What's in a Name?

“Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar, and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego.” (Daniel 1:7)

Peoples in ancient times—especially the Israelites and their implacable enemies, the Babylonians—placed great importance on the names given their children, desiring that their very names constitute a testimony to their character and to the convictions of their parents.

The meaning of all these names is very significant. Each of the four had been given by their parents a name honoring the true God, but the Babylonians wanted them to be identified with one of the false gods. Daniel (“God is my judge”) was assigned the name Belteshazzar, which meant “favored by Bel.” Hananiah (“Beloved of the Lord”) became Shadrach (“illumined by Rak,” the sun god). Mishael (“Who is as God?”) was called Meshach (“who is like Shak,” the Babylonian Venus), and Azariah (“The Lord is my help”) became Abednego (“servant of Nego,” the god of fire).

These godly young men no doubt bitterly resented these new names. Nevertheless, they did not make an overt issue of this matter, knowing they would forfeit their opportunity for a substantive spiritual witness if they took a belligerent stand on superficialities. When the opportunity came for a real stand against these false gods of Babylon, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar’s image and the fiery furnace for Daniel’s three friends, and the decree of Darius and the lions’ den for Daniel, they did give a true and uncompromising witness, and God honored them for it. In our own witness today against modern paganism, we need constantly to remember that form is secondary, but substance is vital. Our personal names are of only less importance, but it is vital that our stand and conduct honor the name of Christ. HMM

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