In chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel, we are peering into the world of the Israelites when they were held captive by the Babylonian empire. Daniel is God’s prophetic mouthpiece to both the Jews and the Gentiles, and was handpicked by the Babylonian empire to serve in the government. Daniel finds favor in king Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes--the king of Babylon--by interpreting a dream he had that no one else was able to interpret, and was promoted to sit in the king’s court. It is with this influence that Daniel petitions the king to place the other three Jews belonging to the tribe of Judah (the tribe and lineage in which Christ was promised), which were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; over “the affairs of the province of Babylon” (Daniel 2:49). It is these three Jews that we will be focusing on in chapter 3.
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were Jews like Daniel was: they believed in Yahweh, the Living God. Earlier in chapter one, we see the “chief of the eunuchs” give new Babylonian names to Daniel and ‘the three’, being: Belteshazzar (Daniel), Shadrach (Hananiah), Meshach (Mishael), and Aded-Nego (Azariah) (Daniel 1:7). In staying true to the context of the Scripture in chapter 3, I will be addressing the three by their Babylonian names like the Bible does.
1) The way of the world does not bring true life
From the onset of chapter 3 in the Book of Daniel, we see king Nebuchadnezzar create a huge statue of gold, and post it up for all to see (Daniel 3:1-2). The king then required that everyone must bow before the statue and worship it:
“So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.
Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (Daniel 3:3-6).
The king makes his command very simple: obey and live, or disobey and die. In many ways, the world that we live in tells us this same lie; that what we need in life is this certain thing, or what we are looking for is that other thing, and that once we have obtained those things we will truly find peace and joy. However, there never seems to be an end to the offers provided by the world, and they never seem to truly satisfy the soul.
As Shadrach, Meshach, and Adeb-Nego witnessed first-hand, the way of the world is--in reality--slavery. One of the Ten Commandments God gives us is to worship nothing else but Him, yet king Nebuchadnezzar publicly made everyone worship an idol of gold. This is a clear depiction of people submitting to the world and choosing sin. And the tragic part of this reality is that people will worship whatever they are told, simply because of the fear of what might happen if they don’t. The idol of gold that king Nebuchadnezzar made can represent so many things; from culture, to politics, to religion.
We young adults of today’s society are easily susceptible to being deeply influenced by “the culture,” and what is believed to be commonly accepted as the norm and what is desirable. But just like being forced to worship an idol of gold, the life offered by the world is not true life. Like Nebuchadnezzar’s deal to spare anyone who worships the idol, the worship is not based on truth or what is good in the eyes of God, but rather, it is motivated out of fear for one’s own security. And from this fear of the world and what might happen to us if we stand out, comes a submission to things that we were never meant to become slaves to.
2) God's way is worth standing for
This submission to the world (and all of it’s temptations), however, does not have to be submitted to. This is what we see in Shadrach, Meshach, and Aded-Nego, who refused the king’s command to worship an idol. In response to king Nebuchadnezzar’s second threat to burn them alive if they did not worship the gold statue, we read:
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case [them being thrown into the furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18).
Despite the very real and present threat of shame (from the people who would look at them with disdain for not worshipping the idol/for choosing to worship God), cowardice (to simply walk the easy route and do what is asked of them; to do what is “comfortable” and “safe” by forsaking God), and death (literally dying in the fiery furnace), the three did not kneel before the king’s command or the idol of gold. Even if death were to be the outcome and the three were burned alive, they still would serve only Yahweh. The boldness that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego demonstrate is a lesson in itself for all of us who call ourselves Christians: we must stand for our faith.
It is one thing to be a new Christian who is walking sincerely with Christ, but feeling insecure about being bold and still growing in maturity (we will be growing in our faith until we die; there is no right way to approach speaking the gospel); it is another thing to have been walking for a long time and producing nothing, keeping Christ in your line of sight but not following Him closely. What is the point of a faith that does not stand for what it believes in when it matters, or does not obey the God it claims to serve? Is it really faith at all? James addresses this in his book in the Bible, where he says, “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20).
In the context of Daniel 3, the work that demonstrated Shadrach’s, Meshach’s, and Abed-Nego’s faith was in the act of standing before the idol of gold rather than bowing to it. In order to produce such a work--or, an act of faith--it required the three to believe in God and trust in Him; that He is who He says He is. Because, in reality, if we are not willing to stand for God, it actually comes out of a place that lacks an understanding of who He is. For the Living God is worthy of standing up for, and even being killed over. He is worthy of it all. And while I personally am not getting killed for my faith (which, I pray, you and I would stand in the time of trial if it comes), there are countless Christians in the world who are.
3) The fear of the Lord leads to freedom and eternal life
The boldness and conviction that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego exhibited--being willing to die for their faith--grew out of a fear of God, and not a fear of the world or of man. It is written clearly, “In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and His children will have refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may avoid the snares of death.” (Proverbs 14:26-27). And although at this point it does not seem like the three are in any way avoiding “the snares of death,” we can certainly see they had confidence despite that. It is out of a fear and reverence of God that we do not bow to the world; that we stand up for Christ and have confidence to speak and act in how He moves us to. And while many of us are not facing direct, physical persecution as some brothers and sisters around the world are enduring; we are still fighting a war nonetheless. Every day we are being persecuted by the enemies of God; satan and his demons, the world, various temptations… to believe in Christ means to struggle, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12).
To live a godly life is to follow Christ and obey Him. In Shadrach’s, Meshach’s, and Abed-Nego’s case, following Christ meant standing for Him and refusing to bow before an idol. Their fear of the Lord moved them to take such a stand, despite the persecution that they faced. If we are to follow Jesus, we must do the same: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24). To face persecution is the same as taking up our cross, like how Jesus took up His own. And in picking up our cross, we must face satan and his demons, and struggle against the world and it’s temptations--but praise be to God, we are not in this fight alone. The One who is for us is greater than the one who is in the world, and we have power and authority in the Holy Spirit to trample serpents and scorpions; we can break the chains and curses of sin over our lives in the name of Jesus (1 John 4:4; Luke 10:19). For, when we bow before the King enthroned on high, we then have access to a power that bows before nothing. And it is by the power of this God that we will be able to stand against the forces of evil in our lives.
In what way is God calling you to stand for your faith? It can be as simple as having a conversation with someone you haven’t talked to in a long time, to as extreme as selling everything and preaching the gospel in a hostile country. In whatever way God is calling you to trust in Him and stand for your faith, do that (just be very sure that it is Him). Because, no matter what threat or trouble that lies before us, God is greater and He will deliver us if we trust in Him.