Believers are destined to face fiery furnaces in this life. We are challenged to stand for God in hard places on a regular basis. We never know just what the outcome will be. In our earthly battles, God allows some to be martyrs and some to be triumphant victors as He battles the forces of evil. He has promised rewards for both those martyrs who are faithful even unto death and for those victors who live on to fight more battles.
When we are asked to step out in faith without knowing the outcome, we can look back to the wonderful model presented by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel’s writings. They put their fate in the hands of the God they served. They were confident that God was able to save them, but they didn’t know for sure if He planned to do so. All they knew was that their God could be trusted with their fate, and that His actions would bring about the greater good. The end result at the close of the chapter is thrilling. Only the most powerful, creative God could make a way for a whole empire to know who is truly God of gods and Lord of kings!
Throughout history we can observe the way that power corrupts mortal men. When we left Nebuchadnezzar at the end of chapter two, he was praising the God of gods. Yet when we open chapter three he is creating a giant statue and commanding everyone in the empire to bow down and worship the golden image, which represented the gods of Babylon. When the faithful Jews refused, he suggested that their God would not be able to rescue them. How could he have so soon forgotten the power of Daniel’s God? His own power seems to have gone to his head.
Nebuchadnezzar’s declaration about the impotency of God set up a battle or a power struggle that ended in yet another opportunity for Daniel’s God to show His sovereignty in front of all of the leading men in the empire.
DAY ONE: NEBUCHADNEZZAR MADE A GOLDEN IMAGE.
Read: Daniel 3:1-3
A. THE IMAGE WAS DEDICATED.
In Babylon and in other pagan cultures, images were often set up as objects of worship. This Babylonian image was particularly impressive because it was made of gold and was very large. The image may have been inspired by Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. If so, it could have been in the shape of a man. However, the entire statue was gold. It has been suggested that King Nebuchadnezzar had become so powerful that he didn’t believe anyone could ever replace Babylon as a world empire, no matter what God had revealed from the dream.
Nebuchadnezzar could have produced this golden image to unify and strengthen his kingdom. He was known as a great leader. A common object of worship would be one way to bring together all of the various peoples he had conquered. We can’t know his motive for sure, but we can stand back and see the amazing outcome.
B. ALL THE DIGNITARIES WERE SUMMONED.
A long list of government officials came to witness the dedication. In fact, all of the officers in all of the provinces were present. We don’t know where Daniel was – perhaps on some official business out of the region. We do know that an impressive list of witnesses would see the miracle God had planned. It must have been intimidating to the small contingent of Jewish officials to have such a large gathering of leaders. It is often tempting to go along with the crowd when we are in the minority.
- List all of the different officers who came for the dedication ceremony. What contemporary “guest list” might compare with this group today?
- What was involved in the decision the Jews had to make in determining whether to bow down to the image? (Exodus 20:4-5)
- What does Scripture say about what we are to do when we are tempted? (James 1:5)
- What are some of the idols that our society worships today?
- When have you had to “stand alone” against the crowd in some situation?
- Who is it that most intimidates you – family, friends, teachers, dignitaries, etc.?
- Will you pray in advance for God to help you to stand when you next encounter an intimidating situation?
DAY TWO: NEBUCHADNEZZAR COMMANDED NATIONAL WORSHIP.
Read: Daniel 3:4-17
A. MUSIC SUMMONED THE WORSHIPPERS.
At the sound of music, all the officials were not only to bow down but to worship. The image had both political and religious significance. The king considered himself as both head of state and head of religion. To bow down was to recognize the great authority of the king. It also acknowledged the greatness of the Babylonian gods who had given this kingdom to them. The music would have played on the emotions to make the experience moving for this great gathering of officials. Their participation would be a model for all the people they ruled when they returned to their home provinces.
B. A PENALTY WAS SET FOR DISSENTERS.
There was to be no exception for any of the officials. To refuse to bow down was equivalent to treason. The king did not prohibit the private worship of other gods, but no one was excused from this grand display of unity and submission in the public worship of Babylonian gods. The penalty for refusing was sudden death by being thrown into a blazing furnace. Babylon was known for burning people alive. (Jeremiah 29:22)
Imagine the scene when the grand assembly bowed down and the three Jewish officials remained standing. It would have been easy to rationalize by bowing down but not really worshipping. However, to present themselves publicly as worshippers would be to invite the wrath of God for violation of the first two commandments. Would they invoke the fury of the king or the fury of God? They made the right choice, even if it meant death.
Sometimes God may want to use you to convey an important message to those around you. It always takes courage to do the right thing when everyone else is doing the wrong thing.
- What might be some of the consequences of refusing to go along with the crowd or the world today?
- We are told to obey the laws of the land and respect our governing authorities. How do we decide how far these commands go in governing our behavior? (Acts 4:18-19)
- What previous experience might have given these three men confidence to stand in such a hard situation? (See Daniel 1)
- How did Jesus meet the temptation to compromise in his hour of temptation? (Matthew 4:1-11)
How can you “tactfully” meet the challenge the next time you are tempted to join the crowd in sinning against God?
DAY THREE: NEBUCHADNEZZAR QUESTIONED THE FAITHFUL JEWS.
Read: Daniel 3:8-18
A. THE DISSENTERS WERE REVEALED.
Some of the Chaldeans (Babylonians of an elite order) reported the dissenting Jews, and the king was furious. However, when he saw who the dissenters were, he offered them a chance to explain themselves. He then offered them a second chance to bow down and worship the statue. He even warned them again of the penalty. But the men stood firm.
The furnace was heated seven times hotter than usual. The fire was designed to kill them instantly to display publicly the penalty of disobeying his authority. Although these men are valuable and productive members of his government staff, the king will not excuse them if they continue to refuse to bow down.
B. THE BATTLE NOW BECAME CLEAR.
Nebuchadnezzar told the men that no god would be able to rescue them. He claimed absolute authority over both political and religious realms. Nebuchadnezzar had set up a challenge with God. This is no longer just about the obedience of these three men. It becomes God’s battle. The King has claimed authority over all gods. The three men were now caught in the middle of someone else’s battle.
C. THE MEN PLEADED GUILTY.
The men didn’t need to plead their case. They were guilty of refusing the King’s order. They could not and would not sin against their God. They knew that the “God we serve” is greater than Nebuchadnezzar. Since they had served God faithfully, they had reason to believe that He would protect and deliver them. But if He chose not to deliver them, they still had no choice but to refuse to deliberately disobey His commandments. They were willing to die before worshipping anything or anyone except the one true God.
- Who are the men who brought charges against the Jews?
- Why might these men have had resentment against the Jews? (Daniel 1:18-20, 2:48-49)
- Why do you think the king was so angry?
- How does the behavior of the faithful Jews remind you of Esther’s statement, “If I perish, I perish” in Esther 4:16?
- What does Scripture say about fear? (Proverbs 29:25)
- What do you think you would have done in this situation? Would you have had a tendency to “plead your case?”
- When you suffer hard consequences for standing for God, how do you feel? Do you experience resentment, self-pity, self-righteousness, or joy? (See Acts 5:41-42)
DAY FOUR: NEBUCHADNEZZAR ORDERED EXECUTION IN THE FURNACE.
Read: Daniel 3:19-26
A. NEBUCHADNEZZAR REACTED IN ANGER.
The King had a high regard for these men who had served well in his court. However, he was personally insulted by their refusal to obey his orders. His ego and his standing as the absolute authority in the kingdom were challenged. He quickly turned his respect and regard to murderous anger. Good judgment is often trumped by ego when we begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.
B. THE FURNACE WAS INTENSIFIED.
Nebuchadnezzar’s goal at this point was to kill the men instantly. He took every possible step to be sure that the people looking on would witness what happens to anyone who dares to rebel against his authority. He had the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual. He had them wear their flammable clothing. He had them bound so they couldn’t escape. He had some of the strongest soldiers throw them in while the flames were highest. What a horrible death this would be for God’s faithful men. But the tables are turned. The horrible death came to the soldiers who are too close to the flames as the faithful men were thrown into the furnace. The outcome of our anger is often not a pretty picture.
C. NECHADNEZZAR WITNESSED GOD’S DELIVERANCE.
As Nebuchadnezzar and his witnesses watched the three men in the blaze, the situation suddenly changed drastically. To observe an obvious miracle is a startling experience. The king did the obvious thing – he questioned his observation of the facts. He saw four unbound men walking around unharmed in the furnace. One of them had an unusual appearance as a heavenly being. He quickly tried to salvage the situation by loudly ordering the men to come out and acknowledging their Most High God.
- What three clues did Nebuchadnezzar see that caused him to know that something supernatural had occurred?
- How were the promises of Isaiah 43:1-3a fulfilled in the lives of these three men?
- How do verses 1 and 2 of Psalm 91 describe the actions of these faithful men?
- Have you ever considered that your actions in standing for God might open the door for a “miracle” of new understanding to occur in someone’s life?
- What promise did Jesus give when He was sending out his workers into a hostile world? (Matthew 28:20)
DAY FIVE: THE MIRACLE RESULTED IN NEW DECREES.
Read: Daniel 3:27-30
A. NEBUCHADNEZZAR PRAISED THE GOD OF THE JEWS.
Nebuchadnezzar already knew of the power of Daniel’s God from the experience with the dream interpretation. Now when he saw God in action again, he quickly acknowledged the one who has the power to rescue men from a fiery furnace. This answered the question he posed to the three men at their interview. When God is publicly challenged we can expect that He will provide a way to redeem His name.
B. NEBUCHADNEZZAR PRAISED THE FAITH OF THE MEN.
In order to redeem himself and regain his authority he publicly praised the faith of men who would not betray their God, even to the death if necessary. Nebuchadnezzar is a complicated man. He seemed to understand the facts about God, but he never seemed to embrace Him as his own God. He remains a work in process – as we will see in the coming chapters. This is true of many people today. Some people know quite a lot about the Bible and the God of the Bible, but they never embrace Him as their heavenly father.
C. NEBUCHADNEZZAR MADE A FAVORABLE DECREE.
From this time on all of the people of the Babylonian Empire knew about the God of the Jews and were forbidden to say anything against Him. The Jews were now free to worship openly without fear of reprisal. In addition, the three brave men were promoted.
- Describe the appearance of the three men when they came out of the furnace.
- God does not choose to deliver his saints unharmed in every instance. Review the story of Stephen in Acts 7.
- What beautiful thing did God do for Stephen as he was being stoned? (Acts 7:55-56)
- How do you respond to Christian opposition or persecution today? (Mathew 5:43-44) These three men continued to serve the king without anger or resentment.
- How quickly do you call on God to help you forgive those enemies who would do you harm?
The key to their success in this story was the men’s ability to focus on their wise and powerful God instead of their unfortunate circumstances. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, the things of this earth grow strangely dim. God does not allow us to suffer beyond what is necessary for His greater purposes to be carried out. Count it all joy to suffer for Christ so that His kingdom can move forward. Don’t miss this blessing by having the wrong focus! If God always recued in answer to prayer, we wouldn’t need faith. Grace to go through hard times builds Godly confidence.
PRINCIPLE FOR THE WEEK: Suffering for Christ is always balanced by unexpected grace.
CHALLENGE: Make it a habit to look for small blessings (grace) throughout your days this week, especially when you are challenged by enemies of Christianity.
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