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AM I DANIEL OR BELTESHAZZAR? [BEING BOTH-AND]

Against my will

I was a teenager when the hostile takeover occurred. The neighboring Babylonian king got greedy and besieged Jerusalem. The tranquility I had known my whole life was destroyed and distress reigned instead. Streets that once had been filled with generous laughter were now empty and the only noise was the terror that whispered in the shadows. 

Nebuchadnezzar’s armies pillaged the city, and just like they stole some of the vessels from God’s house, they also stole me and my friends from our families’ houses as well. We became plunder, treated like objects. We weren’t given a choice whether we wanted to move to a new country or learn the Chaldean language and literature. It was decided for us. All of the sudden, it seemed everything was decided for us. Where we lived. How we spent our time. Even what we ate.  We had to eat the food of King Nebuchadnezzar, the very one who upended our lives.

It was disorienting in every way. It was disorienting to be in a completely new place, leaving all that was familiar behind. It was disorienting to babble in a new language, like a toddler, starting all over again. It was disorienting to go from a position of respect as the son of a noble to a position of servanthood.  I had no power. No respect. No choice. I couldn’t even control what other people called me.

Do you know what it feels like to start over in a new place? To lose your position? respect? power? freedom to choose? What is your story of starting again?

What’s in a name?

One of the first things that happened when we arrived in Babylon was that we were assigned new names. My parents had given me the name Daniel, which means “God is judge.” Every time they called me by my name, they were proclaiming truth about who God is. God is judge. God discerns my thoughts and intentions. God would decide what is right and true. God would judge the actions of this greedy king Nebuchadnezzar. 

I was given the new name Belteshazzar, which means “Bel will protect his life.” And, just like that, my name no longer proclaimed the truth of the one, true God. Instead, it claimed a dependence on the Babylonian god of fertility. 

My friends’ names were changed too. Hananiah (“Yahweh has been gracious.”) was called Shadrach (“Inspired of Aku”), Mishael (“Who is what God is”)  was called Meshach (“Belonging to Aku”), and Azariah (“Yahweh has helped”) was called Abednego (“Servant of Nego”).

In a moment, the chief of eunuchs not only erased the mentions of Yahweh in our names, he also found a way for our lives to reference Babylonian gods. Still, we didn’t forget who we were.

What helps you remember who you are, when the world around you seems to want you to forget?

Daniel or and Belteshazzar

We continued to call each other by our Hebrew names when no one else was around. After a while, I almost felt like Daniel and Belteshazzar were two different people. Daniel was a sensitive, perceptive teenager with an easy life as nobility in Judah. Belteshazzar is a hypervigilant outsider, working hard to figure out how to adjust and survive in a foreign place.

The wise men of the kingdom and everyone I meet in Babylon know me as Belteshazzar. They know nothing of my old life and it would feel almost sacrilegious if my Hebrew name “Daniel” were to come out of their mouths. And, I feel sad as I realize that my parents know nothing of my new life here in Babylon. They have no idea who Belteshazzar is. In fact, when I imagine my mom and dad even trying to pronounce my new name, I can’t help but chuckle a little.

People who know me as Daniel don’t know all of my personality and story. Neither do people who know me as Belteshazzar. I guess somehow, I am both.

Do you go by more than one name? At times do your different names seems to represent different people, or different versions of you? How so? Would it feel strange to you if someone who knows you by one name calls you by your other name? If so, why?

[written by Josh Davis]

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