I recently preached at Elm Park Baptist Church a series of three sermons based on the Book of Daniel.
This is the first in the series and deals with an incident in Daniel 3. You may wish to read the chapter before you read my thoughts below:
Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful man. He was the second ruler of the Babylonian empire which he inherited from his father Nabopolassar who died in 605BC. He ruled for 43 years.
Babylon was the world power of its day. The empire had swallowed up many of the surrounding countries including the previously mighty Assyrian empire as well as parts of Egypt.
Assyria had previously conquered Israel which comprised 10 of the 12 tribes of the Jewish people. They were taken away into exile and never seen again. God through his prophets warned the Jews in Israel what would happen if they carried on ignoring him and worshipping false gods. They ignored the warnings and brought judgement upon themselves.
The little country of Judah which was made up of the other two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, had been attacked and overwhelmed by the Babylonians. Its capital city Jerusalem had been sacked and the temple wrecked. Many of Judah’s richest and brightest people had been taken into Babylon. The Babylonian empire was into asset stripping in a big way. They had even stripped out all the treasures of the temple and brought them back to Babylon. We will be mentioning this in a later talk.
The kings of Judah had repeatedly failed to listen to God who spoke to them through the prophets. They were warned again and again what would happen but they wouldn’t listen to God and chose to go their own way and brought the ruin of the country on themselves.
Daniel was one of the bright young men who was brought into the Babylonian civil service to help run the empire.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were friends and colleagues of Daniel and worked in administering the vast empire. They were like Daniel devout Jews, And this would be the cause of a major problem.
In Daniel 1 we read that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had refused to eat the meat given to them because it had been offered to the false gods of the Babylonians. So they became vegetarians and were fitter and healthier than the local lads and even brighter than .
As I said earlier Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful man and he seems to have been vain as well. Many tyrants adopt a cult of personality or have it suggested to them by their advisors / supporters.
Just look at the adulation and adoration given to many rulers. In North Korea the Kim dynasty are revered as if they were gods despite what they have actually done to the country. Anyone who dissents, especially Christians are punished most severely. In the North Korean capital there are huge bronze statues of the Kims which are photographed with adoring Korean’s kneeling before them.
So Nebuchadnezzar has built an enormous 90 foot high statue of himself. It must have cost a fortune as we are told it was made of gold. In all probability, it had a wooden core and was covered in gold. Even so it would have been very expensive.
All the leaders and dignitaries of the empire are summonsed to stand in front of the statue, and this is what we are told happened: Daniel 3:4 – 6 “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.”“
So the music plays and everyone bows down in worship.
Well, not everyone. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego just stand there.
You get the feeling that Jews were not popular people. After all they are a conquered race, they are immigrants (even though they had been forcibly brought to the country) and they do not worship the gods of the Babylonians.
And, just as there was always that one kid in primary school who tried to ingratiate themselves with the teacher by telling tales, here are the astrologers telling on our heroes. Possibly they are jealous of the men’s ability and success. Maybe it was racial prejudice, we are Babylonians they are Jews! For whatever reason the astrologers decide this matter must be brought to the emperor’s attention.
Daniel 3:12 “there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Understandably the great man is furious. He has been disrespected. He has not been worshipped as he wanted. His pride has been hurt. He wants and demands to be treated as a god. However he does interview the three men to make sure it is true and not just the astrologers telling tales and making up stories to get the Jews into trouble.
Daniel 3:13 – 15 “Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’”
Faced with such a threat many may have said “It’s only a statue, I can bow to that and then get on with my life”. Or, “I had better bow to the statue as I want to keep my job”. However Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, cannot compromise. They would have known the commandments given to the Jews through Moses when they were on the way to the Promised land:
Exodus 20:2 – 6 2 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 ‘You shall have no other gods besides me. 4 ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
We get faced in our lives with who do we bow down to? Who do we worship? Who do we obey?
The recent decision in the US Supreme Court in “Rowe v Wade” has launched a virulent tirade of threats and abuse not only against those judges who made the decision but also anyone who dares to agree with it. Never mind the sanctity of human life or mourning over the 64 million babies in the USA who have had life taken from them. It seems that people who will not bow down to the god of abortion are threatened with dire consequences for daring to follow what God says in the Bible.
Well, our heroes decide that they are not going to bow down to an idol. This is what we read “16 …., “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
The King feels he has no choice but to throw the men into the furnace which we are told was heated up seven times hotter than usual. The furnace was no doubt still in use following the making of the huge statue. Gold melts at 1064̊C so it must have been quite an undertaking using only wood or charcoal to get that furnace hot enough. So maybe the seven times hotter is an exaggeration and means as hot as you can get it.
In any case it was so hot that the soldiers who bound Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and threw them into the furnace died from the heat.
And so we expect to see our heroes quickly consumed by the fire. But God has other plans and we read: “24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” 25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” 26 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!””.
How amazing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are walking around in the furnace unharmed. The fire has not touched them. And there is someone else with them!
They come out of the furnace and Nebuchadnezzar recognises that this is a miracle and that God has saved them.
The three men are unharmed and completely untouched by the fire. They don’t even smell of smoke!
Nebuchadnezzar even praises God and promises protection to the Jews: Daniel 3:28 & 29 ‘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. 29 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.’
And our three heroes get promoted by Nebuchadnezzar.
So what about us?
We are all faced with situations where we have to make that uncomfortable decision. “Do I stand for God, or do I go with the flow?”
Many years ago, when I was in banking, my branch manager suggested that my career would go much better if only I joined the a certain organisation. I told him that as far as I was concerned, as a Christian, I could not join that organisation. He was a church goer but I don’t think he was a Christian even though he was a church treasurer. My career came to a dead halt. I would get sideways moves but never again was I promoted. I recall talking this through with one of the ministers at my church who simply said that I may never know what God has saved me from by not being promoted.
It can be costly taking a stand for God, but we have God’s promises and reassurances throughout the Bible that he will never leave us or forsake us.
You make recall I read out some words from Isaiah at the start of the service which reinforces God’s love and support for us as we go through difficult and trying times:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;”
So when we are in a place of trial like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found themselves all those years ago, lets hold on to God with whatever strength we have, confident that we are precious to him and he will save us.