The Crisis (3:1-15)
The third chapter of Daniel opens with Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, making a statue of gold that is around 90 feet high. One cannot help but wonder if this is because of his dream that we read about in chapter 2 where he saw a great statue and Daniel interpreted the head of gold as representing Nebuchadnezzar and his empire. So the king gathers all of his officials for the dedication of this image. Then the proclamation is made that the people are commanded to fall down and worship the image when the music plays. Whoever does not bow down and worship will be immediately cast into a furnace of blazing fire.
We know this is going to be a problem because at the end of Daniel 2 we saw that Daniel requested that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon. Now the crisis is stated in verse 8. Some Chaldeans (remember these are the ones who are the magicians and enchanters of the kingdom) came forward to maliciously accuse the Jews. Some of these Jews that Nebuchadnezzar has appointed pay no attention to you and have not worshiped the image. Nebuchadnezzar goes into a furious rage and commands these three to be brought before him. Nebuchadnezzar offers a second chance for them to bow down and worship the image at the sound of the music. They must worship this object or else be killed. What will they do? What would you do? Remember the command is that anyone who did not worship the image would be cast into the furnace of blazing fire.
Now we cannot miss verse 15 because it is the key to the chapter. “But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” Consider that this is a rhetorical question. The answer he wants them to have in their minds is that there is no god who can save them from what he is about to do to them. Nebuchadnezzar is setting himself up as supreme. How intimidating this moment would be!
Faith Proclaimed (3:16-18)
Listen to the answer of these three men. First, we have no need to answer you in this matter. What matter are they talking about? As we can see by the rest of their response to Nebuchadnezzar they are answering the matter of whether there is any god who can save them out of his hand. They make the declaration that their God whom they serve is able to deliver them from the furnace of burning fire. Nebuchadnezzar said that there is no god who can deliver them but they reject that declaration. The God we serve is able to deliver us! But they do not leave it at this. They continue in verse 18 that even if our God, who is able to deliver us, does not deliver us, we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up. These men declare the words of the apostles in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”
These men have confidence in God’s power and they will submit to God alone. God’s glory will be put on display by delivering them or by them dying in full faith for him. This is great biblical faith. Biblical faith is not confidence in a particular outcome, but confidence in a sovereign God. God will not do whatever you want him to do just because you have great faith. The apostle Paul had great faith and prayed for the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh. But God did not remove it. Great faith does not mean that God must do whatever we want him to do. Prayer certainly has no chance of being answered without faith (as we see often in the scriptures). But this does not obligate God. Our faith is in God, not in what we want God to do. Faith is not that we know the outcome, but that we know the outcome belongs to God. Faith obeys. Faith does not write God’s script.
I have kept this email that I received a few years ago because it broke my heart to see the faith of a person shaken because she had lost her husband to cancer. But let me key in on some of her words. “I prayed believing that God would heal him — I never doubted that for a second. Many, many prayers went up on his behalf but he was taken away. I am trying to understand all of this but I can’t.” I want us to see in these words a mistake that I think all of us can easily make and have made when we think about prayer. Notice the point is made concerning the quality of her faith: “I prayed believing that God would heal him — I never doubted that for a second.” Further the point is made about the quantity of faith: “Many, many prayers went up on his behalf.” We can think that because we have a quality of faith and a quantity of faith that our prayers must be answered as we ask. But again think about Paul who exhibited both. He prayed three times and we know that he had the quality of faith but that God said no. Biblical faith is not in the outcome but in God who is able to do all things. Notice that this is the faith these three men are declaring before Nebuchadnezzar. Whatever the outcome, our faith is in God! They know God is able but also know that their faith in God does not mean that they will be delivered. Consider how true this is for these three men! After they give this answer, the king stokes the fire seven times hotter and they are thrown into the furnace. It does not look like their God will deliver after all.
Delivered Through The Fire (3:19-30)
Amazingly, the fire is so hot that when the three men are thrown into the furnace, those guards who threw them in also burned up in the process. But when Shadrach, Messiah, and Abednego (their Babylonian names) are thrown in, they are not immediately consumed. Rather, they are walking around in the furnace of blazing fire. Even more, there is a fourth person seen walking in the fire and none of them are hurt. The fourth person has the appears like a son of the gods. The point is that God has come to deliver his people.
God brings his people through the fire. God will see his people through their fiery ordeals. Notice that the apostle Peter reaches for the same imagery when he writes to Christians who were going through trials.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12 ESV)
The Greek word is interesting because it just means “burning” and is used that way in Revelation 18:9 and 18:18. Don’t be surprised as the burning when it comes upon you to test you. Don’t be surprised by the fire. Our sovereign God is able to deliver his oppressed children who refuse to serve other gods. Trials on God’s people have always used this image. Listen to Moses in Deuteronomy and God through Isaiah the prophet:
But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. (Deuteronomy 4:20 ESV)
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)
Trials will be the furnace of fire. But God remains with his people who stay faithful to him through the furnace. We see this exemplified in the book of Revelation. To each of the seven churches Jesus declared that those who overcome the affliction they would endure would receive the tree of life, receive the crown of life, given a new name, given authority over the nations, name never blotted out of the book of life, made a pillar in the temple of God, and sitting on Christ’s throne (Revelation 2-3). James said that those who remained steadfast under trial would receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12). Peter said that when the chief Shepherd appears we will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4).
The goal of fiery trials is achieved. Nebuchadnezzar confesses the name of God and declares that no one can speak anything against God’s name. This confession continues into chapter 4 when Nebuchadnezzar personally writes his praises for the Most High God. As the apostle Paul declared to the Philippians, Christ must be exalted in my body rather by life or by death (Philippians 1:20-21). We give our lives and never deny his name or power so that God is glorified in all things.
Christ, Our Deliverer
When we live for God’s glory, God delivers his people. This does not mean that we will not suffer immense persecution and trials for his name. But it means that God has secured our salvation no matter what we endure. Jesus also referenced this imagery when he taught a parable.
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:36–43 ESV)
Jesus saved us from the fiery furnace because all causes of sin and all lawbreakers will be thrown into the fiery furnace. God will never leave us or forsake us and proves it through the cross of Christ so that we can avoid the certain fiery judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Praise God by remaining faithful and showing the world that there is no other god but the true and living God.