Campfire Religion


Daniel 1:3–7

Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king. Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego.

Sounds like a good plan to build up the service corps. Get some of Israel’s finest— young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace. They should also be ones they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans. They expect to assimilate these guys into the Babylonian culture. (Ha!) So, to purge all references to the Hebrew God their names are changed.

In Hebrew Elohim means God, and Yahweh is His name. Hebrew names often end in “el” or “yah” to denote Elohim or Yahweh. Thus, “Daniel” means “God is my judge.” “Mishael” means “Who is what God is?” “Hananiah” means “Yahweh shows grace.” “Azariah” means “Yahweh helps.” Their new names include references to the Babylonian Gods but—and this is the point—no one cares.

Daniel and his friends don’t object to having their names changed. These guys will show, over and over, that there are plenty of things they care about—even are willing to die for— but names aren’t a big deal.

Nebuchadnezzar thinks he’s starting to convert them. In reality, he’s let in four Trojan horses.

Imagine sitting around a campfire and everyone’s telling ghost stories. They’re generally completely made up—sometimes even on the spot—though no one mentions that they’re fiction. Some tales even include a lengthy claim to historical veracity. Yet no one objects. How can that be?

There’s an unwritten code that says that you don’t take ghost stories seriously. They’re a cultural phenomenon. They’re also a ton of fun, and it would be a shame if someone tried to ban or regulate them. A good ghost story would be ruined by an up-front disclaimer.

But tell a tale like that in a court of law and they’ll lock you up and throw away the key. That’s because court testimony isn’t just for fun; it’s serious.

As we walk through Daniel, we will see that this is the difference between the Babylonian religion and the Hebrew religion. Nebuchadnezzar will be surprised and then schooled by this.

He has no concept of someone taking their religion seriously.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.