(This is the arabic symbol for “N” which the ISIS groups have used to mark Christians for execution. They use the mark “N” to identify with Jesus the “Nazarene.” I put this image on this blog in honor of those being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. If you are reading this blog, please take a moment to pray for persecuted believers in the Middle East).
Two Types of Oppression
“1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia[a] and put in the treasure house of his god.
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.[b] 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.” Daniel 1:1-7 NIV
As we start in the Book of Daniel, we are introduced to Daniel and his friends. They had been kidnapped from their homes in Jerusalem, forcefully removed from their families and are taken to the land of Babylon which was foreign to them. The text tells us that they were from royal families and nobility. They were handsome, had great potential, were quick learners, and very gifted in all they did.
When the Babylonians conquered the land, their custom was to take the best of the youths to Babylon to train them in the king’s court. The youths they took captive were typically 15-16 years of age.
Over the centuries, there have been countless types of oppression that came upon God’s people. At the beginning of Daniel, we can see the Babylonians carrying out two types of oppression – both strategies by the way, are still used by the enemy to hold down God’s young people today!
1 – Forced Conversion – This type of oppression demands that the minority group give up their faith or lose their lives. This is the violent and forceful persecution or oppression. They are forced to comply with the cultural norm or they are face punishment like imprisonment, torture, or potentially death.
This type of persecution is real and alive today it is not the norm for modern American believers. This type of persecution can be seen by violent Islamic militants like ISIS or the Taliban in the middle east, or by imprisonment of believers in China.
We see from Daniel 1:1-2 that Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem by force and took Daniel and his friends into captivity.
A sad part of Daniel’s story is that youth sometimes has to suffer for the sin of their parents. The Jews refused to repent and return to God, and obey when prophets like Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, and others warned them of the impending arrival of the Babylonian army.
2 – Cultural Assimilation – This type of oppression demands that the minority group become like the rest of those who are in the cultural norm. It involves establishing the dominant group’s culture as the norm, and requires that those who don’t fit the norm, be assimilated into the culture. Those who don’t assimilate to the norms of the culture are seen as deviant, inferior, or both, and treated likewise.
In verses 3-7, we see the Babylonians taking the best young people from Jerusalem to re-educate them and make them into good Babylonians. The Babylonians knew that the most effective way to rule the Jewish people was by influencing the next generation of leaders to forfeit their Jewish heritage and be assimilated into Babylonian culture. Daniel and his friends were faced with:
- • A new home – Verses 1-2 – They no longer had their families, godly parents or teachers. Some young believers stray when they lose the influence of their godly parents and teachers. Not Daniel and his friends. They remained faithful.
- • A new education – Verses 3-4 – The four friends had to learn the wisdom of Babylon over their Jewish roots. Often when young people have to study things that do not agree with God’s Word, they abandon their faith. Not Daniel and his friends. They remained faithful.
- • A new diet – Verse 5 – For a substantial amount of time, the youths were supposed to eat of the king’s diet which was contrary to the Jewish dietary laws. Daniel and his friends chose to remain faithful to the laws of God.
- • A new name – Verse 6-7 – The Babylonians not only moved the young people, they literally changed their names! Hebrew names had specific meanings back then so it’s important to see what their names were and what they were changed to. Daniel whose name meant “God is my judge”, was changed to Belteshazzar which meant “Bel protect his life”. Bel was the name of a Babylonian god. Hananiah meant “Jehovah is gracious” became Shadrach which meant “the command of the moon god”. Mishael meant “Who is like God?” became Meshach, “who is like Aku,” one of the heathen gods. Azariah whose name meant “Jehovah is my helper”, became Abed-nego which meant “the servant of Nego,” another heathen god. I’m not so sure that when we get to Heaven and run into these guys that they would want to be called Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego. I think they would prefer to be called Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
The Babylonians hoped that these new names would help the youths forget their heritage and their God. They hoped the result would be the youths gradually becoming more like the heathen people with whom they were living and studying. The hopes of Nebuchadnezzar was to change who God’s people were, by changing what God’s people thought.
Christians today face the same challenge. The Devil knows that the most effective way to dominate the church is to influence the next generation of leaders to be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:1-2). Sadly too many Christians give in to cultural assimilation and settle for living like the rest of the world, losing the power of God in their lives, their testimony, and their joy.
In the midst of this talk of persecution and oppression, it is worth coming back to recognize an important truth in verse 2.
“And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia[a] and put in the treasure house of his god.” Daniel 1:2 NIV (emphasis mine)
Although Nebuchadnezzar may have thought he was in control, Daniel 1:2 reminds us it was NOT Nebuchadnezzar that delivered Judah into the hands of the Babylonian king. It was the Lord who delivered His people! God was still at work. He still had His hand on His people. In fact, in Daniel’s story, this was just the beginning! This is only chapter 1 verse 2!
In the story of our lives, I wonder how many of us might be living in chapter 1 verse 2. While things seem difficult, I wonder if it is still the beginning of the story. I wonder if you are in chapter 1 verse 2 of your story!
Nebuchadnezzar thought he was in control and perhaps even God’s people thought Nebuchadnezzar was in control, but the truth is God was still in control. It was only chapter 1 verse 2, of Daniel’s story!
This is an encouraging word because it answers questions about God when we are under persecution.
When we wonder if God is still in control, we can rest assured. He is.
When we wonder if God still cares, we can rest assured. He does.
When we wonder if God sees us in our oppression, we can rest assured. He does.
When we wonder if God is still good when we have to stand up against forced conversion or cultural assimilation, we can rest assured. He is there. He is good. He is still at work.
Heavenly Father thank You for opening my eyes to the type of oppression and persecution the enemy still uses on believers today. Thank You that You are still good. You are still there. You are still God. In the name of the Jesus Christ, amen.