We return to the story we were looking at from Daniel chapter three. King Nebuchadnezzar made a gigantic statue (of himself, most likely) and then forced everyone in his kingdom to pay homage to it. When they hear the sound of the horn, flute, base-guitar, pipe-organ and drum (not quite, but it fits with the story), every man and his dog is to fall facedown in front of it.
It might sound completely ridiculous until we consider what is happening in our world right now. Take North Korea for example, and Kim Jong-un’s farcical parades, with people in their thousands bowing down to his image. Or consider what is happening in our own backyard, with the forced veneration of the great god secular humanism and it’s empty rhetoric. It’s forced compliance of the populace. Bow down or else. And it is amidst these difficult circumstances God’s people have to make a choice: serve God or serve the system. Bow to King Jesus or a man-made substitute.
We are told in Daniel chapter 3 verse 7 when all the people heard the cacophony of noise they fell down on their faces. Nebuchadnezzar got the result he wanted.
Three were left standing. And it was Nebuchadnezzar’s cronies who spotted them. This is where the story really heats up (excuse the pun). The king’s cronies come slithering before the king and dob them in.
“There are some Jews you have appointed to manage the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men have ignored you, the king; they do not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (vv. 11–12)
These are serious charges. This is high treason. So Nebuchadnezzar drills them; “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, is it true that you don’t serve my gods or worship the gold statue I have set up?” Picture in the background, in full view of all the furnace of blazing fire, belching smoke into the clear, blue sky.
“Now if you’re ready, when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, drum, and every kind of music, fall down and worship the statue I made. But if you don’t worship it, you will immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire—and who is the god who can rescue you from my power?” (verse 15)
It is right at this juncture that we come to the very heart of things. King Nebuchadnezzar is asserting his power over and above all other powers, including Almighty God. Yet these three young men calmly, confidently and courageously take their stand. They reply to the king,
“Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” (vv. 16–18)
This is beautiful, isn’t it? For three 17-year-olds, this is absolutely brilliant. Notice two things:
- Their absolute confidence in the power of God. “Our God… is able to deliver us.” We are utterly confident in God’s power. Nothing is too hard for him.
- Their complete submission to God’s will. “Even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve our god or ship the statue you have set up”.
Note that they don’t promise more than God promises (unlike many TV preachers of our day). They don’t presume to know God’s will in this matter. They don’t put words in God’s mouth. If God wants to deliver them, he can do it. But he may not. He is free to do as he pleases. “Either way, we want you to know, O King, we’re not going to do it. Read our lips. No. N-O.”
At this point, Nebuchadnezzar completely loses it. We’re told the expressions on his face changed (I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t smiling) and gave orders to heat the furnace seven times hotter than normal. Then he has the elite of his soldiers tie them up. Then he has them throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in. The furnace is so hot, they are incinerated in the process. Look what happens next:
“Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm. He said to his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?” “Yes, of course, Your Majesty,” they replied to the king. He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (vv. 24–25)
So what’s going on here? Who is this fourth figure? Many are quick to declare this is a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus – the second person of the Trinity. We need to be careful at this point. The text does not actually say that. It could just as easily have been an angel. What is important here is to see when it came to the furnace – when we are in the midst of a fiery trial, God is with his people. The king then rushes to the furnace door and he calls out,
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God—come out!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire.” (verse 26)
He calls his officials to come and examine them. “Not a hair of their heads was singed, their robes were unaffected, and there was no smell of fire on them” (verse 27). They are utterly amazed.
God has shown King Nebuchadnezzar who is really in charge. The king had boasted, “Who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?” The God of Israel delivered them out of his hands.
So what is the main lesson of this chapter? Simply this:
The Living God is able to deliver his children who refuse to serve other gods.
He is able to deliver them not just from the fire, but in the midst of the fire itself.
And how does it end? It ends with Nebuchadnezzar exclaiming loudly,
“Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued his servants who trusted in him. They violated the king’s command and risked their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.” (verse 28)
It’s hard not to read that with a sense of scepticism, isn’t it? We know you Nebuchadnezzar, and those like you, whose lips don’t always line up with their life.
“Therefore I issue a decree that anyone of any people, nation, or language who says anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be torn limb from limb and his house made a garbage dump. For there is no other god who is able to deliver like this.” (verse 29)
From fiery furnaces to being drawn and quartered. I fear that nothing has really changed for Nebuchadnezzar at all.
But I hope it has for you, after reading this story. I hope that you see that no matter how good you think you are, you are not good enough to save yourself from the furnace, the furnace of God’s judgement. I hope you see your need for a Saviour, and willingly give your life to him. And I hope that when the day comes when your faith is on trial, it will be the kind of faith that will enable to make you stand.