David Jeremiah - The Fire Men
Scholars believe that there's at least a 20-year gap between the events of the second and third chapters of Daniel, and during this time, something has drastically changed in the heart of King Nebuchadnezzar. Because as you remember, at the end of chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar made a glorious tribute to Daniel and to Daniel's God. Here are his words from Daniel 2:47, "Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret". But at the beginning of chapter 3, the God of Daniel was no longer elevated in the king's mind. He had decided to compel his kingdom to worship a common idol, a massive image on the Babylonian plain of Dura. And in verse Daniel 3:1 we read, "Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits".
To demonstrate the extent of his wealth and his glory, Nebuchadnezzar had the entire image made of gold. Now, he was wealthy enough to have made it out of pure gold, but most people believe it was a wooden image that was covered with plated gold, which was a common thing to do in that time. And the word "image" here refers to the statue in human form. In this particular image, the form was grotesque. We don't pick this up when we read the story, but let me tell you how grotesque it was. It was so oddly proportioned. Scripture says it was 60 cubits high, that's 90 feet, and it's 9 feet wide. Now, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know the ratio there is 10 to 1. The average ratio of a person is 5 to 1. So that means this image was extremely elongated, tall and skinny and grotesque to look at.
Nebuchadnezzar decreed that all the leaders in Babylon would bow before this image. This was clearly intended to be a religious act, because the word "worship" occurs 11 times in this text. He wanted these people to worship that image. And Daniel 3 begins with a detailed description of the dedication ceremony for Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. First of all, in verses 1 through 3, beginning at verse 2 now, "...King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to gather together the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up". To appropriately dedicate this image, Nebuchadnezzar sent out an invitation to the entire Babylonian official family. And it's interesting, if you look at your Bible, that verse 2 and verse 3 are almost identical.
Let me point out what that means. Verse 2 are the people who were invited, and verse 3 are the people who came. In Babylon, there was no such thing as an RSVP. If the king invited you to come, you came. And now we see the demand that is going to be made in verse 4. "And a herald cried out, 'So to you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, languages, that at the time of you hear the sound of the horn, the flute, the harp, the lyre, the psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace'".
Nebuchadnezzar wanted everyone to bow down and worship his image at the same time, and he employed his royal orchestra to try to pull this off. There's a really interesting discussion about all the instruments that were in his orchestra. Most of us would not know any of them, and many of the scholars have tried to figure out what they were. From our modern-day perspective, this was indeed a strange orchestra. First there was a horn, a wind instrument. Then there was a flute, which is translated from a Hebrew word meaning "to hiss or to whistle".
And then there was a sharp sound that came from a lyre and a harp, called in some versions a trigon. And someone has estimated that the head count at this assembly may have been as many as 300.000 people, with people coming from all over the vast Babylonian empire. And when the orchestra began to play, all 300.000 attendees hit the ground and bowed down before this image, all 300.000, exceph for three. If you're in a crowd of 300.000 people and they all hit the ground and you're still standing up, you stick out. And that's the defiance in verses 8 through 9, "...at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and accused the Jews. They spoke and said to King Nebuchadnezzar... 'There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.'".
Now, I want to remind you, if you've been listening to this story from the beginning, that these Chaldean officials are the very same Chaldean officials that Daniel and his three friends had prayed for when they were gonna lose their lives. And had Daniel not intervened before God, they would be dead. But isn't it interesting how long it took for them to forget that, and now they're coming back as the accusers of Daniel's friends: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And they stood shamelessly before King Nebuchadnezzar and brought three accusations against these men. First, they accused them of disrespecting King Nebuchadnezzar. Secondly, they accused them of not paying due regard to him. And thirdly, they accused them of not serving his gods. "They did not worship your image". That was the one that got them into trouble.
So now the king is in a really tough spot. If you've studied the story of Daniel, you know that Nebuchadnezzar liked Daniel and he liked Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He had promoted them. He had put them in places of honor. And he believed in them. And they had been very helpful to him. They were very, very helpful to the king. In verses 14 and 15, he does something that no Babylonian king ever does. You won't find it in any of the annals of their history. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Daniel 3:14-15, "Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them... 'Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.'".
In other words, Nebuchadnezzar said, "I should throw you in the furnace right now, 'cause you've disobeyed me. You've embarrassed me. You've defied me. But because you guys are good guys and I like you, I'm gonna give you another chance". But before the men could answer the charges, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, "We aren't going to allow this to happen". Watch the argument as you go through this now. Daniel 3:35, the king says, "...who is the god who will deliver you from my hands"? And you want to say, "King Nebuchadnezzar, you're just about to find out". The three men who refused to bow down did not do that out of simple pure defiance. These were Jewish men who knew the scripture, and they believed the scripture to be God's truth. And they understood what Exodus 20:4 said, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth".
At the base of Mount Sinai, the newly redeemed Hebrews created an image of a gold calf. On the plain of Dura, Nebuchadnezzar created an image of a golden man. And in both cases, the second of the Ten Commandments was violated. And these men knew that to worship an idol, an image made by human hands, would be to defy and defile the almighty God. So they had a choice. "Either I'm gonna defy and defile Nebuchadnezzar, or I'm gonna defy and defile almighty God". A choice that we will visit sometime in our lives... maybe sooner rather than later.
Without being disrespectful, these heroic men gave the world's most powerful, worldly king their answer. There was no need for them to consider Nebuchadnezzar's second chance offer. They'd already made up their minds. They would never bow down to a false image. Here are their inspiring words: the next time you feel a little timid and you're being asked to do something that's really hard, don't forget these words in Daniel 3:16-18. They're some of the most inspiring, motivating words you will ever read. Daniel 3:16-18, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up".
When they said, "But if not," they were not questioning God's ability to deliver them. They were placing themselves in submission to His will. They were saying, "It might not be the will of God to deliver us, but if not, it still doesn't make any difference". If it wasn't His will to deliver them, they would accept that and glorify their God anyway. One writer has said, "The quiet, modest, yet positive attitude of faith that these three men display is one of the noblest examples in the scriptures of being fully resigned to the will of God. These men ask for no miracle, and they expect none. Theirs is the faith that says, 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.'"
So often, we want to make bargains with God, do we not? There's no bargaining here. They're not saying, "Lord, if You do this, we'll do that". They're saying, "No, no, we're gonna do this. You do what You need to do". These three guys raise the standard pretty high, don't they? We've been talking a lot about not standing down, because that's cowardice; not standing aside — that's compromise; not always just even standing against — that can be contention and competition; but standing up, that's what God asks us to do, men and women. He asks us just to stand up. Here I stand.
Now notice the deliverance. There's a good ending to this story, so let me tell you. First of all, we have to visit, again, the anger of the king in verse 19, "Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated". After hearing their refusal to bow down before the statue, Nebuchadnezzar was furious. No one, not even three loyal, trusted aides, could so blatantly defy him. He was the ruler of the world's greatest empire. And no one who defied him could live to tell about their defiance. He ordered that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual.
Now think about that for a moment. He lost his temper. That's always the mark of a little man. The furnace was hot, but he himself was hotter. And Nebuchadnezzar did a stupid thing. He ought to have cooled the furnace seven times less if he wanted to hurt these men. But instead of that, in his fury, he heated it seven times hotter. Everybody who's read that and studied it and commented on it said that was a dumb thing to do. It was done in a moment of anger. And he literally, if these men are going to burn, made it easier for them than if he had cooled the furnace down seven times cooler.
The activity of the king is, "...he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace".
Have you noticed there's some strange things going on here? I mean, Nebuchadnezzar summoned the strongest men in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with ropes and cast them into the fire. And the scripture relates that they were bound in their clothes — their coats, their hose, their hats, and their other garments. Now, normally, before execution, criminals are stripped, but in view of the form of the execution and the haste of the whole deal, there's no real need to strip them of their clothes, and this later becomes a rather glowing testimony to the delivering power of God. The furnace was so hot that the only way the soldiers could get close enough to carry out their orders was to swing the three men toward the opening at the top of the furnace. And even then, the heat of the flames fried the skin from their bodies, and they fell down dead. And the three Jews, bound hand and foot, plummeted into the blazing furnace.
Now, notice the amazement of the king in verses 24 and 25. of the "King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished". I guess so. "And he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, 'Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?' And they answered and said to the king, 'True, O king.' 'Look,' he said, 'I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they're not hurt. And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.'" He wasn't merely like the Son of God; he was the Son of God. He wasn't a god; he was the God. When the fourth person showed up in the flames, the event was what we call a theophany, a manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Amazing as it may be, 580 years before the virgin birth, Nebuchadnezzar saw Jesus Christ in the fiery furnace. And now the king has become a believer again.
Verses 26 through 28: "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came from the midst of the fire. And the satraps and the administrators and the governors and the king's counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed, nor were their garments affected. And the smell of fire was not on them". Wow. "Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, 'Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.' And he sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him". Nebuchadnezzar called for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to come out of the furnace, and when they approached, the king and his men were astounded that the hair of their heads hadn't been touched, the clothing hadn't been scorched; they didn't even have the smell of smoke on them.
Listen to this. The only thing that burned up in the fire were the cords that bound them. The cords around their arms and around their feet were the only things that burned up. God used the fire to free them from their cords. And everything else was unaffected. So now the king is gonna make another decree. Verses 29 and 30, Nebuchadnezzar spoke saying, "'I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.' Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon".
Because of the courage of these three young men, a loud-mouth, proud, vain king was lead to praise the God of Heaven. He, himself, had asked the question, "What God is able to deliver you from my hand"? And at last, he answers his own question. It is the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Wow.
Now, before we close our Bibles, here's some things we can take away. Here is Daniel For Today.
1. The lesson from the past is one of an inspiring example. The book of Daniel shows that in his day, there were faithful individuals who stood up for what they believed, even when the penalty was death. And there are no finer examples of courage under fire in all of the Bible than what we find in these three men and in the early chapters of Daniel.
2. The lesson for the present is that we must determine in advance how we're going to respond under trial. When we face similar confrontations, we will emulate their example of courage. Before our time on Earth is finished, men and women, we may well be called on to take a stand for our God. And I believe the days of surface faith and cowardly Christianity are quickly coming to an end. But being a Christian, a real Christian, will soon cost more than many are willing to pay. Will I stand up for my faith? Will you? Do I have the courage to say, as these three men did, that you will honor God no matter what? Do you have that courage?
3. The lesson for the future in Daniel 3 is played out in the book of Revelation, when the evil Antichrist comes on this Earth and tries to brand the people with the mark of the beast. And there will be some like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in that time who will not allow that to happen. And they will give their lives as martyrs for the faith.
In just a moment, we're gonna stand, and we're gonna read a scripture that will be on the screen together out loud. And I want it to be your watchword for the coming week, whatever it is you face. So please stand with me. This is from Isaiah the prophet, and you will understand why we're reading it when we read it together. Isaiah 43:1-3, "...'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;'". Amen. Men and women, He is the God who can be with you when you're going through the fire.