“Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. …The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names: Daniel was called Belteshazzar. Hananiah was called Shadrach. Mishael was called Meshach. Azariah was called Abednego.” Daniel 1:3, 5-7 (NLT)
For me, it’s easier to keep life pigeonholed. It goes like this: Ok, Bible read—check—now on with my day. Are you guilty of this? Do you read a Bible story, think, “that’s nice,” shut your Bible and go along your day—never realizing the person you read about is just like you? I am. After 50 years of hearing and reading the stories, I finally realized the stories are about me!
The stories are about you, too. No? You’ve never been taken captive as a slave in Babylon? You’ve never been tutored in Babylonian culture? You’ve never had your name changed?
Read on and let’s see if those statements are true.
Living in Slavery
I’ll admit it—I’m a slave to my whims. Unchecked, my selfish desires rule my life. I may not be in bondage to another person. I am a slave to myself. Paul eloquently wrote about it this way. See if you identify with this scenario.
“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” Romans 7:21-25 (NLT)
Sometimes sin is a subtle master and other times it’s a brutal master. I’ve learned many lessons the hard way. I’ve stubbornly followed my own path and, in the process, reaped the rewards of my indulgent behavior.
If the underlying tone of anger, hatred and discontentment in the world is not enough to convince you you’re captive in a foreign land, consider Jesus’ command.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.” Matthew 5:43-44 (MSG)
Jesus’ command is certainly not the pervasive message of the culture. Oh sure, in kindergarten we’re taught The Golden Rule, but soon after the lessons become:
- Get ahead using any means possible.
- The one with the most toys at the end; wins.
- I did it my way!
- Your bank account is the measure of your success.
- Outward beauty trumps inward beauty.
- The meek get crushed—the driven will inherit the earth.
The indoctrination begins early in life and is relentless.
Honestly, I can’t think of a command more difficult to follow than Jesus’ command above. Love the people who love me? Sure! Love the people who are different from me? Maybe. Love my enemy? Come on! Really?
Part of the difficulty with this command comes from the slavery I mentioned earlier. Some of the difficulty comes from the subtle messages of the foreign culture that holds me captive.
I bet I have you almost convinced. So, what about the last thing that happened to Daniel and his friends in Babylon? Has your name been changed?
A Different Name
If you are a believer, God calls you “Child,” “Friend,” “Heir.” What do you call yourself? Just between you and me, here are some of the names others have given me and I have accepted: fat, failure, clumsy, and worthless. Hmmm. Somehow, it’s easy to identify with the names others give me. I have a difficult time identifying with the names God has for me.
I’ll let you decide about your names.
The Babylonians understood names are powerful. Change the name and you can change the person’s self-concept and self-worth.
Convinced? Have I convinced you that you are not unlike Daniel and his friends?
The Babylonians were experts in consuming individuals—taking away their freedom, changing their way of thinking, changing their identity. It is a strong current with a deadly undertow. Swimming against the current requires constant diligence, strong determination and a committed relationship with The One who has the power to fight the relentless flow.
God has a different way of life for the believer—even in the foreign land of Babylon. In fact, living in Babylon makes this way of life more important. Paul didn’t finish his writing in Romans with, I’m a pitiful sinner that can’t do anything right no matter how hard I try. You see, those are the words of a slave in a foreign land who has accepted the name “sinner.”
Paul goes on to shout in Romans 8:1, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong in Christ Jesus.” (NLT)
If you are a believer, don’t let Babylon get you down.
Jesus broke the chains of slavery when He rose from the dead. Saturate your mind with God’s word—let the truth sink deep into your soul. Don’t listen to the lies of the culture that holds you captive—this world is not your home. Discover the names God has for you—they are in Scripture—let those names shape your identity.
Father, thank You for the power to continue to swim when I feel alone, helpless, defeated and enslaved. Remind me of the truth in Your word—I am free, in You I CAN do all things, I am Yours!