“A Faith Like Theirs”
King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. So, all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard these sounds, they fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, 11 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics, their trousers, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the all the king’s officials and counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
Oh, how we do love to hear a great story, one whose heroes win literal as well as moral and spiritual victories over their oppressors and foes. We ourselves are lifted by their success, just as we feel sympathy toward them for the conditions that cause our heroes such difficulty, pain, and suffering. There is no place more adept at bringing us great hero stories that bolster us on our faith-walk than the Old Testament, or Hebrew Text, of the Bible. In modern times, through a cinematic re-creation, we have felt the awe of Moses toward God when Charlton Heston, as Moses, stood upon Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God. In a similar manner, we watched God part the Red Sea when Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt and the oppression of Pharaoh and his armies. Yes, the characters of the Old Testament, and their stories have so much to teach us about our strong Covenant God, and about the history of our ever-evolving relationship as God’s people. So, for the next few weeks, I will be sharing a few Old Testament characters and their stories with you. We know some familiar pieces of information about many of them; but many of the details critical to our growing faith have been lost in generations of translation and poetic license taken in storytelling. We will attempt to uncover, and so, discover new truths about these characters and their stories in our morning messages. So, let us now begin our Old Testament faith journey.
By way of providing a historical backdrop to our lesson from Daniel Chapter 3 for today, popular on-line website Wikipedia states, “The book of Daniel is prophetic and apocalyptic literature about a faithful servant of Yahweh [God] living in Babylonian exile. Daniel’s prophetic visions [and accounts] offer hope that God will bring all nations under his rule.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were Hebrew friends of Daniel. All of them had been taken into Babylonian exile under King Nebuchadnezzar when he overtook Jerusalem and the land of Judah. Daniel possessed the gift of interpreting visions and dreams, which he did for the king. As a reward, he was promoted to a position with much power and authority in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Daniel, likewise, promoted his exiled friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to positions within the king’s court.
Our story for today begins when King Nebuchadnezzar built a large golden statue and placed it on the plain of Dura. The king commanded an edict that at the sound of his musical ensemble, all people “shall fall down and worship the statue.” But, it came to the king’s attention that Hebrews Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would not bow down and worship the idol the king had set up in Dura to be worshipped. He called upon these men to be brought before him for questioning regarding this matter. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, indeed, confirmed that they would not worship the king’s idol. So, the king threatened to throw them into the furnace if they refused to bow down and worship the idol. They replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
The scriptures tell us that Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace heated up by 7 times, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were bound and thrown into it. Amazingly, the heat of the furnace killed those men whose task it was to throw them into the fire, but not so much as a hair on the heads of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was singed by the flames of the furnace. In fact, although these three Hebrew men were thrown into the furnace, the king observed that four men were walking around in the middle of the furnace, and one that he saw there had the appearance of a god. This amazed the king, and he called to the men to come out from the furnace; and so they did.
King Nebuchadnezzar said to the three Hebrews, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any God except their own God.” And so the king declared a new edict—that “any people, nation or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their house laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” Then King Nebuchadnezzar promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the land of their exile in Babylon.
That, Church, is the story of the unwavering faith of God’s servants, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Through their faithful disobedience to the edict of King Nebuchadnezzar to worship his golden idol, the mercy, power and love of their strong and true covenant God was made known to the people of Babylon. You may marvel at some of the events that are recounted in this story. Was there really a fiery furnace? Was it really set to 7 times its normal temperature without injuring our heroes who were thrown into it? Good questions to ask for sure. Although I have sometimes been told that I am older than dirt, the truth is that I am not older than the dirt upon which our heroes trod during their time of Babylonia exile. I cannot know with certainty the truth of any of the events this story unfolds. That is where faith comes into our lives. “Faith”, the very fitting Book of Hebrews teaches us, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” I can say this, I have seen miraculous events unfold in ways which the course of ordinary life cannot explain. I prefer not to linger on the “hows,” “whys” and “ifs” regarding the details of every event found within the stories of the Bible like this one. Rather, I receive this story as a marvelous example of the unwavering faith of God’s Hebrew people, even during their time of captivity and exile in Babylon. Even here, under the adverse circumstances of their life among a pagan people who worshipped mere idols at their king’s command, God was able to use the incredible faith of these men, and their disobedience to the king’s edict, to create something wonderful—something new—new believers in God’s sovereign power, mercy and love. And, what of the fourth person found in the fiery furnace along with our heroes? The scriptures describe this person as an “angel of the Lord” who was sent to deliver God’s servants. The visible presence of God’s angel provided the king and people further validation of the saving power of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. As for me, I pray that I may know, along life’s journey, a faith that is as strong and unwavering as theirs. May God’s people say, amen.