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The Golden Image and the Fiery Furnace
(Chapter 3 verses 1-30)
Daniel chapter 3 verses 19-23
Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.
Nebuchadnezzar was furious. His face was twisted with rage at these young officers of his—and foreigners at that!—who had not only dared to defy him but who had now embarrassed him at a public celebration, in front of all his subjects.
In his rage, Nebuchadnezzar overreacted. For one thing, he ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual, although the fire already burning in the furnace would have been hot enough for the execution. According to an ancient tradition, the king had his men throw naphtha and pitch into the furnace to make the fire burn hotter. And then the king foolishly ordered some of his strongest warriors to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego hand and foot and throw them into the furnace. The foolishness of the king’s anger became clear when the flames leaped out and consumed the brave soldiers who carried out their king’s foolish command.
Meanwhile God’s three loyal sons, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. Various items of their clothing are mentioned, because they add to the wonder of the miracle God was about to perform. Each item of the men’s clothing was just so much more flammable material, fuel for the flames. The furnace is perhaps best pictured as made of stone or brick, with an opening at the top into which the unfortunate victims were thrown. There also seems to have been an opening on the side, near ground level, to provide the draft to fan the flames as well as to offer the morbidly curious an opportunity to observe the gruesome goings-on.
What did Nebuchadnezzar accomplish with his frantic efforts at revenge? Two things. For one, he lost several of his best warriors to the flames that now leaped out of the furnace. Second, he made God’s miracle of deliverance more impressive. With the additional heating of the furnace and with the strength of his mightiest warriors, the proud king had hoped to back up his boast that nobody, not even God, could deliver Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from his power. But Nebuchadnezzar was wrong, and now a whole nation was going to know it.
Daniel chapter 3 verses 24-27
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, O king.”
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.”
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, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. 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.
Nebuchadnezzar took his seat at a safe distance from the furnace and prepared to enjoy what little satisfaction he could salvage from a day that had gone sour. At least now he would have the grim satisfaction of seeing those three Hebrews pay for their crime with their lives.
But even this satisfaction was to be denied the king. For suddenly he saw several things that brought him to his feet. The three men, who by now should have been charred beyond recognition, were still alive! The fire had not been able to do what the king had expected it would. Although their hands and feet had been tied, the king saw them walking around inside the furnace. To the king’s dismay, the three men had lost nothing in the fire but their bonds. All that the fire had been able to destroy were the ropes that hindered them. There was one more thing that bothered Nebuchadnezzar. There was a fourth person in that furnace, and the king knew he had sentenced only three to the flames.
Without being told, he knew who the fourth one was. “The fourth looks like a son of the gods.” And what the king meant by that we will learn from his explanation: “God . . . has sent his angel and rescued his servants!” (verse 28). The God whom Nebuchadnezzar had defied had overruled the king’s puny efforts and delivered his servants who preferred death to disappointing God.
With his words “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” the king admitted defeat. He who had boasted that his power to destroy was greater than God’s power to rescue now called God “the Most High God.” And by calling “Come out!” he who originally ordered the men into the furnace was now compelled to reverse what he had proclaimed would be their death sentence.
And the royal officials standing by? They who only minutes earlier had collaborated with their king in his idolatry now played quite a different role. These men—responsible officials of the Babylonian government—now were eyewitnesses of the great miracle the Lord had performed. They crowded around the three men who had been in the furnace, to satisfy themselves that what they were seeing was real. Although they originally had assembled to glorify the gods of Babylon, these officials now had to recognize the power of the true God, who had delivered his children who trusted in him.
It was amazing enough that the three men were still alive, but the miracle went beyond that. The three bore no burns on hands or arms or face or legs; not a hair of their heads had been singed; their clothing was not scorched; and—perhaps most surprising of all—they didn’t even smell like smoke.
For the officials this was an amazing miracle, something they would talk about for the rest of their lives. For King Nebuchadnezzar, God’s miracle was a humbling experience—and in the presence of his subjects! But for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the whole experience was a blessing from God almost too wonderful to believe. It seemed that only moments earlier they had been unjustly sentenced to a frightful death; they had been thrown helpless into a raging inferno. Tied hand and foot, they had fallen to the floor of the furnace, ready to let the flames do their work. It would only have taken a matter of seconds for them to die in the fire, and then their souls would be with their Lord in heaven.
But suddenly a realization dawned on them similar to the one that had dawned on the prophet Jonah centuries earlier after the sailors had thrown him into the sea and he had been swallowed by a fish. Inside the fish Jonah suddenly realized, “I have not drowned! I am alive! God has rescued me!” The men in the furnace suddenly realized they were not dead. Furthermore, they were no longer tied; they could get up and walk around in the flames. And—most wonderful of all—they became aware that they were not alone. God had sent his heavenly messenger to protect them. In their own bodies they had experienced the truthfulness of the statement in the psalm:
If you make the Most High your dwelling—
even the LORD, who is my refuge—
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
(Psalm 91 verses 9-11)
Now Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego realized why God had permitted them to be thrown into the furnace. And they wouldn’t have wanted it otherwise. They were the richer for the experience.
Daniel chapter 3 verses 28-30
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.
Our chapter closes by describing King Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction to the miracle he had witnessed. In the first place, he pronounced a blessing on the God who had delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In Nebuchadnezzar we get a good picture of the blindness of heathenism. This proud king had just witnessed an amazing miracle of God. And yet in the face of that miracle, he gave God no more credit than to call him “the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” He should have told the people standing around, “The God of Israel is the only true God.” But his devotion to his false gods led him to resist the leading of God’s Holy Spirit, who through the miracle was bringing powerful testimony to the king.
To be sure, the king was forced to reverse his earlier decree. In its place he issued a threat against anyone who would speak against the God of the Hebrews. But really the king was only saying, “Don’t insult that God! We wouldn’t want him to use his power against us and our nation! “ This is not what the Bible calls faith.
We are not told whether God’s action of sending his angel to frustrate the king’s evil decree brought any of the Babylonians to faith in the true God. But it was God’s way of rescuing his faithful sons. And it also brought blessing for the rest of the Jewish exiles. At least for the present time, they were not going to be forced to violate their consciences by having to practice false worship.
Nebuchadnezzar’s second reaction to the amazing miracle was to grant promotions to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their rivals had tried to end their careers, but God reversed that evil design. Far from bringing them misfortune, the young men’s loyalty to their God brought them only blessing. All that these enemies succeeded in accomplishing was to advance Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in their government work and to benefit the Jewish exiles, who from now on were spared the trouble their three young brothers had endured.
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the LORD. . . .
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them. (Psalm 2 verses 2 and 4)
Does this surprise us? He who holds in his hand the destiny not only of nations but also of individuals has assured each of us, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [earthly] things will be given to you as well” (Matthew chapter 6 verse 33). What God says to his children, in other words, is, “Christian, put me first, and I promise you will lack nothing you need for body and soul.”
Chapter 3 has special meaning for Christians living in what the Bible writers call “the last days.” Our Lord has told us that we could be asked to face what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced. In a sermon preached during the first Holy Week, Jesus told his followers that things are going to get worse before they get better. In that sermon, found in Matthew chapter 24, Christ actually gave us a preview of some of the unpleasant things that lie in the future for his children. He spoke of religious confusion and deception that will mislead many. He warned that as the world draws to its end, love for one’s fellow human beings is more and more going to be replaced by lovelessness.
One particular warning Jesus issued—which many people consider the most unpleasant—is this: “You will be handed over to be persecuted . . . , and you will be hated . . . because of me” (Matthew chapter 24 verse 9). Thirty years later the apostle Paul echoed this same warning when he wrote, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2nd Timothy chapter 3 verse 12).
Christians who live under a government that guarantees them the freedom to practice their religion may feel that this danger of persecution is relatively small. Christians who live in countries taken over by Marxism have very different feelings. Pressure is increasingly put on them to renounce Christianity or suffer the consequences. In countries dominated by Asian religions, those who embrace Christianity are often ostracized by family and friends.
As the last chapter of world history is being written, what a comforting truth the history of the fiery furnace brings to God’s children! It assures us that no world power, no matter how hostile, can endanger the safety of God’s people. The Savior has said to his disciples, “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 chapter 10 verse 28). Every time we’re asked to stand up for God’s truth, as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were, we can be confident that we stand under the constant protection of the One who has promised:
Fear not, 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. . . .
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 Savior.
(Isaiah chapter 43 verses 1-3)
The End of Part 3.2