The Fiery Furnace

November 14, 2021 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: Living as Exiles

Topic: English Passage: Daniel 3:1-30

This morning, we are going to continue looking at the story of Daniel, and we have come to a portion that I think is familiar to a lot of you. Before we turn, there however, I want to remind us of some of the background to the story.

For many years, and throughout the times of many kings, Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, continued in idolatry and rebellion. As a result, God brought national discipline. Judah was attacked by multiple foreign nations, but the final and most devasting attack came from the Babylonians. Many Jews from Jerusalem, including Daniel and his friends, were taken as captives and exiles to serve king Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.

Now, Babylon was a pagan nation. Because of how much it had conquered other people groups, it was a blend of all different kinds of worship. But despite how evil the empire was, God used it as His instrument of judgment on His people.

Go had said He would do this, and rather than push back against the enemy nation, God told Israel to accept its punishment which, He said, would be temporary. They were not going to come back quickly, however, as the false prophets declared; they were going to be taken away from the Promised Land for 70 years.

Throughout that time, rather than grumble and complain, the people were called to get on with their lives and seek the good of the nation in which they dwelt. Listen to the word of Jeremiah from chapter 29, verses 4-7.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Basically, God’s wanted them to get on with their lives. Even while living as exiles, they were called to glorify God by seeking the wellbeing of the city in which they lived. They were called, we could say, to be good citizens. They weren’t called to start a revolution. They were called to submission and holiness.

And undergirding that kind of lifestyle was their hope that one day, 70 years later, God would restore them. Later in Jeremiah 29, God says He has a future and a hope for them. He would bring them back to the Promised Land.

Hopefully, you can see some parallels there for your life today. The Apostle Peter calls us to be submissive to government and to our employers. We are called to walk in holiness and to treat others with gentleness and respect.

But there will come times when living as an honorable citizen and submitting to the governing authorities reaches a limit. The Apostles of Jesus Christ were ordered by their local leaders not to evangelize, and their response was: “We must obey God rather than men.” When the governing authorities mandate for us behavior that dishonors God, we are called to take a stand. And this introduces us to our story this morning found in Daniel chapter 3. You can go ahead and turn there if you like.

This is the story of Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego, and again, I assume many of you are familiar with it to some degree. Though this is story, it’s very important to recognize that it’s not a mythical story; it’s not a fairy tale. It’s a historical account. It’s God’s word.

And, like I’ve said before, the main character in these stories is not any Israelite; it’s God. God will use the righteousness of His people for His own glory. God will make Himself known. That’s what we’re going to see as we listen to the story of Daniel 3. And to help us track along, we’re going to divide the story into 7 chapters.

The first chapter, I am going to call “A Pagan Adoration.” That’s how this story begins—with A Pagan Adoration. Let’s read verses 1-7.

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. 2Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

3Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.”

7Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

In chapter 2 of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which included a giant statue made of different materials in each layer. And God revealed to Daniel that the statue represented the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar and the kingdoms that would follow. In the end, however, those human kingdoms would be destroyed, and the kingdom of God would last forever.

Nebuchadnezzar seems to have missed the point of the dream, or he forgot about it after some time passed. The dream pointed to divine judgment on and divine superiority over all human kingdoms. It was a call to humility before the Lord. But all Nebuchadnezzar focused on was the idea that he was the head of gold.

And this statue could be a way of pushing back against the message of the dream. This could be Nebuchadnezzar saying, “I’ll show you, God of Israel, who can have a glorious kingdom.”

So, he builds a golden statue that is about 90 feet high and about 9 feet wide. That probably includes some kind of base or platform. It’s very impressive. And Nebuchadnezzar calls every single level of political and religious authority to take part in a ceremony. With all the nations that Babylon had conquered and brought into their empire, we could even call this a type of global summit. It’s the leaders of the world coming together.

And why have they come together? They’ve come because of something that the king has “set up.”

That phrase is used multiple times in the story, and it emphasizes that this is a human institution. It’s not from God. It’s from Nebuchadnezzar. Similar to the Tower of Babel, this is a human construction intended to unite the people in their rebellion against God.

It might have been a statue of Nebuchadnezzar himself or a statue of his god, but either way, all the civil servants are called, not simply to attend an inauguration. This is not some ribbon-cutting ceremony. They are commanded to worship it. This is mandated compliance with the threat of a fiery death in a burning furnace.

A furnace is basically a giant oven. You throw wood or charcoal into it, and it usually had a big opening at the top for the hot air to escape and an opening about halfway up the side where you could walk into it. Furnaces were necessary to melt precious metals. And since Nebuchadnezzar has just built a giant statue either made entirely of gold or covered with gold, it makes sense that there would be a giant furnace not very far away.

So, you’ve got the threat of death, on one hand, as a deterrent to disobedience. And, on the other hand, you’ve got crowds and music intended to promote obedience.

Multiple times, we are given a list of the instruments that were going to be played. This is an orchestral accompaniment. This is pomp and ceremony. This is pageantry.

Like the crowds and the marching bands at a football game, this is intended to overwhelm everyone there with emotion and awe. This is to help them join the action. Now, even for us, 2500 years later, we still see kings or other people in influential positions seeking to emotionally manipulate crowds so they do what they’re told.

Generally, the emotional pleas are a facade, but sadly, most of the time, they work. Here in Babylon, the king’s threat, and the extravagant music, and the peer pressure of the crowd take over, and everyone bows in pagan adoration.

Well, not everyone. The faithful Jews understood that this was a clear transgression to God’s command not to worship anything other than Him and not to make for themselves any idol. And the Jews’ unwillingness to bow in worship angered some of the other leaders. So, we go from A Pagan Adoration to, chapter 2: A Jealous Accusation. A Jealous Accusation. Let’s read verses 8-12.

Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. 9They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. 11And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. 12There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

At the end of chapter 2, we saw that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been promoted in the grace of God. And this esteem was a great source of jealousy for the other leaders. So, seeing the Jews non-compliance, they see an opportunity to clear some room among the civil servants.

They praise the king with the traditional flattery, and they point out that there are some traitors in his midst. They say, “O great king, you have men here who refuse to obey you.” And the implication is that these men have become a threat to the kingdom. They are being equated with insurrectionists. “These men are lawbreakers, O King! They are rebels seeking to overthrow the nation!”

Their tactic works. The king throws a fit, and we go from a jealous accusation, now, to chapter 3:A Furious Interrogation. A Furious Interrogation. Look at verses 13-15.

Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. 14Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. 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?”

King Nebuchadnezzar, in his perverted sense of mercy, gives these guys another chance. Maybe they didn’t understand what they were supposed to do. Maybe they didn’t realize the pain and the suffering that was at stake if they disobeyed.

But this isn’t really an act of mercy, this is a threat. This is the king exercising his human authority in order to force them into compliance. “You will die if you disobey me! Let me give you one final chance!” What’s going to happen the next time the music plays? The king assumes this time they will obey him.

Well, before anyone gets a chance to play any music, these men affirm where their true allegiance lies. And that brings us to chapter 4: A Confident Reaction. A Confident Reaction. This is right at the heart of the story. Look at verses 16-18.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Unlike the Chaldean officials, these men don’t respond to the king with flattery. They respond with an unwavering commitment to the one, true God. They say, “He has the power to deliver us, and He will deliver us from your tyranny.”

Where did this confidence come from? There are a few lessons here for us in their example. Let me give you three ingredients that led to their courage.

First of all, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had developed biblical convictions. They developed biblical convictions. They didn’t just know the law of God; they lived it. They had absorbed it into their hearts. The glory of God was greater than anything else in their lives.

That’s a challenge for all of us, especially knowing how easily you and I are distracted by the lesser glories of this life. If you want to live courageously for God’s glory, you need to develop biblical convictions.

A second ingredient to their courage was that they looked past the pageantry and the hype of this world. This world will always commend itself. They think they can tell us what to celebrate.

When I think about the fanfare of Nebuchadnezzar’s summit, I think about the pageantry of big events like the Oscars or some other award show. I think about the Olympics or some other professional championship game. Clearly, there will be hype. There will be music and fanfare. It’s all intended to get you to cheer and to participate.

But as followers of Jesus Christ, we need to be able to step back from all that and recognize that there is a distinct difference between the way the world might enjoy a sports game, or a newly-released movie, or a political rally, and the way we might enjoy or partake, if that would honor God.

Even if we enjoy some aspect of this world, we need to make sure that it doesn’t rise to the level of worship. We can’t allow ourselves to indiscriminately get caught up in the hype of something simply because the world tells us that we’re supposed to. We can’t allow those things to get to a place where they overshadow our love and our devotion to Jesus Christ. Only God is worthy of worship, and we need to look past the fanfare and the pageantry of this world.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew that they weren’t being called simply to respect the king by bowing down and kissing the floor. They were being called to false worship. And they would not give in to the emotions or to the threats.

Lastly, a third ingredient of their courage was that they trusted in God completely. They developed biblical convictions. They looked past the pageantry of this world. And they trusted in God completely.

That’s what they had learned through the word of God, that’s what they had practiced in their life, and that’s what they, now, express to Nebuchadnezzar.

They know that deliverance will come. It might come through a miracle, or it might come through their death. These men don’t actually know how this is going to turn out. What they do know is what God has commanded them to do.

Trusting God, doesn’t mean that we know everything is going to be wonderful and work out from a human perspective. Trusting God means you leave the results to Him, and you focus on seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren’t going to be swayed by political pressure. They’re not going to be swayed by peer pressure or even the fear of losing their jobs or their lives. No matter how this situation turns out, they make it clear: “We will not serve your gods. We will not worship this idol that you have ‘set up.’”

Are you guys familiar with the term “snarky”? It’s describing a mocking irreverence. I’m not sure if that’s the best word to describe how these men responded, but it might be part of the response we as the audience should have here. This is a piece of gold made by a human being. It was hammered out and molded. What power could it possible have? Why in the world should we be worshiping something “set up” by someone else? This is their confident reaction.

Well, these men’s resolve leads us to the next section of the story. Chapter 5: A Fiery Retribution. A Fiery Retribution. The anger which we saw in Nebuchadnezzar’s original respons now reaches its climax. He refuses to let this defiance go unaddressed. So, he proceeds with their promised punishment. Verses 19-23.

Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. 20And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. 22Because the king's order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.

Sometimes, in biblical cultures, the number seven is used symbolically to represent completeness. So, the king orders that this furnace be heated to the max. And then, some of his best soldiers are going to escort Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to the entrance, which, again, is probably about halfway up the middle of the furnace. The bottom portion would have all the wood or charcoal, and the hot air would vent out the top.

After the Jewish men are tied up, these soldiers are in such a rush to obey the king’s orders that when they get near to this massive, fiery oven, they are burned by the flames, and they end up dying. But at least they did their job of making sure these three disobedient Jews got tossed into the fire. And Nebuchadnezzar stands by, apparently not upset at the death of his soldier. He’s waiting to see the results of his sentence. So, what happens next?

We’re almost done with the story. We come now to chapter 6, which we will call “A Divine Protection.” A Divine Protection. Verse 24.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” 26Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's 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 cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.

For those of us who are familiar with the story and have heard it from an early age, we want to make sure we don’t minimize the miracle and the awe of what happened. These guys were thrown into a fire with all their clothes, plus the ropes that had tied them up. But the only thing the fire had burned, in addition to the soldiers who threw them in, was the ropes that were holding them.

Instead of writhing on the floor in pain, or in the cords that held them, these men are simply walking around, completely unaffected by the flames. They’ve been set free from every aspect of their sentence—the ropes and the flames. And what mainly catches the king’s eye is that there’s someone else in there walking around with them. Who is that additional person?

The passage doesn’t explicitly tell us, but Nebuchadnezzar says it looks like a son of the gods. In other words, this is some supernatural being. It might have simply been an angel, some soldier in God’s army, or it might have been a physical appearance of God Himself. And if that’s the case, this would be a visible, human representation of God, which we now know would be the second Person of the Trinity, whom we now refer to as Jesus the Christ.

The point is that God is with His people, to protect them and to guide them. What God said metaphorically through the prophet Isaiah, here we see being accomplished in a literal sense.

Isaiah 43:1-2 says: But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

God was with His people in the fire. It couldn’t touch them. They weren’t sure what would happen, but, in this instance, God mercifully and miraculously preserves them.

I can barely make eggs on the stove without smelling the hairs on my arm burning, but these guys come out without a single hair on their body being singed. This was absolute protection. They came out and didn’t even smell like a fire.

And what the result? The people who were there, who thought they were going to see an execution, saw the power of God. God turned this entire spectacle on its head. Think about that.

Nebuchadnezzar had gathered his entire kingdom together so they could marvel at what he had made. He brough them together for his own glory. But the human king was simply playing a part in the sovereign plan of God.

God gathered those people together—the satraps, the prefects, the governors—every level of political office was there to marvel at what Yahweh, the powerful God of Israel could do. And even Nebuchadnezzar himself understands at this moment that he must bow before the power of the God of Israel.

This doesn’t mean he is saved. More than likely, he will continue to worship all the other false gods, but in this moment, he recognizes the supremacy of the God of Israel.

And this leads us to the final chapter of today’s story. Chapter 7: A Glorious Vindication. Let’s finish reading with verses 28-30. This is the glorious vindication.

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything 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 rescue in this way.” 30Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

The word “vindication” means that you proved someone to be innocent or right or true. From a human perspective, this story ends with the vindication of Daniel’s friends. Contrary to the slanderous accusations, they are not enemies of the state. They were demonstrating true courage and faithfulness. And so, because of their loyalty and trustworthiness, they get promoted. This story ends with the opposite of what their enemies had intended.

But more than any human vindication, we have here as the story closes, a divine vindication. Rather than worship the glory and the gods of Nebuchadnezzar, the king himself admits that the God of Israel is greater than any other god. He alone deserves true worship.

Nebuchadnezzar had asked a question back in verse 15: Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands? Who is this God who is greater than I? And now, Nebuchadnezzar, and everyone he has gathered knows the answer. It’s the God of Israel. It’s the true and living God.

Similar to what happened with Elijah and the prophets of Baal and the watching people of Israel, God declared to everyone: Baal is not god. Nebuchadnezzar is not the true God. There is only one, truly sovereign King, and it is Yahweh, the God of Israel.

That’s what this story is intended to teach us. God, and God alone, is worthy of our worship. God, and God alone, is the one who will deliver us.

And though we are called to submit to governing authorities and respond to the world in gentleness and respect, we must never bow in worship to that which man has created. We shall have no other gods before Him.

I’m not sure about you, but as I studied this story, I saw so many parallels between life for Daniel and his friends as exiles and our lives today. We live under mandates. We have threats of death. And we are accused of being dangerous because we don’t always go along with the program.

But don’t forget, that compared to many other places in the world, and to many other generations, we still have it easy. Frankly, things could be a whole lot worse, and they will be one day.

Revelation 13 and 14 describe a time when the entire world will be united in rebellion against God. Satan, known as the dragon, will grant power and authority to Antichrist, known as the beast. And he will blaspheme God and make war against the saints. And the people of this world will worship him.

And if someone refuses, they will be put to death. Anyone who refuses to “get with the program” isn’t going to be able to work or to buy food. Because only those who worship according to the world will be accepted.

But how does that end? Revelation 18 tells us. The angel of God cries out: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! Her judgment has come!”

This world will boast in its authority and in its luxury, but those who give themselves over to it will be cast into God’s eternal fire. On the other hand, those who have been faithful to God will be rescued forever.

Don’t panic over what’s happening in the world, folks. God is still on His throne, and the kingdoms of men are only playing their part in grander story of the glory of God through the redemption of Jesus Christ.

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