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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 21, 2011
Faith in the Midst of the Fire
This morning we come to one of my favorite stories in the Bible. When I was young, I usually heard Daniel 3 referred to as the story of the three children of Israel in the fiery furnace. Being a child at the time, I thought Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were three boys like I was at the time. As I got older and entered my teens I learned these three men were captured as teens, and since this is only chapter 3, I concluded these were three brave young men that were my age or only a little older. Their defiance of the king’s terrible command was inspiration to a teenager that also wanted to defy authoritarian rule. As I got older and actually studied the book of Daniel in depth, I have grown even more in my appreciation for not only the example of faithfulness and integrity seen in these three men, but even more so of what the story reveals about God’s amazing character in forcing King Nebuchadnezzar and all of his officials to acknowledge Him as the Most High God.
The King’s Command – Daniel 3:1-7
The chapter begins with King Nebuchadnezzar erecting a statue and the commanding everyone to bow down to it.
3:1 (NASB) Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which [was] sixty cubits [and] its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent [word] to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. 3 Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed: “To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and [men of every] language, 5 that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. 6 “But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.” 7 Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and [men of every] language fell down [and] worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
There is a lot of speculation about the timing of this event and the image itself. Some insist that this occurs soon after Nebuchadnezzar had his dream as recorded in Daniel 2. (See: The God Who Reveals Mysteries & The Great Gentile Nations) They base this on the image being made of gold and coordinate that with the statue in his dream having a gold head. However, that is an assumption. The description of the image is very vague describing only its size and the material used. The text does not even indicate what the image resembled. If was a human image, the proportions where odd being about 90ft tall and 9 feet wide. An average person of about 18 inches wide would be 15 feet tall in this proportion. The image could have been of an idealized person or of something else.
The image was made of gold and there may well have been enough gold in Babylon to make it out of solid gold, but for engineering reasons it is more likely that it was made out of a stronger material such as stone or wood that was overlaid with gold. This was the more common way that “golden” objects were made since gold is so soft. That the entire image was made of gold would be contrary to the dream in which the statue also had parts made of silver, bronze, iron and iron mixed with clay. That the image was made of gold may or may not have had some relationship to his dream. It could have been that the entire image was gold as an expression of his pride and defiance against Daniel’s interpretation that other kingdoms would follow Babylon. But it may also have been made out of gold from the fact that Babylon was filled with gold with their chief god, Marduk, being the “god of gold.” The image may have had more religious significance than some commentators are willing to admit.
The reality is that the description of this image and timing of it being set up are vague in the text because they are not important to the reason for the story of this historical event being recounted to later generations. The purpose is not for giving insight into Babylonian history and practices, but rather it is for demonstrating the power of the true God and the faithfulness of His followers.
There has also been speculation about the location of the plains of Dura. Part of that is because Dura is a term that simply refers to anyplace that is enclosed by a wall. It is most likely the location was a place about six miles southeast of Babylon where a mound has been found of brick construction that would have served as a good base for this image. It is on the plain of a valley which would have made the height of the statues even more impressive.
After the image is erected, king Nebuchadnezzar sent out a command to have all the important government officials assembled for the dedication of the image. While there is some uncertainty about the meaning of ever particular office mentioned, it ranges from satraps to local magistrates, from regional governors to local judges. The phrases “all the peoples, nations and language” indicated they came from all around the Babylonian kingdom. The gathering of all these government officials demonstrates the importance Nebuchadnezzar was placing on this ceremony.
After they are all gathered before the golden image, the command is given that they are to bow down before this image and worship when they hear the music from what would be a Babylonian orchestra. We are not sure what some of the instruments listed are, but they include wind, reed and string instruments. You can imagine that when they began to play all the people would be aware.
The exact purpose of this is not clearly stated. There is a religious aspect to it since the command includes “worship” of the image. At the same time, since it is a gathering of government officials there is also a strong element of this being a political exercise in demonstrating loyalty to the king. In a pagan polytheistic society such worship was not a problem for the people because it was at worst just adding another god to their pantheon of deities. They would continue to worship whichever god or gods they desired – they just had to add the king’s god or gods. Such worship was often also tied in with political loyalty since they thought their gods were the ones that established them in power. Worship of those particular gods would be a sign of loyalty to the government those gods had established.
The opposite would also be true. A refusal to worship the god or gods of whoever was in power would be an act of hostility toward the king and his kin
gdom. The strong warning in verse 6 that those who would not fall down and worship the image would be cast into a furnace and burned alive indicates that the king suspected there was disloyalty among them. The furnace mentioned would be similar to a lime kiln which had a perpendicular shaft that allowed materials to be poured into the top and which could then be extracted from the side. This was no idle threat for Jeremiah 29:22 mentions that the king of Babylon roasted Zedekiah and Ahab in the fire to execute them.
The Accusations – Daniel 3:8-12
While bowing down to an idol is not a big deal to a polytheistic pagan, it is strictly prohibited for God’s people being the second of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). As already seen in chapter 1, there were a few Jews that had been captured, trained and made part of the Babylonian government that would remain loyal to God. Their own integrity would demand that they refuse the king’s command. See: The Character of Godly Teens) They were seen and so the expected accusations were brought against them.
8 For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. 9 They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: “O king, live forever! 10 “You yourself, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image. 11 “But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. 12 “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, [namely] Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”
You would think that Nebuchadnezzar would have some people designated to watch for those what would not bow, but here we find it is not a law enforcement officer of some type, but the Chaldeans that make the accusations. You might recall that the Chaldeans were one of the groups of wise men that would have had obvious jealousy extending as far back as the king finding Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael to be ten times wiser than all the magicians and conjurers of his realm and appointing them to his personal service (Daniel 1:19-20). That jealousy would have only increased after Daniel revealed and interpreted the king’s dream when they could not resulting in Daniel being appointed governor over the province of Babylon and made prefect over all the wise men along with Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah being appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon (Daniel 2:48-49).
Before I go on, I need to comment on what is missing in this accusation. Daniel is not mentioned. There has been much speculation made about why, but the text does not give any indication. Some have suggested that he may have viewed this as simply a political exercise and not breaking the Second commandment, but that would appear to be contrary to his character. Another suggestion is that Daniel was not present for some reason, perhaps he was away elsewhere doing the king’s business or just sick that day. A third idea is that Daniel’s position was too high for them to accuse him. Perhaps the king even exempted Daniel knowing he would only worship his own God whom had already been proven to be superior to all others. Each of these possibilities have strengths and weaknesses, but since the text does not tell us we do not know.
Their accusations are in keeping with the manner in which evil people have always treated those who follow the Lord. That is why Jesus warned us to be prepared for the same against us in Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when [men] cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The Chaldeans went to the king and reminded him of the command he had given and the penalty for not bowing down to worship the golden image. They then pointed out that certain Jews – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – whom the king himself had appointed over the province of Babylon did not obey the command. They make three accusations. First, they had “disregarded the king.” This accusation was designed to make their refusal to bow a personal affront to the king.
Second, they “do not serve your gods.” They are an affront to Nebuchadnezzar’s gods. The king had acknowledged the God of Daniel as being a great God able to do what his gods were not, but he had not abandoned his gods. He also did not know these three men well enough to know that they would on serve the same God as Daniel. The king would still have been relying on his gods to keep him in power and keep his kingdom successful, so he would not want to risk offending them.
Third, they do not “worship the golden image which you have set up.” This ties the first two accusations together for it is their disobedience to the king’s command upon which the other two accusations are made. They disregard the king and his gods.
The Chaldeans were successful in getting the king to take action. In fact, they were perhaps too successful for the king lost his temper, and with it wisdom. Proverbs 12:6 states, A fool’s vexation is known at once, But a prudent man conceals dishonor. Proverbs 29:11 adds, “A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back.” Yet God will use even Nebuchadnezzar losing his temper to fulfill His own purposes.
The Trial – Daniel 3:13-15
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 “Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, [very well.] But if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”
In rage and with anger he has the three men brought before him. It appears that Nebuchadnezzar values these men and may have seen through the jealousy that motivated the Chaldeans to accuse them. Instead of immediately having them thrown into the fire, he calms himself enough to question them and personally repeat his command to them including the warning.
He then adds, “and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” There are two possible reasons or a combination of them that would cause him to make this statement. First, the king could be so proud and arrogant he claims that even the gods could not deliver them. Second, the worship of the golden image could include the worship of a god that he believes is superior that would prevent any god they served from rescuing them. This challenge is the set up that will ultimately bring glory to the true God.
A Faithful Response – Daniel 3:16-18
The answer they give is the model for how all those who follow the true God should respond when challenged about being obedient first and foremost to Him.
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 “If it be [so,] our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 “But [even] if [He does] not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that
you have set up.”
They were not rude to the king, but they were direct. In view of the king’s statement, they saw no need to give an explanation for why they would not bow and worship the golden image. They simply state their faith in their own God and His abilities while also yielding themselves to His will regardless of what he chooses to do. Contrary to the king’s claim of absolute power to condemn them, they knew their lives were in the hands of their God, and they were at peace even if obedience to God cost them their lives. There are many times when obedience to God will mean persecution even to the point of martyrdom. Church history is filled with such stories and it continues to this day and especially in the communist and Islamic lands.
How different life would be if professing Christians would have that kind of trust in God’s abilities and yield themselves in that way to the Lord’s will. Such trust and submission results in a holy life that has a peace that surpasses all comprehension. It has a confidence when facing the future even when it looks bleak. I think that most of us would like to believe we would respond the way they did if we were in their situation, but whether you would or not depends on what you actually believe about God. The reality is that we do face all sorts of similar though less dramatic situations in daily life that challenge our trust and submission to God. How you respond to those are the indicators of what you would do if facing a serious or even life threatening situation. What would you do in these situations?
Peer Pressure: 1) Your friends want to go to a movie that the reviews report glorifies immorality and blasphemes God. 2) Your spending some time with your friends, but they are drinking and getting intoxicated. 3) Your enjoying an activity with your friends, but now they are breaking the posted rules and they want you to join them.
School Pressure: 1) Your teacher is an evolutionist and grades down those who disagree with him and you have to write a paper on the origin of life. 2) In a class discussion the claim is made that either God is impotent or does not exist because there is evil in the world.
Work Pressure: 1) Your boss gives you new sales literature that lies about the product you are selling. 2) Your boss wants you to sign off on a padded expense list. 3) You were hired with the understanding that you would not work Sundays, but a new boss just changed your hours to include Sunday morning.
Government Pressure: 1) You are a photographer and you declined to work a homosexual wedding and now a law suit is threatening your business license. 2) You are a nursing student and a new State law requires you to participate in abortion training. 3) You are on a public sidewalk passing out gospel literature and a police officer arrests you for it.
All of these are real situations that have happened and there are thousands more like them. You will be put to the test of whether you will obey God first and foremost or yield to the pressure to conform to some other standard. Your ability to stand firm will be based on your level of trust and submission to God which is trained in relatively easy situations before the difficult ones will come. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. He always provides a way of escape so that you can endure it.
The Judgment – Daniel 3:19-23
Their calm but defiant response causes Nebuchadnezzar to completely lose his temper.
“Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain valiant warriors who [were] in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, in order to cast [them] into the furnace of blazing fire. Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their [other] clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. For this reason, because the king’s command [was] urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up.”
If the king wanted to cause them to suffer, he would have cooled the fire so they would live longer in its agony. In anger he commanded the opposite and heated it up seven times hotter which would kill them faster, but all that managed to do was cause the death of the mighty men charged with casting them in. The deaths of these valiant men proved the lethality of the fire.
In addition, usually victims of this type of execution would be stripped first, but there was such haste that they were tied up in their clothes with even their caps on. This will fact would become another proof in the miracle God was about to perform.
The Deliverance – Daniel 3:24-27
24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he responded and said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “Certainly, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “Look! I see four men loosed [and] walking [about] in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of [the] gods!”
The furnace was arranged in such a way that the king could see inside it and what he saw astounded him. Remember that they were cast in tied up. They would not have been able to run away, and once cast in they should not have even been able to stand up. Instead, Nebuchadnezzar sees them walking around in the midst of the fire without harm and then he noticed there were four figures, not three, walking around. The fourth figure was different having the appearance of a divine being which he calls “a son of the gods.” His religious belief was that the gods had sons which would appear as divine men.
26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around [and] saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire [even] come upon them.
Contrary to his earlier statement, the king now recognized there was a God that could rescue Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from his hands. The king now acknowledges that they are “servants of the Most High God.” There can be little doubt that he understood this to be the same God that Daniel served though the title is now supreme. To a polytheist, a “God of gods” is a great God, but the “Most High God” is the supreme God.
The evidence of the miraculous deliverance is confirmed by three groups of the top officials in the kingdom – satraps, prefects and governors. Shadrach, Meshach and Abenego emerge from the furnace unharmed. The fire had completely burned away the ropes that had bound them, but did not even as much as singe their hair, damage their clothes or even leave the smell of smoke in them. Each of these facts only magnified the level of the miracle. The king responded with a new decree.
The Decree – Daniel 3:28-30
28 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 “Therefore, I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their
houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 30 Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that they were correct to violate his command in order to serve and worship only their own God. He
understood that this was a challenge of his gods verses their God and his gods lost. He recognized the fourth man in the fire as an angel or messenger from their God that protected them. Speculation on the precise identity of this angel is not necessary because his importance was only in being obviously sent by God to protect Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Since their God proved Himself as the Most High God in protecting them, the king does not want to risk offending him and so gives a new decree. No one from any people, nation or tongue was to speak anything offensive against their God or they would be executed in a horrible manner of being torn apart and their memory dishonored by their houses becoming the public latrines.
The king then caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to prosper in the province of Babylon. We can be sure that this was to the chagrin of the Chaldeans who had sought their downfall.
God has proven Himself to not only be the Most High God by the manner in which He rescued His three servants, but also longsuffering and patient in dealing with Nebuchadnezzar. God could have just destroyed him for his idolatry and arrogant boasting. Instead the Lord brings him to a greater understanding of the truth.
Nebuchadnezzar is forced to acknowledge that the Lord is the Most High God, but at this point he is not ready to renounce and abandon his false gods. Nebuchadnezzar also still has a serious pride issue that God will deal with in chapter 4.
Sadly, there are many people that are like Nebuchadnezzar. Even though God is patient with them and puts them in positions which force them to acknowledge Him in some way, they are still resistant to yielding themselves to Him. They may add God to their belief system, but they are still holding on to their old beliefs too. Don’t be like that. The Lord is God and there is no other.
You need to be like Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah who prove to be wonderful examples of trusting God and submitting their lives to Him. Each of us will do well to follow their example in the situations we face in life.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Count how many times Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned. Discuss with your parents how you can trust God and submit to His will in something you are facing.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the significance of the image that Nebuchadnezzar set up? Why aren’t there more details about it? Whom did the king command to assemble? What is their importance? What political and / or religious significance would there be in falling down and worshiping the image he set up? Why such a serious penalty for refusing to worship it? Why motivated the Chaldeans to make the accusations? What were their accusations? Why did the king question them instead of executing them immediately? Why didn’t they give the king an explanation? How did they demonstrate their trust in God and submission to His will? How can you demonstrate your trust in God and submission to His will in situations you face? Explain. What irrational commands did the king make because he lost his temper? What was the tragic result? Name at least five of the seven miracles that took place after they were thrown into the fire? What effect did it have on the king? What did the king conclude about the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? Why did the king issue such a harsh a decree to keep anyone in his kingdom from speaking anything offensive about the Most High God? How did God show Himself to be patient with Nebuchadnezzar? How does He show His patience with people today? What blessings will you have if you trust the Lord and submit to His will?
Sermon Notes – 8/14/2011 –
Faith in the Midst of the Fire – Daniel 3:1-30
The King’s Command – Daniel 3:1-7
What the image resembled is not stated, but it had the odd proportion of ___ ft wide and _____ ft tall.
The entire image is gold, probably gold ___________ for engineering purposes
An exact description of the image or of the timing are not important to the __________ of the story
The king commands his government ___________ from around the kingdom to gather before the image
When the Babylonian orchestra played, they were to “fall down and _____________ the image”
The worship would also demonstrate _______________ loyalty to the government to gods had set up.
A refusal to worship would be a sign of ____________and so punishable by immediate execution by fire
The Accusations – Daniel 3:8-12
Polytheistic pagans would not balk at worshiping an additional god, but Exodus 20:4-6 ____________ it
The _______________ make the accusations – most likely motivated by jealousy
______________ is not mentioned so there is no information on why he was not also accused
Three accusations: They 1) Disregard the _____ 2) Do not serve your gods. 3) Do not _______the image
The Trial – Daniel 3:13-15
The king personally _____________ them and warns them
He claims no god could _________ them out his hands – either his personal arrogance or trust in his gods
A Faithful Response – Daniel 3:16-18
They found no need to given an _______________________ for their refusal to worship the image
They state their faith in God’s _______________while yielding their lives to His will whatever it may be
Obedience to God can result in ________________ even to the point of martyrdom
Trust of and submission to God results in a holy life that has confidence and _______in all circumstances
How well do you trust & ______to God when facing pressure from Peers? School? Work? Government?
Your ability to stand _________will be based on your trust and submission to God – 1 Corinthians 10:13
The Judgment – Daniel 3:19-23
The king irrationally had them increase the fire seven fold resulting in the _________ of his mighty men
They tied them up with all their ____________ on
The Deliverance – Daniel 3:24-27
The king was astounded to see them loose & ____________ around in the fire with an additional person
The king recognized the supreme power of their God calling Him the _________ High God
The king’s officials confirm the miracle – no injury, no hair singed, not even the smell of ___________
The Decree – Daniel 3:28-30
Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged they were correct to violate his command and worship ______their God
The king recognizes their God as the Most High God and does not want to risk anyone ___________Him
God is the Most High God and He is very longsuffering and _____________
Sadly, many people who recognize God’s supremacy are resistant to _____________ themselves to Him
We need to learn to __________ the Lord and submit to His will in all things.
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