Into the Fiery Furnace
“Then it’s the furnace for you!” That’s the sentence we can imagine the king yelling at his subjects when they refused his commands. When you are an all-powerful king you can send people to the furnace when you feel like it.
In the book of Daniel, chapter three, we see the self-absorbed king Nebuchadnezzar trying to counter what he learned in chapter two. That chapter details the prophet’s effort to give meaning to the king’s dreams. In his dreams, he saw a giant statue of a man. The statue represented four great empires that would rule in the Middle East and much of the known world. The king ruled over the first empire in his dream. The head, consisting of solid gold, was the symbol of the king’s mighty reign. The remaining portions of the giant image were made of silver, bronze, iron, and clay.
Well, the selfie consumed King Nebuchadnezzar was so into himself that he had builders create a massive statue honoring him. He had them make the giant image entirely of gold. That, he thought, would fix the problem.
“I’ll make the entire thing of gold.” We can imagine his vanity puffing up with pride when the giant statue was complete.
Then came the decree, “Everyone bow.” This true story from the history of Babylon is one of the most beloved Old Testament Bible stories ever. The selfish king met three God-first believers, the proud king was neither brave or bold enough to match the character of the humble believers.
The golden image of the king
Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.
An image of gold:
In chapter two of the book of Daniel, we read that the king learned his kingdom would end. He built this golden image in response. It was an act of rebellion by the king against the prophecy that his reign and empire would finish in the near future.
“On the plains of Dura, there stands today, a rectilinear mound, about twenty feet high, an exact square of about forty-six feet at the base, resembling the pedestal of a colossal statue.” (Heslop)
The dedication of the king’s golden statue
And 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. So the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered together for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
All the king’s men
All the officials of the provinces: The king sent word for everyone to gather for the dedication ceremony. Let’s address an important question: “where was Daniel when this story developed?”
We don’t know. This story is about three men of faith, the self-centered king, and their interaction with an amazing God. The Bible never gives all the details in a story. The Bible only reveals the important facts in a story that we need to understand the truth. Let’s just assume Daniel was away, for the prophet surely would not have bowed to that statue either.
Worship the image or face a burning death
Then a herald cried aloud: “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and 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.”
Let the music play:
It was an impressive display of musical instrumentation and no doubt very loud. The king and his men put on quite a display. The golden statue symbolizing Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was ready. The band of musicians played, the king’s subjects responded and began to worship.
Fall down and worship or else:
The fiery furnace was ready: There was no good reason for anyone to disobey this clear command. That’s what the people in the crowd thought at the time. The threat of an agonizingly painful death made sure all would comply. But everyone assumed wrongly. That’s why this story is an amazing classic. Three men of faith didn’t care much for the king’s command. They obeyed a greater king.
Who, in their right mind, chooses a furnace instead of taking a knee when the band plays. Bowing would have been so easy, no one would have noticed the men of faith if they had quietly bowed. The entire crowd was on their hands and knees, prostrate before the golden image.
Three men stood
But something happened that was far more impressive than the massive statue. Three men stood; refusing to bow.
The faith exhibited in this story seems supernatural, but the Bible, of course, is about that. A supernatural God interacts with regular folks. Sometimes the supernatural happens. The Bible records for us, supernatural miracles. Some people find them hard to believe, other find them inspiring. I choose inspiration. The Bible is a book of inspiration, it encourages us to look up to the One who can get us through when we fear we can’t.
The crowd follows the king’s demand for worship
So at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the horn, flute, harp, and lyre, in symphony with all kinds of music, all the people, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the gold image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
At the sound of the music:
Nebuchadnezzar, the selfish king, probably burst with pride at the sight. It was a massive golden statue to honor his greatness. A grand symphony of music played and when it did all his subjects bowed to his greatness. We can assume the crowd was massive because the king didn’t see the three humble men who had giant faith.
Three Jewish believers resist the king’s command to worship.
Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and accused the Jews. They spoke and said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the gold image; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. 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.”
Certain Chaldeans came forward and accused the Jews:
The Chaldeans were the same group of wise men who tangled with Daniel in chapter two. The wiser Daniel embarrassed them. They could not interpret the kings’ dreams, Daniel could. They were jealous of the rise to power of Daniel and his three friends. Those three friends then gave the wise men a reason to tattle to the king. They didn’t miss the opportunity to report the rebellious behavior. On the other hand, the three men didn’t miss an opportunity to show everyone their loyalty was to God, not a selfish king.
They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image:
Their devotion to the Lord could have gone without notice by the king. The crowd was large and the king probably couldn’t take his eyes off his glistening gold statue. The Chaldeans took on the easy task. They made sure the king knew about the lack of faith among the Hebrew men.
Their actions were not public but neither were they hidden. These three Hebrew men must have known they would be discovered, yet they obeyed God rather than man. “You will not be able to go through life without being discovered: a lighted candle cannot be hid. There is a feeling among some good people that it will be wise to be very reticent, and hide their light under a bushel. They intend to lie low all the wartime, and come out when the palms are being distributed. They hope to travel to heaven by the back lanes, and skulk into glory in disguise. Ah me, what a degenerate set!” (Spurgeon)
A demand for answers
Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? 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. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”
Is it true:
Nebuchadnezzar knew his loyal wise men were prone to acts of jealousy. He knew about the palace intrigue among the Chaldeans and the Jewish leaders. So, he asked if the story was true. They could have fudged and made an excuse. They stood bravely in front of the king. Their faith faced its toughest test.
But if you do not worship…
“Then its the furnace for you.” This seemed like an easy choice. They could reason in their own minds, “God knows my heart.” But they didn’t take the easy route, thus this story lives as one of the greatest acts of faith by simple men who trusted in God. Would we do the same? Would we risk the loss of “cush jobs” with great benefits if we faced a similar test?. Today we are more likely to protect our secure positions. We won’t rock the boat and take a stand on principle. It’s a rare individual who will do that.
Who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?
At this point, Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t respond differently from how he did. He surely remembered the boldness of Daniel. Now he was seeing that same bold trust in Daniel’s friends. But, many looked on as the three men challenged the king’s edict. The selfie king thought of himself at that moment and didn’t fear the God those men trusted. At that moment, if the king or the men of faith wavered, we wouldn’t have this story of bravery and faith. This moment before the king is the key event of the story. The king remained self-absorbed and the men remained faithful.
We do not serve your gods or your image of gold
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “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.”
We have no need to answer you:
It seems as though they knew they had only one option. The king, most likely, felt the same way. He had seen this kind of faith in Daniel, now he saw it in them. Daniel’s faith was spreading to others. The king would need to stop the spread. He would burn them and their faith.
Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us:
These men knew that the short life of the flesh is only temporary. Men, women, and children of faith often lose their lives in faithful service to God. God can take us through a fire, unharmed, or give us the courage to endure the finite pain for infinite glory. The men made the correct choice, but their heart rate probably began to rise quickly when they realized what they were about to walk into. But they walked in faith.
In the book of Job, we read about a man who had similar faith. He endured his own fiery trials of his faith. He said this. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).
We make a mistake if we value the tempory advantage of the moment over the eternal value of peace with God.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15).
Let it be known to you, O king…
that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image: This strong faith began when they were young men. They first learned about God in their homes in Israel. The Babylonian army tore through their country, most likely killed their family and took the young men captive. These tragedies didn’t shake their faith. When they gathered with Daniel, they encouraged each other in their faith. The four of them became the bravest and most faithful subjects in the Babylonian empire. Men of faith, united in their devotion to God, are still making history today. How is your faith? How is mine?
“I am glad that the three holy children were not ‘careful to answer,’ or they might have fallen upon some crooked policy or lame excuse for compromise. What have we to do with consequences? It is ours to do the right, and leave results with the Lord.” (Spurgeon)
God’s men face the fiery furnace.
Then 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. And 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.
Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury:
The three brave men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego faced the fury of the king’s wrath. The king may have been hoping they would relent and make an easy way out for everyone. They did not, and the king had no other choice. The king could have let the men off easy, but when they made their bold statement of faith, the king changed his mind. We are told, “the expression on his face changed.”
The men remained strong as the king’s countenance changed. Spurgeon described the bitter reality of those who lose their courage during such times:
“Remember also that by yielding to the fear of man you are demeaning yourself. There shall come a day when the man that was ashamed of Christ will himself be ashamed: he will wonder where he can hide his guilty head. Look at him! There he is! The traitor who denied his Lord! The Christ was spat upon and nailed to the cross, and this man was afraid to own him.
To win a smile…
To win the smile of a silly maid, to escape the jest of a coarse fellow, to win a few pieces of silver, to stand respectable among his fellow-men, he turned his back upon his Redeemer and sold his Lord; and now what can be said for him? Who can excuse him? The angels shun him as a man who was ashamed of the Lord of glory. He is clothed with shame and everlasting contempt. Even the lost in hell get away from him, for many of them were more honest than he. Is there such a man as this before me? I summon him in the name of the living God to answer for his cowardice! Let him come forth and own his crime, and humbly seek forgiveness at the hands of the gracious Savior.” (Spurgeon)
“I see people walking; who’s that other guy?”
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
I see four men loose… and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God:
Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth person in the furnace. The unexpected One was – the Son of God. Jesus, in human form, was literally with them in the worst of their trial.
Spurgeon observed that God’s people are often in the furnace, and though there are different kinds of furnaces, they serve similar purposes in our life. He noticed there can be a furnace that…
· Man prepares.· Satan prepares.· Or that God prepares.
The fire can’t match the passionate flames of faith in true men and women of God
Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire. And the satraps, administrators, 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 was their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.
A symbol of the future Antichrist?
The angry king is a type of the coming Antichrist who will exhibit the same love of self and hatred for God’s people.
Coming to the world during the Great Tribulation:
- · The Antichrist will try to force the world into one religion. I wonder which religion that will be?
- · There will be another image described in Revelation 13, that the whole world will be commanded to worship.
- · The fiery furnace symbolizes the Great Tribulation, in which God’s people will face intense persecution.
- · Many will endure the persecution the persecution of the tribulation.
- · Those who support the Antichrist will face their own fire in the end.
Nebuchadnezzar, once again, acknowledges the only God and his faithful servants
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!”
Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego:
The king gave glory to the true God, but he still wasn’t ready to call him his God. He clung to his fake gods who were powerless in comparison. He knew about God, through the testimony of these three men and Daniel the prophet. Knowing about God and actually knowing God has literally an eternity of differences.
The rash king vows to protect God’s people–for now.
“Therefore 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.
Therefore I make a decree:
The is the testimony of a great king who did not know God. He couldn’t believe what he just saw. He made a decree so his subjects would honor the God of the Hebrew men. But the king, still regarded himself to be more worthy of honor, as we see in a future chapter.
More from the prophets: