January 2012 - Vol. 56

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stand before King Nebuchadnezzar 

Faithfulness and Courage Under Fire 
– Testing of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
Lessons  from the Book of Daniel Part 2

Adapted from a presentation by John Keating given during the Adelante Conference 

In Chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel, the great Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar has a disturbing dream, which none of his wise men can recount to him or interpret. He is enraged and threatens to kill all of his wise men. Daniel responds to a difficult and dangerous situation in faith and courage, boldness and humility. He promises the king that he will reveal to him his dream and its correct interpretation (even before he yet received them). First, he goes to his three young friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and asks them to pray. Then he seeks the Lord in faith and humility and receives from the Lord both the knowledge of the dream and its interpretation. 

Daniel recounts the dream and its meaning to the king, who is completely blown away, and places Daniel over his government, much as Pharaoh had in the case of Joseph. Daniel’s three friends are also given major roles in government, in which their considerable abilities and their high character give them increasing prominence. 
[See text from Daniel 2:47-49] But the prominence and influence make others jealous, and they become the objects of an attack – upon themselves and upon their people. The issue is not small or peripheral, but one of fundamental loyalty to the Lord. They are threatened with the possibility of losing not only their positions and their influence, but their very lives. Let’s look at what happened in Babylon at that time.

Daniel 3:1-13 [see text in sidebar box]
In Chapter 3 verses 12 and 13, we read that Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, are accused of breaking the king’s commands. In fury the King demands that they be be brought before him to hear his verdict. It often happens that when someone is placed by the Lord in a position to stand out in society, that person becomes a ready target for those who are jealous of the blessings and the success. Those who experience such blessings can sometimes make the great mistake of getting attached to them for their own sake, or of seeing them as the proof that the Lord is pleased, while seeing difficulty and attack as an indication that they are making big mistakes. While this can certainly happen (we can all too easily cause our own problems by our own foolishness), it is also true throughout the Scriptures that those of God’s people whom the Lord blesses and causes to prosper are also often attacked and put to the test by his enemies. In such times of testing, the blend of fidelity, boldness, courage, and humility are the response of faith that the Lord is seeking from those who belong to him.

Daniel 3:14-18 [see text in sidebar box]
With great courage, these young men choose to be faithful to the Lord. Far more so than was the case about keeping the Lord’s dietary laws we previously looked at in Chapter 1 [see previous article, Part I here]. Now these guys really have something to lose: their good reputation, their position and influence, their wealth, and even their lives. We might say to ourselves “Yeah, but how nice to be able to take such a radical stand, knowing that God is going to intervene in a miraculous and spectacular way, completely vindicate you, totally defeat your enemies, and bring you into greater honor and position than ever.” But it wasn’t like that for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They didn’t know what God would do. They left that question entirely up to the Lord. This was about embracing the spirit of martyrdom, not about doing a spiritual “bungee jump.” They weren’t saying: “No sweat. It looks really scary, but in fact, nothing bad is actually going to happen to us.” So you get this adrenaline rush without ever being in true danger. 

They also weren’t taking a desperate stand of saying “OK, Lord. We’re doing our part. Now you better step up here and do yours.” With the courage of martyrs, they chose to be faithful to the Lord come what may, and simply left it to the Lord to decide how he would act on their behalf.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were clearly ready to be martyrs for the glory of God – and through the centuries, the Lord has seen fit more often to be glorified though the death of his saints than in rescuing them. On this occasion, however, God willed to bring glory to his name through the miraculous protection of his servants. 

I believe that the Lord is looking for a similar response from each of us in similar circumstances:  accepting with courage and boldness whatever will bring most glory to God. Ready to pay the price to be faithful.

The obvious “wise” thing to do (as far as worldly wisdom goes) would have been to “lay low” and at least give the appearance of giving in, so as to not lose their positions of power and influence (as well as their lives): Perhaps even to give in, justifying the compromise with the idea that in this way one could stay in favor and in a position of influence that might prove useful to the Lord’s cause in the future. This response, of course, would have totally compromised their integrity and would have constituted a serious sin of idolatry, as well as a failure to give testimony of their faith before their own people. The three young men don’t fall into these traps.  They rise to the test, and prove faithful and true.

Daniel 3:19-25 [see text in sidebar box]
The king himself, the very man they were seeking loyally to serve, has put them to the test. He has made an issue of whether their first loyalty is to him or to God. They respond respectfully, but with absolute conviction and without hesitation. They make very clear where their first loyalty lies. The king is infuriated, and orders their destruction – and not merely the extraordinarily painful death of being burnt alive, but at an intensity of heat that destroys the men who throw them into the fiery furnace. The king is a personal witness to two extraordinary things: the three young men are seen walking about in the furnace and praising God, and a fourth man is seen to be in there with them! 

Daniel 3:26-29 [see text in sidebar box]
God has acted miraculously to glorify himself through the three young men. The power of God is revealed through the boldness of faith and the humility of his servants, in such a way that even those who were seeking to punish them are left praising God, and honoring his people.

Daniel 3:30 [see text in sidebar box]
The Lord uses the faith and courage of his servants to exalt them, to place them even higher in the worldly society in which they find themselves. Is it always like this?  No – it depends entirely upon the will and purpose of God. His servants put themselves in a place to give witness to his truth, and to be used for his glory.

This final verse of Daniel 3 brings me back to some of my comments from the first presentation:  These young men represent a way of living in the society in which the Lord places his people along the lines of Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jeremiah 29:4-7). 

Babylon is a society which does not know him, or that refuses to acknowledge him. Yet, God cares for his people and is concerned for their welfare. He has used King Nebachudnezzar and the empire of Babylon as his instrument for the purification of his people, and now he intends to bless his people as they live in the midst of Babylonian society and culture. 

Many faithful Jews in Babylon were probably living very quiet and rather hidden lives, earning their bread and raising their families. But God called others of his faithful servants in Babylon to live and serve actively, and even prominently, in the midst of that society. He called them not only to serve their own people, but to work for the good of all those among whom they live. 

God did not send them there as “undercover agents” of an enemy that is working to subvert the reigning order. Nor to be an inert lump in the midst of the wider worldly society, which has essentially “dropped out” of any meaningful contact, interaction, service to the broader people among whom they live. Rather, they were to live as God’s people in exile, living and serving in a foreign culture, genuinely working for the true good of those among whom they live and serve, not assimilating into that broader culture and its ways and values, not dropping out of it, not working to subvert it, but being completely faithful to God within in, and working to bring the broader foreign culture into greater relationship to God and his truth and his ways in whatever ways they can. 

Their mission in the broader society does not appear to be specifically spiritual or religious – they are to work and to serve and to love, and to bring good to the people among who God has placed them. As they do so, the Lord will give them opportunity to witness to him and his goodness. Often, as they do what the Lord is asking of them, they are given the opportunity to have significant impact in their society, as were Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego.  Some of his people may become prominent and respected and influential. In becoming so, they do not in any way compromise their faith, and they remain perfectly willing to lose any and all benefits, reputation, and influence in order to maintain their faithfulness to God and to his call. They suffer for this, and are ready to pay the price. The Lord is able to take the power of their faithful witness and turn it into even greater glory for himself, greater victory for his truth and his people.

Lessons for today
In closing I offer the following considerations for your reflection:

1. Testing in our lives always looks like a huge hassle and a great misfortune, especially when we’re right in the middle of it. The enemy, who is also testing us, wants to overwhelm us with difficulty, or at least with fear of difficulty, and to talk us out of fidelity. It can look like we’re all alone, taking the heat. But often, the Lord has his own purpose for allowing the test to take place. Just as he can glorify himself in and through our successes and accomplishments, so he can also glorify himself through us as – with his help and grace – we pass the great tests that are given to us. 

When testing comes, our first instinct is often: “How do I get out of this with the least loss and damage?” The Lord is looking for the response of the three young men: faith and faithfulness, courage, boldness, humility. He can use these responses to win a great victory in and through our lives. Are you also being tested? How? Where is the Lord in the midst of your test – have you found him? Are you looking for him? What response is he asking of you in the midst of your trial? 

2.  I believe that many of you will be called by the Lord to have influence and to exercise leadership where you are – not only in the small world of your community, of a Christian group you are serving, but more broadly. Some of you are probably already experiencing a certain success, a prominence, a popularity among your circle of friends in school, at university, at work. It might be because you are a good athlete, or that you’re smart in a way that wins the respect of others, or that you are especially pretty and vivacious. In some cases, the experience of a certain prominence or popularity in the broader world we live in can lead us to be more careful, more concerned, more timid, less free to express who we really are in Christ, more fearful of losing what we’ve gained. 

But these three young men are a great example of a different response in that situation.  Enjoying influence, leadership, and popularity in their society, they didn’t allow these to make them compromise their fundamental principles, or to be timid and fearful in the face of an attack on their more important commitments and principles. They were free to be who they really were. They didn’t compromise, even though they knew that it could cost them to hold their ground. They were ready, if need be, to put all on the line for their faithfulness to God.

See Part 1: Going Against the Tide: Lessons in Faith and Courage from the Book of Daniel, by John Keating

From the Book of Daniel 

Chapter 2:47-49
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoi'akim king of Judah, Nebuchadnez'zar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoi'akim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 

Chapter 3
1 King Nebuchadnez'zar 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. 
2 Then King Nebuchadnez'zar sent to assemble 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 which King Nebuchadnez'zar had set up. 
3 Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the  provinces, were assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnez'zar had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnez'zar had set up. 
4 And the herald proclaimed aloud, "You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5 that 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 Nebuchadnez'zar has set up; 6 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace." 7 Therefore, 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 which King Nebuchadnez'zar had set up. 

8 Therefore at that time certain Chalde'ans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. 
9 They said to King Nebuchadnez'zar, "O king, live for ever! 10 You, 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; 
11 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego. These men, O  king, pay no heed to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up." 13 Then ebuchadnez'zar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego be brought. Then they brought these men before the king. 

14 Nebuchadnez'zar said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image which I have set up? 
15 Now 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 which 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 that will deliver you out of my hands?" 

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnez'zar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 
17 If it 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. 
18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up." 

19 Then Nebuchadnez'zar was full of fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego. He ordered the  furnace heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated. 20 And he ordered certain mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21 Then these men were bound in their mantles, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were cast into the burning fiery  furnace. 22 Because the king's order was strict and the furnace very hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. 24 Then King Nebuchadnez'zar was astonished and rose up in haste. He said to his counselors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the  fire?" They answered the king, "True, O king." 25 He answered, "But I see four men loose, 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." 

26 Then Nebuchadnez'zar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace and said, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego, servants of the Most High God, come forth, and come here!" Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego came out from the fire. 27 And 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 mantles were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 

28 Nebuchadnez'zar said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who  trusted in him, and set at nought the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego 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." 

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego in the province of Babylon. 

John Keating is Vice-President of the Sword of the Spirit and a frequent speaker for Kairos and Sword of the Spirit conferences and retreats. He is an elder in the Servants of the Word, a missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord. He currently lives in Manila, Philippines.

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