How important is a name?
Think about it for a minute: If you are a parent, you probably gave a lot of thought to what you would name your children, didn’t you? Or, maybe you’ve named a pet, a company, a blog post, or a boat. If you’ve been married, I bet changing (or not changing) your last name took some getting used to. (Be honest—how many checks did you have to throw away because you signed your “old” last name on them?) I know a family who built a new house on a new street and were actually tasked with naming their street. No pressure. It only took them two months to agree on something.
A name means a lot, doesn’t it? Maybe because it feels permanent. Maybe because names are such an enormous part of our identity. But, I would venture to say, as important as names are to us now, names were even more important to Daniel and crew then.
How do I know this? Because names are a serious theme throughout biblical history. In the culture of the Ancient Near East, a name was an indicator of a person’s character. Angels appeared in dreams to name John the Baptist (Luke 1:13), Isaac (Genesis 17:19) and Jesus (Luke 1:31). When Jacob had an encounter with the Lord, his name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28). Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah after the Lord promised they would be the patriarch and matriarch of many nations (Genesis 17:5,15).
And let us not forget, the Name above all Names (Philippians 2:9). The name that is not to be taken in vain (Exodus 20:7). The Name at which every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11).
So, yes. Names are a big deal. And changing names is an even bigger deal—particularly for these “good-looking” Jews plucked out of Jerusalem to be trained to serve in the king’s court.
Check this out:
Each of the four Jewish exiles were given names by their fathers which relate with the one, true God. But, as a part of their acculturation—in order to make them forget the God of their fathers—the chief official gave them new names that reject their upbringing and instead savor the idolatry of false gods.
Of course translations of the names will vary slightly from commentary to commentary, but look at the wildly intentional similarities! Matthew Henry says the name changes were intended to “wean them from the [religion of their fathers] and instill [that of their conquerors] into them.”
As temporary residents of a foreign land, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah involuntarily found themselves in a true identity crisis—how can we serve God and Babylon? Is that even possible?
Nebuchadnezzar did everything he could conceive of to “take the Jerusalem out of the Jews,” but as we will see in the coming chapters, it will go nothing like he’d hoped. These faithful men will remain steadfast in the midst of a cultural cesspool of idolatry. But I guess that’s getting ahead of things a bit…
For now, let’s ask ourselves:
How different is the Babylonian exile from where we stand today?
Are you struggling to serve both the true God and a false god?
In what ways might we be expecting others to do the same?
What is your “identity crisis?” What does God say about how we should conduct ourselves and why? (Read 1 Peter 2:11-12)
“They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.”