13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?Daniel 3:13-18 ESV
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
I am writing this on Sunday, November 1. I had originally planned to wait until Wednesday to write this week’s devotion since the election is Tuesday. Somehow, in my mind, I felt like this would be more relevant having all the context that making it through November 3 would give. But God’s Word is always relevant for all our circumstances!
My son, Xander, unknowingly convinced me to go ahead and write this today. After church, I always ask him what he learned about in Sunday School because I love to hear the way he phrases things. He has this cool mixture of excitedness and nonchalant fact in the way that he retells the lesson. Here is the gist of today’s:
“There were three friends who didn’t want to pray for the big statue. And the king threw them in the fire oven. But – guess what – they didn’t burn up because God send…there was four guys in there…an angel…and the fire…it didn’t work!”
Oh, to get to go back and hear the amazing tales of God’s faithfulness for the first time! I got to see the joy on his face when I was able to tell him that this was true and not merely a story! I got to see the delight in his eyes when he found out that God can do more than what comic books heroes or movies can try to point to. So, I can say with full assurance that whatever November 3 has held – whether we now be in World War III or are having a casual American Thursday – the God of Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael is still bigger and still sovereignly seated on His throne.
For the past few weeks, we have been looking at the examples of these four young men as they were exiled in a foreign land. The first week showed us how simple faithfulness is necessary in the easy times before we ever see it worked out in our difficult times. Last week, we saw how that simple, every-day sort of faithfulness is expressed once the hard times begin. But this week is something else entirely!
I can remember hearing this story as a kid. Like Xander, I was fascinated with the fire that “didn’t work” and the fourth presence there in the furnace with them. And, now, as an adult I am finding more hope than fascination. It is amazing to look at the way these young men grew from beginning to walk out their faith in the Lord into older men who live out that faith on the grand scale that we see in Daniel 3.
I want us to focus on what their response was and what it was not. This all started because they were continuing in their regular practice of faith. Their faith was a normal part of their life, and it continued uninterrupted from before their exile and in the unknown periods of time between Daniel 1-2 and 2-3. In fact, people expected them to practice their faith. What they did not do is fear. They did not stop trusting in the God that they had walked with for so long. They just kept on walking by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), even when their current situation began to look darker.
King Nebuchadnezzar tried to deny the reality of his nightmare and Daniel’s prophecy (Daniel 2:31-47) by building a giant statue – and in the same plain as the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:2)! In both monuments we see man trying to take the place of God. In the case of Babel, they wanted to be wise and glorious like God. But, in Nebuchadnezzar’s case, he was already wise in his own eyes; he wanted to be worshipped. Nearly everyone bowed the knee. Everyone, that is, except for Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – because they had bowed the knee to God Most High consistently and continually.
When people fall into idolatry – when they succumb to the pressure of temptation, they are angry at those who do not. Many of the people who were bowing to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue were exiles just like these young men. They were of many “peoples, nations, and languages” (v. 4) and victims of the same brainwashing and persecution that they tried to force on Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Yet these other exiles bowed the knee to the king long before he built the statue. That made it easier to march to the beat of his drum when he struck up the band. And it made them angry to see people not bowing with them.
One would think that the courage to stand in the face of certain doom would be labeled as heroic. But their faith found retaliation instead of renown. Nebuchadnezzar used fear and intimidation to get worship. No doubt those exiles who bowed the knee did it to escape both the fire of the king’s wrath as well as his furnace. Yet our young men silently and faithfully carried on. They bowed their heads and hearts to God and continued as they always had – bowing their knees to God only.
When the king heard about their steadfastness, he had them drug in before him and gathered a large audience. He pulled out all the stops. If he could not get these young men to bow the knee, he would secure his hold over the masses by executing them publicly. He wanted to establish his place as their god and squelch any faithfulness or worship to any god aside from himself.
Imagine yourself in the place of these young men – and there is a time coming where we may not have to imagine (2 Timothy 3:1, 12-13). They were stood in front of a large audience, mocked and berated by the king. He reminded them that they were far from their home and that their livelihood and safety were in his hands. He had the band queued and ready. As soon as the music started, all they had to do is simply bow the knee. He made it sound so easy – so reasonable – so harmless. He asked them what god could rescue them from his hands (v. 15). Little did he know, there is a God in heaven who could rescue body and soul – one way or another (Matthew 10:28).
Their response is recorded in the verses at the beginning of the devotion (vv. 16-18). Look at the way that their response exhibited their faith. First, they let the king know that they did not have to answer to him (v. 16). Then, they declared that their God was “able” to and would deliver them indeed (v. 17). Finally, they let him know that should God choose not to rescue them from the flames they would not bow to the pressure and squander their worship on him or his false gods (v. 18).
That last part is especially key. While this is not a popular view on the subject, God would be no less God if these young men had died in the furnace for their faith. Their fate was sealed by their faith, and, just as they said, they knew God would deliver them one way or another. There are people all over the world, even today, who are martyred for their faith. People see their devotion to Christ and get to see His power through the witness of the faithful. Their faith is not lessened by their deaths. Just as they close their eyes in death as an act of worship, they open them again in heaven, looking on the face of the Savior who died for them and are happy to worship Him forevermore!
Do not hold their lack of execution against Nebuchadnezzar. He was good at being bad. He could not help it that, just as Xander said, his fire did not work! Their faith “quenched the fire” (Hebrews 11:34)! Nebuchadnezzar watched joyfully, expecting to hear screams from the dying and see groans of submission from the audience. He had a front row seat, wanting to see these men die. But much to his surprise, he saw the power of the Lord (vv. 24-25)!
Nebuchadnezzar witnessed all of this with his own eyes. One would think that would be enough to turn his heart – and it looked like it did for a minute (vv. 28-30). But, just as Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah came out unsinged with no smell of smoke (v. 27), Nebuchadnezzar’s view of himself remained unchanged (Daniel 4:27-34). His desire to keep his status and the status quo outweighed his desire to bow the knee to God Most High.
So, I ask you: to whom do you bow the knee – to Jesus or something lesser? I am sure that if Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah could talk to you today they would remind you that “if you confess with your mouth that JESUS is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, emphasis added). No matter the beat of the drummer who was elected two days ago – if a decision or consensus has even been reached – Jesus is truly the King of kings and Lord of lords (Philippians 2:9-11), and that is not up for election or debate!
Let me remind you again that what we practice in peace is available to us in persecution. If you are tossed about like a rowboat on the ocean by every unknown fear in times of peace (James 1:6), your whole world will crumble when the rain and floods come (Matthew 7:24-27). But “those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever” (Psalm 125:1)! The kingdom of the Lord “cannot be shaken” and God alone is worthy of our “worship, with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).
Let us practice what the psalmist wrote in peace so that we are not shaken when things get truly difficult:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling…. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”Psalm 46:1-3, 7
And may our daily worship and devotion begin to mirror the faith of three young exiled eunuchs in the midst of their “fiery trial” (1 Peter 4:12) – “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us” (v. 17).
 Many people wonder why Daniel was not part of this narrative and whether or not he bowed the knee. Daniel 2:49 clarified that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were given authority “over the affairs of the province of Babyon” but Daniel’s responsibilities called for him to remain “at the king’s court”.