The prophet Daniel took center stage in last week’s lesson. In this week’s lesson his three friends are at the center of the controversy. We move from food to fire. Another person who actually occupies a large portion of the first chapters of the book of Daniel is Nebuchadnezzar. It seems odd that he would go from affirming the service of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 1:20; 2:46-49) to wanting to throw the last three into the fiery furnace. But we do not know how much time had elapsed between chapters one and three, and after all, this was Nebuchadnezzar, who was about as mentally stable as Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1-23).
Daniel 3 begins with Nebuchadnezzar making a golden image (of himself?) and placing it in the plain of Dura. When the music played, all the people were to bow down to worship the image. Obviously the Jews could not comply with that command in light of Exodus 20:3-6. The Chaldeans ratted on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:8-12), and Nebuchadnezzar blew a gasket (vv. 13-15). One of the boldest examples of faith in the entire Bible precedes our printed text. Daniel’s three friends ignored the king’s edict saying that their God was able to deliver them from the fire; but even if he chose not to, they would still refuse to bow down (vv. 16-18). They did not bend, or bow, or burn.
Bold Faith Faces Danger
Nebuchadnezzar did not take their refusal lightly. He got about as hot as the furnace that he heated for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The king gave orders to heat the furnace seven times hotter than usual. The number seven could be symbolic, meaning “very hot.” But the extent of the intense heat is still evident in the verses that follow. This was probably a type of open brick kiln used in that part of the world at the time.
Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers bound the three Hebrews (a detail mentioned twice in the paragraph) and threw them into the fire. Two other details are mentioned about this event: (1) Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, clothes and all, and (2) the soldiers who threw the men into the furnace were killed by the intense heat.
Bold Faith Is Rewarded
Daniel 3:26, 27
God chooses when to deliver and when not to deliver (see Acts 12:1-17). Therefore it might not always seem to the watching world that bold faith is rewarded. In this case though, it happened. Nebuchadnezzar could hardly believe that the three Hebrews survived the fire. His counselors confirmed though that it was true. In addition to this the king saw yet a fourth person who seemed to be walking in the fire with the men (Daniel 3:24, 25). Was this Jesus or an angel? From the “pagan perspective” it was evidently the latter.
How Nebuchadnezzar could see into the kiln is not known. How the three Hebrews could walk out of the kiln having been tied up is not known. But the reaction of the onlookers seems to have validated that something miraculous happened. So complete was this miraculous reward that four aspects of it are mentioned: their bodies showed no signs of harm, their hair was not singed, their clothing was not scorched, and there was no smell of smoke on them. This event may well be what Hebrews 11:34 refers to when it says that through faith “they quenched the power of fire.”
Bold Faith Generates Witness
Nebuchadnezzar and his whole cabinet were amazed. As Nebuchadnezzar did in other places (see Daniel 2:47; 4:34-35), he gave praise (blessing) to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The king admitted that the men were divinely rescued. The king realized that their deliverance was due to their trust in their God. He confirmed that the men had defied (set aside) his own command. The king was impressed that the men were willing to give up their lives rather than compromise their faith. What is interesting about this nuance of bold faith is that it generated a witness for God from a pagan king.
Three words have been drawn from the non-printed part of our text and have become quite famous. They are, “But if not . . .” (see Daniel 3:18). These famous words were spoken by a British naval commander in World War II. The movie Dunkirk was partly about that kind of courage. Bold faith says, “But if not . . .”
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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