every case, their new Chaldean names invoke the name of one of the Babylonian gods (a polytheistic culture). Therefore, the giving of new names to these Hebrews was not just a renaming into the new language. It was a way to “cancel” their culture – to try to force them to completely abandon allegiance to their God.

Next time we’ll look at the rest of Chapter 1 to see the first of several examples from the book of Daniel of how God’s people should respond to a culture that is trying to change them or “cancel” them. Suffice it to say for now (more on it in the next study) – Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah provide marvelous examples of how to stand your ground with integrity while being attacked by a culture that is bent on your destruction!

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