Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Today is the second day in our 46th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Daniel 1-3; John 17; Psalm 88.

From time to time, you hear about some mother who is genuinely horrified because her child has run off and joined a cult.  The cult has taken her child and brainwashed him, disconnecting him from normal support systems, convincing him that lies are truth, even giving him a new identity.  We find these brainwashing techniques involved in the indoctrination of the four Hebrews in the book of Daniel.  In chapter 1 (ESV), we read:

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

Will You Trust God in the Furnace of Affliction?
More than four youths were carried off to Babylon, so we shouldn't read the first five verses as applying only to the four teenagers who will become our heroes.  They were not random youths, but were chosen because they were "prize catches."  If the Babylonian government could retrain them, they would be useful to their new king in the future.

Next, we see the four being trained in the language and literature of the Chaldeans.  Though they had learned their own sacred scriptures from childhood, they were to be forced to learn not only literature but mythology of this new people.  Religious indoctrination was the goal here, not simply an education in a new culture.

It wasn't enough to rip them from their families, isolating them from their support systems and forcing them to learn new "truths."  Their retraining had to be more fundamental, more core-level than that.  Even their diet was micro-managed, so that they could not eat the kosher foods that they were used to.  Instead, they were forced to abandon their dietary traditions and eat like Babylonians.  Since the Hebrew dietary laws weren't simply a cultural identity, but a religious conviction, you can see how important it was for the captors to undermine their Jewish dietary habits.

Then, they were renamed.  Hebrew names that honored the God of Israel were replaced with Babylonian names that honored pagan deities.  Names are more than just labels--they are identities.  The very identities of these Hebrew youths were threatened by the re-education plan of their captors.

This threat to identity may have even been carried to an unspeakable extreme.  2 Kings 20:16-18 (ESV) says:  

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your own sons, who shall be born to you, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

This is also echoed in Isaiah 39:7.  This doesn't necessarily mean that the four Hebrew youths were castrated--although it might.  In Babylon, many court servants were castrated, in order to make them more docile, so that they could be trusted around the princesses and queens, and so that the would not allow personal affections to interfere with their devotion to their court duties.  It is true that we have no record of any descendants of our four heroes, and this might substantiate the idea that they were emasculated.  On the other hand, castration was so common that "eunuch" was often used as a title for court servants, whether they had been physically altered or not.  It's an important thing to consider that our young Hebrews may have undergone this torment--and if they did, this would have been yet another step in the brainwashing process, stripping them of their sexual identity and their future.

Today, many Christian youth are experiencing the brainwashing techniques that our pagan culture has to offer.  School, sports, unbelieving friends, and secular entertainment rip teenagers away from godly support systems such as church and family. They suffer the religious indoctrination of those who would seek to refute their Christian upbringing.  Core-level truth is called into question.  Many of our youth have exchanged their Christian identity for a pagan one, even causing them to question or change their sexual orientation.  Truly, the very future of Christian youth is on the line.

I pray that Christian teenagers today may respond to these threats in the same way that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah did.  They respectfully resisted the world's influence, and even the king's commands, defending their religious convictions even to the point of death.  And God rewarded them for it.  God still preserves those who stand for His truth.  The world wants to brainwash people into rejecting their faith and exchanging it for a lie.  But God's truth leads us to maintain His righteousness, even under pressure.  I pray that we'll have more young people who will dare to be a Daniel.

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