Thursday, September 29, 2016

Daniel 3: 19-30--Faith Refined

In the last post, we left Daniel's three friends--Babylonian administrators Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego--having just told King Nebuchadnezzar that they were not going to serve his gods or worship the golden idol he produced before his kingdom's leaders. The king was angered to have to address these three to begin with, but in verse 19, he "was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered...." That wording is so unusual.

"Brutish passions the more they are indulged the more violent they grow, and even change the countenance, to the great reproach of the wisdom and reason of a man.... Would men in a passion but view their faces in a glass, they would blush at their own folly and turn all their displeasure against themselves."
--Matthew Henry

The king does not take Matthew Henry's advice, however. So enraged is Nebuchadnezzar that he orders the furnace of Dura to be "seven times more" hot than it already was. Daniel makes a point of telling us that "valiant warriors" (3:20) were asked to tie up the three just as they were--no last words--and bring them to the opening of the furnace. It is believed that such a furnace would have had an opening on top with the fire section on the bottom. So, these soldiers would have walked the three up to the top. (There is no evidence that there was any struggle.)

The miracle of the three being saved actually begins before their descent into the furnace. The flames of the super-hot furnace killed the soldiers who brought the three to the top, yet the three fell into the furnace "still tied up," reads verse 23. How could that be? Tied up does not mean with metal shackles. Surely, ropes would have burned away in an instant, leaving the three if not dead at the opening then, at least, separated on their way down. But, no!

“Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” (3:24)

The king can hardly believe what he sees, asking those around him for confirmation. Not only is everyone OK in there, but there is a fourth person--"like a son of the gods!" My study Bible explains that this was a Pagan expression for "someone who appeared supernatural." There are some sources suggesting it was the angel Gabriel. It is also possible that this could have been Jesus in a pre-incarnate appearance. Let that thought sink in a minute. That has implications for us.

The king had seen enough and called the young men ("you servants of the Most High God") out of the furnace. The high officials in attendance at the ceremony examine the appearance of the men, noting that in every possible physical respect, it was as if the three had never been near a fire much less thrown into one. They had seen it with their own eyes, yet they could not explain it, except that it be of God (and not one of their gods).

"Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego...." (3:28) The Reformation Study Bible notes that just because Nebuchadnezzar used the phrase "Most High God" didn't mean he was professing God as THE God, "but only that He is supreme over other gods." Note, he doesn't say, "Blessed be the God of Nebuchadnezzar and the kingdom of Babylon...." He clearly knows that he has seen something miraculous, yet he is not ready to take that next step forward in his belief.

Does that sound like people we know? Does it sound like us, perhaps? The profound and mysterious come to be--things that defy explanation, when prayers are answered, etc. Do we take our faith only so far, or do we go the distance and render everything to the work of the One True God?

Nebuchadnezzar would seem to be taking baby steps forward in his belief, banning anyone from speaking against this God. (Although he remains true to form in not showing grace to those who don't and inflicting the limb-from-limb tearing/rubbish heap punishment on those who do.) He follows this with a promotion of the three friends, the last time of which they will be mentioned in Scripture. But, the beauty of Scripture is that it can be shared, and their story is of encouragement to us today.

Remember that quote from Matthew Henry's commentary of Chapter 2 that I thought we might revisit: "Thus, sometimes, before God brings his people into trouble, he prepares it, that it may be easy to them." How were Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to know that their very lives on that day of dedication might have been taken? Face to face with the king, an edict and a furnace--would they have thought to have prepared themselves for that? And yet, the example of Daniel--not only having seen him speak with those in authority, but having trained up alongside him and prayed with him--surely prepared them for that moment. How else can you explain their peace and obedience? 

They were not alone, either. In the moment from which they were unable to turn back--facing their own deaths--they were not alone.

"Those that suffer for Christ have his gracious presence with them in their sufferings, even in the fiery furnace, even in the valley of the shadow of death, and therefore even there they need fear no evil. Hereby Christ showed that what is done against his people he takes as done against himself; whoever throws them into the furnace does, in effect, throw him in."
--Matthew Henry

Does that encourage you as you move through these "present sufferings" (Romans 8:18)--that there is a "glory that will be revealed in us" no matter where Christ meets us: in the now, then or hereafter! "He will deliver us out of your hand, O king." (Daniel 3:17)

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