Burning, Burning, Not Burning: Daniel 3 (Sermon)
Hi, I am pastor Rob. It is great to worship with you today.
How do you handle life’s ups and downs? In life, do you strive, go with the flow, or go on the offensive? What does God want us to do when thrown into the fire? What does God want us to do when we are at the top of our game? Today, we will hear the story of four groups of people and what they do in light of who God is in the circumstances before them.
Turn in your Bibles to Daniel chapter 3. I have asked JN to read for us. Daniel chapter 3, verses 1 through 7. We will be reading from the English Standard Version of the Bible.
King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And the herald proclaimed aloud, "You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace." Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. (Daniel 3:1–7)
Thank you. Let’s pray.
God, we need you. I need you. May your Word be a light to our path. Guide us and direct us. Focus our minds. Tune our hearts. Use this time for your glory. AMEN.
If we summarize the conflict in chapter 3, we could say, Nebuchadnezzar II has set up a giant golden statue for everyone to worship with a death penalty for those who don’t—the reader knows Jewish people are supposed to worship only God, leading to the conflict, who will they obey? Ultimately, God is on trial. Will he help his people in their time of need? Does he care when they are in trouble? Where is he? And what must we do in light of the answer?
This morning we are continuing our series in the book of Daniel with one of the most popular stories: The Fiery Furnace. If you recall, the greatest political power in the known world was the Neo-Babylonian Empire. King Nebuchadnezzar II expanded his kingdom from the Perian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, conquering Judah in between. He pillaged the Temple of God in Jerusalem and took the best and the brightest to be slaves nine hundred miles away in the plain of Dura (https://www.esv.org/resources/esv-global-study-bible/facts-ezra-7/). The overarching theme of this twelve-chapter book is that Kingdoms rise and fall, remain faithful to the king who rules over all. In chapter 3, we see God is the deliverer and the only one worthy to be worshipped and obeyed. Commitment to conviction can be costly. Commitment to conviction can be costly. So, if you are taking notes, write down this: God is the delivering King who alone is worthy to be worshipped and obeyed. That is the key to chapter 3. God is the delivering King who alone is worthy to be worshipped and obeyed.
BACKGROUND CHAPTER 1
Let me show you why I say that. Chapter 1 begins in the year 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar enslaved four youths from Israel: Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego. They trained for three years to be part of the royal council. Early on, they demonstrated that culture and king would not steamroll them. They stood up for their faith, risking their lives and going against what seemed like simple dietary rules. The result was not punishment but compassion. God gave them ten times the ability of their peers, and the king promoted them.
BACKGROUND CHAPTER 2
In chapter 2, the king had a recurring nightmare. He asked his wise men to tell him what it was and its interpretation. They said, “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (Daniel 2:11). At this, the king was furious. And he basically said if they couldn’t give him what he wanted, they would be torn limb by limb. Daniel got word of this threat. He and his friend’s lives were at stake. But Daniel had a plan. You see, he knew God knows dreams, and he knew God could tell those dreams to him just as he did Joseph in Egypt hundreds of years before. And that is exactly what happened. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar the dream and interpreted it. What was the dream? It was about a statue with a head of gold. That head of gold was Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. The rest of the body was an amalgamation of materials, symbolizing subsequent weaker kingdoms. The dream ends with a stone breaking this statue to bits and growing into a mountain that is another kingdom that will never perish and reign over all.
CHAPTER 3 Summary
So, we get to chapter three, and what does Nebuchadnezzar do in the first sentence? He makes a towering statue, 90 feet tall. That is like the height of this tree. But this statue is different from the one in the nightmare in chapter 2. He made the entire thing out of gold, not just the head. Then, he commanded that everyone bow down and worship it. If you know anything about the Ten Commandments, the top ten rules God gave men and women to live by, Nebuchadnezzar was breaking and legislating against number one, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Why would he do that?
In my study, I read that archeologists have found a description dating from this time period, in Nebuchadnezzar’s voice, that helps answer this. It reads,
Besides my statue as king… I wrote an inscription mentioning my name,... I erected for posterity. May future kings respect the monument, remember the praise of the gods…. He who respects… my royal name, who does not abrogate my statues and not change my decrees, his throne shall be secure, his life last long, his dynasty shall continue.” (ESV STUDY BIBLE, NOTES, see also the Wadi-Brisa Inscription - https://www.wanderleb.com/blog/brisa-neo-babylonian-inscriptions https://www.academia.edu/36699994/Mowing_Lawns_in_Babylon_Madness_of_Nebuchadnezzar_and_Divine_Sovereignty )
Nebuchadnezzar was directing people to what he had “set up” and was seeking praise and complete and instant obedience. I think this statue displays his pride. For sure, that is what we hear about next week, in chapter 4. Nebuchadnezzar had everything he could ever want. He was the king. Daniel said he was
“[the] King of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hands he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens.” (Daniel 2:37–38)
Nebuchadnezzar created one of the seven wonders of the world: the Hanging Gardens (https://www.history.com/news/hanging-gardens-existed-but-not-in-babylon). But it was not enough. He wanted more. From Nebuchadnezzar’s throne, he made a statue for all to worship. He was the king and could do whatever he wanted and he wanted complete and instant obedience. Would we do that in his shoes? I find it easy to look down on those who live in other cultures and other times. However, I think we might find we are more alike than we realize upon closer inspection. We like to get recognition for what we “Set up.” Don’t we? We can be proud calling people to follow our ways and our will completely and instantly. When they don’t, we too can get angry. I can. This is the first person we see in this chapter, and what he does is not good. He is not our example, nor does he understand who God is. We must avoid pride like the plague and instead turn to the true and living God in worship and obedience.
Who else is in this story? Worshippers. We read about them in verse 4, “O peoples, nations, and languages.” We see them in verses 7 and 29. They represent the world. Nebuchadnezzar wants all the world to bow down and worship what he has “set up.” Do they? You bet they do. They go with the flow. We don’t know what they were thinking, but they worshipped this statue. Everyone was doing it. Maybe they thought, “What is the big deal? It doesn’t hurt anyone. Why make a fuss or cause a scene?” or “It must be good to do because the king said so.” What would you do? What would you do under a threat of death?
We are not going to be building statues any time soon. However, we may be tempted, even this week, to idolize something. By “idol,” I don’t mean a little figurine you get at the home goods section or lawn and garden center. In ancient times and other cultures, those little statues had power and control. In the west, an idol can be something we love more than God. Something that controls our time and energy more than God. An idol can be something or someone we serve to the detriment of a relationship with the true and living God. For example, technology can be an idol. How? We love it. We serve it. It controls us. We have to check it. We can’t put it down. We have to have the upgrade. We can also idolize family, sports, work, accolades, or getting things done. Those things are not inherently bad; they just become bad when they are out of balance. Do you have any idols you are worshipping? Or are you compromising your faith in some way? We don’t want to be like the proud king Nebuchadnezzar or the idol-worshipping people.
I will have C.S. come up here and read for us about another group of people: the Accusers. We have heard about the proud king, we have heard about the idol-worshipping people, now let’s hear about the accusers. Starting at verse 8, if you are following along,
Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, "O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Daniel 3:8–12)
Thank you, C.
Some of us are go-getters, driven, achievers, and strong. When under pressure, seeking to meet a deadline or objective, we may go on the offensive to get what we want. Why would these Chaldeans be malicious? Why?
In the previous chapters, we know the three Jews mentioned resisted the law of the land,, and the king identified them as ten times better than the Chaldeans. In chapter 2, with God’s help, Daniel saved the three from death and exalted them to their current positions. Now in chapter 3, their lives are in jeopardy again because Chaldeans tattle. Why would Daniel say they were malicious? This word is used seven times in the Old Testament and only in the book of Daniel. The NIV translates it as “denounce.” Why do they denounce these three? Are they concerned about worship? No. I think it was something else.
How do you handle it when the guy at work next to you gets promoted, and you don’t? How do you like it when your parents treat your brother or sister well, and you not so much? How do you feel when your neighbor gets something you have always wanted but don’t have? I imagine the Chaldeans struggled with jealousy, and we read they became informants resulting in a death sentence. One way to move up in the world is to bring others down.
I remember in school, kids would rip on each other. They would make fun of the odd kid, call them names, or make them the butt of their jokes. Sadly, I am sure I did too. One time, I was on the receiving end for days at French camp. I flipped out in the tent at my friend who was bringing me down. I said something like, “Are you so insecure with yourself that you have to make fun of me? Are you just attacking me to make yourself feel better? Are you that little of a person?” I was so angry. I think I scared him. Finally, he stopped, and we made up. Taking cheap shots, name-calling, and demonizing people can feel good when people laugh, but in general, I think it does more damage than help. It doesn’t seem to open lines of communication nor does it further rational argument. There is a lot of this going on in our culture. I hear it on both sides of the aisle, on the radio and online, and in our community. Have you? Can you relate to the accusers? Or, have you been verbally attacked? We are not to be like these jealous Chaldeans, nor the idol worshippers, nor the proud king. Let’s turn to the final group of people: the three. Look at verse 13. I am going to have A.M. read for us.
Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 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?" Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 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. 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." Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. Because the king's order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. (Daniel 3:13–22)
Thank you. Isn’t this story incredible? Look at verses 16.
"O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 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. 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." (Daniel 3:16–18)
They were not going to capitulate. They were not going to back down. They were respectfully firm. They would follow God to death. They didn’t presume God would deliver them miraculously. He could. Yet, they admitted God might allow them to be burned up. They believed God would ultimately deliver them, even after death. Would you?
How do you handle life’s ups and downs? Would you have faith like these three? Could you follow God’s lead even if it results in the death of your dreams? Or, would you fall to peer pressure? Or, would you try to take matters into your own hands, or would you just rely on your own strength? This is the challenge of the passage. Do we trust in God to deliver us from our trials? The circumstances looked bleak for the three. The king had them thrown into a furnace, bound, with coat, clothes, hat. He made it so hot and hastily that those who threw them in died. But these three faced that trial and believed God (Hebrews 11:34). They had faith to face the fire and faith in a king who rules overall.
Verse 13 tells us the king was in a “furious rage.” In verse 19, we read he was “filled with fury.” He was like a two or three-year-old with a tantrum. The text says he worked quickly, made a fire, and had them thrown in it. What happened next?
Let’s keep reading. A.S. will read for us.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?" They answered and said to the king, "True, O king." He answered and said, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods." Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!" Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. (Daniel 3: 24–28)
Thank you. What a reversal!
THE 4th MAN
We read there weren’t three men in the furnace, but four. What do you make of that? Who was that fourth man? It was not Nebuchnezzar’s men; they had died. Nebuchadnezzar said it was a man like the “son of the gods.” Later he described him as an angel. Who was he? We don’t know for sure, but we do know Daniel talks about a son of man. I think they are related. Chapter 7, verse 13 Daniel has this vision,
With the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him and to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13–14)
The reason I think they are related is because Jesus refers to himself as both. Jesus is in the Old Testament. He is eternal. He always existed. He was not created. He is God. (For example, If we read Genesis 16 closely, he is the Angel of the LORD. If we read Isaiah 53, he is the suffering servant. Reading Deuteronomy 18:15, we see he is the coming prophet. Reading 2 Samuel 7:16, he is the future king. Jesus was and is like no other.) He is the Son of Man and Son of God, and with these three in the fire.
The three in the fire were walking around. They came out and were not singed or smelled like smoke!
Do you see this fire? This is a puny fire. It smells like smoke. I had W.H. make this for me. Would you come up here, W? Do you smell the smoke. I hear you built your own forge at home. If you work with fire, do you smell like smoke? What do you have with you? Can you put it on?
Q: What are they?
A: It is a face shield, apron, gloves.
Q: What are they for?
A: Melting metal.
Q: How hot can you get a fire going?
A: That is pretty hot.
Q: What would happen if you didn’t have the face shield?
Q: What would happen if you didn’t have the gloves or apron?
Thanks, again Wes. You can sit down. I just brought him up here to remind us this was such a hot fire; it was incredible. There is no human explanation for why they survived and came out the way they did. God delivered them! And the king responded the way we should in verse 28: “Blessed be the God.” Look at verse 28.
Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. (Daniel 3:28)
We should praise God the delivering king who alone is worthy to be worshiped and obeyed.
Then Nebuchadnezzar turns the tables on his rules and goes back to his totalitarian leadership style. Look at verse 29.
Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way." (Daniel 3:29)
Chapter 3 ends with “Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon” (Daniel 3:30), just as chapters 1 and 2 have ended. Look at verse 30.
So, the question the king asked in verse 16, “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” We see the king answers his own question in verse 28. the God of Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego can deliver.
So what? Why is this here? Friends, God is our deliverer, and we must never forget it. So much of the time, we have it so good, we can start thinking it is our doing, or we just live on auto-pilot. We can be proud idolatrous, and jealous. All three of those paths stray from God’s. God has another way.
The good news is that God the Father sent Jesus his Son to live and die in our place for all the times we strayed. And we have strayed, have we not? He bled and died to forgive our sin. When we trust him, then we can walk with him through the fire. We don’t have to be alone. You are not alone.
The Apostle Paul and his fellow Christian workers like these three suffered for their faith. Paul was stoned, shipwrecked, betrayed, imprisoned, beat, slandered, and ultimately killed for his faith. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he shared a little about his struggle with life’s circumstances and his hope; I think it is helpful in light of what we just read. He wrote,
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8–10)
Friends, God has not promised to take away physical death. We will all grow old and suffer and die unless he returns. Yet, at times, he does miracles and heals in wonderful ways. But we have ultimate hope in our God, who has delivered us from the sting of death and the consequences of our sin. Where is your hope? Remember, God is the delivering king who alone is worthy to be worshipped and obeyed.
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