Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!
(Daniel 3:28 ESV)
In Daniel, we have been discussing the topic of faith and culture: i.e., the Christian’s place in this world. Daniel, along with his three friends, serve as a model for us on how to live in a post-Christian world. In chapter 1, Daniel helped us to know where we must draw the proverbial line between cultural accommodation, on the one hand, and cultural capitulation, on the other. In chapter 2, the topic was about confidence and stability: i.e., where should we place our confidence and assurance. Now, in chapter 3, the topic is about trusting and obeying God.
Roughly, nine years have passed between the events that transpired between chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 2 ends with king Nebuchadnezzar acknowledging the God of Israel as the only true God, the “God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries” (Daniel 2:47). Nine years later, king Nebuchadnezzar was back to his old ways. In chapter 3 the king commands that a 90-foot-high golden image be erected in the king’s image and worshiped in the king’s honor. What happened? In chapter 2 the king had a strong conviction that Yahweh was the God of gods and Lord of kings. What was lacking? Matthew Henry explains that “Strong convictions often come short of sound conversion.” That is what king Nebuchadnezzar lacked: i.e., a sound conversion. A sound conversion includes conviction, conviction of the truth, but it must include more, much more. It must also include trust and obedience to God. A saving faith, a sound conversion is a trusting and obedient faith.
We see this played out in Daniel 3:4-5. The king commands everyone at the sound of the music to fall down and prostrate, in worship, before the golden image. This image is a symbol of the mighty power of Babylon personified in Babylon’s king. Like the Tower of Babel, king Nebuchadnezzar wants to ensure his name, making sure it remains great! Anyone who refuses to bow down in worship of the golden statue will suffer death in the fiery furnace. We all know what happens next. In Daniel 3:12, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship. The king gives these three young men another chance to recant as the king taunts them by mockingly saying, “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (v 15). In response, Daniel’s three friends answer this way:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 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 (Daniel 3:16-18)
We all know the end of the story. God did in fact deliver them from the fiery furnace. Daniel’s three friends did have faith, a conviction that God could in fact deliver them. But notice they also said, “if not,” if God chose not to deliver them from certain death, then so be it; they said, “we do not serve your gods, nor will worship the gold image.” This is amazing! They know God could deliver them, but they are not assuming He will. They are prepared for God not to deliver them. Yet, they still obeyed. Alistair Begg says that “Faith is not believing in spite of evidences; rather, it is obeying in spite of the consequences.” Beloved, this is saving faith; this is evidence of a sound faith: trusting and obeying God in spite of the consequences.
The Christian’s life is a Pilgrim’s life. And the Pilgrim’s life is a life of “fiery trials.” 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.” Peter is alluding to Daniel 3; he is saying the life of a Christian is a life of fiery trials, and we should not be shocked but expect such trials to come our way. What both Peter and Daniel teach us is that God will not deliver us from the fiery trials of life, but God will deliver us through the fiery trials of life. Trusting and obeying God in spite of the consequences is trusting and obeying God to get us through the fiery trials of life. This is how we make progress on our journey in the Christian life. We like Daniel’s three friends are formed by our trials, trials that ironically bring blessings, trials that mold us and shape us into the glory-image of Christ. The temptation to bow our knee to the idols of our generation is just as enticing: the idols of status, the idols of our agendas, the idols of reputation, the idols of peer pressure, the idols of pleasure, etc.—these are just as tempting as any of the idols of antiquity. However, Christ has promised to be with us as He was with Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace as he too delivers us through the fiery trials of life. Let us take heart in this dear Christian, knowing Christ will never leave or forsake us, that he will be with us to the end of the age!