In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar,[a] and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods. Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
As we begin to look at the Book of Daniel, we are confronted with one of the symptoms of Empire – namely an attempt to eradicate the cultural, political, and religious identity of the colonised. Three of these observant Jews experienced a change of name. Hananiah – the Hebrew means ’Yahweh is gracious’ – became Shadrach ‘Command of Aku’ (Aku was the moon god). Mishael (‘Who is like God’) becomes Meshach ‘Who is like Aku’ and Azariah (‘Yahweh has helped’) became Abednego (Slave of the god Nebo).
We are told that they were to be fed as members of the royal household and educated for three years so that they could ‘graduate’ into the king’s court, having been instructed in Babylonian customs and manners. In the coming days the narrative will focus on Daniel as the non conforming hero but for now let’s think a little further about the effect of Empire on the identity of those under its sway.
Empire has had a ‘grooming’ effect on those it seeks to subjugate. The Council for World Mission (CWM) uses the terminology of Empire to indicate the ‘coming together of economic, cultural, political and military power in our world today which serves, protects and defends the interest of powerful corporations, elites and privileged people. The Babylonian Empire was not benign, hence the need to change the names and religion of these young Jewish leaders. CWM reminds us that we also are subject to a colonising influence.
When Bishop Lesslie Newbigin was asked what would it mean if the Gospel of Christ was allowed to critique western culture, he answered, ‘Suffering.’
Lord Jesus, help me to preserve my identity in you, deliver me from being a consumer, a service user, a customer. You have given yourself to us all, that we may bear your likeness. Enable us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may discern what is truly valuable, what is good and acceptable and perfect, Amen
The Rev’d Richard Church, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship), Member of Streatham URC.