Last Sunday, our Sunday school lesson was from Daniel chapter 1 entitled “Reset Emotionally”. Pastor Greg Keenen writes our Sunday school material and always challenges us to live according to the Word of God. The main points of the lesson were 1) Refuse to become a victim (v 2), 2) Refuse to lose your identity (v7-8a), 3) Refuse to be defiled (v8b), 4) Refuse to follow the cowards (v8c), 5) Refuse to believe that you cannot succeed (v 17-21). Concluding with this thought, everyone has trials that they do not understand and situations that they do not want to be in, therefore we need to adjust (reset) how we think on things and trust in God.
I don’t wish to re-teach the lesson, but I have been thinking of the events and characters of this story. From about 605 to 536 BC, Jerusalem had been conquered and captured by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to send some of the Israeli youth to Babylon to ultimately change the way the youth thought about their God and to convert them to the Babylonian gods.
How would he do this? The youth (15-16 years old) were to be young men, without blemish, good looking guys. They needed to be smart having wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. They needed to have some political savvy working in the government. They would be elevated to become teachers of Chaldean languages and literature. They would be given the King’s best food. I’m sure they would have been given a clothing allowance and a nice place to live. They would want for nothing!
I thought about these qualifications and thought what a dynamic group of people to work with for the right cause. For Nebuchadnezzar, they would represent new leadership, having a tie between the past and the future. These young men could influence thousands in their new role. But what would it cost them? Only their heritage, their way of life, and they would have to renounce their God. Would they give in or would they fight for what they believed in?
They could not help being captured. They had no control over who was being chosen. It was a bad situation for them. Apparently, there were several young men taken. Chapter 1 highlights four young men; Daniel (God is my judge), Hananiah (The Lord is gracious), Mishael (Who is like the Lord?), and Azariah (The Lord is my helper). Names were given for a particular meaning. As I look at the meaning of these teenagers’ names, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps these were the very best of the lot. What a representation of the attributes of Jehovah God! I have seen each of these meanings demonstrated in my own life.
As a means of separating them from the past, the Babylonians gave them new names with meanings to please the Babylonians; Daniel was called Belteshazzar (Bel’s (Baal) Prince), Hananiah was called Shadrach (command of Aku), Mishael was called Meshach (Who is what Aku is?), Azariah was called Abed-Nego (servant of Nego (Nebo)). These new names were to praise the Babylonian gods.
I wanted to look closer at the three friends of Daniel. I think Daniel was probably the leader of the group and God used him in a different way than He did Daniel’s friends; he interpreted and dreamed dreams, he prophesied of the future, he wrote a book that was included in the Holy Bible. He was certainly a quality young man, but I like to zoom in and see some of the other participants. Not the stars, but the ordinary guys, those God choses to use without fanfare. I can relate to those guys.
Sadly, these three are know more by their Babylonian names than their Hebrew names. We have all heard of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.
The four took a stand concerning compromising their conviction about what they ate. God blessed that stand. Later, “God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” The Bible indicates they were so advanced, that they were ten times better than the magicians and astrologers.
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream than no one, except Daniel could interpret. Because Daniel interpreted the dream correctly, he and his friends were promoted. Now, how to think the local folks felt about these guys getting promoted? Just like local folks, today, who get jealous and are on the lookout for them to do something wrong; and that opportunity came fairly soon.
Nebuchadnezzar made a golden idol and a declaration that whenever his band started to play, everybody was supposed to stop what they were doing and bow before this idol. All the people did, except for the Hebrews boys. They would not bow to the idol. The local folks sensed an opportunity to get back at the Hebrews, so they went to King Nebuchadnezzar to snitch on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. The king gave them the chance to clear things up by falling down to worship his idol. He said if they didn’t, he would throw them into a fiery furnace. Apparently, this form of torture wasn’t new to Nebuchadnezzar. He became arrogant and said, “who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” Well, the answer was that none of the gods he served would be able to save them, but they were not relying on his gods. I think when we are faced with serious and seemingly hopeless situations, we limit our thoughts to just what we know can happen. We limit ourselves to the laws of “nature”.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego thought outside of the norm, they had faith that their God, Jehovah, would take care of them. They believed that their God was greater than the situation they were in. I love how they responded in verses 17 and 18 of Chapter 3:
“If that is the case, our God who we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O King. But if not, let it be known to you, O King, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
What faith these three had! They believed the One they served would rescue them and if He chose not to, that was ok too. They were not going to serve any other gods no matter what! Would we give an answer like that? Do we understand just how great the God that created the universe can take care of our need? How big is the God you and I serve?
Nebuchadnezzar didn’t like the answer. He ordered the furnace to be seven times hotter than normal, meaning he wanted it to vaporize these guys. He had them put on all their clothes and coats and he had them tied up. They were then ordered to be thrown into the fire. The men who were ordered to throw them in the furnace were killed trying to fulfill their orders.
The Bible says that they fell down bound in the middle of the fire. I believe they were praying. Can you imagine that picture? Their guards were killed getting them inside the furnace; they were alive and aware their protection was in calling out to God. Nebuchadnezzar looks again and asked a question. He didn’t ask why they were still alive, but didn’t they place three inside, because he was seeing four men, not tied up, not hurt, but walking around the furnace. It is believed the fourth man was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.
What happens when it gets hot and we trust in our God in a supernatural way? I think the end result is the focus is on the Lord. Nebuchadnezzar called for them to come out of the furnace. Everyone was astonished that the fire had no power. They didn’t even smell like smoke!
Listen to what the King had to say, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!”
Again, everyone has trials that they do not understand and situations that they do not want to be in, but the question is are we willing to trust God, to yield ourselves to Him, and to wait for Him to work it out.
I hope this story has encouraged you! It spoke to me, even as I was writing it. We have a great God who loves us and desires for us to serve Him.