Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Daniel 3: 1-18--Image vs Character

No sooner does Nebuchadnezzar have a dream about a kingdom with "the head of gold" (2:38) than we read he actually has a gold statue created. Note, though, that we aren't given a time frame for when Chapter 3 occurs. It would seem logical for this to fall after his dream. But, the dream may have affirmed a statue he already had made, waiting for the time of dedication. We don't know.

Our group on Monday waded through the pomp and circumstance of the first 7 verses. Why are there so many people and why are we repeating that there are so many people? Why so many instruments (and repeating all of that)? Clearly, it was an important enough reason for Nebuchadnezzar to invite the most important folks in his kingdom to attend--and to not just attend, but to actively participate. 

Why was Daniel not present? There is no definitive answer for this, either. The only clue we have is in his promotion by Nebuchadnezzar to serve "in the king's court." Did this new position somehow exempt him from this service? Did his new duties take him somewhere else? What we can say with certainty is that God's providence kept him safe, while still affording Daniel the opportunity to write about the amazing witness of his friends.

Back to the occasion at hand: This was not only the unveiling of a statue, but the first time the newest idol of Babylon would be worshiped. How does one show a unified front in worshiping an idol? Through a musical cue. Something that folks could hear, even if they weren't on the plain of Dura, perhaps. If not through the enticing music, then perhaps by the command that those not falling down to worship would be thrown into the "furnace of blazing fire" (3:6), which we also read plenty of times in this chapter.

"...That way that sense directs, the most will go; there is nothing so bad which the careless world will not be drawn to by a concert of music, or driven to by a fiery furnace. And by such methods as these, false worship has been set up and maintained."
--Matthew Henry

I love a great Matthew Henry quote, but, as someone who serves on a worship team, it reminds me again how holy worship is, and how it is not an activity to plan or to participate in lightly or without the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Among those called to the dedication were Daniel-appointed (Neb-approved) administrators Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. "...Certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews." (3:8) Did the friends bow down to the statue? No. But why were these Chaldeans so pleased to bring this information to the king? If they were involved with the dream-interpretation crisis of last chapter, they were likely looking for redemption in the king's eyes. They had just been humiliated! Really, anyone in a position of power (which all these folks had), would be envious of the three "10 times better" captives-turned suitors-turned administrators.

[Bible study teacher Beth Moore, in her study of Daniel, highlights the phrasing "brought charges against" or "denounced" in verse 8 as meaning, literally "ate the pieces of." It brings to mind the presidential debate of last evening.]

The Chaldeans repeat the law word for word before the king. Reading through this, again, as I'm writing today, I saw so clearly the image of the Pharisees of Jesus' day, spouting off the letter of the law without the spirit of the law in a way to lord themselves over others. "These men, O king, have disregarded you," (3:12) and all of the goodness you provided.

"'So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.' Then He said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand!' He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him."
--Matthew 12: 12b-14

Since the Chaldeans' attack is not only aimed at the three friends but at Nebuchadnezzar's character (the one who raised up and promoted "these Jews" in the first place), the king flies into a rage, once again. He graciously (?) gives the three one more opportunity to worship the image, adding, "...what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?" (3:15) as a last incentive. (Guess he forgot about saying Daniel's God was a "God of gods and a Lord of kings.")

The three reply with all respect due a king that "...we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter." (3:16) The answer was obvious that they would continue to serve God, no matter what was offered up or said.

That is the point that leaves us wondering on the inside, gals of faith, if we would do likewise. When our faith is tested, what is our answer? Is it obvious, as it was for Daniel and his friends? Would we be able to look at a seven times heated-up furnace as the path to victory??

When I did the Beth Moore study 5-1/2 years ago, one of her illustrations that I strongly remember is this one from Daniel 3, about when the people of God face a fiery trial:

Scenario A: We can be delivered FROM the fire.
Dividend?:  Our faith is built.

Scenario B: We can be delivered THROUGH the fire.
Dividend?:  Our faith is refined.

Scenario C: We can be delivered BY the fire, STRAIGHT INTO HIS ARMS.
Dividend?:  Our faith is perfected.




Next time, faith refined....


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