With Us in the “Fire”

“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.” —Daniel 3:25

BY FAITH they “quenched the violence of fire,” wrote Paul in a reference to the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace. (Heb. 11:34) Faith is “the evidence of things not seen,” and certainly Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, from the natural standpoint, could “see” no way of escape from the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar in the event they should defy his command to worship the golden image he had set up. (Heb. 11:1) But their faith in God’s ability to care for them took the place of sight, so they were determined “to obey God rather than man.” And one “like unto the Son of Man” took his place with them in the fire and delivered them from what otherwise would have been certain death.

Jesus taught that his followers should “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21) The Apostle Paul wrote that we should be subject to the powers that be. (Rom. 13:1; Titus 3:1) However, with the servants of God in every age, there have been times when their allegiance to God has prevented them from rendering unqualified obedience to earthly rulers, and they have had forced upon them the necessity of deciding what belongs to God and what could properly be rendered to Caesar.

This was the position in which the three young Hebrews found themselves when confronted by Nebuchadnezzar’s demand that they worship the golden image which he had caused to be erected. This was an especially severe test which had been thrust upon them, for it came soon after they had been given high positions of trust in the government at the personal request of their great friend and brother-in-exile, Daniel. From the standpoint of their own personal interests and advantage, it would have seemed much better for them to have obeyed the king’s edict to worship the image.

The Lord often tests his people by permitting circumstances to come into their lives which offer an easier way to serve him, and with plausible reasons why the way of fewer hardships would be better. It could easily have been so reasoned by the three Hebrews. Certainly their exaltation to positions of authority in the kingdom had been the result of divine overruling, and it seemed evident that the Lord wanted them in these strategic positions for the purpose of rendering some special service to him and to his people. This being true, from the standpoint of human reasoning it would seem foolhardy to take a stand against the king which would destroy this advantage, and cost them their lives as well.

But these ardent servants of God did not take this view of the situation, for a very definite principle was at stake. The law of their God clearly stated that they were not to worship other gods, neither were they to bow down to images, and these facts overshadowed every other consideration in reaching their decision. To them, no matter what good might result, or what advantages might be gained by yielding to the king’s demand, to do so would still be disobedience to divine law; and like the Apostle Paul, they did not believe that they should do evil that good might follow.—Rom. 12:17-21

It is so easy, and so pleasing to the flesh, to fall in with the crowd, especially when the band plays, and the conformists are hailed as heroes and receive the blessings of the powers that be. This was the alluring opportunity offered to the three Hebrews, but they chose to be nonconformists, thus refusing the deliverance that was offered to them in return for obedience to Nebuchadnezzar. (Heb. 11:35) The issue was clearly stated when a herald or spokesman for the king announced to the gathered representatives of the kingdom, “O people, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltry, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: and whosoever falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”—Dan. 3:4-6

It must have taken considerable time to erect the golden image which stood for Babylon’s gods; and the three Hebrews, being highly placed in the government, would be aware that sooner or later they would have to face the issue of loyalty to their God as against bowing down to this graven image. It was not something which had been forced upon them suddenly when the band began to play. Undoubtedly they had made up their minds in advance just what they would do when the crisis came, and they could not be swayed from their position, either by the emotional appeal of the music or by the mass hysteria of heathen worshipers.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego trusted in the Lord. They knew that he was able to deliver them, and would, if he chose to do so. They did not know just how their God would intervene to save them. Faith does not need to know just how and when God will make good his word on behalf of his people. It is enough to know that he is able, and that his infinite wisdom directs the time and manner in which his grace is made to abound toward those who put their trust in him.

Neither Daniel nor the three young Hebrews were popular among the other rulers of the realm, who were always glad when they could find, or even make, an opportunity to discredit them in the eyes of the king. And here was just such an opportunity. Doubtless the three Hebrews were especially watched by the others to see if they would bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image when the music began to sound, and when they did not, were quick to report their disobedience—vs. 12

The king was understandably angry. He was a dictator over his empire, and was not accustomed to having his decrees ignored or flouted. But he was in a peculiar position. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had been especially honored by him at the request of Daniel, and he felt under some obligation to Daniel because of the wonderful service rendered in the recalling and interpretation of his dream in which he saw himself as the golden head of a great image. Perhaps it was because of this, and despite his rage, that he gave the disobedient Hebrews a second chance.

Seemingly, the king spoke personally to the three, and asked them if it were true that they deliberately had not bowed down to his image. The marginal translation reads, “of purpose.” The king did not doubt the report that had been given to him, but he wanted to make sure whether the Hebrews had willfully refused to obey, or whether it had been merely a case of misunderstanding. To make sure of this he said, “Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the comet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”—vss. 14,15

The issue was now clear-cut. Nebuchadnezzar had not only threatened the three Hebrews, but had defied their God. The faith and courage reflected in their reply to the king are somewhat obscured by a poor translation. The King James Version reads, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” The Revised Version uses the words, ‘no need’ instead. A free translation of the thought would seem to be, “We have no need to reply in a manner to restore ourselves to your favor in this matter.”

Then they gave the reason—and what a wonderful reason—“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” (vss. 16-18) The king had endeavored to frighten them with the assertion that their God would be powerless to interfere with what he proposed to do. But this did not cause their faith to waver in the slightest.

“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us.” This the three Hebrews knew. What they were not sure of was whether it would be his will to deliver them from the fiery furnace, but even if it were not, they did not propose to accept deliverance on the condition offered by Nebuchadnezzar. While they did not understand God’s great plan of salvation as his people are privileged to know it today, they did believe that they would be raised from the dead—that death was not the end of their experience. Thus, while they were confident of God’s ability to thwart Nebuchadnezzar’s purpose to destroy them, yet if this were not his will, they would still be faithful to him and thus prove worthy of deliverance in a “better resurrection.”—Heb. 11:33-35

When Nebuchadnezzar learned that the failure of the Hebrews to worship his image was by design, and that they could not be frightened into changing their minds even when another opportunity was afforded, he was “full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against” them. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual, and commanded that the most mighty men in his army be used to bind these disobedient ones and cast them into the furnace. The heat was so intense that even the ‘most mighty men’ were killed as they cast the three Hebrews into the flames.

The king had made good his threat. As dictator of the realm, there was no other course he could take. He had satisfied the demands of his fury, and perhaps relaxed, quite pleased with the thought that nothing could interfere with the supremacy of his rulership. Through Daniel he had learned to know something of the ability of Israel’s God—the God who enabled Daniel to recall and interpret his dream when all the wise men of the kingdom had failed. It was not a reassuring thought. Under ordinary circumstances probably a king of Babylon would not be especially concerned over the fate of criminals he had condemned to death. But this was not an ordinary circumstance, and it would seem that as soon as the heat of the furnace subsided sufficiently to permit inspection, Nebuchadnezzar went personally to peer into the flames.

We do not know the thought which went through the king’s mind, nor why he troubled himself to look into the furnace. However, had he been sure of his position, he would have known that there would have been little or nothing to see in that furnace except the flames. But he was “astonied [Hebrew: ‘amazed’ and ‘alarmed’]” by what he saw. Daniel’s God, and the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego had delivered them, not by removing them from the fire, but by preserving them alive in the flames!

The king called his rulers and inquired of them concerning the number who had been cast into the furnace. He was told it was three, but now as he said, he saw “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.” What occurred then is what we should logically expect. The three Hebrews were bidden to leave the fiery furnace; a proclamation was issued by the king forbidding anyone in the whole empire to speak against Israel’s God; and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were promoted to even higher positions in the government than they had formerly occupied.

Many have wondered about Nebuchadnezzar’s reference to the Son of God. In the Hebrew text, however, there is no definite article to warrant the translation “the.” The expression would be more properly translated “a Son of God.” In verse 28 the king identifies this fourth one in the furnace as an angel whom the God of Israel had sent to deliver his servants. The expression “the” Son of God does not appear to have been used earlier than the New Testament where it is applied to the Only Begotten of the Heavenly Father. In the New Testament, angels are referred to as “sons” of God. As for example, the “angels which kept not their first estate.”—Jude 6; I Pet. 3:19,20; II Pet. 2:4,5; Gen. 6:2

However, the important consideration in this reassuring illustration is that God is able to deliver his people from the hands of their enemies. To Moses, God said, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” (Exod. 33:14) This means that he could be assured that the Lord would know of his needs, and would supply them, of whatever nature they might be. In a beautiful statement concerning God’s care over ancient Israel, we read, “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: … and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.”—Isa. 63:9

“Without faith it is impossible to please” God, wrote Paul. (Heb. 11:6) It was the faith of the three young Hebrews that was on trial—their faith in God’s ability to deliver them from the fiery furnace, and their confidence in the wisdom of God as to whether it would be best to deliver them from the flames, or to deliver them in the “better resurrection.” True faith in God implies more than a belief in his almighty power for it includes confidence in the rightness of his decisions with respect to every detail of his plan for the whole world, and his will for us as individuals.

When we behold the marvelous works of creation, it is not too difficult to believe that the Creator of it all is able to care for us, and to deliver us from evil. But to have confidence in his way and time to deliver is more difficult. The three Hebrews’ faith in God extended to the ‘if not’ view of the matter. It is in this respect that all the Lord’s people have their severest tests of faith.

The situation today is quite different for the Lord’s people than it was for the three Hebrews. We are not commanded to bow down to a golden image, although the deceitfulness of riches might tempt some to bow down to the god of gold. We are not called upon to worship heathen gods, but we need constantly to guard against the danger of bowing down to gods of our own making—idols which our wayward hearts set up in place of God.

There is the god of ease, the god of pleasure, the god of pride, the god of self. We might conceivably worship our home or our family, and allow them to take the place in our hearts which belongs to our Heavenly Father. We might have special interpretations of the Bible to which we bow down—hobby gods. It is only by resolutely refusing to bow to any of these modern gods that we demonstrate our faith in the true God, our loving Heavenly Father.

Let us resolve to be loyal to our God, not for reward, but because it is right. If the Lord delivers us from trial, which we know he has the power to do, we will rejoice and endeavor to use the favorable experiences of life to his glory. If he allows us to suffer, regardless of what may feed the flames, we know that he is with us in the ‘fire’, that he has sent his angel to protect us from harm, so that when we reach the end of the way there will be no hurt to the new creature—all that will have happened being the burning of those fetters of flesh that we may be free, and exalted to rulership in the kingdom with Christ.

The three Hebrews were exiles in Babylon, and were subject to the powers that be. They had little or no choice as to whether they would occupy honored positions in the government, or be thrust into prison, or into a fiery furnace. The changing scenes of their lives were brought about through their loyalty to God. And the great lesson to us in their example is that they were loyal, regardless of the result.

So with us today, we are as exiles in the present evil world. (Gal. 1:4) Although we are in the world, we are not part of it. Let us be true to our God, and to his standards of righteousness. Only our faith will enable us to do this, and to gain the victory. Let us not become “weary in welldoing”!—Gal. 6:9

Dawn Bible Students Association
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