Shadrach, Meshach and Abegnego, the fire and the crazy, "Worship me or I'll ruin you" ego-maniac. We know and love the story.
Except those weren't their real names. Those were their Babylonian names, given to them by the sometimes really crazy world around them.
So what happens when we look at this awesome story not in English, but in Hebrew?
Their real God-given Hebrew names were Hananiah, Misha-el and Azariah (Daniel 1. 6-7) They were Hebrew dudes. The Hebrew mindset understands, as discussed here, that to name someone in Hebrew means to proclaim their character, mission and destiny.
So these young Hebrew men were taken into captivity but they did not subject themselves to that captivity. That means they kept their inner sense of identity, learning to play the intelligent game of fulfilling what was required of their position, without letting that truly change who they were. We know this categorically by:
1) The way they behaved. They served excellently, because they could understand that their Hebrew God, the One True God, had brought them into this position. They did not serve the pseudo-religious god Nebuchadnezzar, who was very egotistical, or the culture of the world around them.
2) What they spoke. In private they did not call each other by their Babylonian captive names. They called each other by their Hebrew names (Daniel 2.17). Have you ever been one person in public, not in a deceitful way but in a wise way, like King David? But your true self is how you speak spiritually with your closest allies at home or with your trusted mentors, with the people who have proven themselves in their love and friendship with you.
Hananiah, Misha-el and Azariah refused to accept other people's titles over them. Any name or label said over us that seeks to hold us captive, is in contradiction to our God-given purpose or God's very best and holiest for our lives, is by definition the wrong label for us.
Hananiah, Misha-el and Azariah chose in their captivity to keep naming themselves after their God given destiny (Daniel 2.17). Wise guys. We must use our words to do the same through Jesus/Yeshua and amongst true followers of Christ whom we trust.
The other words they spoke out in excellence were their Speech to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3. 16 - 18.
Here's the part I really love, where it opens up when I read it in Hebrew. Now, it says all three replied to the king. So either they spoke in complete unison, which is highly doubtful and would have made them sound kind of weird! Or they spoke in turn when they "replied to the king."
If the LORD names them in order I would safely assume they spoke in that same order, because every word in Scripture is put in place in the original Hebrew for a reason. And this order of speaking makes complete sense when reading in Hebrew. They basically proclaim to the egotistical king, and to the slightly insane world in which they found themselves, the very meaning of their Hebrew names in their reply:
Shadrach (Babylonian name) says: "We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter." But his real Hebrew name is Hananiah. In Hebrew this means "God is gracious." That is the definition of why we do not need to defend ourselves! As true followers of Jesus/Yeshua we are sanctified before God by what Jesus did, and continues to do, for us. Because Jesus/Yeshua defends us and He is God's Grace in Person.
So Hananiah is prophesying truth. But you only fully see this in the Hebrew. Hananiah has been taken captive into a Babylonian world yet he proclaims to Nebuchanezzar that he does not need to defend himself. A Christian lives in the world, but not of the world. Why don't I need to defend myself? Because Jesus Christ defends me, every day and night of my life. Defending myself is called self-justification. Proverbs 20. 22 says: "Don't take it on yourself to repay a wrong. Trust the Lord and he will make it right." That includes wrongs I have committed against God myself! While He's making it right, we can love Him, love others and try to be as excellent as we can. But ultimately my only defence when I die and face God is Jesus Christ.
So Shadrach's line in their speech is like stating to evil: "I, as a true follower of God, do not have to defend myself against your condemnation because God is Gracious, which by the way is what my real name means." It's like this Hebrew young man was proclaiming: "You who are trying to give me a different future, a different name, trying to proclaim that I must do my life your way. But I'm sticking to the purpose, name and future the One True God has given me. It's written in my name. I'm a Hebrew. Not a Babylonian, I'm not of your kingdom but God's Kingdom." His words and actions are the definition of courage dancing with faith.
Then one of his very best friends takes the baton. If they spoke each line in the order God named them then Meshach (Babylonian name) is next. He says: "If we are thrown into your furnace our God is able to save us and He will rescue us."
His real name is Misha-el. In Hebrew this means: "One belonging to God." The Word "El" for God does not mean any god. It means only the God of Isra-el, the very word from which Israel gets its name. El particularly refers to His saving strength. So Misha-el is prophesying with his own name: "I belong to God therefore if you throw me into this furnace, El, the God of Israel, will rescue me." Why will He rescue me? Because I belong to Him, which is what my real name means. I'm a Hebrew. Not a Babylonian, I'm not of your power-play, I'm of God's Kingdom.
Then the third Hebrew young man Abednego (Babylonian name) takes the final leg of this incredible speech in the face of every threat to destroy their career, reputation, future and life and says: "But even if He doesn't I won't worship you."
I love this line. I love his Godly attitude. And I love that this is like a Hebrew in-joke at an ego-maniac's expense. Because Abednego's real name is Azariah. It means in Hebrew: "God is my Help." So Azariah is saying: "But even if He doesn't help me - which of course He will because that is my real name and identity - I will not worship you."
They were the slaves but they were the ones acting like Kings. A Greek understanding of this passage has often come to the conclusion that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were incredibly brave because they were willing to die for their God. As a Christian I want to live with that kind of faith too.
But my Jewish head thinks there is more to it than that. A Hebrew understanding of this passage shows that actually Hananiah, Misha-el and Azariah, were probably a lot bolder than we think and a lot more sure of their God, because of their understanding of what being named in Hebrew means.
If you've ever had someone try to pressure you to change the direction you believe in God your life is taking but you decide to follow God and take it back, then that's what these three Hebrew young men were doing. They were actually prophesying God’s victory through their own names before they went into the fire. This is what we understand as faith in the New Testament right there in the Old. I'll never take lightly how very painfully testing it is to do this in the face of some epic Nebuchadnezzar-sized power-play over our career, family and life. But if in God's strength these three young men can do it, then so can I. Because we all thankfully share the same God, in Jesus Name, if we believe in Him.
Their Hebrew names - their Spiritual God-given Names - turned all the glory back to God in prophesying the true character of the One True God over themselves and all who were listening, including Nebuchadnezzar. Having said all this, when it really came down to it, they didn't compromise. They worshipped God first and put other people's egos last. They also worked together.
These three young Hebrew men had been named by the One True God to literally act out some of His Characteristics through their names and lives. And if we are believers, so have we. We have been Named in Christ. What purpose and destiny has God given you in your heart and in your life? What dreams in God do you speak about in the quiet places? In what industry, role or relationship is He encouraging you to let your courage dance with your faith in Him? Finally, are you in Jesus Christ, that awesome, beautiful, loving Name?
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