History describes King Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadnezzar II, reigned 605-562 BCE ) of Babylon to be impulsive, and quick-tempered. He was noted to be a great and successful king, but his anger was terrible. In the Bible, we see a couple of examples describing King Nebuchadnezzar’s anger. First, in his intent to destroy all the wise men of Babylon, and second, in the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. Daniel 3 tells us how King Nebuchadnezzar sets up an image of gold in the plain of Dura and calls the people together for its dedication. As they stood before the magnificent image, 6 cubits (~2.7 metres) wide by 60 cubits high (~27.5 metres), a herald proclaimed:
“…To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down an worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” [Daniel 3:4-7]
Indeed, when the music sounded, people of all nations and languages obeyed the king’s command, bowed and worshipped the image that had been set up. Yet, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego defied this order and their actions were conveyed to the king so that they were called to stand before him. It was certain Babylonians who brought this report before the king, reminding him as they did, of the punishment he had prescribed for those who disobeyed his decree. Moreover, Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-nego were identified as Jews whom the king had set up over the affairs of Babylon – foreigners who had been given positions of influence in Babylon.
“There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon; Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.” [Daniel 3:7]
The accusation is more than their disobedience to this one king’s degree, but the three men basically stand accused of treason. In speaking to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, king Nebuchadnezzar asks if the accusation is true, and gives them a chance to show their loyalty – if they worship the image, then good, but if they do not, they will be thrown into the fiery furnace. The king adds, “And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” Listen to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego’s answer to King Nebuchadnezzar in this:
“…O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” [Daniel 3:16-18]
In this statement, the three men declare their faith and loyalty to God. They declare God’s power, and God’s faithfulness to them. Their king is the Lord God Almighty, Yahweh. Their worship will be given to Him alone. The Bible states that King Nebuchadnezzar’s expression towards the three Jews changed immediately and in his fury, he commanded the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. In fact, the king’s order was so urgent, that the men who threw the fully clothed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego into the flames, were themselves consumed by the flames. The Bible then records how King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished as he noted the following things:
- Three men bound were cast into the fire
- Yet, four men loose were walking in the midst of the fire
- Then four men were not hurt
- The fourth man looked like the Son of God
- The fire had no power on the bodies of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego when they walked out of the fire – no singed hair or garments, no smell of fire on them
As a result, Nebuchadnezzar declares:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God.” [Daniel 3:28]
Subsequently, Nebuchadnezzar promotes Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He also makes a decree to punish anyone who would speak a word against their God because “there is no other God that can deliver like this.” [Daniel 3:39].
So, there is the story. Now, what can we learn from it?
1. Living for God will cause us to face tribulation
“And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.’ But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” [1 Peter 3:13-15]
- Jesus also explains this to His disciples in John 15:18-21 when he says that if the world hates them, it is because it hated Him. We live according to the values of the Kingdom of Heaven, and according to the laws of God. At the same time, we abide by the authorities God has placed on earth. However, there will be times where we must dare to be different, to stand for godliness where there is godlessness. Our positions on controversial subjects such as abortion, euthanasia, and marriage will bring tribulation. The way we proclaim that God is first in our lives will bring suffering. Are we prepared to suffer, but stand fast in the ways of God?
2. God is worth it all – the declaration of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego
“… [God] will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” [Daniel 3:17-18]
- What a powerful statement Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego deliver to their king. Whether or not their physical lives are saved on this occasion, the three men declare that they will not turn away from God. They have made a choice to serve God and they trust Him completely. Their hope is in Him. Will we declare this in our lives – in every situation, in every hour, in every place?
“Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us.” [1 Corinthians 1:-9-10]
3. In the midst of trials, God is with us
- God does not leave nor forsake us, but is always with us. His presence is seen with us even by those who hate Him. When King Nebuchadnezzar looked into the fire, he saw a fourth man, “like the Son of Man” walking with the three men he had originally cast in. Will we continue to live such a life, that all people would see Christ walking with us?
“…having your conduct honourable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” [1 Peter 2:12]
4. Our life is hidden with God
- Three men bound went into the fire, but four loose were seen. Christ looses our bonds, and gives us freedom in His life. The world cannot harm us, it cannot bind us, because God has already loosened the bonds of sin, of insecurity, and of fear. Will we choose to die to sin and live in the freedom of Christ?
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free… And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” [John 8:32, 35,36]
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you will also appear with Him to glory.”[Colossians 3:2-4]
5. The testimony of a fearless life and genuine faith will affect our world, and will glorify God
- The strength of the faith Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego have, is shown in their perseverance even in the face of trials. It is a faith, literally tested by fire, which prevails and honours God. Let us persevere through the testing and perfecting of our faith that we would honour Christ!
“…that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” [1 Peter 1:7]
Ephesians 1:17-20 says:
“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.”
That mighty power is the power of salvation, shown in the defeat of death through Christ. That power, is the power that we share when we come close to God in intimacy. It is a power that gives us identity, that gives us hope, and that gives us life eternal. Knowing this power, let us not be afraid to live radically, with lives fully given over to God. Let us not be afraid to walk in all His ways, and to be confident in Him. If God is for us, who can be against us?