Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah

Fiery FurnanceHananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? If you are like most casual readers of the Bible, you are probably not that familiar with those names. Although the names may seem unfamiliar, most Bible readers are quite familiar with the men the names belong to! Hananiah was the name given by his parents, but we know him by the name the Babylonians gave him: Shadrach. Mishael was his Hebrew name, but we know him better as Meshach. We don’t recognize him as Azariah, but we do know him as Abednego! Of course collectively, we know this popular trio from the book of Daniel as the anti-dancing group: “Three Hebrew Boys in the Fiery Furnace!”

In ancient society, one of the things a conquering power would do to the people they conquered was change their names. This had a demoralizing effect because by changing their names, they robbed them of their history, heritage, culture and identity. They stripped them of who they really were! This is what the ancient Babylonians attempted to do to the Hebrews who were taken away in the Babylonian Captivity. The name: Hananiah meant “God has favored” or “God has been gracious.” His name was changed to the Babylonian name: Shadrach, which meant, “royal” or “the great scribe.” Mishael, which meant, “who is what God is,” was renamed Meshach, which meant “guest of a king.” Azariah, which meant, “Jehovah has helped” was called Abednego, meaning “servant of Nebo.”

These three Hebrew young men were given Babylonian names in an attempt to negate their Hebrew culture and identity. I say it was an attempt, but in a sense, the Babylonians were quite successful because even after thousands of years, we still don’t know them by their Hebrews names! We know them as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego! My question is this: “Are we not doing to them today the very same thing the Babylonians tried to do to them then?” I mean, when was the last time you heard a sermon or a Bible lesson about Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? Chances are, you haven’t! But most likely you have heard countless sermons and Bible lessons about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!

And I know you’ve heard the story of “Belteshazzar in the Lion’s Den,” haven’t you? Perhaps not, but you have heard the story of “Daniel in the Lion’s Den!” Hmmm. I wonder why it has been easier for us to remember the Hebrew name: “Daniel” and forget the Babylonian name: “Belteshazzar,” while at the same time forget the Hebrew names: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and remember the Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? Hmmm?

Rest in Peace?

TombstoneAccording to Wikipedia, “Rest in peace” is a short epithet or idiomatic expression wishing eternal rest and peace for someone who has died. The phrase “dormit in pace” (English: “he sleeps in peace”) was found in the catacombs of the early Christians and indicated that “they died in the peace of the Church, that is, united in Christ. The expression typically appears on headstones, often abbreviated as “RIP” or “R.I.P.”.

Notice in its origin, the phrase was associated with the church and extended to those who had died “in the peace of the Church, that is, united with Christ.” But today, the expression is commonly extended to anyone who dies. My question is this: “How can someone who did not live in peace, die and rest in peace?” My mother used to always tell us when we were young: “You can’t live crooked and die straight!” In other words, she was telling us that the way we lived our lives would have a direct bearing on our eternal state after death! I don’t mean to be splitting hairs or making much ado about nothing, but I think we have gotten to a point where, in many cases, we are just saying things just to be saying something!

I read a recent Facebook posting by a young man dedicated to a friend who was a gang-banger and was killed in a gang-related shooting. In this post, I read the traditional wish for the deceased to RIP (rest in peace). But the thing that really caught my attention was a picture of the deceased gang-banger in the heavenly clouds wearing angel wings! It’s amazing to me that we have a tendency to “demonize” people while they live and “angelize” them when they die! We tell lies “on them” while they are living and tell lies “for them” when they are dead! Now, I know that no matter what type of life a person lived, we would like to think that they are in “a better place” when they die. But, according to the Bible, that is not always the case. If we are to believe Jesus and the biblical record then we must concede that “all dogs don’t go to Heaven!” No matter how we may wish that all will rest in peace, the truth of the matter is that all will not! Jesus said in the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus in the Gospel of Luke that Lazarus was resting in the bosom of Abraham, but of the rich man he said: “And in hell he lifted up his eyes!” Two different fates for two different lives lived.

The best way for the wish for a person to rest in peace when they die to be fulfilled is to introduce them to the Prince of Peace while they yet live! The Bible says that the Lord will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is stayed on Him. It also says that there is no peace for the wicked! How can it be assure that the wish: RIP is fulfilled? Well, the best way is to make sure you rest in peace is to live in peace! There can be no RIP later unless we LIP (Live in <the Peace that God provides> now! How can we live in that peace? We can live in that peace by being reconciled to God through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary’s Cross. We can’t have the peace of God until we have peace with God! When we have that peace, we can have peace in the midst of the storms while we live and can be assured that we will rest in peace when we die!

Morality Without God

moral compassThere is an interesting phenomenon occurring in our culture today. People want to dismiss the notion of a supreme authoritative God from the moral landscape yet they insist on still using moralistic terms such as “right” and “wrong.” But how can there be right and wrong when there is no ultimate moral authority? Who decides what is right and what is wrong? Is the question decided by a majority vote or common consensus? The problem with such a notion is that what is deemed as “right” is constantly changing according to the current majority and the will of the majority is too often subject to influence of a vocal minority.

Most people are familiar with the first part of the KJV’s rendition of Proverbs 29:18 which says: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” However, that is not the complete thought of the verse. The latter part of the verse says: “But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Since this is Hebrew poetry, and the main device of Hebrew poetry is parallelism, the first and second sections are usually similar or they are in direct contrast to one another. The second part of the verse starts with a contrasting “but” which let us know that this is a case of contrast. The second part of the verse is a direct contrast or completely opposite of the first part of the verse.

Now this presents us with a problem because of the KJV’s translation of the Hebrew word: “hazon” to the English word: “vision.” In modern English, we normally associate the word “vision” with sight or the setting of goals. But is that the meaning of the word in this verse? Was that the original meaning the author wanted to convey when this text was first written? In view of the contrast in the latter part of the verse, I don’t think it was.

One other possible translation of the Hebrew word, “hazon” is; “word of revelation.” What is “word of revelation?” It is the law or the word of God! Now, while “vision” as we commonly use it is a valid application, I don’t think it was the original author’s intent. I think the original author intended to make a contrast between people perishing who were without the law or the word of God and people blessed (happy) because they keep, that is obey, the law (word of God).

As we conclude, we must also note that the Hebrew word that is translated as “perish” actually means; “let free, make someone go out of control, allow to run wild.” Do you see that? This verse that we have traditionally used to encourage goal-setting and success, actually reveals the cause of the sad state of morality in America today! When people seek to have a righteous morality without a righteous God, the inevitable result is moral chaos! I think the New Living Translation is closer to the original truth the author wanted to convey: “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.”

The only solution to our social and moral dilemma today is that we turn back and submit to the Divine authority of God and acknowledge that the LORD, He is God! It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves!