And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. (Hebrews 11:32-34)
Golden Statue and Blazing Furnace
The massive golden statue stood at ninety feet tall (sixty cubits), erected on the plain of Dura south of Babylon (Daniel 3:1), visible from afar. The burning sun shone upon it, reflecting golden rays in all directions, eye-catching and almost blinding. Officials in various leadership positions whom King Nebuchadnezzar had summoned were gathered around to attend the dedication of the statue. The King ordered: As soon as the music sounds, everyone must fall down and worship this image of gold. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.
As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace. (Daniel 3:5-6)
Not far away there was a blazing furnace, guarded by big strong men who stoked the fire frequently, drenched with perspiration from the heat. The crowd attempted to stay away from the blinding rays deflecting off the golden statue, while trying to avoid the intense heat from the furnace. The atmosphere was tense as the people were afraid of incurring the wrath of the king. Suddenly, the king’s face darkened as he stared in rage at the three men standing in front of him. The officials held their breath and thought that the men were doomed! Nebuchadnezzar shouted, “Hey! Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, are the three of you going to bow down to the statue or not?”
The officials shook with fear, for this was King Nebuchadnezzar! As a young man, he followed his father into many a battle, conquering cities far and wide, and even the mighty land of Assyria fell into his hands. In the Battle of Carchemish (605 BC) on the Euphrates River, he defeated Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt (Jeremiah 46:2). After that, no one dared to enter into battle with him. He built the city of Babylon with city walls wide enough for horses to race on, and the hanging gardens within the city became one of the ancient seven wonders of the world. In the presence of such a mighty and intimidating king, who would dare to disobey his commands, besides the three men standing in front of him?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
The three men were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, all from Jewish royal families, and together with Daniel, were captives to Babylon. So as not to defile themselves, these three men and Daniel had refused food and wine from the king’s table. Later, by Daniel’s recommendation, the king appointed the three men to be administrators over the province of Babylon (Daniel2:49). In the face of the king’s fury, the three men remained calm and replied:
O 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 save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3:16-18)
No one had ever dared to talk back to him! Nebuchadnezzar was furious, and ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual. He commanded his strongest soldiers to tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who had thrown the three men! Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were firmly tied and fell into the blazing furnace. (Daniel 3:19-23)
Even if Not
Why did these three men refuse to worship the golden image? The reason was that they only worshipped the one true God, and did not worship false gods. They bowed their knee only to the Lord Almighty, and not to any idols. This was at the core of their faith, a principle they would hold fast to even if their country was defeated, even if they were captured, even if their lives were threatened. Why were they unafraid of being thrown into the blazing furnace? Because they firmly believed “the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us.” They had faith that God can save them, and God will save them. Brothers and sisters, what a precious faith this is! They believed in a true and living God and could testify to what He had done in their lives. They had to walk a long and arduous journey as captives, yet they survived. They lived only on vegetables and water, yet still looked healthy and well-nourished. They were captives in an enemy land, yet were promoted to become officials of the land. They had no doubt in their mind that this same God would save them from the blazing furnace!
Even more astounding than their faith that “God will save” was their “even if He does not” determination. “But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up.” The phrase “even if He does not” can be said to be the pinnacle of one’s faith and courage. It is a true faith, a faith that is steadfast in the face of danger and unwavering to the point of death, a faith that produces true courage. This is the same kind of faith that Peter displayed to the rulers and elders who were threatening him, when he declared “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20) Throughout history, countless believers have been persecuted for their faith, and with each persecution, the gospel has remarkably become more widespread. The “even if not” resolve of true believers enabled them to share the gospel fearlessly, even if it meant giving up their lives for the sake of Christ. When they died, the blood of these martyrs planted the seeds of the gospel so that the gospel flourished because of them. In comparison with such a fearless spirit, the faiths of many present-day believers seem small and insignificant, almost embarrassing. They covet comfort, are unwilling to make sacrifices, and eagerly pursue “prosperity, health, and wealth”, becoming complacent with these “small blessings”.
Quenched the Fury of the Flames
Nebuchadnezzar’s anger subsided after he saw the three men being thrown into the blazing furnace, but he wondered why there was no screaming coming from the men. Even the soldiers who had thrown them in had yelled in anguish as they died from the heat. He looked into the furnace and what he saw shocked him. He leapt to his feet and asked his advisers:
“Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”
“Certainly, O king.”
“Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:24-25)
Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors, and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. (Daniel 3:26-27) Thus God quenched the fury of the flames, and brought Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego safely out of the blazing furnace, completely unharmed.
One Who Appears in Blazing Fire
Three men were thrown into the furnace, yet Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth man walking in the fire. Who was this fourth man? Nebuchadnezzar said “the fourth looks like a son of the gods”. “A son of the gods” is not “the son of God”. It was not Jesus, but an angel who was in the furnace with them. Nebuchadnezzar praised God, saying:
Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! (Daniel 3:28)
Dear brothers and sisters, who do we see in this blazing fire? In fact, the blazing fire shows us a picture of two people. The first is myself, and the second the angel of God. In the fire, my true self is revealed—am I able to stand firm in adversity, or will I crumple and fall; will I be destroyed by the flames, or will I be able to walk around in the fire? To those who trust in Him, the Lord will send an angel to protect and rescue them, to walk with them in the fire, and to lead them out of the blazing fire to safety.
The experience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego teaches us:
- God can save us, and God will save us.
- Those who walk in the fire possess an “even if not” kind of determination.