Today the news is full of stories of people who have said no, whether it is a Christian baker refusing to make a cake with a political message; a printer refusing to print something that is against their moral conscience; ministers refusing to provide a ceremony; politicians refusing to endorse a candidate. The list goes on and on: These moments are not people saying “no” for the sake of no, it is people taking a stand and refusing to cross a line. People are refusing to compromise.
I wonder have you ever come to such a line? Where something has been asked of you: it may not be criminal, but it is against your belief? We have all faced situations in that past, and we will all face situations in the future, that cause us to stop and think: ‘is this something I am comfortable with as a follower in Christ.’ They have nothing on today’s passage which puts us in the shoes of three young men who face one such request, a call to compromise who they are in Yahweh, or face death.
Three young Jewish men; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who had been taken from their home as children to a foreign city with a culture that was the opposite of everything they had known morally, religiously and societally. Like Daniel they had every right to feel like God had Abandoned them and yet, they never lost faith as they adjusted to their new reality and sought to glorify God in their work as they climbed the ranks of Government.
They lived out the mandate to seek the welfare of the city for the Glory of God; They were committed without compromising; had courage in the face of all adversity. They embodied the courage of “to Live is Christ, to die is gain. “
In this passage we see Two things:
1. What it means to live like Christ in a culture which is not out own.
2. That we can have the same confidence as Shadrach Meshach and Abednego: because God through Christ is over all things and with us in all things.
1-7 – A King thinks he is God.
Briefly, before we jump into chapter three it is essential for us to recall what happened in the last chapter: In Chapter two King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream about a giant statue that tells him he is going to have an authoritative rule, but that he is not God, his kingdom will be great but will soon fade into the ethereal fog of the past. God declares through this dream that all earthly kingdoms will be temporary. Only the Kingdom of Heaven will Last. In response, The king is overawed by Daniels ability to interpret the dream and in response gives praise to God. Now, at the beginning of chapter three, we see the shallowness of that praise our Pagan King offered as he seeks to immortalise his power and image in a Statue akin in size and grandeur to the one he had dreamed about. The King who sang the praises of the Lordship of Yahweh to Daniel now seeks the praise and worship of his people.
The first verse gives us a sense of the size of the statue (27 meters high and 2.7 meters wide), then we see all leaders of the nation, both civil and spiritual gather around the statue to hear the decree of the king. All the leaders represent to us all the people of this city and empire:
People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! 5 When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments,[c] bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. (4-5 NLT)
This was a command that was for all people, regardless of their faith or ethnicity, when they heard the chorus of the royal orchestra they were to fall and worship the king as if he was their God: Else, else they would face the king’s fire of judgement.
So this section of the passage finishes with the image of the royal orchestra playing aloud and the people responding as their king had commanded. All the people of every tribe, tongue and nation bowed down and worshipped. Not all people. Our main characters are yet to enter the narrative, our three friends are nowhere to be seen, but soon to be made known to the king and us.
This is a matter of first importance for these three friends, be in no doubt they would have immediately known that this is a ten commandment issue, especially one and two:
1. “You shall have no other Gods before me.”
2. “You shall make any images of me to worship”
This was not a blurred line; this was a thick red line that no faithful Jew could cross. To do so would be one of the gravest sins, you could commit. They were being asked to treat a king like God and worship him like no other.
It is a picture similar to Genesis Chapter 11: the Tower of Babel. A moment in history when humanity tired to unite against God when we wanted to be our own God. King Nebuchadnezzar, wished to unite his kingdom in a time of public-civil worship to him. This request was a moment of nation, political and religious unification and significance. The Statue was placed in a geographically-strategic place in Babylon. A place where all could see it. A giant Idol that confronted these young men with a choice: Security in God or Worldly success?
It is the same choice that every idol of this world offers us and asks of us. It may not be as obvious – but ever false idol in this world: Success, Power, material security, relationships asks us to make a choice: an identity secure in God or an Identity diluted in the false promises of our ‘golden’ idols. It is Syncretism
8-12: Watch Your Back
The next section of the passage marks a sudden shift in the tone of the narrative. At the exact time, the people bow down to worship the Golden Statue some astrologers, seised their opportunity – Like a lion waiting in the long grass to strike – to point the finger at those who they were jealous of, three men who happened to be devout Jews. So, they come before King Nebuchadnezzar and remind him of what he had decreed to all of his citizens: That all who hear the royal orchestra must bow down and worship, and the consequences for those who did not.
They then pointed out that some of his boys, men he had put over his affairs were disobeying him: “they will not bow the knee and worship your statue oh king”. The Irony is that the accusers were only able to do so because of the prayers of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They owed their life to them, and not they sought to take theirs.
For us today this section speaks one truth as followers of Jesus, as worshippers of Yahweh: to honour and obey God will not always be the favourite/easy option. At times to choose God; privately or publicly, above the things of the World will cause us difficulty with family and friends, perhaps even causing for us trouble in work or with governmental authorities. It is not something we are familiar with, yet it is a constant reality for millions in the body of Christ: they chose Jesus knowing that it may cost them their family, friends, job, even their life. Because, when you grasp the fullness of the Gospel, the freeing news of the cross, then you know there is no choice to be made.
For Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, the time had come for all to bow down and worship the Golden Image of a King, an act of submission that an empire joined in doing. In faith three remained standing: knowing what it would cost them. There was no grand spectacle of disobedience, no riot or protest over an assault of their human rights; just a simple act of civil dissent of men who would rather Stand firm for God than bow before an idol. A reminder to us that as a follower in Christ we are to model him in all areas, even in our dissent we seek to bring Glory to God, living out the Petrine command:
“But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that when you are accused, those who disparage your good conduct in Christ will be put to shame.For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
1 Peter 3:15-17 CSB
13-15: Worship Your God and Me (Syncretism)
The King reacts as we would expect from someone who builds a giant gold statue of himself: with furious rage. Like a spoilt child demanding his toys. He summons Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego whom he has appointed within his government. Three Jewish men who had avoided going with the crowds to save their skin, now are stood before the king who seeks to understand their motive and to offers them an Olive Branch. Maybe, the king was aware of the underhandedness of this whole mess? So in verse 15, we see a moment of shallow mercy: Just do as I asked, respond with some ‘praise’ like everyone else and it will all be ‘perfect.’
The king whispers: “Don’t worry, I am not asking that much of you; just do this one thing I ask of you, and then everything will be okay, just get into the stream and go with the flow, pretend as you mean it. Combine your faith with mine and worship” In doing so, King Nebuchadnezzar asks them the simplest, and yet, most challenging of questions:
Is this God worth your life?
For us today, it is as if we are in a situation, facing death for declaring the Lordship of Christ and the authority pleads with us: “is dying for this Christ gain, Is Jesus really who he says he is? Even if it’s not a choice between life and death, every false idol of this world whispers the same lie, challenges us to think: is Jesus worth it? Whispering, “Go on, indulge me, enjoy me, do it for yourself, it won’t affect your faith!” They whisper and tell us that we are not choosing them over God we are just doing what needs to be done: We can have both! Lies!
The reality is for us today, the idols are not giant golden statues in the middle of our hometown, beckoning all of us to look at them. They are no less ‘big’ regarding influence in our lives; they may not call for our worship through a royal orchestra playing at random times of the day. However, the music of their tune pulls sweetly on the cords of our hearts and rings in our minds as they call us to worship them just one more time with the promise that they are good for us and even good for our faith.
The challenge for us: When are we going to stop listening to the music of the world and start singing our own to God? Are we Nebuchadnezzar, singing our praise and wanting people to join in, declaring we are a god. Or, through the cross of Christ our we Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, willing to stand and give Glory to God through the power of the Holy Spirit when no one else will.
16-18: We Fear God, more than we Fear any King.
Imagine being one of these three, standing before the king facing the pressure to bow. I can safely say that if it were me, I would have dropped my knees before he had finished speaking and starting praising. Yet, amazingly we don’t just see a one-off moment of bravery, we know courage inconsistency through the response of these three friends as they confess before the most powerful political figure on the planet: “God is enough for us.”
They were confident in the stand they had taken, regardless of the outcome and no matter the pressure or persuasion they faced to take a different path they stood firm because they trusted in God: that he was in control; even when it was not apparent to them. Such was their trust that they were able to say: King we don’t need to offer you a defence for our actions, God is our defence.
Oh, that we as individuals, as the body of Jesus Christ would have the confidence to declare to the world: “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter!” Not in arrogance, but in humility; Neither fearfully, but with supernatural confidence only brought through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
19-30: Have Courage God Is With You No Matter What
Paul wrote those famous words: ‘To Live is Christ and to Die is gain.’ A reality that John Piper would describe as a win-win situation for Christian’s: if you live you get to live as Christ, if you die you gets to go and be with Christ. It was in similar vain Jim Elliot would utter the famous phrase:
‘He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep gaining that which he cannot lose.’
Many others have uttered words that inspire our faith and our action. Do you ever wonder what gives them the confidence and conviction to speak and then live to form that. For the likes of Jim Elliot, Brother Andrew, Brother Yun, Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, and so much more who have lived out live with the confidence of Christ, come to a moment and with the same confidence declared: “We do not need to give you a defence!” It is because in Christ and through the power of the spirit they have grasped the freeing truth of Romans 8:
‘And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow-not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below-indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, the saints who had gone before us where people who Knew God, and a people who were confident that they knew and Loved by God. Shadrach Meshach and Abednego Knew God because they knew and loved the word of God, From it, they know the character of God, the goodness of God and that he is sovereign over all things even when the opposite seems true. It was knowing the fullness of God and his love for them, that allowed them in the face of incredible pressure to stand firm and trust God in his action or inaction. For as soon as they had spoken those faithful words in verses 16-18:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve can save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
The fire of the king’s rage burned brighter than the furnace ever would against these three young Hebrew men. He could not grasp their stance and took their standing firm in God as an assault and challenge to his authority. He could not understand that for them ‘to live was Yahweh and to die was to go to Yahweh.’ Because this king had never lived for anyone but himself, so the idea of living for someone or something more significant, was not only stupid but incomprehensible.
In verse 20, furious with rage the king ordered the furnace to be heated more than average, then the king ordered some of his most excellent soldiers to tie these men up and throw them into the heat of the fire. The narrative now moves so quickly that we grasp the rashness of these actions. The fact that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were literally seised where they were standing in their full outfit (wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes). Moreover, how as they were thrown into a furnace that was out of control, that even before they where in it would claim not their life, but, the life of some of the kings most excellent soldiers. It a picture of contrasts also between the consistency of who God is (never changing) and the rashness of following the world leaders (one minute the king is offering a way out, the next he is causing the death of his men).
So verse 23 ends with these men, tied up and thrown from a hole on-top into the furnace below: Such was the heat of the fire, that their bodies should have incinerated almost immediately. So you can grasp the king’s surprise (Verse 24) as he springs to his feet in disbelief, disbelieving the truth his own eyes are telling him, as he shouts up to the soldiers still alive: ‘Where there not only three men thrown in?’ They reply ‘Yes, oh King’ and he replies: ‘Then why the flip can I see four men walking around in the fire and there does not seem to be anything wrong with them! The fire burns and they don’t!’
GOD IS IN THE FIRE WITH US
Who then is this fourth figure? King Nebuchadnezzar identifies him as an angel of the Lord; others today say it was a theophany (a manifestation of the presence of God) or a Christophany (a pre-incarnate physical appearance of Jesus Christ the second person of the Trinity) an appearance that would stand with the beautiful words of Isaiah 43:
but now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
The flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. (NLT)
It does not matter who, we can say with confidence that they were there with the authority of heaven. God chose not to save them from the fire. Instead, he decided to stand in there with them, take them through it, and then deliver them out of it. The king invites the three men out of the fire to see that no harm has been done to them because God was with them: not even a hair on their head, nor the clothes they wore had also felt the heat of the fire because they remained loyal to a more magnificent king.
Shadrach Meshach and Abednego stood firm and trusted in God regardless of the outcome, and he chose to rescue them. It was an event that leads King Nebuchadnezzar to another conviction moment. Like the last time, we are reminded that people can recognise the power of God without admitting to the Lordship of God. Conviction is not conversation. After all of this Nebuchadnezzar still had his golden statue that he would expect people to reverence. We rejoice because this passage is not about Nebuchadnezzar, it is about Yahweh the King of Heaven, who makes himself known to us through his son Jesus. The God who is with us in the fire.
Conclusion & Application
As we are drawn to an end at the close of this beautiful passage as always, it is essential to ground it in our everyday. To ask the question what does this passage teach us that challenges me now.
GOD IS SOVEREIGN AND IN CONTROL
The first obvious truth we are reminded of here is that God is able. The meta-narrative of this entire book of Daniel is one of a God who can deliver all those who trust him from the powers of evil. Whether (as in this case) the authorities are earthly and bent on crime, or in matters of eternity. This is supremely true for those who are in Christ, he who through the cross will deliver all his people from the ultimate powers of evil (Col. 2:15) and works out all things together for good even now, even when we think he is not (Romans 8:28)
KNOW YOUR LINES AND STICK TO THEM
Secondly, this passage gives us some practical example and advice about following Christ. Here are three people of faith, who are committed to serving God in the context where he has placed him; They live entirely in the world seeking the welfare of their city, and the betterment of society. But, they know what- is, and what is not: Simply put, they know the scriptures, and from that, they know when to say no; they know when not to compromise. When they must stand firm because of their faith.
Let us be like them, a people who by the power of the spirit, seek to live as Christ in the world, without giving ourselves over to the world. A people of the word, knowing the scriptures and trusting their wisdom, even when it goes against the wisdom of the world.
GOD NEEDS NO DEFENCE
It is one of the most influential moments in the book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar authority is challenged and dismissed by three young Jewish men: Even with the warning that if they do not heed his instruction, and recognise his power, he will take their life: “Who is the god who can rescue you from my power?” How would you respond? Not in the way these three did! Let’s hear their response one more time:
“We Don’t need to give you an answer to this question.”
How often today as culture swings this way and our Ethics, morality, our certainty in Christ all seem unwarranted. How often do we feel the need to justify our position, our belief with extravagant arguments and answers; because we are terrified of saying – “this is what God through the scriptures tells me.” It’s not that we should not be ready to give a defence of our hope, but sometimes the justification is simply a ‘because of Jesus.’ So let’s stand firm, and be confident in who Christ is, how he has called us to live and who we are in him.
TRUST GOD WITH THE IMPOSSIBLE
These are a people who trust God in an impossible situation, yet equally, their faith in God does not depend on his action in impossible situations. They know he can act, but they are okay with him not acting:
“If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the fire and from your power; but, even if he does not reduce us, we want you to know that we will not compromise” (16-17)
They knew that if God did not act to save them, that it was not a case of God not working or being unable to: he was merely operating differently. So whatever situation we find ourselves in and facing, we must trust that God is working in it, that he can act, but that his inaction is not a lack of power, or desire it merely a part of Gods sovereign plan that we cannot see.
GOD PROTECT THE WORLD DOES NOT
One of the final pictures I want to draw our mind to is that moment when the king ordered the preparation of the fire. It’s a sequence of events that shows us the rashness of the way of the world and its dangers: Its a picture of contrasts, where God would save in the fire, the king would cause the death fo those he was meant to protect. How often does the world tell us that it has our best interest and protection at heart? Like the Serpent to Eve it whispers: “Does God have your best at heart, trust me?” and here we see God protect where the world cannot – in the fire. It is a contrast that challenges us to remember that any short-term pleasure or gain the world offers will always end badly when compared to the great treasure of knowing God.
ONLY GOD IS ENOUGH
Finally, as we close our thinking around this passage, we are drawn to the simple truth that God is enough. For those of us under the New Covenant that means trusting that in Christ we have all that we need. Even as the world proclaims that she has something better to offer, and we can still have Jesus. It is a lie we so often believe; because we are not Shadrach, Meshach or Abednego in this story, they are the example that we aim for, but we are not them by default. We are King Nebuchadnezzar, trusting in our power and ability, that we can save ourselves, that we have something to offer the world. With Christ, when we grasp the beautiful and freeing truth of the Gospel – that we bring nothing, we are free, we know that where the world would throw us into the fire, and leave us – Jesus would walk with us through the fire. Where the world would take everything from us and leave us with nothing, Jesus gave up everything so that we could know the fullness of relationship with him. The reason Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego took their stand was simple! They knew that in Yahweh they had all that needed, that he was with them when they were made from their homes, he was with them and guiding them in work and, he would be with them no matter what was ahead. A truth he proved in the fire, a fact Christ demonstrated on the cross./