“Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.”
– 1 Timothy 4:12
Throughout the Bible, there are countless stories of people who remained faithful to God in the midst of personal hardship. Although they were taunted with temptations of worldly recognition and comfort, they chose to listen to God’s call in their lives and step out in faith, sacrificing their own desires for His will. From Joseph, who was imprisoned under false accusations after refusing to commit adultery, to Esther, who was willing to die in order to save the lives of the Jews in Babylon, these individuals serve as a reminder that as followers of the Lord, we are called to not conform to this sinful world – and that God will provide for us when we seek His will. Today, we invite you to read their stories and the stories of other biblical heroes who were used mightily of God at a young age and discover where they are featured in the Basilica.
When Nebuchadnezzar ruled Israel, he called into his service young noblemen to be trained in the house of the king for three years. Among them was a group of Israelites, including Daniel, who would ultimately be sent to the lion’s den, and three men called Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Nebuchadnezzar ordered their names to be changed to assimilate them into Babylonian culture: “Daniel to Belteshazzar, Hananiah to Shadrach, Mishael to Meshach, and Azariah to Abednego” (Daniel 1:7).
In addition to residing in the palace, the apprentices were also given food and wine from the royal table. However, at the time, it was common for people to eat meat that contained traces of blood or food that had been presented to idols, making the food forbidden for a Jew to consume. Not wishing to defile himself by eating unclean food, Daniel pleaded with the king’s chief chamberlain to give him and his friends vegetables and water instead. Initially he denied Daniel’s request, fearing the men would become sickly and he would have to answer to the king for their decline in health. But Daniel did not lose heart. He went to the chamberlain’s steward and implored him: “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then see how we look in comparison with the other young men who eat from the royal table, and treat your servants according to what you see” (Daniel 1:12-13). The ten days passed, and the steward found that the young Israelites appeared stronger and healthier than the other men, so they were allowed to continue eating the food they requested.
Once their years of training had passed, the young men met with the king. Because of their faithfulness, God honored Daniel and his friends and granted them “knowledge and proficiency in all literature and wisdom, and to Daniel the understanding of all visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17). Upon interviewing them, the king found Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be “ten times better than any of the magicians and enchanters in his kingdom” (Daniel 1:20) and brought them fully into his service.
When Joseph was 17, his father gifted him with a special colorful tunic, which greatly aggravated his brothers. Joseph’s brothers’ hatred grew when he told them of dreams that he had which foretold his future rule over them. So, one day, they threw him in a cistern and then sold him as a slave to a band of Ishmaelites, meanwhile telling their father that a wild animal had killed him.
Once Joseph reached Egypt, he was sold to an official in Pharaoh’s house named Potiphar, who favored Joseph and put him in charge of everything he owned. However, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, and when he would not succumb to her requests, she accused him of attacking her. As a result, Joseph was put in prison.
While in jail, Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, and eventually when Pharaoh was troubled by mysterious dreams, he called Joseph before him. Joseph was able to interpret the dreams, which told of seven good years of harvest, followed by seven years of famine, and suggested that Pharaoh appoint someone to gather a supply to last through the years of famine. Pharaoh was impressed by Joseph and saw the Spirit of God in him, so he appointed Joseph as his second in command.
With Joseph at the helm, when the time of famine came, Egypt was prepared with food stores. But none of the other nations had prepared, and Joseph’s brothers were among the foreigners who flocked to the region to buy food. Though they did not recognize him at first, Joseph eventually revealed his identity to them, convinced them to bring Benjamin, the youngest brother, and their father Jacob back, and persuaded Pharaoh to allow them to settle in the land of Goshen.
The first time Miriam appears in the Bible is in Exodus 2. During this time, the Israelites were living as exiles in Egypt and a new pharaoh had recently risen to power. Fearful of the Israelites’ growing population, he instructed the Egyptians to throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. After this decree, a Levite man named Amram and his wife Jochebed had a son. Rather than risk the boy’s death, the couple hid him for as long as they could. But as he started to grow, it became too difficult. Though Miriam is not mentioned by name, Exodus 2:3-4 explains her role as Moses’ sister:
“But when she [Jochebed] could no longer hide him, she took a papyrus basket, daubed it with bitumen and pitch, and putting the child in it, placed it among the reeds on the bank of the Nile. His sister stationed herself at a distance to find out what would happen to him.”
After she witnessed Pharaoh’s daughter pull the child out of the river, Miriam offered her mother as a nursemaid – without revealing the fact that either of them were related to him. Through Miriam’s quick thinking, Jochebed was able to be involved in her son’s life while he grew up with the privileges of being the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Through the young Miriam, God preserved Moses and eventually raised him to be the leader of the Israelites in their flight from Egypt to the Promised Land.
After King Ahasuerus banished Queen Vashti for disobeying his drunken demands, he sent out a proclamation for all the beautiful unmarried women in the royal precinct of Susa to be brought to the palace so he could choose a wife. Among those was a young Jewish woman named Esther, who had been raised by her Uncle Mordecai. Out of all the women, she was selected as the king’s favorite and declared queen. As Mordecai had advised her, she told no one of her Jewish heritage.
One day, when Mordecai was walking outside the royal gates, he overheard two eunuchs plotting to assassinate the king. Mordecai told Esther of what he had heard, and she in turn, told the king. Thanks to Mordecai, he was able to stop the attempt and execute the conspirators.
Following the foiled assassination attempt, Haman, a chief advisor to the king, periodically went outside the palace gates and demanded that the king’s servants bow to him. But Mordecai refused to bow to Haman. This infuriated Haman, and after he discovered Mordecai was a Jew, he conceived a plot to exterminate the Jews. Haman convinced the King that the Jewish people were a threat to his kingdom, and in response, he issued a decree designating a day for their destruction.
When Mordecai heard of this, he asked Esther to plead with the king on their behalf. However, Esther reminded Mordecai that whoever went to the king uninvited would face the penalty of death unless he extended his golden scepter. Mordecai urged Esther to visit the king anyway, and after three days of fasting, she agreed to do so. When she went to the king, he extended his golden scepter to her, saying, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even if it is half of my kingdom, it shall be granted you” (Esther 5:3). Esther invited him to a banquet the following night, and he accepted. At that banquet, Esther invited him and Haman to a second banquet the next night. As Haman walked home, Mordecai once again refused to bow to him. Infuriated, Haman ordered the construction of a gallows 50 cubits high for Mordecai’s execution.
At the second banquet, Esther told the king of the plot against the Jews. Upon discovering Haman was responsible, the king was incensed and had him executed upon the gallows built for Mordecai. After Haman’s execution, the king made a decree that the Jews could defend themselves on the day of the attack, and the Jews triumphed over their enemies.