The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Meshach

The Book of Daniel has been one of my favorite biblical books for a while now, and I’ve always enjoyed the Book of Esther as well. A while back, I heard a lesson on Esther which got me to thinking about the striking similarities between the two: 

Faithful Living in a Hostile Environment

Many of the following similarities can be traced to the overriding similarity in the setting of both books. The Book of Daniel follows the lives of Daniel and his three friends as they live godly lives during a time of captivity in Babylon, working in conjunction with powerful kings (first Nebuchadnezzar, then Belshazzar, then Darius).

The Book of Esther focuses on the lives of Esther and Mordecai as they live in Susa under the reign of Ahasuerus/Xerxes.

Emphasis on the Physical Beauty of Young People

Daniel 1.3-6 mentions that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were chosen for the king’s service because they were, among other things, “without blemish, of good appearance.” They were taken aside and were to be given special training and a special diet to prepare them to assist the king.

Similarly, Esther was chosen as part of the harem of Ahasuerus based on her great beauty (Esther 2.3, 8) and was similarly treated with a special diet and also given cosmetic treatment (vv. 9-12).

The Changing of Names

Daniel 1.7 is clear that Daniel and his friends are given new names in Babylon (Daniel becomes Belteshazzar, Hananiah is called Shadrach, Mishael is now Meshach, and Azariah is called Abednego) which seems to be an attempt to change the identity and allegiances of the young men. Allusions to Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, were removed from their names and were replaced with references to false Babylonian gods.

The Book of Esther is not as explicit, but Esther 2.7 mentions that Mordecai was “bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther….” Hadassah is a Hebrew name, which indicates that her name must have been changed to Esther at some point while she was under Persian influence and authority.

Accusations Against God’s People

In both Daniel and Esther, we have the theme of wicked men bringing accusations against God’s people. In Daniel, political officials who are jealous of the level of authority that Daniel has achieved under Darius realize that the only way they can get him in trouble is to outlaw his devotion to Jehovah, and they then inform Darius that he has violated the law by continuing to pray to his God (Daniel 6.1-14).

In Esther 3, Haman’s rage over Mordecai’s refusal to bow before him leads him to propose a scheme to Ahasueras to eradicate the Hebrew people (Also, this incident could be compared to the refusal of Shadrach, Mishael, and Azariah to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image in Daniel 3).

God’s Ability to Save in Difficult Situations

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Mishael, and Azariah are confident that God has the ability to rescue them from the fiery furnace. Later, in Daniel 6, Daniel seems to be unfazed by his punishment of being thrown in the lion’s den.

When Mordecai learns of Haman’s plan to wipe out the Jewish people, he reflects a similar attitude, telling Esther that the Jews will be delivered one way or another (Esther 4.13-14).*

Stubborn, Determined Faith

One awesome theme of both books is the portrayal of determined, defiant faith from the characters. Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego, and Esther all realize the possibility of dying for their actions, but are determined to remain faithful regardless. Their declarations of stubborn faith in Daniel 3.16-18 and Esther 4.16 are among my favorite passages in Scripture.

Promotion of God’s People to Places of High Authority

A final related theme of both Daniel and Esther is the way that God leads his faithful followers to places of high authority in their respective foreign lands. Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego (Daniel 1.20, 2.46-49, 3.30, 5.29, 6.1-4, 6.25) all find favor in the sight of their superiors and are elevated to positions of high authority.

Similarly, Esther and Mordecai (Esther 2.1-18, 5.1-8, 6.10-11, 10.2-3) are appreciated by their superiors and granted power and authority as well.

Conclusion

These are just some of the similarities that struck me between the two books; I’m sure there are more that could be listed. As I mentioned above, I think a lot of the similarities stem from the overall similarity in setting, as we have the stories of people trying to be faithful to God in a surrounding culture which doesn’t always support that lifestyle. In that sense, I think the books of Daniel and Esther are incredibly relevant to Christians today as we strive to live as “sojourners and exiles” in our world (1 Peter 2.11).

*Much has been made of the fact that Esther is the only biblical book which does not explicitly mention God. While this is interesting, I don’t think it is particularly significant, as the idea of God providentially caring for His people is as central to the Book of Esther as it is to the Book of Daniel.

The image above comes from a series of Esther mosaics by Lilian Broca.

In case you missed Friday’s post, you should go back and read it first.

An Older Story

So now you’ve heard my story, but I have another story I want to tell you. It’s a much older story; it happened about 2,600 years ago. And if you’ve grown up going to church, you’re probably pretty familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego already. You’ll find it in your Bibles in the Book of Daniel, chapter 3.

To start with, you need to know that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were young Hebrew nobles who lived in the city of Jerusalem. These young men were faithful servants of God, but unfortunately, they lived in a time when most of the people around them were not faithful, and as a result, God allowed Jerusalem, His city, to be attacked and destroyed by the Babylonians.

When that happened, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and a lot of other Hebrews were taken off into captivity in Babylon.

And this would have been a really difficult time for these young men. They would have had a lot of questions going on in their minds, because when Babylon conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, it struck at the very heart of the identity of the Hebrew people.

You see, as a Hebrew, your identity was tied up in the fact that God had made a covenant with Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation. And throughout history, God had shown protection for His people time and time again. He had rescued them from Egypt, and helped them to conquer the land of Canaan, and defeat nations more powerful than they were; over and over again, God came and saved His people.

With God on their side, the Israelites felt confident that they would never be conquered, and this feeling was reinforced by the presence of the Temple, God’s house, being in Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem were especially confident that their city would never be overthrown, because surely God would never allow His Temple to be violated.

Now, certainly God had warned the Israelites that if they were unfaithful to Him they would be punished. And in the centuries leading up to the downfall of Jerusalem, the people were unfaithful—they didn’t obey God’s commandments and they worshipped other gods. But despite these warnings, the people couldn’t really bring themselves to believe that these bad things could happen to them (kind of like how we struggle to believe that we will suffer and go through hard times as Christians, even though the Bible tells us just the opposite!).

Regardless of their unbelief, that’s exactly what happened: the armies of Nebuchadnezzar came and conquered the city, and the best and brightest of the young Hebrew elite were dragged off to Babylon. And God stood by silently.

So this is the situation that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego find themselves in when they are taken into captivity to Babylon, and you can imagine some of the questions that must have been going through the minds of the Israelites at the time: why did God allow this to happen? Was He not powerful enough to stop it? Does He not care about us anymore?

These are important questions, and they’re not so different from the questions that run through our minds today when things get tough. Why did God allow might sweet Kinsley to have this horrible disease? Was He not powerful enough to prevent her from getting it? Does He not care about me, or about her, anymore?

In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon decides to have a giant statue of gold built—90 feet high. Furthermore, he makes a decree that whenever music is played, all the people are supposed to stop whatever they’re doing and fall down and worship this golden statue, and anyone who fails to do so will immediately be cast into the furnace of fire and burned alive.

But there’s a problem: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego worship the true and living God, and they’re not about to fall down and worship some statue! Some of the Babylonians go to Nebuchadnezzar and tell him that the three young men are refusing to worship the statue. This enrages Nebuchadnezzar and he calls to have them brought before him and he threatens them:

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

(Daniel 3.14-15)

 And I absolutely love the way the three friends respond to the king:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

(Daniel 3.16-18)

Did you hear what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego just said? A lot of times in this story I think we just pass over this without noticing it…we think that the three friends make an easy decision to refuse to worship the statue because they know that God is going to protect them.

But that’s not what these verse say. Listen again: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of the blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are confident that God can save them, and they’re hopeful that He will save them, but they don’t know that He will. And this is what makes their faith so impressive—they’re determined to be faithful to God even though they don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to them!

Remember, life in captivity in Babylon was an uncertain time for God’s people. God hadn’t protected them from Babylon; He had allowed them to be capture. And now, in these uncertain circumstances, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego find their lives threatened, and basically, they don’t care: “King Nebuchadnezzar, we serve God and Him alone, no matter what. No matter how bad things get. We’re not gonna bow down and worship your statue no matter what you do to us.”

Of course, we should mention briefly the rest of the story: as it turns out, God does protect Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and even though the furnace burns 7 times hotter than normal, they’re not burned up, and as a result of the whole incident, Nebuchadnezzar glorifies God and changes the law.

But just because the story has a happy ending, I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t know that everything would be okay. They still had to choose to be faithful to God despite uncertainty, despite the suffering.

Tough Faith

As a youth minister, I have a lot of teenagers who look up to me, but I actually look up to three teenagers, because the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego blows me away. They were slaves in a foreign land and their very lives were threatened, but when times got tough, so did their faith.

I think God wants us to develop a tough faith. A faith that, regardless of whatever obstacles or circumstances we face, is determined to trust in Him no matter what happens.

Look, I don’t know what your life is going to look like. I don’t know if you’ll ever have to literally risk your life in order to follow God. I don’t know if you’ll ever deal with the heartbreak of miscarriage or the daily struggle of having a child with a horrible disease. I don’t know if you’ll have to struggle with some horrible disease yourself, or if you’ll have to fight to save your marriage.

I’m pretty confident though that at some point, things are going to get really tough for you. And I don’t say that because they’ve gotten tough for me, but because the Bible promises that it will happen!

So the real question is, when times get tough for you, will your faith be tough enough to handle it?

We talked about Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego: their faith was tough enough. As it turned out, their story had a happy ending, but their faith was so tough that they were prepared for an unhappy ending.

Kinsley is now two and a half, and I wish I could tell you that there has been a happy ending and that everything is okay. And don’t get me wrong—Kinsley is awesome! She is a sweet, happy little girl. She is a huge blessing in our lives and she makes me so happy: I delight in her.

She has learned how to crawl and can even stand on her own sometimes. She understands some of the things we say to her. We’re confident that one day she’ll learn to walk and communicate via sign language and maybe, just maybe, she’ll learn to speak someday.

But she still has MEB, and she will continue to have it for the rest of her life unless there is a huge medical breakthrough or unless God miraculously heals her.

I pray for both of those things everyday, but even if they don’t happen, I will put my trust in God. He doesn’t ask me to understand why my sweet girl struggles with MEB; He just asks me to trust Him even though I don’t know how everything will turn out.

And He promises that even if everything is not okay here, even if everything doesn’t work out the way I want it to here, it will be okay Someday. Because Someday, Jesus will return, He’ll call His people home, and:

“He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…”

(Revelation 21.4)

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