Nebuchadnezzar raised a ninety-foot-tall golden image in the plain of Dura, in Babylon. As kings tend to do, he proclaimed his creation to be holy. He commanded his subjects to bow in worship or suffer death in a fiery furnace. For most Babylonians, it was an easy choice; they’d spent a lifetime worshipping false gods. Nevertheless, the Israeli youth, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, stood firm when everyone else fell on their faces.
Five Defiant Words
The three young men were bound and brought before the furnace, just as promised. The king’s voice roared above the flames, saying, “What god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15 NASB). Rather than cowering, the men answered,
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 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.” (Daniel 3:16-17 NASB).
Then came five exceptional words.
“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.” (Daniel 3:18 NASB).
The phrase, “even if He does not,” is both liberating and powerful. As you likely know, the men were thrown into a fire heated seven times hotter by the king’s anger. The fire didn’t burn them. Rather, they were seen walking about with a fourth man whose appearance was like “a son of the gods.” But would God have been any less powerful or worthy of praise if these men had died in the fire with a testimony of God on their lips?
Finding the Fourth Man
The scope of God’s kingdom is much larger than our personal desires, or even, our very short lives. Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we dare not bow in fear before the graven images of death, disease or hardship. Hebrews 11 transitions, seamlessly listing from those whose faith demonstrates an obvious victory to those whose faith looks like a seeming earthly defeat.
“For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection;” (Hebrews 11:32-35 NASB).
Our hope does not balance on the answers to our prayers; it rests on the person of the God who hears us. We make supplication that Christ might uphold us and that He stand with us as the “fourth man” in the midst of the fire. Sometimes, praying doesn’t produce the results we want. Remember that Jesus pleaded that the cup of His suffering might pass. It didn’t. Nonetheless, there was an eternal joy set before Him. He endured the cross but for a moment to receive it.