Daniel's Three Friends And The Furnace
A great portion of being a Christian involves spiritual growth, which involves the development of character that is pleasing to God. One source from which we learn the traits of character that God approves or disapproves is from a study of Biblical characters, their lives, the things they did that proved acceptable and unacceptable. Especially do we profit from a study of Old Testament people. After all, those things were written for our learning. (Romans 15:4) .
Our study is taken from the third chapter of Daniel. As we consider the people named here, we must keep before us that they were very much like people today in that they had their strong points and their weaknesses. They were not born into this world with characteristics that manifested themselves so nobly later in life. These things had to be learned and developed by them even as we must learn and develop them. If we are not careful, we might make the mistake in thinking the outstanding qualities that are to be admired "just happened" upon them. But they had to grow to be what they were. When we see the kind of people they were, and see God's reaction to them, can we not be better informed what kind of people we are?
The three men on whom we focus were named Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. They are better known by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Taken To Babylon
When we read Daniel three we find these men in Babylon where they were taken as captives in the first of the three deportations out of Palestine of the Jews by Nebuchadnezzar , king of Babylon. At the fall of Jehoiakim selected ones of the Jews were seized for special training in Babylonian ways. This included those considered to be the most skilled, the most promising, those with potential for leadership, the priests and elders, and others the Babylonians thought might be able to arouse the people into revolt and cause problems for the conquerors. They removed the potential problems.
Included in the training of these selected captives was the teaching of the Babylonian language, physical development, and Babylonian names. Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel were in this special group that was considered to be youth with promise. They were instructed how to become leaders in the Babylonian government.
The first demonstration of strong and faithful service to God was seen in their refusal to eat food that was forbidden the Jews to eat. Daniel was a leader in this refusal (Daniel 1) .He purposed in his heart he would not defile himself. These three friends did likewise. Regardless of the circumstances that could befall them, they chose to be loyal to the law of God rather than submit to the king's direction to eat what was forbidden by God's law. This event, early in their training, gave indication of the kind of men they would be hereafter.
Daniel three tells us of a huge golden image, an idol that was erected at the king's command. There was to be an elaborate celebration at its completion. All the dignitaries of the empire were expected to be present. By this time Daniel and his three friends were officials in governmental ranks and would be expected also. They would have been very conspicuous by their absence. But absent they were. The temptation to be among the elite, powerful and renowned that often overtakes many people even today, was not something to which they submitted. Idolatry was evil and they would have no part in it.
During the Feast of Dedication it was proposed that all in the kingdom would, upon a given musical sound, fall down and worship this golden image. It seems obvious that the proposal was made simply to flatter the king. It did please him and the suggestion was made law with the addition that whoever refused to obey would be cast into the fiery furnace.
For most of the inhabitants of the land this posed no problem. They would not be offended because they were idolaters anyway. Bowing before another one, especially to please their king, was no difficulty. It was a source of concern for the Jews who had been idolatrous before their captivity at various times to God's displeasure, but who now in captivity were turning back to the true and living God. Especially was this a challenge to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego because their actions would be so readily observed.
These three men did not broadcast their determination to refuse to obey, nor did they make the effort to change the law because that would be a futile gesture. But they were resolute and determined not to bow before the idol. When the signal was given, they obeyed God rather than the wicked commandment.
This brought them before the king and they were charged with disobedience. The exchange between these three and Nebuchadnezzar is quite revealing. Daniel 3:14-18, "Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltry and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”
Before continuing the passage, does it not appear that the king is offering these men a second chance? Even though they had previously disobeyed, if they would now consent, all would be well. The threat of the punishment must have been something to consider at this point. Mockery that any source of deliverance was available is quite evident.
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. I/ 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.”
This was a very bold proclamation. But the king would not have to wait until the next signal for idol worship to have their answer. They already had their answer. They had their answer from the beginning. Doubtless, this challenged the prestige and power of the king and his word, but there was One whom these three served who was greater than Nebuchadnezzar. They would die before they would turn away from the true God.
Into The Furnace
The anger of the king is evident by his command that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. No other explanation for this extravagance can be found except the extent of his rage. A normal firing of the furnace would suffice to kill the victims. But he wanted to be sure that nobody could deliver these subjects. So the three were bound and led to the furnace and cast into it. The extreme heat coming from it killed even those who took them there.
Not knowing the exact structure of the furnace we can conclude that there was some way the king could see into it. How merciless must one be to even want to view the burning of a person! But he watched. What he saw was not what he expected. He was astonished and cried out, “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True. He answered and said, Lo, 1 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.” (Daniel 3:24,25).
He ordered the men out of the furnace. When they made their exit there was not even the smell of smoke about neither their clothing nor a hair singed. Such deliverance was accomplished in spite of the furnace being seven times hotter than usual.
The exact identity of the fourth man in the furnace has been the source of much speculation. There it must remain because we are not authoritatively told who it was. In verse 28 Nebuchadnezzar identified him as God's angel that delivered God's servants. Some have speculated that it was the second person of the Godhead. We cannot know and do well to simply accept the report as it is without addition or subtraction, giving glory to God nonetheless.
There are so many practical and spiritual lessons to be gained from this account. But let us think on just three. First, we must admire and try to imitate the faith of these three men of God. Do we not also see God's power and God's providence? These men had not been told God would deliver them. They could know how God had delivered His servants many times in the past, but there were also times when God's servants suffered. Regardless of that, deliverance or no deliverance, they would remain loyal to God, doubting Him not for a moment. Such complete submission and respect for the Almighty is noteworthy. God could provide and had provided. Possibly God would provide again. He did.
Do we not also have the assurance from Christ that God will provide? Matthew 6:33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and al1 these things shal1 be added unto you.” Whatever God sees that is needful and best for us, if we put Him first, He will provide. While we are not promised all we want, or even what we think we need, we have the confidence In God and His infinite wisdom to provide for us as He sees best for us. We respect, praise and are thankful to Him for His providence. If only we can grow to have such a faith in Him as these men had.
God still delivers, and with a deliverance far more beneficial than deliverance from a physical death in a fiery furnace. He gives us spirit deliverance from sin. When we consider the fiery hell toward which we are rushing if we were out of Christ, what a marvelous deliverance It Is to be delivered from sin that is through Christ.
We must also admire their courage. Their life was in the balance, but they realized something even more important was in the balance and that was their accountability before God. They courageously held to their convictions of truth. Being loyal to God meant more to them than remaining in positions of prominence, or even continuing to live.
Many of us may well have compromised under similar circumstances. There have been those who have denied their Lord for lesser reasons. Like the early Christians who died rather than forsake Christ, these men considered life less significant than faithfulness, and were men of courage to not only say so, but to act consistently with what they said. Mark 8:36, “For what shall it pro/it a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” As one studies the Scriptures and observes the kind of people God has been able to use, he will not fail to note that people of similar courage as these were necessary. Weaker, less determined people without strong purpose and conviction cannot fight the good fight of faith, as God wants it fought.
Third, we see the power of steadfastness and good influence. They paid an awesome price to remain steadfast in the truth. But what a glorious effect they had on those around them! Too often Christians tragically fail when in the company of others as they follow others rather than remaining true to the truth. When you compromise what you know is right, you lose your self-respect But while you may temporarily gain "friends," those "friends" will not respect you because they know you have your price and your convictions can be bought. Others may not accept your convictions and disagree violently, but they usually will hold in greater esteem both you and what you believe when you stand for it at all costs. We sin so grievously when we allow our behavior to bring reproach on the way of the Lord.
The influence on Nebuchadnezzar was such that he no longer required these men to bow before his idol, but made such a change that he demanded that nobody speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, with severe punishment to any who did. The lesson of influence when God's people are loyal is worth the study by itself.