Reader: “They defied the king’s command and were willing to die”
Response: “rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”
Scripture: Daniel 3:1-30 (We pick up in the book of Daniel where we left off.)
King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then he sent messages to the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up. So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
So at the sound of the musical instruments, all the people, whatever their race or nation or language, bowed to the ground and worshiped the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
But some of the astrologers went to the king and informed on the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Long live the king! You issued a decree requiring all the people to bow down and worship the gold statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments. That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments and throw them into the blazing furnace. [The flames shot seventy-five feet in the air according to the apocryphal song of the Three Holy Children.] And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw them in. So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.
But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.
“Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!”
Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!
Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
As a little boy in Sunday School, this story and Daniel in the lion’s den were two of my favorites! God comes to the rescue and the bad guys are humbled. Good wins over evil. People show great courage and do what is right and don’t give in and abandon their God. Even a second grader can understand that lesson.
Let’s delve into this classic and look at some of the dynamics. Daniel had just told Nebuchadnezzar the details of the king’s dream with the interpretation. As a result, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego at Daniel’s request had been promoted to be in charge of all the affairs of the province of Babylon! Suddenly, all the officials, governors, judges, treasurers had new bosses, the Hebrew whiz kids. Does the word “jealousy” come to mind?
You know what happens next. The music sounds and everyone bows low to the ground. (It reminds me of seeing pictures of masses of Muslims bowing on their prayer rugs.) There are times even in our days when there is great pressure to conform to the “correct” group. A failure to comply is to invite condemnation. Three young men standing amidst hundreds or even thousands bowing to the ground were easy to spot and the jealous government officials were only too happy to report the violation of the king’s command to Nebuchadnezzar.
The king gave the Three a second chance to save their lives―they were his superstars after all―and submit to the command to worship the idol. The king’s question, “Is it true?”, may have had an element of asking if they had deliberately refused to bow. (This is the only place this Aramaic word is used in the OT.) That may partially explain Nebuchadnezzar’s following explosive rage at their answer. In the king’s eyes, they had committed treason against god.
Their forthright response further confirmed their refusal to abandon their faith in God. They were very willing to die rather than bow to a false god. Even at this point, their words of response hinted of being spared. They knew the history of God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel time after time. They believed he could do it again on their behalf if he chose, but if not, they would never yield. Did you notice in your reading of this passage that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego never once prayed for deliverance from their situation? God sent his *angel and they were delivered whereupon Nebuchadnezzar declared that every nation, race or language must not speak against God! While he came to honor Israel’s God, we do not sense he ever worshiped God exclusively. He probably had a “Coexist” bumper sticker on the back of his camel!
(*”Angel” Some translations use the phrase “like the Son of God.” As we have said many times, the First Testament has types of Christ figures throughout. Moses is a type of Christ figure. There are also what we call “theophanies of Christ.” This appearance of a fourth person with the Three is considered as an actual appearance or manifestation of the pre-incarnate Son and Word of God. Jacob wrestling with God and the three visitors to Abram and Sarai would be two other examples of theophanies.)
Did you notice that Nebuchadnezzar had previous knowledge of God Most High. The three young men had obviously not been silent about the identity of the God of Israel. They were witnesses to the truth in a hostile environment. We live in a world that is hostile to Christianity and at times a government rules in conflict with the Church, the Body of Christ. As followers of Christ, let us stand straight and declare our allegiance to our King as citizens and heirs of his Kingdom. You may have a chance to do so today.
Here is a link to the full apocryphal text which praises the God of all creation. This is inserted between v. 23 and 24 in Daniel chapter three in Bibles that contain the Apocrypha. Generally speaking, Apocryphal texts are sacred Old and New Testament texts that were generally not canonized, that is, accepted as the divinely inspired word of God. The Orthodox and Roman Catholics have included them in their Scriptures. https://bible.usccb.org/bible/daniel/3?23
Music: “Song of the Three Holy Children” Orthodox Christian
Bonus: “Canticle of Daniel” A contemporary setting.
Prayer:Lord Jesus Christ, my Creator and Savior of my soul and body, I bow before you in overwhelming gratitude and wonder. Your word says you knit me together in my mother’s womb and saw me before I was even born. You recorded every day and every moment of my life before there was even one. The mystery is that you have never recorded an end to my life. You know that I will dwell with you eternally because of what you have done on the behalf of me and all of your children. I look forward, though I cannot imagine how this would be, to thanking you face to face in my unimaginable resurrection body and bowing before you in perfect worship. . . . my words fail, but you know my speechless heart. ―Daniel Sharp