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Category: Daniel

The Heat of Obedience

Fire in furnaceShadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18

The danger in reading stories like this that I feel very familiar with is that I can tend to gloss over it. Despite my best attempts to stay focused, sometimes I go into my speed-reading mode and kind of just skim the surface of the text. But regardless of whether I go deep or shallow in my reading, there are always a few things that jump out from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response to Nebuchadnezzar’s threat.

  1. The understood who their ultimate authority was – it is obvious from their response that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew that although they were employed in the service of Nebuchadnezzar, they answered to God and He was their ultimate authority. They would respect and submit to Nebuchadnezzar as an earthly authority but not at the expense of their allegiance and obedience to God.
  2. They didn’t fear the consequences – their fear of God was greater than their fear of any consequence of disobeying Nebuchadnezzar. There was no gray area here for the three. They knew what was right (in the eyes of God) and they were not swayed by the personal cost.
  3. They believed in God’s power and ability to rescue them – they acknowledged that regardless of their situation, God is powerful enough to do something about it and to rescue them if it is His will to do so.
  4. Their obedience wasn’t conditional on what God might do but rather on who He is – they acknowledged that even if God chose to not rescue them, they would still not serve Nebuchadnezzar’s gods or worship the image that he had erected. They didn’t obey God in expectation of Him rescuing them from the consequence. They didn’t worry about interpreting and understanding God’s will in the situation. They knew enough about God to respond in obedience to that which He had already revealed. They obeyed God in light of the fact that He is God and is worthy of all glory, honor and praise.

A Testimony of Suffering

The decree had been given by the king himself. Anytime music was played, all citizens were to drop to their knees in worship. For most of the citizens of Babylon, this was no problem. However, for three Hebrews who desired to stay faithful and true to their God, this was quite problematic. For them, the solution to this problem was simple. They would not be moved. They would obey the Lord and fear Him more than man.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Daniel 3:16-18

It is easy to sit in the safety and comfort of our homes and determine that, if given the choice, obedience to God is a no-brainer. However, in this case, there was a very real and tangible consequence for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their obedience to God required that they disobey the order of the earthly king to whom they were subject and they would have to endure the consequences. In this case, the consequence was death. They were to be thrown into a fiery furnace that was heated seven times hotter than normal. So hot, that even some of the king’s servants who were helping to administer the punishment were consumed by the heat. Except, this was not the case with the three Hebrew men. Not only were they not consumed, but they were seen walking around inside the furnace. Not only were they walking around, they were joined by someone else and there now seemed to be four of them; an extra person who looked like a “son of the gods”.

After witnessing this, King Nebucadnezzar called out to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and requested that they come out of the fire. They obeyed this command of the king and exited the furnace so that all present could see that the fire did not have any power over their bodies. Their hair was not singed, their clothing was not burned and they didn’t even smell like smoke.

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”
Daniel 3:28-29

As I consider this scene there are a few things that stand out to me.

  • They feared disobeying God more than they feared the consequence of man. Would I take the time to inventory how often I have compromised in order to please man or to avoid disappointing man I fear that I would be embarrassed and ashamed. And when I say compromised, I’m not talking about what most would consider to be blatant or outright sin as much as I am talking about not boldly following through on obeying the Lord and being a faithful ambassador for Him.
  • They endured suffering while acknowledging God’s sovereignty. Their desire to obey was not contingent on what the Lord would do in response to their obedience. Their obedience was in response to what the Lord had already done and even more importantly, who the Lord had already revealed Himself to be. They were well aware of the potential outcome and immediate consequences of their decision but they also acknowledged that God is sovereign and could act as He pleased.
  • They enjoyed God’s presence in the midst of their suffering. Whether the fourth person in the fire with them was a theophony or an angel of God; God made His presence known to them while they were in the fiery furnace. The fact that they exited the fire at the king’s command tells me they probably could have walked out at any time. However, they chose to endure the heat and enjoy the presence and fellowship with God in the midst of their circumstances rather than trying to flee or avoid the circumstances. His grace was truly sufficient for them during their time of suffering.
  • Their witness in suffering was powerful to those who observed. Notice Nebuchadnezzar’s response in the verses referenced above? After witnessing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s trust in the Lord and how in response they received such sufficient grace from their God, Nebuchadnezzar blessed their God. He also made a decree that no one should speak against their God and acknowledges the fact that their God is all sufficient, all powerful and is mighty to save.

My prayer that I am willing to yield up my body rather than serve and worship any god except my own God – the Lord Jesus Christ. That I suffer well so that all those who observe will see a testimony of God’s grace and will respond by acknowledging how great is my God. And of course, I am very aware of the fact that I do not need to wait for a fiery trial of life in order to live this way. By the Spirit’s power I pray that I take to heart Paul’s exhortation in Romans and that I gladly and willingly present my body as a living sacrifice as my spiritual act of worship. And I trust that, because of God’s great faithfulness, love, grace and mercy, my sacrifice will be acceptable and pleasing to Him.

In the fire

If you’ve read your Bible much, attend church semi-regularly, hang around Christians, or enjoy watching Veggie Tales, chances are that you are familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Or, for the Veggie Tales fans, Rack, Shack, and Benny. Although I am certainly familiar with the story, I found myself with different questions than normal while reading through it this morning.

The thing I found interesting this morning was the fact that, after Nebuchadnezzer notices that there are not three men but rather four men wandering around in the blazing furnace, he commands the three friends to come out. Here’s where it gets interesting. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had no difficulty obeying that command. They were able to just walk right out after being told to “come out”. This makes me think that they probably could have come out on their own prior to this point and yet, they didn’t. They remained in the fire with the fourth “man”. This causes me to reflect on the following:

Obedience can be costly – first of all, we should acknoweldge that sometimes there is a “cost” to obedience. In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the cost was the risk of physical suffering and death. In other cases, the cost might be having your pride exposed and being forced to humble yourself. Maybe in other situations, the cost is financial. In all cases, although it may not be realized at the time, the cost of not obeying is far more costly.

God’s grace is sufficient – I believe that God’s all-sufficient grace is enough to enable you to respond in obedience to Him. It has to be. Why else would these three friends be willing to yield up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God? That fourth person that Nebuchadnezzer saw in the furnace? That was either an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ or it was an angel sent specifically to minister to, and protect Shadrach, Meshach, and Agednego.

Deliverance in (not from) the fire – God obviously had plans to save Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He obviously had no intention of allowing them to be consumed by the fire. And yet, He allowed them to go through the anxiety of having to make their decision to obey God instead of the king, the anticipation of being burned alive, and the fear of being tossed into the flames. Why? In hindsight we can guess that perhaps it was to test and approve their faith. We can also see how it allowed the living God to be acknowledged and glorified by Nebuchadnezzer. Can you imagine if you were to have been one of the three how your faith in God would have been strengthened after going through this experience? Would there be anything that you would fear or doubt after seeing God show up in such a big way?

Lord, I pray that I, just like Shadrach, Meshach and Agednego, would be willing to obey you at all costs. I pray that I would receive your grace as all-sufficient. I pray that when I find myself in the midst of a “fire” that I would not look for a way out as much as I would look for your presence in the midst of the fire. I pray that my focus would be on how I can bring you glory from within the fire. I pray that I would trust that you will use the fire to refine me, sanctify me, and further conform me into your image for your glory. Amen.

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