Today’s Reading: Daniel 1-3
Today’s Reflection: Daniel 3:16-18
16) Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17) If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18) But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
The story of the three Hebrew boys (young men, really) and the fiery furnace is one of the best known and most triumphant in the entire bible. It is one where an act of obedience is met by an incredible display of God’s miraculous power; where the most powerful ruler of the world goes from defying God to praising and even worshiping Him; where the example of Israel becomes a beacon for the rest of the world, directing them to God’s saving grace.
It is so spectacular we sometimes miss the most important part.
The set up is simple: King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the most powerful kingdom on earth at that time, has conquered Israel and Judah and taken its most impressive people to be servants. Among them was Daniel, and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (renamed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego). Inspired by the vision he had in a dream (interpreted by Daniel in chapter 2) Nebuchadnezzar builds a golden image designed to symbolize the grandeur of his Babylon (and in direct defiance of the message God was imparting to him in the dream he gave him, again see Daniel 2) and orders that when the music plays, everyone is to bow down to the image. Only three reportedly refuse: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, known to only revere the God of Israel and not any of the idols of the Babylonians. They are brought before the king and given a choice:
Daniel 3:15 – “Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
The three Hebrew young men are clear in their response. Their God can save them from anything Nebuchadnezzar might do to them. But then comes the truly amazing part. The part we sometimes miss. We skip ahead to the impressive image of three men walking around in the blazing furnace unharmed, joined by a supernatural fourth man who appears to be a god of some sort (Daniel 3:25).
But the real miracle begins with these three words: But if not…
Even if God doesn’t step in and save them, even if they are consumed by flames, even if their young lives must come to an end right there and then—the adding to the indignity of enforced servitude an unjust death—they still will not bow. They would rather die faithful to their God, than be disobedient in a vain attempt to save their lives.
And the question comes to us today, do we too have this ‘but if not’ faith? It’s easy to praise God when He comes through with the miracle. But how are we when He doesn’t? Because it happens. A lot. We see in scripture David praying for God to spare the life of the child he had with Bathsheba only for that child to die. David’s response to this tragedy? Worshipping God (2 Samuel 12:7-23). Or Stephen boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus only to be stoned to death for his faithfulness (Acts 7:54-60). Or even Jesus Himself, who gladly went to the cross for us, but who prayed the night before, “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” But He also added His own ‘but if not’ phrase to that prayer: “not my will, but thy will be done” (Matthew 26:36-47).
Are we as faithful as these? Able to discern the goodness of God even when the outcome isn’t what we asked for? Or do we turn away like a child throwing a temper tantrum, screaming ‘I hate you!’, because we don’t get our way? Do we believe God is who He says He is? Do we truly trust that He knows what is best? Because if we do we will learn to trust Him at all times, when we’re in the peaceful pastures of life as well as when we’re going through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalms 23).
The point is we don’t praise, worship, serve or obey God for the outcome, but because He is God, the only one worthy of praise, worship, service and obedience. We know that He intends only good for us (Romans 8:28), and that even when God appears to be absent He is at work in ways we can scarcely detect (Isaiah 65:24) to give us a future more amazing than we could ever imagine (Jeremiah 29:11).
2 Corinthians 4:17 – For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.