Daniel and the Non-Conformists

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Daniel 3

When we read Daniel 3, we are reminded of this famous proverb:

Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall.  (Proverbs 16:18  TLB)

Pride was definitely Nebuchadnezzar’s biggest problem.  It would eventually lead to his downfall and that of Babylon.  Bible scholars think Nebuchadnezzar built the great image of himself because of the dream God gave him in the previous chapter.  That dream—the fact that he was the head of gold—filled Nebuchadnezzar with a false sense of pride.  Daniel 2 took place near the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (around 600 BC) and Daniel 4 at the end (560’s BC).  The events of Daniel 3 did not occur immediately after those of Daniel 2, nor did they occur just before the events of Daniel 4.  It seems obvious that some time had passed since the dream of chapter 2 and the events of chapter 3.  In the interim, Nebuchadnezzar apparently forgot the things Daniel told him and the lesson he learned:

“Truly, O Daniel,” the king said, “your God is the God of gods, Ruler of kings, the Revealer of mysteries, because he has told you this secret.”  (Daniel 2:47  TLB)

So, the things that happened in Daniel 3 probably took place around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, when the God of Israel had, by Babylonian estimation, been defeated and discredited.  The date was 585 BC, a bad day for Jerusalem and a potentially catastrophic day for Jews living in Babylon.

The two images in these two chapters represent two aspects of man:  his rule in the world (chapter 2) and his religion (chapter 3).  Nebuchadnezzar and the Empire of Babylon ruled the world, or so they thought.  Theirs was the dominant way of thinking and doing things in the world, or so they thought.  They demanded conformity from the citizenry.  The golden image erected on the plain of Dura was the visible expression of Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogant attitude; it was his “new theology,” his new way of thinking and he demanded that all his people adopt it.

But godly living must always take precedence over any government’s “new theology” or new way of thinking.  The whims of the government come and go and change all the time.  But true godly living is simple.  A godly man doesn’t need a bunch of rules to live by nor does he need reams and reams of paper full of laws dictating what he may or may not do, or what and how he should think.  A godly man doesn’t need images to remind of him of the most important Person in his life.  All he needs is a revelation—the Word of God from God to man.  This godly attitude is expressed best like this:

Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men.”  (Acts 5:29  TLB)

1.  The temptation

King Nebuchadnezzar, remembering the dream of the statue he had almost two decades earlier, tried to replicate it in physical form.  Even though Daniel told him that his kingdom would eventually fall, Nebuchadnezzar chose to remember only the good part of the dream:  he was the head of gold, leading all other nations in strength and position.  So he built a statue made of gold—the whole thing, not just the head.  While Nebuchadnezzar did pay some honor to God, by now he seems to have forgotten him.

I’ll give you one more chance. When the music plays, if you fall down and worship the statue, all will be well. But if you refuse, you will be thrown into a flaming furnace within the hour. And what god can deliver you out of my hands then?  (Daniel 3:15  TLB)

So a new national idol had been set up; a testament to the government and to man’s ingenuity.  All people of every language were expected to pay homage to this statue, and the day of dedication was supposed to be a day of celebration.  The Babylonians were known to love music and exotic forms of dancing.

“When the band strikes up, you are to fall flat on the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue; anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a flaming furnace.”  So when the band began to play, everyone—whatever his nation, language, or religion—fell to the ground and worshiped the statue.  (Daniel 3:5—7  TLB)

It looked like a national party, but it was really just another exhibition of tyranny, despotism and religious intolerance.  In the midst of the “celebration,” this happened:

But there are some Jews out there—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, whom you have put in charge of Babylonian affairs—who have defied you, refusing to serve your gods or to worship the gold statue you set up.  (Daniel 3:12  TLB)

The temptation to Daniel and his friends was to:

Leave town.

Daniel and his friends were not impoverished.  They all held high political positions and had some influence.  Rather than bow down and worship the golden image, they could have just skipped town for a while.  That would have been the easy thing to do—avoid a ticklish situation sort of “under the radar.”  Christians do this all the time; it’s the leaky way to stand for your faith without actually standing for your faith.  It happened to Paul, too, when some of his “friends” skipped town on him:

Please come as soon as you can, for Demas has left me. He loved the good things of this life and went to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  (Acts 4:9, 10  TLB)

Go along with everybody else

They could have just “gone along to get along.”  Really, what was the king demanding?  Just conformity, that’s all.  He wanted everybody doing the same thing, the same way, at the same time.  Daniel and his friends could have just sucked it up and gone along with the crowd.  James Renwick, the last Scottish martyr, was offered a final chance to avoid death if he would, “but let a drop of ink fall on the paper.”  But to Renwick, the single drop of ink was a sign of his denying Christ.

2.  Their testimony

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not worried about what will happen to us.  If we are thrown into the flaming furnace, our God is able to deliver us; and he will deliver us out of your hand, Your Majesty. But if he doesn’t, please understand, sir, that even then we will never under any circumstance serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have erected.”  (Daniel 3:16—18  TLB)

Some jealous Babylonians pointed out to Nebuchadnezzar that there were some Jews who refused to “bow the knee.”  The calm and cool demeanor of these three servants of God was in stark contrast to the rage expressed by the King.

Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury and his face became dark with anger at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He commanded that the furnace be heated up seven times hotter than usual…  (Daniel 3:19  TLB)

But true faith—the kind of faith that glorifies God—is not dependent on circumstances or consequences.  It is founded on the immutable faithfulness of God!  It would have been easy—expedient even—to rationalize just a little to save their lives.  Didn’t they owe Nebuchadnezzar some small appreciation for treating them so well?  Couldn’t they bend their knees but stand tall in their hearts?  After all, what’s the big deal, anyway?

Rationalizing is easy and Christians are experts at it.  But God’s reputation was at stake here; His character was being put to the test.  Thousands upon thousands of heathens were all watching.  Whether or not God chose to deliver them from the punishment, they had to remain faithful to the honor of His Name.

3.  Their triumph

Well, as it turned out, there was no miraculous solution forthcoming at the last possible second.  The three Jewish friends were tossed into the fiery furnace.  They would NOT conform.  They would not perform.  They had to maintain their integrity and honor and pay the ultimate price.  But man’s wrath is nothing compared to the power of God!

Then the princes, governors, captains, and counselors crowded around them and saw that the fire hadn’t touched them—not a hair of their heads was singed; their coats were unscorched, and they didn’t even smell of smoke!   (Daniel 3:27  TLB)

Their faith was remarkable.  Would you have this kind of faith?  They didn’t run, they didn’t beg, they didn’t whine.  These three men embraced what was to come in faith and they—

Experienced new a sense of freedom

“I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire, and they aren’t even hurt by the flames! And the fourth looks like a god!”  (Daniel 3:25  TLB)

It’s almost funny to think about this verse; three men, plus one, all walking around in a roaring, fiery furnace!  These men truly “gloried in their affliction!”  They were not saved FROM the fiery furnace, they were saved IN it.  And that was a much greater deliverance.

They had no fear.  They had not disgraced their God, and God honored them.  The peace of God in the heart is indestructible; it is something NO man, king or otherwise, can take away.

Experienced new fellowship

Nebuchadnezzar saw, not the three men he threw in furnace, but FOUR men in the furnace.  Being cast away from man brought these men into closer contact with the Son of God!  He was right there with those three Hebrews, and the king was not too blind to see Him.  The presence of the God who created light and heat was enough to protect and preserve the lives of these three men who dared to step out and trust Him to do just that.

God could have easily delivered these men before the fiery furnace.  Sometimes God’s ways are a mystery to us.  Uriah, a godly prophet, was not spared and he was run through by Jehoiakim’s sword but Jeremiah was saved (Deuteronomy 29:29, Jeremiah 26:20).  James was not spared the wrath of Herod, but Peter was miraculously rescued (Acts 12:2).  The Old Testament saints understood that miracles were rare unless God specifically announced one in advance:

“Stranger,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors have told us about—such as when God brought them out of Egypt? Now the Lord has thrown us away and has let the Midianites completely ruin us.”  (Judges 6:13  TLB)

So some were spared, either miraculously or providentially, and others were not.

But others trusted God and were beaten to death, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free—trusting that they would rise to a better life afterwards.  (Hebrews 11:35  TLB)

If we would look at how men and women of God reacted in adverse circumstances, we would see a common character trait.  They had a quiet, modest, but very upbeat and positive attitude of faith in God.  If we look specifically at these three Hebrews who were thrown into a fiery furnace, a fact screams out to us.  They asked for NO miracle and they expected none.  Theirs was the kind of faith that says:

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.  (Job 13:15  TLB)

But in the end, God came through in glorious fashion for these men.  Their remarkable experience was a literal fulfillment of something another prophet wrote over a century before:

When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up—the flames will not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God, your Savior, the Holy One of Israel. I gave Egypt and Ethiopia and Seba to Cyrus in exchange for your freedom, as your ransom.  Others died that you might live; I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me and honored, and I love you.  (Isaiah 43:2—4  TLB)

 

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