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. But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. Daniel 1:7–8
The Dark Passage
“You are Belteshazzar: ‘Lady, protect the life of the king.’ May the lady of our great god, Marduk, use you to guard the king and further his interests.” The official’s eyes gazed determinedly into mine, searching out a response without giving any insight into his own thoughts. The scribe’s stylus swiftly and silently worked upon its clay tablet as I passed through the door and turned into a narrow hallway that was already crowded with my peers. The way blocked for the time being, my mind turned to other things. The light of the former room shone into the first few feet of the passageway and illuminated the brick and mortar that constituted it, drawing my attention to a curiosity. The bricks were inscribed. The wedges, lines, and pockmarks of Babylonian script featured prominently on each surface, but providing only the self-same message on every brick. A few additional steps brought me into the midst of the passage, but the lamplight leapt about the opposing walls as if beckoning my eyes to look closer. As my fingers ran over the brickwork, my thoughts returned to the official I had just passed. His eyes were alive yet said nothing. Was that a choice he was making, or was there nothing left to show? Did he even know who he was?
Noise and nausea had gained upon me, but I shifted my weight and tried to be patient as my eyes sought out a clue as to what was coming. Though we were only halfway through the passage, it was now full of sensations flowing from the room ahead. Light, laughter, a great many other noises—and food! It was all starting to make sense now. My body began to return to some semblance of normalcy: I was hungry—terribly hungry—and unspeakably tired. Without warning, a man to my left vomited onto the floor, and I was struck by how sudden all of this was. This morning I had awoken as a prisoner and, in spite of my changed circumstances, that fact remained unchanged. We shifted forward again and my gaze fell on the tall, gilded image of a god that featured prominently on the opposing banquet wall.
What were my options? “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.” The line of young men gradually exited the dark passageway, ushering me into a feasting hall so full and ornate that it was difficult to think, let alone find my assigned place. Soft pillows had been marked out conspicuously with a silver rhyton. I removed the rhyton and sat in my place as the seventh of a ring of young men encircling a host of stews, sauces, and dips, steaming breads, fatty cheeses, seasoned vegetables, and sumptuous platters of meats unlike anything I had yet known. Three of the men were already deep into their meal and actively engrossed in conversation, their faces and tone proclaiming the good to be gained by good food. I could feel a tightening in my chest. My breaths were growing shallow and short. My eyes met the eyes of another man and still another, each of them deeply disturbed, frightened, and confused. No. “Lord, set my heart at ease and lead us into the good that You have planned.”
“My Lords?” The official had stationed himself beside us with a look of inquisitive concern. It was difficult to maintain eye contact, but I had to speak up: “I cannot eat this.”
Illustrations by Kitti Touzeau