Sunday, March 1, 2009

What's in a Name?

I've always liked my name. I think it's pretty. My brother used to sing the Beatles's song, "Michele", to me, except that he would change the words to "Meee-shell, you smell" instead of the French words "Meee-shell, ma belle." Funny thing, though, my mom named me Michelle so she could call me Shelly. And my siblings called me Meech. Go figure.

While most people these days give their children a name they simply like, in ancient times a person's name had real meaning attached to it. Take Mary, for instance. The name Mary means "bitter." There were LOTS of girls named Mary during the Roman occupation of Israel. Obviously their parents were living with hardships and persecution, thus there was bitterness in their hearts and lives. Issac is another one that's fun. His name means "laughter" because he brought so much joy to his parents. Cool, huh?

In the Book of Daniel (chapters 1-3), we meet four young men who had everything, even their very names taken away from them. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were young men--boys, really--when they were kidnapped by the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar wanted them to leave behind all things Hebrew, including their names. He had them changed to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

Now, I don't know about you, but I've heard those last three names a gillion times in Sunday School and church. I think there was even a children's song about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and how they weren't burned up in the fiery furnace. It's really a great story if you've never read it. (Daniel 3:1-30) In a nutshell, the king wanted them to worship him and his idol, but they refused. Their punishment was to die in the fiery furnace, but God had other plans. Not only did He keep them from being burned alive, not one hair on their heads was singed. The king was so amazed that he reversed his former declaration and had everyone in his kingdom worhsip God. All because three Hebrew young men remained faithful. Wow!

But as I've studied about these three young men, I have to wonder if they'd be pleased that we refer to them by their Babylonian names. I mean, after all, the reason we know about them at all is because they refused to adapt to Babylonian customs. They wouldn't eat the king's rich foods or worship the enormous idol he'd made of himself. They were Hebrew boys through and through and would not do anything to betray the God of Heaven.

At first Daniel (who is believed to be the author) uses his three friends' Hebrew names when he's writing about their experiences in Babylon. But somewhere around the middle of chapter two he uses their Babylonian names. I don't really know why. Maybe because he'd heard them called those names for so long it became habit. Yet throughout the book he refers to himself as Daniel, his Hebrew name. There are a few mentions of "Belteshazzar", but mainly he's Daniel. Even the Man (who is believed to be Jesus) calls him "Daniel" (Ch. 10:4-21).

The names Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego roll off the tongue because we've heard these names so often. But I think I'm going to re-train my brain to call them by their rightful Hebrew names. It's who they were. They weren't men of Babylon who worshipped false gods. They were sons and heirs of the Most High God!

So, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah....I can't wait to meet you guys in heaven! Y'all are true heroes in my book!

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