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.” Daniel 3:18
We are continuing our look at contrasts in Scripture marked by the conjunction “but.” Today let’s look at a story we’ve known since preschool. Three young men, who were friends of Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael, were officials in the Babylonian government of King Nebuchadnezzar. They weren’t “children” any more than the “children of Israel” were. They are tremendous examples of courage and faith. That “but” is the high point of their testimony.
As the account begins, the king had erected a giant statue on the plain at Dura. Its dedication was set to be a great celebration and all the government officials from all the provinces were summoned. The program was straightforward. The court musicians would play an anthem which was the cue for all the officials to bow down and worship the statue, and by extension, the king. In short, it was a recognition of the deity of the king.
You know what happens. The young men refuse to bow and they are brought before the king. He gives them another chance. “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 3:15) The king asserts he is the most powerful deity around.
The first commandment the LORD gave His people at Sinai was “I am the LORD, your God. You will have no other gods before me.” And the second, “You shall not make any kind of image for yourselves to worship.” Nebuchadnezzar’s statute and the requirement to bow down and worship were clear-cut violations of these first two commandments. These young men resolved to disobey the king rather than Yahweh. It’s easy to skim over that commitment but let’s think about what these guys had been through.
The first Babylonian captivity in 605 BC saw Daniel and his friends taken to a foreign country as prisoners. Their parents are never mentioned and its not unreasonable to think they were murdered by the Babylonians. The goal was to disrupt Jewish society, to induce terror and eventually submission. So the people of God, the ones with the Law, with the priesthood, with the Temple, had seemingly been abandoned by God.
That’s the first lesson we can take away. We have to remain faithful to the sovereign God in spite of the events around us. So many of the Jews in captivity settled in, adopted as much of Babylonian culture as they could. In fact, after the seventy years of captivity, the majority opted to stay in Babylon rather than return to their homeland. Perhaps they were strengthened by God’s faithfulness to Daniel. But I suspect it was more their own personal commitment to God.
The young men answer the king. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 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. 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.” Daniel 3:16-18
Here’s a second lesson. Being faithful to God doesn’t mean being disrespectful to unbelievers. Our current culture is one of rank disrespect to anyone who doesn’t see eye to eye with us on everything. But we don’t have to be like the culture. In fact, Proverbs tells us, “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (16:7) Let’s strive to be that kind of believer.
The king is enraged by Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael’s resolve and they are thrown into a furnace, probably the one used to prepare and refine the metal for the statue. Not only do the men survive but they are joined by a preincarnate Christ.
That’s the third critical lesson. Sometimes God does not deliver us FROM the fires. His purposes are better served by having us go THROUGH the fire, but when that is the case, HE is there WITH us. The last words Jesus spoke before He ascended were, “Remember, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)
That promise still holds.