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Fiery Furnace

Daniel  3

{3:1} King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. {2} He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. {3} So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it. {4} Then the herald loudly proclaimed, "This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: {5} As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. {6} Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace." {7} Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshipped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. {8} At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. {9} They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, "O king, live forever! {10} You have issued a decree, O king, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, {11} and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. {12} But 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, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up." {13} Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, {14} 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? {15} Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes 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?"

{16} Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O 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 save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. {18} But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." {19} 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 {20} and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. {21} So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. {22} 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, {23} and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. {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, O king." {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!" So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, {27} 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. {28} 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. {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." {30} Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon. -- Daniel 3 (NIV)

The Nature of the State’s Demand

In many cultures in many lands the demand is made upon the followers of God: put the state first. Be politically correct. This story provides us an excellent illustration of the methods used by the world (and the Prince of this world).

Token Obedience

Note first that the obedience required is essentially a token obedience. There is no demand here to change of lifestyle. In fact, the worship demanded seems quite trivial -- if you’re accustomed to worshiping many gods. Here are some of the ways in which the world inflicts this “token obedience”:

·        Political loyalty is the first. People tend to take their religion seriously, and this provides the state with a convenient “handle” with which to manage people. Nebuchadnezzar is not the last to use this device; the Roman Empire martyred millions of Christians on just this principle. In our own time, communists are known to consider Christians as insane - and enemies of the state.

·        The argument is made today that “all views are equally valid.” This is a wonderful instance of a legal fiction turned into “fact.” The original presumption in America was that the government, being composed of fallible sinners, could not possibly be correct in discerning truth from error in the matters of the church. Therefore, the argument went, let them all be equal before the law. This has now been twisted into “all views are equally valid.” There is no way to (logically) travel from “I have just as much right to my opinion as you do” to “My opinion is just as true as yours is.” If you think not, suppose my opinion is that the earth is flat? But see the logic: if all views of religion are equally valid, what’s the problem with you being forced to adopt mine?

·        The most subtle of attacks in this line is, “you can still worship your own God as you please.” This is akin to the rock and roll addicts speech of “I’ll make noise, you make quiet, and we’ll both be happy.” God is, as the Old Testament proclaims, a jealous God. You cannot worship Him and another god too. Worship of God prohibits worship of gods. He is jealous of our worship as I am jealous of my wife’s love -- I just seem to be stuck on not sharing her.

Social Pressure

The state is not limited to physical torture. Indeed, it is a weapon of the last resort, as it is time consuming and expensive to go around torturing people into worshiping your statue. It’s much more economical to use social pressure (“everybody will be there with you.”) Note the techniques:

·        First, there is the crowd. Not just a mob of people, but a collection of important people. These are the trendsetters, the elite. We might today call them “the beautiful people” - those who would grace the cover of Time magazine.

·        Next, there is music. The whole thing is designed to appeal to the senses, and music is used to encourage the listener to “get along and go along.”

Accusation by the Intelligentsia

The mob does not accuse the three; the intelligent do -- the court astrologers, etc. It’s important to note this, for it is a source of much pain to believers that “intelligent people are above all that nonsense.” You must note the element of pride -- it is a strong temptation for the strong and the intelligent. The couch potato is not likely to take pride in his bodily strength. The C student isn’t likely to take pride in his brains. The temptation to say, “I am smart enough to handle this by myself, without God” is one that presents itself to the intelligent.

·        Note the presumption. “In the name of your principles I demand the right to speak. In the name of mine, I demand that you be silent.” We, the intelligentsia, the thinking ones, are right of course. You, the poor dumb Christian, should be silent and listen to your betters.

·        The issue is power. The politically correct see the power of the government as absolute, and therefore the government is entitled by its own power to do as it pleases. The Christian sees the government as being under divine law {a principle as old as Magna Carta, at least} and thus limited. To the politically correct, Christianity is a direct attack on their vision of government.

The Christian’s Response

The response given by these three is fascinating. It is a sign of a very mature faith (which may be why God allowed this trial). There are three key points in it:

·        The servant in the stead of the Master

·        The sovereignty of God

·        Righteous action

“We do not need to defend ourselves...”

The attack here is not on the three. They know that, and so does the king. The attack is on God himself. (Reference John 15:18-21). Indeed, as Christ revealed in the Sermon on the Mound, such an attack is a cause for rejoicing, for it means that “great is your reward in heaven.” If you have been found worthy to be attacked because of your faith, how greatly will your Father reward such faith?

The Sovereignty of God

The “Hebrew children” are aware of a distinction which often escapes modern Christians. They know that there is a difference between what God can do and what God will do. God is not subject to man’s ideas of what He ought to do. So many of us presume upon God, giving Him such good advice on how He ought to run His kingdom. But listen to our Lord’s thought:

{20:1} "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. {2} He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. {3} "About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. {4} He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' {5} So they went. "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. {6} About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' {7} "'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'

{8} "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' {9} "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. {10} So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. {11} When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. {12} 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' {13} "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? {14} Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. {15} Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' {16} "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." -- Matthew 20:1-16 (NIV)

Indeed, in one of the most tantalizing of passages, Jesus makes clear that the Spirit goes where it pleases:

{8} The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." -- John 3:8 (NIV)

We don’t know what God will do; only what He can do. So what are we to do in this circumstance?

Righteous Action, regardless of cost

Note the attitude: after telling the king that God is able to deliver them out of his hands (by the world’s standard, a very brash statement) they then go on to tell him that it doesn’t matter what He will do -- what matters is what they will do. There are two points here that particularly appeal to me:

·        First, they are prepared to suffer for God’s sake. They know well enough that God can save them; they also know well enough that He might not do so. It doesn’t matter -- righteousness is still righteousness. They will do what is right whatever the personal cost. {This is a marvelous example of servanthood}

·        Next, they avoid all temptation to rationalize. The human mind is wonderful at adapting to new circumstances, and it is amazing that they did not start thinking, “I can do a lot more for God alive than dead” {but the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church} or “Think of all the people I could influence from my high position” {as if God couldn’t do without me}.

A Picture Lesson for Us

The result is a lesson in pictures for us. As a side note, consider that Scripture may be interpreted in many ways. One very common method is to see the literal events of the Bible as symbolic events for the Christian. In this instance, the Hebrew children represent the church; Nebuchadnezzar represents the world; the fire our trials; with the angel playing the part of himself.

Ministry is in the fire

God ministers to us in the fire (= troubles in our lives), but does not take us out of the fire. (There is debate over whether this is an angel or the preincarnate Son of God -- fueled greatly by the mistranslation in the King James Version). Indeed, this is said to be the function of angels:

{14} Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? -- Hebrews 1:14 (NIV)

Our actions bring glory to God

Nebuchadnezzar was not impressed by their speech. The world will not be impressed with how eloquently we proclaim the glory of God and His mercy. The world cannot help but notice, however, the work of the Spirit in our lives (or lack thereof). There are two key points:

·        the world is little impressed by your blessings, attributing them to “luck” or “skill.” It is in adversity that the world sees Christ in your life.

·        it is our duty in adversity to let them know “from whence cometh my strength.”

God’s ways are higher than our ways

{9} "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. -- Isaiah 55:9 (NIV)

It is one of the critical elements of faith -- particularly to the able of mind -- that we recognize this. We are so prone to give policy advice to God. It is vital to our faith to remember this. God will point it out to us -- in His time. In the meanwhile, we are to remember this fact.

For indeed, our failure in this matter is due to our ability. We give policy advice based upon our experience, knowledge and imagination. In all these He is immeasurably greater than we are. Sometimes we limit Him in our prayers by what we cannot imagine. Indeed, here is Paul’s benediction from the letter to the Ephesians -- it is a most appropriate close to a prayer for help:

I think

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