14 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?
15"Now if you are ready...to fall down and worship...very well; But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?"
16Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.
17"If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.
18"But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
19Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.
21Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire.
24Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, "Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?" They replied to the king, "Certainly, O king."
25He said, "Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!"
26Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!" Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire.
27The...king's high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.
28Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king's command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.
29"Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way."
What a great story. It's almost Disney-ish in the telling. Three boys rise from virtual anonymity to high and respected places of power and influence. Next-- oh no! --there's a brief period of drama and suspense. But then, as we knew it would, comes the happy ending. Cut and print. That's a wrap.
Hang on. Rewind.
If you grew up in church like I did, you probably can't remember a time when you didn't know the happy ending to this story. Check that. This wasn't a story. This was a historical event. It was a real situation that happened to real, flesh and blood people, with real feelings, just like you and me. And just like you and me, when these boys were in the middle of their circumstances, they didn't know what was going to happen next or how things would turn out in the end.
I think we forget that sometimes. We forget how frightening it must have been for Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to stand up to this megalomaniacal king and say, "Regardless of the outcome, we're not going to worship an idol." They served in Nebuchadnezzar's court. They had seen what this guy did to people who disobeyed him. Cruel and unusual punishment was his specialty.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego weren't out to be heroes. They didn't know that they would be written about and set an example for Bible-readers for thousands of years to come. Their only concern was personal obedience to God. Whether they lived or died. Whether or not anyone else noticed. They were in it for God, and God alone.
But since they were written about, what can we learn from their example?
Truly following and obeying God means trouble is coming our way.
How's that for an advertisement for Christianity? Jesus didn't say, "Follow Me so you can have 'your best life now'." He said, if you want to follow Me, you'd better realize from the get-go that you're going to have to deny yourself and prepare to be crucified daily (Luke 9:23). He said, "Look, the world hates Me. If you follow Me, they're going to hate you, too." (John 15:18-20) He said, "In this world, you will have tribulation." (John 16:33). Following Jesus is not a skip through the park.
Gird up. Now.
Where do you think Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego got the spiritual fortitude to stand against Nebuchadnezzar? These weren't guys who just attended church, read the Bible, and prayed whenever they happened to feel like it and had a lackadaisical attitude towards their walk with God. You know how I know that? Because people like that don't do great things for God. People like that fold when faced with the furnace.
These guys were firmly rooted in the Word and in prayer. They were serious about obeying God, even when it came down to meal time (Daniel 1:8-15). They had such an awe and reverence for God that they feared His judgment more than the furnace. They were able to stand firm because they were already girded up in the faith.
Don't kick against the trials, embrace them.
God is sovereign. Any circumstance that comes into your life was put there, or allowed there, by Him. Even if it's a circumstance that is confusing, horrific, or heartbreaking, He is allowing it into your life for His glory and for your good. Maybe He's trying to reveal something to you about Himself, such as His faithfulness or His power. Maybe He's disciplining you so that you will repent and obey Him. Maybe He's trying to teach you a skill, such as patience, endurance, or persistence in prayer. Whatever it is, what greater blessing could there be than the God of the universe wanting to work in your life?
Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego did not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the furnace, accept that God has the right to use whatever means He deems necessary to work in your life, and thank Him for even wanting to. (Romans 5:3-5)
Trials allow us to know God in a new way.
It's one thing to know, "...I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) just because the Bible says so. It's another thing entirely to know it because you have walked it with your own two feet. Just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego would never have come to know the manifest presence of God had it not been for the furnace, we cannot know Him as Provider without experiencing desperate need. We cannot know Him as Healer without facing disease. We cannot know Him as Comforter without experiencing crushing loss. It is not until we are in the furnace with nowhere else to turn but to God that we can experience the fullness of His promises.
What about Bob?
Or Joe or Mary or Nebuchadnezzar and all his cronies? What effect does the trial you're going through, your reaction to it, and God's handling of it, have on the people around you who need to know Jesus? Maybe it's not just to grow you, but to bring someone else to salvation.
In verses 2, 3, and 27, Daniel gives a detailed list of the heads of state who witnessed this event. That was no accident. In His mercy, God brought each of these officials to Babylon to show Himself to them. Through Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego's obedience and subsequent suffering, God's glory and power, and the fact that He was the only true God, were displayed for all to see. Look at the reaction Nebuchadnezzar had in verses 26-29. In verse 26, this idol builder does a 360 and calls God, "the most high God". In verses 27 and 29 he says, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego...there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way."
Trials aren't any fun. They can be scary. They can be heart-wrenching. But if God gets glory, how small a sacrifice and how great an honor is our suffering.