Facing the Fire

We are commanded to be subject to human authority on earth as a matter of obedience to God Himself in Romans 13:1-7.  However, when earthly authority essentially seeks to play God and restrict the worship the true God requires by its written laws or its unwritten expectations, then compliance to that authority, in the areas where it seeks to restrict God’s worship, becomes idolatry.  We read in Daniel chapter three that the Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold that he required the officers in his province to worship, under threat of death in a fiery furnace if they refused.  In how the three young Hebrew men who were called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego handled this unrighteous demand we have an example of how to stand for the Lord when the pressure to deny Him is exceedingly hot. 

Daniel 3:1-15: “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.  Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.  Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.  Then an herald (a messenger) cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshipeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace (by the way: this was probably very beautiful sounding music- remember that Satan is transformed into an angel of light).  Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.  Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews.  They spoke and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever.  Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image: And whoso falleth not down and worshipeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.  There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.  Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Then they brought these men before the king.  Nebuchadnezzar spoke and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?  Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”

Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church and of God’s true people.  When any person or entity in power makes laws requiring us to do or accept things which His Word calls evil (as we see King Nebuchadnezzar doing here) and/or forbidding us from things that His Word commands us to believe, do, teach, etc. then they are usurping Christ’s authority.  To comply with them then regarding any of these matters is to deny Christ and to commit idolatry (as these men would have done had they bowed to this image of gold). 

These men could have just satisfied King Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, bowed down to the idol, and saved themselves a lot of trouble.  Surely just bowing down wouldn’t be so bad, would it?  What if they didn’t mean it at heart, but just did the action?  Could just doing that really be evil?   It indeed would be evil.  Doing so could not be done without committing great sins in the heart.  In bowing to the image, they’d essentially be saying that the true God’s honor and glory are less important than their own comfort and self-preservation.  They’d also be falsely testifying that man has a right to mold “God” as a servant to his own pride.  They’d thus be bearing false witness before God and before everyone who saw their action and/or would hear about it.  They’d also be taking God’s name in vain by consenting to a horribly wrong misrepresentation of Him.  They would thereby be misrepresenting Him themselves as well since they had professed to worship Him already.  Along with that, they’d be stealing the glory which God is due for the sake of their own convenience in pleasing an exceedingly egotistical ruler.  They’d also be stealing a true witness for the true God from all the other people present with them, and from those who’d hear about this occasion.  That is many of the Ten Commandments broken right there, as well as many other commandments and principles from God’s Word violated, had they bowed to this image.  As we go on, we’ll see that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would make the right choice- the choice we need to make as well when we face the fire of pressure from the world to deny God and His truth, with its terrible threats. 

Daniel 3:16-20: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.  If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.  But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.  Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage (his facial expression) was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spoke, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated (seven times more than it was usually heated).  And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.” 

These men understood the truth of God’s absolute power and utter sovereignty in earth as well as in heaven.  Nebuchadnezzar himself would come to acknowledge that power and sovereignty in the next chapter of the Book of Daniel.  These three men were set on being on the Lord’s side, no matter how bad things looked.  They understood that God doesn’t always deliver His servants from the fire- even though He is well able to.  They seemed to think He would spare them from the fire on this occasion- but they acknowledged He might not.  They didn’t know though the awesomeness of the miracle He was about to do, which we’ll see shortly.  They did however understand the truth that the Apostle Paul was certain of as he was imprisoned and near death. 

2 Timothy 4:18: “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.” 

They knew that nobody ultimately loses out by following the Lord through the fire and keeping His Word; while nobody ever ultimately gains by turning away from Him.  They were also ready and willing to lay down their life to walk consistently with this knowledge.

Luke 9:23-24: “And he (Jesus) said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” 

I believe that these men also understood the eternal fire prepared for transgressors of God’s commandments, as we are certainly warned of by Jesus Himself.  If we want Him to confess us before His Father on the Day of Judgment and so avoid the eternal fire of hell, we must certainly confess Him and keep His Word here no matter how hot the pressure to not do that becomes. 

We can afford to suffer here and even die for Christ’s sake.  But we can’t afford to deny Christ to preserve ourselves and end up in hell.  We are told by Jesus in the Gospels not to fear man which can kill the body, but rather to fear God who has power to cast body and soul into hell.  That is a commandment.  There is a story of how the early Christian disciple Polycarp, who when arrested and threatened to be burned with fire if he wouldn’t bow to Caesar as a god, replied to the one threatening him: “You threaten fire that burns for an hour and is over.  But the judgment on the ungodly is forever.” 

It should also be noted how Nebuchadnezzar had the fire heated up seven times in his rage at the three men’s refusal to comply with his unjust commandment.  There is a rage that Satan has toward God’s servants which he normally demonstrates somehow, even if in mostly subtle ways, through wicked people- especially those in power.  Satan’s rage against God’s people is always hot and he’s always walking about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).   However, there are occasions where there is a beyond ordinary fury displayed from the devil that God’s servants must face in order to stand faithful to Him. 

It’s also worth noting here that Nebuchadnezzar had the mightiest men in his army bind the three men to throw them into the furnace.  When facing the extreme heat of the devil in the spiritual realm, even the pressure from apparently ordinary people can seem intense and intimidating, as even the naturally bold and strong Peter would learn.  But extremely corrupt governments and other Satanically empowered entities will up the ante and often use naturally strong and/or exceedingly fierce people to carry out Satan’s malice towards God’s servants -whether through soldiers and law enforcement officers who also disregard the Lord and get rewarded for their “work” or through true criminals against the State who are already imprisoned, whom those who would be faithful to the Lord are threatened to be categorized with and put among for taking the stance which the truth of God’s Word requires us to take.  We absolutely must be ready to follow the Lord no matter the cost if we will avoid being snared by base idolatry (and thus led into spiritual destruction and eternal perdition).  Those who waver at all are ripe for the snare. 

Proverbs 29:25: “The fear of man bringeth a snare (a trap): but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.”

Psalm 27:1-3: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.  Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.”

We absolutely must be persuaded to fear God more than men and what they can do to us.  We also need to remember examples like the one we are looking at and the one shortly afterwards in Daniel chapter 6 where Daniel himself would be put among lions for being faithful to the Lord.  The Lord would rescue Daniel by shutting the lion’s mouths. 

By heeding the whole counsel of God’s Word we can believe Him for miraculous deliverance and yet trust Him even if He doesn’t give it- and therefore stick with Him through mundane and/or miserable circumstances if He sees it fit to allow them.  To those who endure there is always an ultimate resurrection eventually, even if there is not a great deliverance demonstrated for them in the short-term pertaining to the dire situation which they are in. 

Daniel 3:21-23: “Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.  Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flames of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.”

I don’t know exactly what these three men were thinking when they were cast into the fire, but I dare say I know what they were tempted to think.  Yet they didn’t yield to the temptation.  They had trusted the Lord to deliver them, but now He had apparently failed.  He definitely had not failed them, but it sure looked that way as they were falling into the fiery furnace.  However, the true God is so powerful that He can even make it seem like He’s not in control; and yet still be in total control.  That would be no less true if He had intervened and allowed them to burn to death.  Those who stand for Him can indeed trust Him to help them as they do so.  It doesn’t mean they won’t face circumstances that seem despairing and discouraging; and it doesn’t even mean they won’t be harmed badly and/or die an untimely death.  Nevertheless, that is not sufficient reason to justify complaining against Him and forsaking Him.  These men understood that.  They were indeed ready to suffer and die for God’s truth even if He didn’t deliver them.  It is also an eternal law that God somehow helps those who trust and obey Him.  Two men can be tested the same way- one trusts God, stands, and knows God’s mighty work on his behalf eventually, somehow, in some way (even if that doesn’t happen before the day of resurrection; the other does not do so and is left to himself without being in the grace of God.  Both cases are just the effects of this eternal law. 

Psalm 33:18-22: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.  Our soul waiteth for the Lord: he is our help and our shield.  For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.”

2 Chronicles 15:2b: “The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.”  

2 Chronicles 16:9a: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.”

If we complain if our lives don’t go well and we say “Well, if only these things weren’t happening I’d be obedient to the Lord and wouldn’t be acting like this”, we are then essentially saying that we’ll only worship God on certain conditions.  That is coming short of acceptable, authentic worship of Him and leaving one in the devil’s realm.  That is essentially the way of Cain.

Daniel 3:24-27: “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spoke, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?  They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.  He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.  Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spoke, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither (here).  Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire.  And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counselors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.”

As these men trusted in the Lord and stood for Him, He delivered them in a way that maybe even they wouldn’t have guessed- a way that testified who the true God is, testified of the falsehood of Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, testified of the wickedness of those who bowed to it, and testified of the righteousness of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego who would not do so.  This also showed the power and the awesomeness of the true God more than had He kept them from going into the fire at all.  It is one thing to deliver someone from being put into the fire; it is another thing to deliver someone in the midst of the fire.  

Notice in the passage that they were walking in the midst of the fire and they were not harmed by it.  They came out of the fire with no hurt on them nor on their clothing nor even with the smell of fire on them.  The shackles wherewith they were bound were loosed by the fire that was intended by the devil to destroy them.  It was the Son of God who was walking with them in the midst of the fire, and it was by Him that they were brought out of it.  The same Lord that they were serving and standing for was faithful to honor them in their stand.  He took care of that which was beyond their control for them.  This is the true grace of God. 

Jesus Christ Himself would tell the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness”, so that Paul could thus say “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 

Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).  Those who forsake Him to preserve themselves will be ashamed.  But those who yield themselves to His rightful authority and lay down their lives for His name’s sake will ultimately be saved by Him and made whole- though they had to suffer much hardship and loss temporarily to side with Him.  It is always better to go the Lord’s way in any and every circumstance. 

The account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego concludes in Daniel 3:28-30: “Then Nebuchadnezzar spoke, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.  Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.  Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.”

Nebuchadnezzar learned even better eventually, even to the point of (for all we can tell) forsaking his sins and authentically worshiping the true God Himself.  

After a terrible judgment upon himself and being removed from his position of power, we read (in the context of a letter written by Nebuchadnezzar to be circulated throughout the Babylonian Empire) in Daniel 4:34-37: “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?  At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.  Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.”

Aaron’s email is: [email protected]