Risk Everything for God

Not only does Daniel narrate events of courage and devotion to God, it serves as a stage on which God demonstrates his glory. Its main lesson, through events, visions, and prophecies is that God is ruling the world presently in order to bring about an eternal dominion of his eternal Son, who will reign forever with those to whom he has given eternal life. He will divide the righteous (redeemed from their iniquity) from the unrighteous (left to trust in their own power) [12:1, 2]. Generation after generation of world events will seem to be dominated by forces that do not recognize the one true God, who will persecute God’s people (8:24) but all of them will crumble and perish in their times to be succeeded by equally arrogant and self-confident forces (11:18, 19) that also will perish. In all of this God is ruling according to his decree (4:35; 9:26; 11:27, 29). Examples of God’s protection of his people in the most appalling and overwhelming circumstances narrated in Daniel should bolster his loved ones (9:23, 10:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:4) undergoing deep trials. Also Daniel gives an outstanding example of God’s saving grace in a step by step preparation of mind and heart for repentance and trust in the redeeming power of God as Nebuchadnezzar is drawn to faith in the redeeming God of Israel. The lesson for this week is one element of this preparatory work that God is doing for the salvation of the Chaldean king.

In chapter 2. God has given Nebuchadnezzar a prophetic dream about the temporality of all earthly kingdoms that would in the end be superseded by a kingdom “that shall never be destroyed . . . and it shall stand forever” to be ruled by a “rock” that fills the whole earth. Daniel not only interpreted the dream but narrated the entire dream to Nebuchadnezzar prior to the interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar saw God as “God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries.” On this basis, Daniel was granted his request that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be appointed “over the affairs of the province of Babylon.” The king was impressed and responsive to Daniel’s request, but not yet humbled before the true God of heaven and earth. Note that the three are in the “province” of Babylon, while Daniel still is in the king’s court.

I. The inveterate Arrogance and Ostentation of Nebuchadnezzar.- 3:1-7

A. The entire passage has a mesmerizing rhythm to it that gives it a kind of stilted monotony of a narrowly restricted, unimaginative staging of pure predictability.

B. The names of eight kinds of bureaucrats in the provinces are listed in order on two occasions.

C. the names of all the instruments that will sound are listed on two occasions.

D. The focus on Nebuchadnezzar’s initiative and control of this newly required act of worship saturates these verses pointing out that he “made an image of gold” and then “set it up.” That phrase appears six times in these seven verses. See also verses 12, 14, 18. Can there be any greater example of the irrationality of idolatry and the complete injustice of any kind of forced “worship?” People are commanded to bow down and worship a god that the king only recently made and set up. How far different is this from the reality that “God is spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”

E. The startling climax of this purposely pedestrian presentation is the announcement that all who refuse this contrivance of worship will “be cast into a burning, fiery furnace.” (6)The contrast between the hypnotic narrative and the terrifying consequence highlights the pure evil banality of idolatry.

II. An absolute conflict of conscience – 3:8-12.

A. The energy of the narrative picks up, for a few rebels have appeared that do not fit the mold. They have not followed the deadening drumbeat of mindless conformity to the absurd demands of the arrogant wannabe god-maker.

B. Arise O anti-semites and sycophants. Do your work of hatred and flattery at the same time! “O King, surely you deserve to reign forever,” they oozed. “You decreed, you set up, you threatened, and they did not worship as you commanded nor did they fear your threats.”

C. And as insult to injury, these refusers of this contrived worship were men that the king had given the great privilege of serving as officials over the province of Babylon. “You appointed . . . They pay no attention to you.”

D. For Shadrach and his cohorts, there could be no means suggested for an alternative to his command as was possible in chapter one, for the intent was absolute; a recognition of the sovereign prerogative of the king over the consciences of all his subjects was what he was after. Their minds and hearts belonged to Yahweh and therefore there was not even a contest in their hearts as to what they must do.

III. A Threat renewed and particularized – 3:13-15

A. The threat introduced in verse 6 now carries the rhythm and energy of the narrative.—“Burning fiery furnace”—and serves to remind us how utterly unyielding is this kind of flattered self-importance. The greatest idol always is an unhumbled, insubordinate self.

B. Nebuchadnezzar is furious with rage. Their refusal assaulted his sense of importance, and rejection of the validity of his self-adulation. He reminded them that he made the image and he set up the image. In not worshipping the image they refused to acknowledge his right over their conscience and his right to determine the object of their devotion. A disappointed self-importance produces a confused rage.

C. He indicated that this failure on their part could have been a mere temporary lapse of etiquette. They will get another chance to obey and so have all forgiven. But just as the moment for redemption is granted to them, so the threat now comes to them in particular with the more sinister drumbeat of repetition that now drives the narrative, “a burning fiery furnace.”

IV. Conscience affirmed and particularized – 3:16-18

A. The answer of the unyielding God-worshippers was quick, clear, and to the point. “We have no need to consider anything about this for our mind has been set far prior to any of the ephemeral developments concerning this idol you set up.” Some issues emerge in life in which the answer has been given long before the matter confronts us. We must love God and obey his commands no matter how the world seeks to draw us from these transcendent absolutes.

B. They showed their confidence in God’s power to save, but did not claim to have an absolute insight into his purpose for the outcome of this particular confrontation. As often happens, God could will that his people die as an act of witness in their devotion to Him (“But if not”) Hebrews 11:36-38.

C. They did not follow God merely for earthly advantage, nor were they pragmatists in their consideration as to what would most benefit their position with the king; they had seen that the reproach of Christ was of greater worth than all the power and riches of Babylon (See Hebrews 11:26).

V. The utmost wrath of the King demonstrated – 3:19-23

A. Now the spoiled child, filled with greater rage than before, as it were, screams at the top of his voice with every extravagance he can imagine. In a pointless act of fury, he ordered the furnace, already deadly in its effects on human flesh, “seven times” hotter, a perfectly insuperable degree of heat. Punishment must be commensurate with the crime. The command of the High King of Heaven that we love him with all our being is completely rational, morally defensible in every aspect, and plainly the supreme duty of all rational beings created by him and consistently sustained by him. Not only our dependence on him but the intrinsic perfections both naturally and morally of his nature call for an unalloyed devotion of love, reverence, and awe. The fire of eternal punishment is commensurate with a refusal to engage with wholehearted devotion this infinitely important and lovely requirement. But Nebuchadnezzar! . . .

B. In another display of power, he has “some of the mighty men of his army” bind the witnesses in all their clothes and toss them into the furnace. So deadly was the heat that the “mighty men” were killed in the process. The phrase “burning fiery furnace” is used three times in this section of the narrative.

C. The narrative has moved from a boring conformity and repetitiveness to an energetic conflict of absolutes with both parties irreversibly resolute in their view point. The burning fiery furnace opens its mouth wider and wider through the narrative and increases in its menacing power until now these unbending men “fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.” Their calm resolution and confidence in the greatness of God offers a marked contrast to the rage and attempt at a show of power on the part of Nebuchadnezzar.

VI. The Astounding ineffectuality of his wrath – 3:24, 25

A. His rage turns to astonishment as he sees, not a surge of flame as clothes ignite and bodies melt, but unbound men walking, unhurt, in the midst of the fire.

B. While he is on the outside, waiting for their death, another is on the inside, sharing the danger, but supporting life. “The thief is come only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

C. Nebuchadnezzar could see a distinct glory in the fourth person in the fire. He had no knowledge of who he might be, though he had seen him in the form of a rock in his dream.

D. Again, this pagan king is granted an experience of the infinite excellence of the attributes of the God worshiped by Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. He dreamed of the rock, the Lion of Judah, he sees the Redeemer of Israel, as it were prophetically in the appearance of a man. All of this does not break his pride, but builds piece by piece fitting perceptions of who God is. “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

VII. The King’s celebration of God’s power – 3:26-30

A. Nebuchadnezzar went as close to the door of the furnace as possible without being killed and urged the men to come out, calling them “Servants of the Most High God.”

B. Though the fire had killed the mighty men that had to go near enough to throw these men in, the men that were thrown in were not even singed nor did even the smell of fire come on them. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25).

C. Nebuchadnezzar’s rage has turned to admiration: He at least admires with a sense of awe the God of Shadrach etc. No “other god” can “rescue in this way.” He admires the sending of the “angel” who delivered his servants. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12). He admires their devotion in that they set aside his command for the sake of worship of their God and would not be dissuaded even by the threat of death.

D. His response is thoroughly consistent with his unrenewed nature and his admiration of power. He threatens to tear limb from limb and destroy the houses of any that speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The three men are rewarded by being granted greater power. Nebuchadnezzar has been prepared, but he yet has a final confrontation with this God before he is personally subdued in heart to worship him.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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