Monday, December 28, 2009

Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego, Daniel 3

Nearly everyone has heard a version or remake of a popular song back in the 1970s about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – three Hebrew friends of Daniel – who were thrown into a furnace for not falling down to worship a golden statue, as ordered by King Nebuchadnezzar. For some reason, Daniel wasn’t there. He may have been traveling on official business, being the prime minister.

It all started with jealousy. The king had appointed a body of administrators to oversee various regions of Babylonia. As with Daniel and the Magi, these three were the only Jews in this group. The rest were Babylonians who worshipped many gods.

Everyone gathered for the dedication of the statue. Upon the signal of music, everyone fell down and worshipped – all except our three friends. Certain Chaldeans immediately reported their misconduct to the King, who furiously ordered that the three be brought to him.

So the king gave them the option to try it again and this time get it right, but then he taunted them and maligned their God by saying sarcastically, “What god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (v.15.)

You would think that after recently seeing how powerful the God of Israel was, when God gave the interpretation of the king’s dream to Daniel (in Chapter 2), he would have remembered that’s why he made Daniel prime minister and head of the Magi, after acknowledging that Daniel’s God was a God of gods and a Lord of kings. But pride can give us short memories when all we’re thinking about is exalting ourselves.

Without even blinking, the three answered the king, “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. 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.” (v.17-18.) They believed that God could deliver them, but did not assume that God would deliver them, and were willing to die if He didn’t. Either way, they trusted God’s decision.

Wow! What unwavering resolve! What courage! Would we be that strong? Well, their answer enraged the king so much that he ordered the fire seven times hotter. What was he thinking? His own henchmen were killed by the heat of the furnace as they threw the three, bound with ropes, into the furnace. But God had a surprise for everyone.

Suddenly there were four men walking in the fire, and the king described the fourth as one “like the Son of God.” (v.25.) How prophetic! In the Hebrew Scriptures (in this case written in Aramaic, addressing the gentiles) Jesus often appeared in various forms, which is called a “theophany.” So the king called to them to come out of the furnace, and the three did, with no singed hair, no smell of fire, no burned clothing – only their ropes had burned off.

The king was so awed by this that he said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 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. Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego 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.” (v.28-29.) Nice chap.

Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the Hebrew God – again a second time – but didn’t quite step over the line to worship Him – he merely respected Him and ordered that nobody malign Him. We’re in for a treat in Chapter 4, because he … Well, I’m not going to give it away, but I’ll give you a hint – the king wrote Chapter 4 himself, and it is Scripture!

Our God is a redeemer who reads our hearts. No matter how cruel and proud Nebuchadnezzar was, an enemy of Israel and of God, he must have had a heart that only God knew was pliable. Next time we’ll take a look at the king’s amazing turnaround.