Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
Wow – talk about gutsy!
Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the powerful Babylonian Empire, was already “furious with rage” when the three Israelites were hauled in front of him. They had been ignoring his royal command to worship the image he had created (it was a 27-foot high and 9-foot wide monument of gold – hard to miss.) The penalty for refusing was being thrown into a furnace and burned alive; he wasn’t fooling around on this one.
So here’s the king, every bit as hot as the furnace used to mold the image in the first place, and how does the trio respond?
“We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.” With amazing clarity, they saw that no earthly king had the right to their worship. That right belonged to God alone. While they maintained an appropriate deference to his legitimate authority as head of state, these men had no need to go on the defensive on this issue. In fact, they went on the offensive. God was able to deliver them from the fire. Their faith was so absolute that even if God chose not to deliver them from the fire, He would still deliver them from the king’s hand, because after they died he could do no more to them. They would still belong to God, and only He had power over death.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were living out the truth that we don’t have to defend God or our worship of Him to those who defy Him or accuse Him or belittle Him. We don’t have to defend our refusal to worship what others create as their own gods. They understood that the death of our bodies is not the worst thing that can happen to us; the death of our salvation through Jesus is. Long before the sacrifice of Christ, they understood that if we deny our Lord before men, He will deny us before His Father in heaven.
Nebuchadnezzar understood none of this. These men’s response sent his blood pressure through the roof, and he ordered the furnace to be made as hot as humanly possible. This would have been done by blasting air from bellows onto the fire to raise the temperature, and the furnace in question may well have been the same one used to cast the image of gold.
Hot air from people bellowing at us can raise the temperature in many of life’s situations – sort of a spiritual test of fire. Sometimes the furnace that molded whatever these people worship is used to put the heat on us, and we sure feel it. So often we react to these situations by going on the defensive when there is no need. The person doing the bellowing is invariably making demands or accusations that don’t come from a godly perspective. These are opportunities to go directly to Jesus and allow His Spirit to hold us and quiet our churning insides. The bellower wants to burn us up; Jesus wants to bring us up to a place of maturity and complete trust in Him — a relationship that will make us fire-resistant.
But how? How do we respond in such a God-honoring way when our feet are being held to the fire?
I don’t believe that in this life we will ever be totally fire-proof, and to think we can be is in itself dangerous. There will always be ways Satan can get at us, and sometimes he’ll succeed. He’ll wait for the opportune time, when we’re most vulnerable, weary, weighed-down. If we’re convinced we should be 100 per cent fire-proof, then Satan can cripple us with accusations when we’re feeling the flames.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were faithful, not perfect. They were human beings like us. But when confronted with a demand to worship something other than God, they were steadfast, and this is where we also need to be. This is the kind of assurance we can build our lives on, that we can stand on no matter what. This is the spine-strengthening, fear-fighting, core-calming certainty that is available to us through the power of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit that burns within us with a flame far surpassing any that burns without.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were ready to die for their faith. God enabled them to survive the fire, and in spectacular fashion. Not a hair was singed, not a fibre scorched, not a whiff of smoke anywhere on them. They had a fire-resistant faith that saved them and was an undeniable witness to God’s power that led to a complete turnaround for Nebuchadnezzar, who picked his jaw up from the floor and gasped: “no other god can save in this way.”
We will be constantly challenged to worship man-made gods, in ways both obvious and subtle. But these are gods that will leave us with nothing but ashes. So I have to ask myself: when I feel the heat about my faith, will I face the flames now or in eternity?
“. . . when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)