How to Thrive in Babylon
Young people in school districts around the United States typically begin a new school year about the first week of September. While this may be exciting for some, others may find that starting a different program in an unfamiliar setting is challenging or even overwhelming! The Word of God provides us with an example that can be encouraging for students with either perspective.
Forced into a foreign land
In the Book of Daniel, we find an account of four young Hebrews who were placed into a three-year, rigorous academic program for which they did not apply. They were taken from their homes and relocated in Babylon—an ungodly place that did not honor the God of Israel, His law, or His people’s customs. There they began a course of instruction that was totally foreign to them.
Daniel 1:4 gives a description of these young men, and the intention behind enrolling them in this program. We read that they were “children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skillful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.”
These young men had already received a good foundation in life, having grown up in Hebrew homes. They had learned respect for authority and devotion to God through a wholesome family structure as taught by the Mosaic Law.
They were also well-grounded academically. They knew the origin of the world, having learned of Creation through observation and the writings of Moses. They knew history, as rehearsing the events that had taken place among their people from Abraham through subsequent generations was part of their oral tradition. They knew military tactics, being familiar with the past victories and defeats of the Children of Israel. They knew animal husbandry and horticulture, having grown up in an agricultural society. They knew music; the songs and psalms of Deborah, David, and others that we still have access to in the Book of Psalms were known to them. They also were well acquainted with Hebrew theology and the Law of Moses.
Secular history indicates that math, geometry, architecture, engineering, and physics would have been among the subjects they had previously studied. They would also have known calligraphy and graphic arts. They were proficient in language arts; they knew Hebrew and some of the dialects of Canaan. During their three-year program in Babylon, they learned the Chaldean language and acquired knowledge of heathen beliefs, though they understood those beliefs were contrary to what they had been taught.
An attempt to supplant godly upbringing
Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had a plan for these four young Hebrews, but what he did not understand (although the four did) was that God also had a plan for their lives. The king’s goal in enrolling them in this three-year academic program was to teach them the learning and the language of the Chaldeans so they could be of benefit to his realm. He wanted to familiarize them with the mindset, culture, and customs of Babylon so they would abandon their Hebrew heritage, and become fully integrated into Babylonian society.
To accomplish that purpose, the king determined to change their lifestyle. He began by establishing that their diet be changed to “a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank” (Daniel 1:5). He changed the curriculum they were used to, providing a program contrary to what they had learned in their Hebrew homes.
The king was also determined to change their theology. These young Hebrews had been taught from infancy to fear the God of Heaven. In order to change their beliefs, their names were changed. The names given them by their parents—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—reflected their godly heritage. These young men had been taught what their names meant. Daniel means “God is my judge,” and Daniel knew that he was accountable to God. Hananiah means “God has favored.” He understood that God had a blessing in store for him if he served God. Mishael means “There is no god like God,” and Azariah means “God is my helper.”
The new names given them related to Chaldean gods. Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar, a reference to the treasure or secrets of Bel. Hananiah became Shadrach—alluding to the inspiration of the sun. Mishael was named Meshach, meaning “he who belongs to the goddess Shehack.” And Azariah was given the name Abednego, meaning “servant of Nego, the morning star.” The goal was for them to forget everything they had been taught back home; they were to turn away from their Hebrew upbringing and embrace a Chaldean way of life.
The challenge today
The goal of the enemy of our souls—and the enemy of every child who has been reared in a God-fearing home—has not changed. Satan still attempts to enroll young people in a program of study that will cause them to doubt and ultimately abandon their heritage. Although we might initially think otherwise, the challenge facing this generation of students is the same one faced by previous generations of students.
Yet within that common struggle, I do see at least one difference from when I was in school. Back then, parents were concerned about peer pressure—that the influence of peers the students’ own age could draw young people away from the principles they had been taught. Now, it is the authority figures and the curriculum that pressures young people to doubt their moral compass and question their beliefs. In many cases, it seems that teachers and textbooks have strayed from teaching academics to advocating for what the Bible condemns as wrong, immoral, and deviant.
The Bible reveals that God is a just God. God’s perfect justice rewards righteous behavior and requires punishment for unrighteous behavior. However, in today’s world, right and wrong have been redefined. Lawlessness and all kinds of sinful lifestyles are celebrated at the expense of those who are law abiding and seek to please God. The Bible declares that this would come to pass—that right would be called wrong and wrong would be called right—and that is certainly true of our day.
A culture that has rejected God and the precepts of His Word is a culture that will be cast into confusion.
A culture that has rejected God and the precepts of His Word is a culture that will be cast into confusion. We see that today with gender confusion. In the first book of the Bible, we read that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). The descendants of that first male and female were what the Bible describes as sons and daughters—boys and girls. The difference between genders is Biblical. You were born a baby boy or a baby girl. No matter how much culture tries to alter that truth, no matter how much it might encourage you to change your gender by taking medications or having an operation, you are what you were at birth. To try to be something different will cast you into a life of confusion.
In our day, we hear frequently of animal rights. Seemingly, animals have more rights than unborn babies who are denied an opportunity to see the light of day or take a breath of air. We hear of women’s rights, specifically “a woman’s right to choose,” which really is nothing more than granting a woman the right to terminate the life of a child. Recently I read a report citing the economic advantages of abortion in society as a whole. Even if that were true, no dollar amount is a justification for abortion. Since the Roe vs. Wade ruling legalized abortion in the United States in 1973, thirty million baby girls have been killed—thirty million little girls who never were allowed to grow up to be teenage girls and ultimately women who would perhaps one day have baby girls. Today, if those aborted babies had lived, they might be grandmothers! Women’s rights? Where is the right to live for those baby girls? We do not need to accept the corrupt teachings of this culture.
We see in the news how fashionable it has become to disrespect authority. The media is full of accounts of individuals expressing their distrust and even contempt for authority, often with harsh rhetoric and even physical confrontation. We should respect authority—even authorities who have or promote an unbiblical point of view. We can question authority respectfully. Romans 13:1-2 instructs us, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.”
We are to respect civil authorities; we respect the military; we respect our flag; we respect our country, the United States of America. To disrespect our country is to disrespect the very place that some in our congregation fled to from Communist countries that deprived them of the freedoms we enjoy in our nation.
God imposed boundaries in the Garden of Eden, and as long as Adam and Eve stayed within those boundaries, everything went well. Once they determined to have their own way, things did not go well.
Young people should be encouraged to respect their parents. They are an authority, and the Bible says it will go well with children who obey and honor them. At times, parents may show their concern by imposing boundaries; those boundaries should not be resisted or defied. God imposed boundaries in the Garden of Eden, and as long as Adam and Eve stayed within those boundaries, everything went well. Once they determined to have their own way, things did not go well.
Of course, we cannot promise that those who stay within their parent’s guidelines will coast through life with no problems. The young Hebrews we read about in the Book of Daniel had challenges, although they stayed within the parameters that their parents had established for them. You will have challenges too.
Lessons from the Hebrew boys
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were young when they were carried off into captivity in Babylon. Our youthful years are when we learn best; that is the best time to realize that we need to take a stand. The four Hebrews did so; they purposed in their hearts that they would not defile themselves by eating of the king’s meat. However, they expressed their convictions in a respectful manner. They conversed with the one who was in charge of them, explaining their position and asking him to give them an opportunity to prove that they could thrive while remaining true to what they had been taught. They took their stand, and in the end, God vindicated both them and the one in authority. “God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom,” and when their course of study was completed, “among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” (Daniel 1:17,19).
The four young Hebrews excelled, but the most valuable lessons they learned were not from textbooks. Here are some of the great things they learned:
They learned to value their heritage. In a new and strange environment, they did not abandon their principles in order to fit in. Rather, they maintained steadfast allegiance to God and the godly culture in which they had been raised, upholding the guidelines they had been taught to respect and live up to.
They learned that it pays to have a testimony. They stood true when their lives revolved around the Temple and the synagogue, and they stood true in Babylon, the center of a cruel and ungodly empire. And in the end, even the king acknowledged their excellence.
They learned it is valuable to have friends with similar convictions. Choose your friends wisely. Make sure they have a purpose like the four Hebrews—a purpose to serve God faithfully. If you see your friends waiver spiritually, encourage them along the way. But if they choose to go another way, then beware. God’s Word teaches that “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
They learned that there is freedom in captivity. Though detained in Babylon, they were able to thrive in circumstances that were not conducive to godliness. We can thrive even when the culture is against us. There may be times when we feel alone in an evil world, but God has allowed those times and He will be with us. Challenges help us develop and grow as Christians when we learn to depend upon Him.
They learned that it pays to have a purpose. The four Hebrews found that those with authority can change your name, but they cannot change your devotion. They can change your curriculum, but they cannot change your thinking. They can control your environment, but they cannot control your resolve—your purpose to serve God.
Like the young Hebrews, we too can excel and thrive, whether at school, at home, or in the workplace. We can excel and thrive whether we are young, in our middle years, or in retirement. We do so simply by having a purpose that we are going to please God and faithfully holding true to that purpose no matter what is taking place around us.
The four Hebrews were rewarded in this life for maintaining their purpose. We read in the closing verses of the first chapter of Daniel that when they stood before the king and he questioned them, “he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.”
One day we will stand before the King of kings! If we are faithful to maintain our allegiance to Him, withstanding the pressure around us to accept the norms of society that are unbiblical and corrupt, we too will be rewarded.