And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them. (Daniel 3:27)
For those of you unfamiliar with the verse above, it is understandable that you would need a little background. The book of Daniel is without question one of the most extraordinary in the Old Testament. God did great and mighty works through Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. You most likely know them better by the Babylonian names they were given when brought as captives to the great empire during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, after the fall of Jerusalem: Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-Nego. Daniel, himself, was renamed Belteshazzar, though that is not as commonly remembered.
The change in name was to assist with the indoctrination into the new culture of their host country. King Nebuchadnezzar may have been a megalomaniac and tyrant, but he knew good talent when he saw it, and he wanted to be surrounded by the best. Thus, these four, along with other choice young men in Israel were hand-selected by the King to be trained in the literature and language of the Chaldeans. More than that, all this was done that their new identity in Babylon might replace the one they had grown up with in Israel. However, Daniel and his three faithful friends immediately began to give notice that they would not so easily capitulate to the ungodly ways of their new captors. They maintained their devotion to God, refusing to succumb to the ways of the Chaldeans from the very beginning. This was not an act of rebellion so much as it was a determination to function in their new home with a firm devotion to the God whom they loved. Instead of allowing the culture to affect them, they would instead impact the culture in which they now found themselves.
This devotion to God would put Daniel and his friends in opposition to the practices and laws of the Babylonians, and later the Medes and Persians, which they served while in exile. Daniel’s great test would come later under the reign of Darius the Mede, when he faced a lion’s den for refusing to cease making supplication to his God, despite an edict from the King. In Daniel, chapter 3, however, the attention is on the courage and devotion of Daniel’s three friends who would refuse to bow before an idolatrous image that Nebuchadnezzar had erected.
For many of us, the story of the “three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace” is legendary, save that it actually happened. It is not a matter of legend, but history. While everyone bowed on cue to the image the King had set up, which was nothing but a gross display of his despotism, arrogance, and pride, three conspicuous heads stood tall and unflinching in the field that day. Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-Nego were declaring that the God of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah had not been forgotten, and that they would bow to no other. Very likely, you know how the story goes. They were given one last chance to submit, but refused, declaring their unwavering devotion to the Lord. Though thrown into the blazing hot fire, God’s deliverance through the presence of the Angel and the subsequent amazement of the King and his court, made the three brave Hebrew men the talk of the town. Not only that, but they ended up with the corner office, promoted as a testimony to the power and might of the God of Israel.
Hearing this story may transport you back to your Sunday School days, when the stories of the Bible became object lessons from which we could learn lessons regarding challenges of the same kind in our times. Such is the valuable lesson of Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-Nego. There are powerful forces using fear and intimidation in our culture, endeavoring to force us to bow the knee to political correctness, unbiblical but culturally accepted norms, and an increasingly secular society. We feel the pressure to laugh at the course joke told at work or agree with others talking about the need to endorse lifestyles that are in direct contradiction to the Word of God. Every day we are choosing to either stand for God or bow the knee to ideological gods demanding our obedience, our devotion, and, indeed, our soul.
Those who refuse to play the game and go along with the crowd are quickly marginalized and exposed to the equivalents of a cultural “fiery furnace” where one’s devotion is truly tested. Will we stand for God or will we fall to the prevailing cultural ethos in an attempt to pass under the radar, get along, and not lose what the world promises to give us if we’ll just bow the knee. Christians in ancient Rome were forced to either offer a “pinch” of incense to Caesar or face death by burning. It may have seemed a small thing – a quick, hardly discernible nod to the “god” and you’re off the hook – and yet, one by one, Christians chose death rather than deny the God who had transformed their lives and given them what no man-made idol could ever give.
If true Christian leadership is going to be effective in our times, it must start with the courage of our convictions and a refusal to bow to pressures that would have us compromise our witness and our loyalty to God. Today, I am grieved to see believers I’ve known – even pastored – capitulating to the modern, man-made ideological gods of our culture. Even nationally known leaders have given way to the pressure, believing that making peace with the devil can somehow bring about God’s ends.
Those three Hebrew boys on the plain of Dura in Babylon knew better. They stood for God, unwaveringly, resolutely, and in defiance of the crowd, the court, and the King. In the end, God vindicated their loyalty with a display of power that turned the heart of the King toward God. Others in history who have made the same consecration have paid the ultimate price, only to receive a crown in heaven that will never fade away. We can lead or we can follow. We can stand or we can fall, but we cannot do both. If we are to be world-changers for God, we must refuse the lie and give our all for the truth. It was this devotion to the truth that empowered the apostles to die martyr’s deaths. They were no longer living for the applause or approval of a world quickly passing away, but for the One whose approval they desired above all others and whose reward would be given on that great day in their heavenly home for which they longed.
We have lived comfortably in the West, but we are facing challenging times ahead. Some have already bowed out. Others are watching to see which way the prevailing cultural winds will blow before making their decision, but may we, with one heart and mind, like Joshua of old, say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Judges 24:15).