Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. Daniel 1:3–7
“NOW!” I awoke with a start. My side burned as I struggled to regain my breath and my bearings all at once. A menacing silhouette towered over me barking harsh, impatient threats against a backdrop of cruel laughter. “Lift him!” came another voice, and I was suddenly on my feet. The line jerked forward and the world began to move again. It was making sense now—the cadence of the jostling chains, the constant smell of dirt and filth, and the incessant stinging of my swollen eyes. And then there was the dust. Always dust—hours and hours of pain and dust.
Everything was gone, buried by dust and trampled under by the deafening tide of marching feet and jostling chains. There had once been questions, numberless questions: What was happening? What would become of my parents and my sisters? Why had we marched a full day south only to suddenly turn around and march north instead? And what had happened to the man who had been in front of me? Four days of marching had overcome every inquiry and left only the dullness of exhaustion in its wake. Even the sun seemed harsh; the glare of the morning sun demanded my eyes to think only of my swollen feet. But then it happened, and even now, after many years, I believe that it could only have been God’s doing. For though my feet somehow kept marching, my mind began to muse. Gazing upon my feet I recalled those same feet upon the temple steps, sheltered under the shade of my father. His voice seemed to speak right into my soul:
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forevermore.”
But how could any of that be true? My father, the temple—indeed, all Israel—was behind me, impotent and vanishing into nothing. Didn’t the little I had testify against the psalm? My feet were constantly moving in spite of my desperate need for rest, and the stench and sun spoke against any promise of His sheltering care. Yet in spite of all this, the musing pressed on, speaking into me with a silent, gentle resolution. Somehow my father had persisted and had continued to worship the Lord. Somehow, in spite of what he had faced—the accusations and abuse, the resolute evil, the open idolatry even at the temple—yet he had stood there worshiping at those steps.
It was time to respond. In spite of the pain, the exhaustion, and the fear I would respond. With a resolution beyond my own I raised my head, looked up, and whispered: “Here I am.” All at the once the line had stopped. I lifted my shoulders up and took in a deep breath before looking around. The day was passed! How was the sun now behind me sinking below the hills?
Illustration by Kitti Touzeau