Daniel’s Face-off


In his ground-breaking and fascinating The Handwriting on the Wall, [1] James Jordan writes:

God intends to teach Nebuchadnezzar what true wisdom is, by giving him advisors who have genuine knowledge of good and evil, men who call evil “evil” and good “good” (Isaiah 5:20–21). In Daniel 2-5, we shall repeatedly see the false wisdom of the Chaldeans fail, and the true wisdom of God’s people triumph.

Meanwhile, it will be necessary for the young men to be discerning. Some of the knowledge of the Chaldeans is sound; doubtless they know a great deal about many matters. But the Godly have to sift through this knowledge. And, more importantly, the Godly must maintain their position in the true kingdom of God, and not be “eaten” into the false kingdom of man. As we shall see, the young men retain their position in God’s kingdom by refusing to eat the food of Nebuchadnezzar’s table. That food is the “forbidden food” as far as they are concerned. By refusing it, they put themselves in a position to acquire true knowledge and wisdom.

New Names

The young nobles brought to Babylon included Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. These men are said to have been “young men in whom there was no blemish, and good of appearance, and skillful in all wisdom, and knowers of knowledge, and understanding knowledge, and who were qualified to stand in the palace of the king.” For this evaluation to have been possible, the men must have been at least teenagers, and probably close to 20 (compare Numbers 1:3). Notice that Daniel was still living and active in the 3rd year of Cyrus, which is 71 years after the 1st year of Nebuchadnezzar, so he could not have been much older than 20, and probably was about 18. The meanings of their Hebrew names are:

Dani-El: God has judged
Hanan-Yah: Yahweh is gracious
Misha-El: Who is what God is?
Azar-Yah: Yahweh has helped

Note that two names incorporate El, God, and two incorporate Yah, Yahweh. The stage is set for battle, a battle of the gods, since the Babylonians give these men new names that incorporate the names of their gods.

The four men were given new Babylonian names, respectively Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In part this was also a sign of the apparent victory of Babylon’s gods over Yahweh and His servants. The meanings of these four Babylonian names are not known for certain.

Belteshazzar, the name given Daniel, seems to mean “Protect His Life.” Perhaps the Babylonians understood “God Is My Judge” to mean “God Is My Protector,” and gave him an equivalent Babylonian name. The name proves prophetic, because Daniel will live to be about 90 years old. In 4:8, however, Nebuchadnezzar says that “Belteshazzar” comes from the name of his god, which would be Bel (=Baal), another name in Babylon for Marduk, the chief god.

Shadrach, the name given Hananiah, seems to mean “Command of Aku,” the moon god. If so, perhaps the Babylonians understood “Yahweh Is Gracious” to mean “Yahweh Is Commander.” Also, if they intended to associate Yahweh with Aku, then they were saying that Yahweh is an inferior god (the moon) compared with the sun gods of Babylon.

Meshach, the name given Mishael, seems to mean “Who Is What Aku Is?,” a direct translation/change of his original Hebrew name.

Finally, Abed-nego, the name given Azariah, means “Servant of Nego.” There is no god Nego. The god, prominent at the time, is named Nebo or Nabu, son of and virtual co-ruler with Marduk. The name “Nebu” also occurs in the Nebuchadnezzar, which means “Nabu, Protect My Seed.”32 It seems that the author has changed the name as he wrote this text, in order to pervert its meaning. Perhaps the young men, in private, used this corrupted name. Since a god helps his servants, perhaps the Babylonians intended “Servant of Nebo” to be a good replacement for “Yahweh Has Helped.”

The change of names raises the question of who these men are. Are they servants of El, of Yah, or are they going to become servants of Bel, Aku, and Nabu? To which God will they be related? Whose house and culture will they serve? The conflict and victory in Daniel 1 settles these questions.

Giving a new name is also an aspect of adoption. Nebuchadnezzar is in some sense adopting these men as his sons, in a larger sense. Note that earlier Pharaoh had given a new Egyptian name to Joseph: Zaphenath-Paneah (Genesis 41:45). And later on, we see that the men do not reject the use of these names, for they are in some large sense sons and servants of Nebuchadnezzar—but only as they are sons and servants of The God first and foremost. In Daniel 5, we shall see a contrast between two “sons” of Nebuchadnezzar: the wicked Bel-shazzar and the godly Bel-te-shazzar.” [2]

If the “te” in Belteshazzar was a deliberate corruption by the author, in Daniel 5 we have a face-off between the true Belshazzar and the false one, the one attempting to manipulate the gods, and the other achieving the supernatural through obedience to the ethics of the Covenant. [3]

This chapter is the fifth “seal” in the opening of Jeremiah’s “new Covenant.” It concerns a prophet giving his advice — a cup of Sanctions — to a king. The Lampstand has “enlightened” Belshazzar to a degree, the same degree to which Nebuchadnezzar’s dream enlightened him: Something big is afoot and I need prophetic help.

The difference with Belshazzar was that his city was surrounded by Persian armies. He was invoking the gods kept “prisoner” in his treasury. Only one of the invoked gods could speak, and His judgment was righteous. [4]

[1] Peter Leithart relies on this book extensively for background in the introductory chapters of The Four: A Survey of the Gospels.
[2] James B. Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall, pp. 137-139.
[3] See Ethics or Magic.
[4] See also The Finger of God.

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