Hananiah, 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?