From where we left off last week, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (‘the three’) have disobeyed king Nebuchadnezzar by refusing to kneel before the statue made of gold, and are now going to be tossed into a fiery furnace. The imagery of the king demanding that the three bow before the idol is a strong representation of how the world we live in demands our submission. Where the world makes all kinds of promises that eventually fall short and lead to enslavement, God makes promises that lead to eternal life and freedom.
Because, as we addressed in part one, king Nebuchadnezzar forced the people to bow that they may live; a forced obedience is enslavement and does not lead to freedom, which in turn is not the true life we are called to. God, on the other hand, freely offers us salvation and a better way, so that in choosing to obey Him we would have true life, and life abundantly. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego demonstrate that it is possible to resist the world and choose a better way, despite being in a situation that seems to offer everything but life.
1) Daniel 3:19-23 | Believing God is who He says He is
In verses 19 through 23, the Scripture illustrates king Nebuchadnezzar commanding the furnace to be fired up and tossing the three into it. The first observation I want to make is regarding the display of intimidation that King Nebuchadnezzar makes:
“Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.” (Daniel 3:19-20).
The furnace at its regular temperature probably would have incinerated any human that stepped into it; the seven-fold increase in temperature made by Nebuchadnezzar seems unnecessary (the fact it’s increased seven times is interesting… 7 can be interpreted as a holy number--more here). In reality, the king was just trying to intimidate the three into submission, and deter them from standing for their God. There are all kinds of things in the world that attempt to intimidate or dissuade Christian living--one doesn’t have to look too hard to find examples.
What is important to remember is that, as followers of Christ, we are called to be in the world but not of it; we inhabit this world and are currently existing here, but that does not mean we should conform to what the world is doing. This can obviously be a difficult thing to do, but in the example that we see in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, it is possible to choose to serve God rather than the world.
While the true, eternal life we are meant to live is found in the hands of God, we also know that in this world we will have trouble. Following the path that God calls us to will not be easy. In Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego’s case, it seemed as though the path that God called them to was leading to death--and death in a fiery furnace, nonetheless. We see this in the next three verses:
“And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.” (Daniel 3:20-23).
God did not prevent the three from being cast into the fiery furnace, just like how He allows difficulties in our lives to take place. Many people in this world would rather choose to take the fiery furnace over some of the things they are going through. Yet, despite the trials we may face, or the flames in our lives that seek to consume us, God is still good. And though the fires and the tyrants of our life may influence us to want to bend that reality, God does not change.
2) Daniel 3:24-25 | God will deliver, and it is in Christ that He has already done so
When we believe that God is evil, or that He is working against us and seeks our destruction, we do a disservice against ourselves, not God. The means to overcome the problem, find deliverance, attain peace and reconciliation, etc., is found in Him. The answer to our problems is in God, and when we use the problems we encounter to push ourselves away from Him, we are actually only hurting ourselves.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego knew this truth in their heart--that God is the One who delivers--and they held onto that truth even as they were falling into the furnace, bound hand-and-foot. It is in the furnace, however, that we can see God work His greatest miracles; it is in the furnace that, when we trust in Him, we allow Him to deliver us. Verses 24 to 25 demonstrate this:
“Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ ‘Look!’ he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’” (Daniel 3:24-25).
The clear illustration that God gives us is this: He is with us in the fire. In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, the “Son of God” was literally there with them in the fire. In our pain, suffering, trials, and disappointments, Christ is there with us. So often, however, we might buy into the deception that we are not as blessed as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and that there is no possible way a God could be with us--much less love us. Maybe we fell into a fire and came out totally scorched, or something happened that was too painful and destructive that pushed us away from God. Where was He when we needed Him? Why can’t He save me from the fire like He saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego? Where is God in this fire that I am in?
The troubles we endure in this world are real, and though we may not be able to fully understand why we go through some of the suffering that we do, the God that delivers is also a God that can relate. While the truth must remain that God is entirely holy and has done no wrong, Jesus Christ took upon Himself all suffering and sin that was not His. Though God is not the reason for the suffering of this world, He bore our burdens at the cross anyways so that we may find life in Him. Just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego found deliverance from the fire in the Son of God, so too can we find deliverance from the fires that we face in the Son of Man. In both instances, it is still Jesus who delivers. God has not callously and reluctantly reached out His hand to save us; God has leapt into the fire so that we do not have to. Jesus took upon Himself all of our suffering so that we can lay our burdens down at His feet, and in exchange, be given rivers of living water.
It is in Christ’s assumption of our sin that He is able to fully relate with us. God does not display a distant attitude of “at least you are alive, and at least this, or at least that” towards us. God has compassion for us, and knows exactly what we are going through because He went through it Himself, and more. But Jesus isn’t holding your pain over your head and saying, “Look, I got over it so you get over it too.” No, God knows we can’t overcome the fire by ourselves. Rather, in our darkest and most difficult moments, when our pain is the deepest and our tears flow without ceasing, Christ is there weeping with us. He knows our pain, and He goes into the fire with us because He loves us and wants to deliver us through it. Christ is not ignorant of the troubles of this world, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
3) Daniel 3:26-30 | God will work all things for good to those who love Him
An awesome sermon I once heard made the following observation about the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego: that when the three fell into the fire, the only things that were burned to ashes were the chains that bound them. When we trust in God, and choose to serve Him rather than the world, we give Him the opportunity to use the fire to remove the chains that bind us. That, through the fire, we can see and appreciate God even more clearly than we did before, and bear witness to His awesome ability to deliver and set us free. Moreover, when we trust in God, He does not just set us free from the chains and keep us in the fire, but He does more than we can ever think or imagine:
“Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!’
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire … They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
“Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent His Angel and rescued His servants! They trusted in Him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.’ Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.” (Daniel 3:26-30).
When we trust in God and choose to serve Him--despite whatever furnace we may find ourselves falling into--we open the door for Him to work all things for our good. Because, no matter how dark our lives may get, God can still bring light out of darkness. What looked at first like Shadrach’s, Meshach’s, and Abed-Nego’s sentence to a fiery death, actually turned out to be their promotion.
What we may perceive to be a curse--and might very well be one if we choose to walk alone--can turn into a blessing with God. What first served as a test, God can use to turn into our testimony. It is through the difficult times, and the overcoming of adversity, that God can build our character the most, and instill within our hearts a persevering faith. The three heroes of this story were immortalized into the Word, simply for standing for their faith and serving only God, even to the death.
There are many Christians around the globe today who are being delivered from all kinds of fires and tyrants, and following God despite the threats of torture and death. But many Christians are also dying for their faith daily, and are not being taken out of the metaphorical furnace. This reality shouldn’t deter our faith, but instead, should embolden us to stand for our faith all the more. That, come death or deliverance, the God we serve is greater than any threat this world has to offer. Because, in the end, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).
4) “No other god can save in this way”
No other god can save in the way that the Almighty God can. In this life, we only see a muddied perspective of the whole picture; God’s view is so much grander and more profound than we can even comprehend. Even the worst moments of our lives have been given purpose in Christ Jesus, because He took all of it at the cross. There is not a moment of pain, sorrow, or shame that you cannot invite Christ into, and there is nothing He cannot mend. Can we have the boldness to trust in God and serve Him only, and allow Him to enter into the fires of our lives with us, so that we may truly live? He has already gone into the fire--along with any still to come--but if we do not want His help in it, what will save us from the flames?
Of course, choosing not to believe--in this story’s context--will just put us in the place of the Babylonians who bowed before the gold statue. I mean, what is so bad about bowing before a gold idol? What is bad is that it is choosing to rebel against the Living God, and if we do that, there will be consequences, for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). I do not say this in a spirit of judgement, but out of love, since God is the source of all life, love, joy, and peace, and when we make Him our enemy, the only destination we are walking towards is death. God is who He is and does not change, and neither will the outcome when He is not with us. But, thanks be to God for our sakes, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8).