They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

What’s in a Name?! Three Hebrew Children – Daniel 1:6-7 & Daniel 3

Aku

Aku

The Eastern mindset tells stories that paint a picture.

Nabu

Nabu

Nowhere is this more evident than the story in Daniel 3, of the three Hebrew captives that we Westerners know as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

To an Easterner names are extremely important, and often a picture of the story is in the names. A closer look at the names in this story will show us how far we have missed some of the meaning intended for the reader.

First of all, why do we know these three Hebrew children by their Babylonian names, only? Almost no one has their Hebrew names committed to memory. And what do their Babylonian names mean anyway?

  • Shadrach – “I’ll do whatever goddess Aku commands.”
  • Meshach – “There’s no one like goddess Aku”, or “who is like Aku?”
  • Abednego – “Nabu’s servant”

Aku and Nabu are Babylonian gods and these were the names given to these Hebrews by Nebuchadnezzar himself in attempt to get them to conform to and worship like he wanted. Even Nebuchadnezzar has Nabu in it and means Nabu, protect my son, or protect my boundary”

Now let’s look at their given Hebrew names, which is what we ought to call them by.

  • Hannaniah – “the Lord shows grace, YHWH is my strength, only the Lord will take care of me”
  • Mishael – “who is what God is? Who is like YHWH?
  • Azariah – “the Lord helps” – God’s servant

Now, the storyline is so much deeper. Will these three Hebrews live up to the name that their parents gave them or will they act and do what their pagan names suggest?

These men come through with flying colors and paint an awesome picture of the power of the God of the Jews. Verse 17 says, ” we don’t have to defend ourselves in this matter” (the Lord will help us-Azariah). “If we are to be thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand (only the Lord will take care of us-Hannaniah). (Who is what our God is?-Mishael), but if not we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

What’s in a name? A lot, evidently, as the story shows. No longer is this merely a children’s story with a nice ending, but a testimony to the power of God and the power of His Name. The three Hebrew children definitely lived up to their given names, and did not live up to their pagan names and triumphed over the evil foreigner.

The moral of the story is never read a Bible story without looking at the names.  The names will also tell a story and make a point to the listening reader.

Another point to make here for all of us,  do you go by your Christian name at school, or work, and your pagan name on the weekends?  Do you have two names, or are you true to your given name, the one that God gave you?

Eastern vs. Western Thinking; Story of a Frog

One of the best illustrations I have heard to describe the difference between these two ways of approaching things is the example of the frogs in the pond.

Frog Dissection

Frog Dissection

Every year, the biology department at the local school would go out to a nearby pond and capture a bunch of frogs. They would euthanize the frogs, then take pins and stretch them on a board.  The students would then dissect the frogs, learning about their stomachs, their heart, and how their muscular and digestive systems work.  They thoroughly studied these frogs and knew how their various parts worked.  This is certainly one way of studying the frog and how he lives.

Frog in a Lily Pond

Frog in a Lily Pond

Another way to study the frog is to leave him in his natural habitat and observe him in the pond.  You would never know anything about his heart and digestive system, but you would learn some other things.  You would know if that frog had a girlfriend or not, you would learn which lily pad he lived under and you would be able to see how far he could jump and how fast he could swim.  By studying his habitat and environment you would also learn a lot about the frog.  By leaving him in his natural setting, you would get to know him personally.

Now both ways are excellent ways to learn about frogs, but there is a huge difference in what you learned.  One is more head knowledge about the frogs, while the other is more of heart knowledge of the nature of the frog himself.

The conclusions we can draw from this are very interesting.  The parallels we can make are much like our search for God.  Often, we know a lot about God, but we don’t really know God.  We know he is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, but we don’t know him on a personal basis.  Our study of God is often relegated to facts about God; we have head knowledge but we don’t know him intimately.  We know his attributes, but not his heart.

Although the only way to learn about God is to read his words, I don’t want to know God in just a factual, legalistic way.  I want to experience him and know how he thinks and what he thinks of me.  I want to learn to love God because he is God and to learn to walk as Jesus walked.  I need to read his book in order to get to know him in a more personal way.  This will require persistence on my part, to get to know him over a period of time. I will need to wrestle with the word (hagah) like the lion does in Isaiah 31:4. Also,The Hebrew word Hatzupho means persistent faith, out of which the word chutzpah comes.  Give me chutzpah, as I attempt to learn to know you better.

Amen.

10 Commandments: Marriage Contract

Law is Love

Law is Love

What if the 10 Commandments were God’s way of saying “I love you, will you marry me”? What if we did not look at them as legalistic, a set of do’s and don’ts, but instead looked at them as God’s marriage contract with us?

If you look at the events leading up to the giving of the 10 Commandments, you realize that God wanted the Hebrews for His own. In Exodus 6 it says, He saved them, brought them out and redeemed them for His own. Then he led them through the desert and brought them to Mount Sinai. In a way the desert was the courtship period because that was where they got to know each other. When the Israelites got to Mt. Sinai, they were ready for the wedding vows and the wedding contract.

In many ways, the Bible views the Sinai events as a wedding vow. What some would call legalism, God called love. We have always looked at them as a list of do’s and don’ts, but what if we changed our thoughts to “God loved us so much that he wanted to marry us and live with us and here is what each of us promises to do for the other as our marriage contract.” God says in Exodus 19:5. If you will, then I will. Reread them like this – God says “I love you over all the other nations in the world. So please:

  1. Don’t have any other lovers, no statues, no pictures
  2. Don’t take my name in vain (our name). I’ve given you my name, so don’t bring shame to us and don’t misuse it.
  3. Find time to love me and get to know me for who I really am.
  4. Get along with the rest of our family, don’t treat each other badly.

We’ve turned the Commandments into legalism. When it’s really a way to show God you love him. You show your love by telling him and doing things for him, just like you would your spouse. You want to make your spouse happy, right? Not having the Commandments would be like having a wedding without vows.

We have the privilege of being married to Almighty God, because we have been grafted into God’s olive tree.

Wedding Ring

Wedding Ring

If you reread the Mount Sinai events and think of how much God must have loved us and all the things he did for us to bring us to His own, it should motivate us to want to please him. Can you remember back to your wedding and how beautiful your bride was and how happy you were and how much you wanted to please them? We need to reclaim that love affair, that feeling with God. We please him by obeying him. Jesus said, if you love me, you will keep my commandments.

God loves us like a bride! He called us “segullah” – His treasured possession. Marriage partners during this time in history would each give the other a treasured possession to keep as a symbol of the wedding. This is the word God uses – “segullah” – to describe us – we are His treasured possession.

We are the bride of Almighty God and His son, Messiah Jesus. They have done so much for me; I cannot help but want to do my part also, to love and obey. The people said, “Everything you have said we will do!” Jesus said, the most important commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and might (Matthew 22:34 – 40). This is how we say “I do” – by being obedient. Could we do any less? Tell the Lord, I Do!, I Do!, I Do!

Sacred Places vs. Sacred Moments

In the pagan world of Bible times, sacred places were very important. If a pagan god did something at a particular place, worshippers would often construct an altar or temple on the location.

When God created everything, He did not create any sacred places (although He did set aside a sacred day, the Sabbath). God had sacred moments such as the burning bush, the experience on Mt. Sinai, and the Red Sea, but after each event took place they went back to being a bush, a mountain, and a sea.

In the centuries following Jesus’ ascension, Westerners have displayed a penchant for sacred objects and places. Beginning with the desire for Christian pilgrimage to the “Holy Land” during the Constantinian era, shrines, relics, and monuments dedicated both to Biblical stories and Christian martyrs became commonplace.

Peter's house at Capernaum

Church over Peter's house

In particular, Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, played a key role in the building of numerous churches and monuments on the location of Biblical events in Palestine – in addition to discovering Christ’s cross (and many other, similar relics).

Church built over Peter's house at Capernaum

Peter's house

Twelve hundred years after Constantine, Luther posted his “Ninety-Five Theses” in opposition (at least in part) to relics and the practices which stemmed from their veneration. Today, most Christians still refer to Palestine as the “Holy Land”, implying that the ground is sacred. Even in our present day churches, we tend to think of them as sacred places. God is more interested in sacred moments. I am interested in hearing what you think – how do we build sacred moments instead of sacred places?