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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Three (Four) Men in the Fire

We read Daniel, chapter 3. There’s a ninety-foot, golden image in the plain. Imagine what it looks like! You can see it shimmering in the sunlight. It is amazing!

Where’s Daniel? In this story, he doesn’t even figure. We have to assume he was either out of town on business (which I find unlikely, since he was very important in the government, and King Nebuchadnezzar would have wanted him there). Or, he might have been taken ill on this most important of days, unable to attend. We’re not told. At any rate, he doesn’t get in on the action.

You probably know the story. King Nebuchadnezzar commands that everyone bow down and worship this super statue (maybe of himself; how humble!). The penalty for not bowing was death by fire. And, as a deterrent to disobedience, Nebuchadnezzar had an oven built near his platform at the front of the fiesta. (Nothing like persuasion!)

As you know, there were three men who didn’t bow: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are tattled on, brought to the king, and probably, those opposed to the Hebrews and their God were rubbing their hands in glee. 

The king offers them another chance.

Imagine the pressure: they are the only three men in the whole country who refuse to bow down. What awaits them is certain death, should they refuse. Everyone is watching, including, of course, the king. It would be so easy to bow. They wouldn’t have to mean it.

I absolutely love their response! Let’s read it: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up (Daniel 3:16-18).

They didn’t need time to think about it. They already knew. They had counted the cost. They also trusted in God to do what was best for them. They are my heroes!

Nebuchadnezzar feels sorry for them and decides to let them off the hook. No! I made that up. He actually gets furious and orders the oven keepers to make the furnace seven times hotter. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are tied up and thrown down into the oven. The mighty men who throw them in are killed by the heat. (So much for Nebuchadnezzar’s choice soldiers. What a waste!)

Nebuchadnezzar wants to see the spectacle of these guys dying—a “lovely” entertainment choice—and looks down into the fire. What he sees must have taken his breath away! He counts.
1, 2, 3, 4.

He re-counts. 1, 2, 3, 4. King Nebuchadnezzar makes sure, because they are walking around in there. He asks his men, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God (3:24b-25).

Then, he does something I find comical. He asks them to come out. Okay, they were thrown down into the oven from the top, bound. How did the king think they were going to manage that one? Fly?

But they did!

And, when they came out, not a hair was singed, no clothing burnt, and they were just fine. They didn’t even smell like the oven.

Three men came out. (Jesus—or at the very least, an angel—was with them when they needed Him. But now, the testimony of God’s amazing power is clear for everyone to see.)

King Nebuchadnezzar is more than impressed. He knows something very special has happened. (He understands more than we sometimes give him credit for.) And, in typical despotic king fashion, he reacts with a decree: Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort (3:28-29).

May we, like our brothers Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
believe, our God whom we serve is able!

Praise Him!

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