Faith Under Fire

Daniel 3

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2018

Today, we come to one of the most famous chapters in the Bible.  Children love this chapter.  Every child in Sunday School knows this story.  Kids in in VBS love it but it is not just a story for children.  It is a story about three brave men that is full of powerful applications for us today.

Few people today in the American church would have the courage to do what these three men did.  They gave a bold witness of their faith.  They were not afraid to take a stand for their faith.  They were not afraid to be different from what other people were doing. They refused to compromise their faith.  In fact, they were willing to give up their life, and not only die but be tortured for their faith.

This is an incredible chapter.  It has DRAMA. It is one of the most dramatic scenes in all of Scripture.  It contains one of the greatest miracles of Scripture.  It has SUSPENSE.  We all know how the story ends but Daniel’s three friends did not know.  They were not sure if God would deliver them.  They were willing to die for their faith.

It has MYSTERY.  How did they get thrown in a fire heated seven times and not get one hair of their head burned?  Who was the fourth man in the fire?  You do not see him come in the fire and you do not see him leave but he was in the fire with them.

There is a SURPRISE ENDING.  There is a plot twist.  Things look really bad for the three friends in the first part of the chapter and really good for them in the last part of the chapter.  At the beginning of the chapter, they are accused of high crimes.  They face an angry king who yells at them.  They are thrown into a blazing hot fire.

At the end of the chapter, they have a supernatural encounter.  They meet a supernatural being in the fire.  They are miraculously delivered by God from death.  They are not only delivered, they are rewarded.  They are promoted. Nebuchadnezzar praised the God of these three friends (Daniel 3:28). 

For some of you, this chapter may be too familiar.  You have heard it a hundred times, but I am going to challenge you to keep an open mind as we look at this chapter.  There are some things about the chapter that you have heard that are not completely accurate.

There are a few myths that every preacher makes on this chapter, which we will look at.  There is also a view about God that is held today by many Christians that is completely unbiblical and we will see that clearly in this chapter.  There is a deep moral and ethical question that comes right out of this chapter.  Before we look at some of these things, we have to see what happens in the chapter.  There are eight events in this chapter.

Eight Dramatic Events

1. Fancy Statute

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it. (Daniel 3:1 NIV)

Nebuchadnezzar was a great builder.  He was known for building things.  He was also extremely wealthy.  He builds a statute and he makes it out of gold.  It was probably of pure gold but overlaid with gold.  He builds a statute of himself.  If you go back to the last chapter, there was a statute and Nebuchadnezzar was the head.  Nebuchadnezzar made his own statute but made the entire thing gold from top to bottom.  Babylon was known for its gold.

What he is really doing is trying to thwart the program of God.  He does not just want to be the head of the image (gold head).  He wants to be the whole image and makes it of gold, so it will NOT break. This statute was tall.  It was ninety feet tall.  If you need a visual for that, it would be a little more than two telephone poles high.  Telephone poles are forty feet high.  If would be two telephone poles plus ten more feet high.

Nebuchadnezzar is a type of the future Antichrist.  History will repeat itself.  The future Antichrist will also rule from a city called Babylon.  He will be an ego maniac like Nebuchadnezzar.  He will build an image and have people worship it and if they don’t worship it, they will be killed (Revelation 13:15).  This image of Nebuchadnezzar was sixty cubits high and six cubits in width.  Babylon used numbers in multiples of six.  They didn’t use the decimal system in multiples of ten.  Nebuchadnezzar’s number is 66.  The number of the Antichrist will be 666.

2. False Worship

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (Daniel 3:4-6 NIV)

There is a worship service in this chapter with a lot of loud music.  After making the image, people are told to worship the image.  People are to fall down and worship it.  It is not a suggestion or a recommendation.  It is a command and it is a command for everyone.  There are NO EXCEPTIONS.  Nations and peoples of EVERY LANGUAGE, this is what you are COMMANDED to do (Daniel 3:4 NIV). 

Now Nebuchadnezzar did not say that they could not worship Jehovah.  He did not outlaw Jehovah worship.  He simply required that everyone bow down to this image that he built.  In the ancient world, they would have had no problem doing this.  They were syncretistic and polytheistic.  They worshipped many gods.  Bowing down to one more would be no problem.

In fact, they probably just looked at it as a form of patriotism.  We show our patriotism by saluting the flag.  In Babylon, they showed it a different way, by bowing to the king.  It was a test of loyalty, but it was also a test of worship.

For Daniel’s three friends, it meant worshipping a false god.  Nebuchadnezzar is COMMANDING these Jews to sin.  He is ordering them to violate their conscience.  He is telling them to break the first two of the Ten Commandments.  The First Commandment says not to worship another god.  The Second Commandment says not to worship anyone by means of an image.

3. Fierce Critics

At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews.9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! 10 Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:8-12 NIV)

We all know people who are chronic fault finders.  They are constant critics.  People criticize other people for different reasons.  Some criticism is valid.  Sometimes people criticize you for the wrong reason.  Sometimes people criticize you because they are threatened by you or feel insecure or want you to look bad.

Daniel 3:8 says, “Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and MALICIOUSLY accused the Jews” (ESV).  This criticism was motivated by jealousy and hatred.  They wanted them to be killed.  They wanted them thrown into the fiery furnace.  They spoke to the king and began with flattery, but they hated these three men.  Why did they hate them?

These men were set over the affairs of Babylon (Daniel 3:12).  They had a position power and prominence over other Babylonians and they were foreigners.  They were immigrants.  In fact, they were Jewish. There is jealousy here.  There is racism and there is anti-Semitism.  Through-out history, when Jews have had political power or wealth, it has led to jealousy, racism and anti-Semitism.

4. Final Mandate

Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (Daniel 3:13-15 NIV)

When everyone was supposed to bow down to the ground, they all did, except for three people who stood up straight.  Everyone could see it.  They were not secret believers.  They did not try to hide their faith.  They were not ashamed of it.  Nebuchadnezzar was told about these three men and he was furious.  He could have killed them immediately, but he gave them one final chance to obey the command and they were told exactly what would happen if they did not do this.

If they don’t, not only will they be thrown into the fiery furnace, they will be thrown in IMMEDIATELY. The threat was real.  The furnace was there.  They could see it.  They could hear it.  Nebuchadnezzar ends it by mocking the God they worship.  He says, if they are thrown into the fiery furnace, “then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (Daniel 3:15 NIV).  That was a big mistake.  Nebuchadnezzar begins to mock their God.

5. Fearless Reply

They did not argue with the king (Daniel 3:16).  That is an important lesson for us today.  There are times when it does absolutely no good to argue with people.  They just said “No.”  They drew a line in the sand and said, “We are not doing it.” This was incredibly bold.  You did not say “no” to King Nebuchadnezzar.

He was the ruler of the world’s greatest empire.  He was a dictator.  He was an absolute monarch.  He ruled Babylon with an iron fist.  Nebuchadnezzar was the Hitler of the day.  Hitler had his ovens, but Nebuchadnezzar also had some ovens that he used to kill people. He used ovens to cook people, as well as to cook food.

It is a terrible way to die but these three feared the wrath of God more than the wrath of the king.  God has a fiery furnace.  It is called Hell.  It is called in the NT “a furnace of fire.”  It is a place where Jesus said there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42).

Nebuchadnezzar said no god could deliver them from his hand.  They said that their God could do that, even in a foreign land.  They said, “the God we serve IS ABLE to deliver us from it, and HE WILL deliver us” (Daniel 3:17 NIV).  That took incredible faith on their faith to believe that but they went on to say, “EVEN IF He doesn’t, we still will not bow to the image.”

6. Fiery Furnace

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.

21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. (Daniel 3:19-23 NIV)

Nebuchadnezzar was angry with these three when he began talking to them but when they said they were not going to follow his order, then he really got mad.  Anger turned into rage.  The ESV says that the expression on his face changed, like little kids.  When you get angry, you can see it in your body language and facial expressions.  He was so angry that he tied them up, made the furnace seven times hotter and got his strongest men to throw them into the fire.

7. Fantastic Miracle

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” 25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:19-25 NIV)

We read this and think that it is an incredible miracle.  It is but it is not one miracle but four.

Four Incredible Miracles

1) The fire did NOT kill them

The intense heat of this furnace did not turn them into three chunks of charcoal.  There was no roast of Hebrew nationals (Fruchtenbaum).  Other people died in this fire but they did not.  The men who threw them into the fire died.  Nebuchadnezzar wanted three men dead and that was what he got but they were Babylonians.  In fact, they were his strongest soldiers.

2) The fire did NOT hurt them

The fire did not burn one hair on their head.  I wonder what it felt like to walk around in a fire and it not even hurt you.  This fire had absolutely no power over them.  We are told this in Daniel 3:27.  They were not sitting down or lying down in pain but are walking and talking.  They were not in too big of a hurry to get out of the furnace.

The fire did not hurt them.  It did not hurt their body, their hair or even their clothes.  When you are near a fire, you smell like smoke and your clothes smell like smoke.  They didn’t even smell like smoke and they were in the fire. They even passed the smoke test.

3) The fire helped them

They went into the fire tied up, but they came out of the fire untied.  The fire burned the rope somehow but did not burn them.  The very fire Nebuchadnezzar uses to try to hurt them was the very thing God used to free us.  The fire hurt the Babylonians but helped them.

4) They were visited in the fire

There was someone who showed up in the fire with them.  They had a supernatural visitor with them in the fire and that made all of the difference. They were not only able to survive, they were able to thrive in this furnace.

Many people say that you have to take miracles by faith.  This miracle was verifiable, even by a pagan king.  This miracle was done right before their eyes.  Nebuchadnezzar could count.  He knew that three were thrown into the fire, but he saw four in the fire.  He saw the supernatural being in the fire.  After they came out of the fire, there was an examination of them

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 cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. (Daniel 3:27 ESV)

Who was the Fourth Man in the Fire?

Almost all preachers will tell you that this is Jesus and that it is a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.  It sounds like Jesus in the KJV. The KJV calls the fourth man in the furnace “the Son of God.” Daniel 3:28 reads, “He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (KJV) but there some problems with this view.

The Aramaic, the word for “God” is in the plural (“gods”) and there is no definite article there (bar-elahin).  The one talking is Nebuchadnezzar.  That is not the way a pagan king would talk who worshipped idols. He did not know anything about Jesus.  That is the way a Christian would talk about the Son of God.

The fourth man in the fiery furnace is called an angel.  Daniel 3:28 says, “Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!” (NIV).  The same thing happened again in the book.  History repeats itself.  This time it was not Daniel’s three friends who were in danger but Daniel himself.

Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den.  Notice how Daniel said he was delivered form the lions.  He said, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight.” (Daniel 6:22 NIV).  In both cases, believers are delivered from death.  In both cases, it is by an angel.  An angel delivered Daniel’s three friends from the fiery furnace and an angel delivered Daniel form the lion’s den.  Jesus was not an angel.  He was the one who created the angels.

8. Formal Retraction

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.

29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon. (Daniel 3:28-30 NIV)

Nebuchadnezzar isn’t angry with them anymore.  He is praising them.  Far from giving them a punishment or demotion, he gives them a promotion.  Instead of mocking their God, Nebuchadnezzar says that “no other god can save in this way” (Daniel 3:29).  In Daniel 1, Nebuchadnezzar learned that God interprets dreams.  Now he learned something else about God.  He can deliver his servants and protect them from danger.

Applications for Today

1. God’s people need to take a strong stand in a pagan world

Daniel’s three friends made some resolutions.  They made resolutions about what food they would eat.  We saw that in Daniel 1.  They made resolution about who they would worship.  They were not afraid to be different and to stand out.  To many people  today simply go along with everything that is going on in the world, in society and in the culture.  To many Christians simply go along with everything that is going on in the church and they do not take a strong stand for their faith.  We need to take that strong stand, even if it is unpopular, and even if we have to do it alone.

Taking a strong stand in some cases could mean breaking the law.  This is where we have to be very careful.  Is civil disobedience is ever justified for Christians?  Yes.  There are two cases in the book of Daniel of civil disobedience.  This is a classic case of civil disobedience. Daniel’s three friends refused to bow to the state religion.  They broke the law and they were ethnic minorities.

Is this the same thing as civil disobedience by Martin Luther King and Gandhi?  No.  The Bible does not tell us to disobey any laws that we do not like or even think are unjust.  Christians in the first century were not protesting slavery, even though it may have been unjust.  We are to disobey the government if it commands us to sin or to disobey Scripture.

2. Taking a strong stand for Christ can be risky

Many preachers on Daniel 3 talk about the furnaces of life today and they miss the whole point of the passage.  It is true that we all have trials.  Some people seem like they are in the bottom of a furnace.  They have lost a child or a job or they have lost their health but that is NOT what Daniel 3 is all about.

Daniel’s three friends were in this furnace because of their actions.  They did not have to be in it.  They chose to be in it.  Their obedience to Christ put them in the fire.  They did the right thing and were punished for it.  They were persecuted for their faith.  II Timothy 3:12 says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (NIV).  This is a promise.  It is not a promise of the Bible that most people turn to, but it is a promise.  If you stand up for Christ today, you may end up in a fiery furnace.

3. If you take a stand for Christ, He will be with you.

That is the clear teaching of the passage. God was in the fire with the three young men.  God is with us in the midst of our suffering.  He will either keep us from the fire or give us grace in the fire? Does this mean that he will never allow the fire to hurt us?  No.  Some believers are martyred for their faith.  Some were even killed by fire, burned alive.

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17 NIV)

Presumptuous Faith Today

This is a very important passage for us today.  Many of our prayers are not requests but demands.  They are militant prayers.  We have to realize that we are not in charge.  God is.  Daniel’s three friends did not have presumptuous faith. They did not say, ‘God can deliver us, and he will deliver us period.”

They said, “He CAN, He WILL, but EVEN IF HE DOESN’T.”  Why did they say that?  In many circles today, that would be considered a lack of faith.  “He can heal me today.  He will heal me today but even if he doesn’t.”  We are told just to believe and NOT doubt.  We do need to have faith but there is something else going on here.

Daniel’s three friends understood a truth that some Christians in the church today do not seem to understand.  There is a difference between God’s POWER and God’s WILL.  There is a difference between what God CAN do and what He WILL do.  They knew that God could deliver them from the fiery furnace, but they did not know if He would.

James MacDonald says, “So many people wrongly assume that because God CAN, He MUST.  He can do that, so he has to. God can heal my wife, so He better.”[1]  We have to distinguish between OUR WILL and GOD’S WILL.  There is a difference between God’s will and man’s will.  Even Jesus said, “not my will but your will be done” (Mark 14:36).  God is God and we are not.  That is the point of the next chapter in the book.

[1] James MacDonald, “Either Way” (Faith Under Fire sermon series).

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