Daniel and His Three Friends: Courage in the face of Danger

The Bible tells historical stories of men and women who lived on this planet and walked with God. Their lives stands as testimonies to what God can do through us. These servants of the Lord lived in times of great hardships and had nowhere to run to except to the Lord. On several occasions, death lurked behind them. Some were noble man, and some were regarded as the filthy and the refuse of the societies in which they were. Hungry or well fed, naked or clothed, they maintained their confession and being led like sheep to the slaughter, they like Moses, endured as seeing Him who is invisible (Hebrews 11:27). The book of Daniel introduces us to four such young men who lived during the exilic period of Judah in Babylon.

The Land of Babylon

Babylon appears prominently in the biblical books of Daniel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, among others, and, most notably, The Book of Revelation. Babylon was founded at some point prior to the reign of Sargon of Akkad who ruled from 2334-2279 BCE and claimed to have built temples at Babylon (other ancient sources seem to indicate that Sargon himself founded the city). At that time, Babylon seems to have been a minor city or perhaps a large port town on the Euphrates River at the point where it runs closest to the river Tigris. Whatever early role the city played in the ancient world is lost to modern-day scholars because the water level in the region has risen steadily over the centuries and the ruins of Old Babylon have become inaccessible.[1]

Babylon means “babilu” (gate of god). It is an ancient city in the plain of shinar on the Euphrates River, about 50 miles south of Modern Baghdad. Babylon was founded by Nimrod of Gen. 10, who developed the world’s first organized system of idolatry, which God condemned (Gen. 11). It later became the capital of Babylonia and the Babylonian Empire. It was of overwhelming size and appearance.[2]

After the fall of the Assyrian Empire, a Chaldean named Nabopolassar took the throne of Babylon and, through careful alliances, created the Neo-Babylonian Empire. His son, Nebuchadnezzar II (604-561 BCE), was the real genius and builder of Babylon. He renovated the city so that it covered 900 hectares (2,200 acres) of land and boasted some the most beautiful and impressive structures in all of Mesopotamia. Of its 70 years in existence he ruled 45 years. As the commander of Nabopalassar’s armies he was unstoppable. He broke the power of Egypt at the battle of Carchemish and proved to be one of the mightiest monarchs of all time. He married Amytis of Media (630-565 BCE) and so secured an alliance between the Medes and the Babylonians (Amytis being the daughter or granddaughter of Cyaxerxes, the king of the Medes) and, according to some sources, had the Hanging Gardens of Babylon built for her to remind her of her homeland in Persia. [3] Every ancient writer to make mention of the city of Babylon, outside of those responsible for the stories in the Bible, does so with a tone of awe and reverence.

Upon ascending to the throne, Nebuchadnezzar spoke to the gods, in his inaugural address, saying, “O merciful Marduk, may the house that I have built endure forever, may I be satiated with its splendor, attain old age therein, with abundant offspring, and receive therein tribute of the kings of all regions, from all mankind” and it would seem the gods heard his prayer in that, under his reign, Babylon became the most powerful city-state in the region and Nebuchadnezzar II himself the greatest warrior-king and ruler in the known world. He is portrayed in unflattering light in the Bible most notably in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Jeremiah (where he is seen as an ‘enemy of God’ and one whom the deity of the Israelites intends to make an example of or, conversely, the agent of God used as a scourge against the faithless followers of Yahweh). Those portraits notwithstanding, Nebuchadnezzar II was most certainly responsible for the so-called Babylonian Exile of the Jews and, so, for the formation of modern-day Judaism (in that, the temple destroyed, the Priestly class of the Levites of the Jews had to re-create their religion “in a foreign land” as recounted famously in Psalm 137 from the Bible, and elsewhere).[4]

The book of Daniel introduces us to Babylon and its king in this wise,

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god. And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring [certain] of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; Children in whom [was] no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as [had] ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel [the name] of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which [are] of your sort? then shall ye make [me] endanger my head to the king. Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days. And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat. Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse. As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. And in all matters of wisdom [and] understanding, that the king enquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians [and] astrologers that [were] in all his realm. And Daniel continued [even] unto the first year of king Cyrus. (Daniel 1)

Daniel and His fellows

The prophet Daniel was born c.621 BC and carried to Babylon in c.605 BC at the age of 16. His name means “God is my judge”. His life spans the entire 70 year period of the Babylonian captivity. When he arrived in Babylon, he was given the name Belteshazzar meaning “Bel protect his life”. Daniel and his three friends lived at a time when the nation of Judah was in a deep crisis, religiously, politically and economically. The Babylonians had laid desolate the cities of Jerusalem and had put people to the edge of the sword. Many were wounded or slain as the then super power of the world, led by Nebuchadnezzar, made great plundering of the nation whose God was the Lord.[5] Just a few years prior, the biblical record tells us that Pharaoh Necho had downed the then king Jehoahaz and took him as prisoner to Egypt. He had replaced him with his brother Eliakim, who is also called Jehoiakim, an evil king whose reign the Lord despised.

We know from our study of the Old Testament that the Davidic kings were supposed to represent the Messiah and God’s sovereign rule, but each time they failed the Lord. When king Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem, he wanted to make sure that none of the princes to the throne would ever be king; or their children. So he killed King Zedekiah and all his sons. He also made eunuchs of the sons of the former king, Hezekiah, so they couldn’t have any children that could become king of the Jews. King Nebuchadnezzar had read the prophecies that a child of the great king David would always reign over Israel and wanted to make sure that it never happened.

The priests, the prophets and the judges were all corrupt and profane in the sight of the Lord. The Lord had witnessed rebellion after rebellion as the children of Israel forsook His ways and commands in search for those that were not real gods at all. Yet, because of His mercies, the Lord time and again saved them from their enemies, not for their sake but for His own sake and glory. The Chronicler made some very interesting comments,

Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the LORD which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till [there was] no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave [them] all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes; all [these] he brought to Babylon. And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: To fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: [for] as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years. (2 Chronicles 36:14-21)

This was the time when Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah lived. The Lord was angry with His people and in His wrath He had sent them into captivity in Bablyon in fulfilment to the word which He had earlier gave the nation through Jeremiah the prophet. The Babylonians are described in the book of Joel as a terrible army. They wrought havoc and wonders in the nation of Israel. The people had no choice but to yield to their demands. God’s people were to go into deportation and in 586 BC, Jerusalem was laid waste and the temple desecrated as Nebuchadnezzar carried all its valuables of gold to the temple of his god Marduk in Babylon. Just imagine what that meant to the religiously devoted Jews such as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. For the Jew, there was no other Temple except the one in Jerusalem and now that the holy place had been desecrated, what was it that was left for the Hebrew boys.

We are not so sure how old Daniel was but many have suggested that he was a young man in his teens, probably between the ages of 14 and 15. We understand he was a young man of royal blood (because he was among the nobles and princes taken captive also with Ezekiel the prophet), in good health, intelligent and handsome. If the assumptions are right, then Nebuchadnezzar needed young blood to instil his philosophy and the religious views of ancient Babylon. We also assume then that Daniel’s friends were of similar age, teens that were saving the Lord but now captive in foreign land.

The first chapter of Daniel tells us about the early developments in Babylon immediately after the deportation. “And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring [certain] of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; Children in whom [was] no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as [had] ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:3-4). The four Hebrew boys were not just ordinary people but as we may want to say it in today’s language, they were boys of classy. Yet, being of royal blood, they found themselves in the midst of adversity.

Adversity comes to all people of various classes: the rich and the poor, the elite and the scumbags, the educated and the uneducated, to men of honour and men of dishonour, to presidents, kings as well as thieves and robbers. The problem does not lie in who gets into adversity but how one responds and handles adversity. The Hebrew youths were men of wisdom and high learning. They understood the sciences. “As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17).

Can you pause for a moment to think about this? Gifted youths of noble blood, skilled in science and gifted by God in knowledge and wisdom saving a foreign heathen king in an unbelieving world! What’s worse? The boys were surrounded by the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans. The king had his tried and tasted counsellors and advisors who had served him for years. But because of the Lord’s hand upon the four youths, “And in all matters of wisdom [and] understanding, that the king enquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians [and] astrologers that [were] in all his realm” (Daniel 1:20).

 Dilemma in the King’s Empire

The first scenario that confronts us as we read the account of Daniel and his three friends is about the food of the king. “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). The heathens of Babylon would eat food sacrificed to idols, in particular to the chief god of the Babylonian pantheon, Marduk. To a Jew, eating food that had been sacrificed to idols was equal to partaking of the profane. The delicacies of the meat of Babylon and its wine should have been appealing to these boys, but because they were looking at Him who is invisible, they understood that self-defilement was not the best interest in the presence of the King of Kings.

There was no “Thus says the Lord” to keep them from defilement. Instead, “Daniel purposed in his heart”. Daniel was a man of purpose and he could not allow the purposes of a heathen king to override his purposes and God’s purpose for his life. Many times, we are swayed from God’s purposes when we, like Eve, see that the food is pleasant to the eyes, we stretch forth our hands to partake. But not with Daniel and his friends! “Give us 10 days, just ten days only and we will prove that pulse [Hebrew, zeroa` (zay-ro’-ah), something sown (only in the plural), i.e. a vegetable (as food)]” eaten by a purposeful heart, in the fear of the Lord, is able to make one’s countenance bright and the physical body strong!” This was a declaration of faith and trust in the Lord. Daniel knew what God was capable of doing since the theme of God’s sovereignty runs strong on the book that bears his name.

Isn’t it amazing that the faith of Daniel in his God is first shown even in simple matters of food? The Holy Spirit thus signifying to us that faith and our complete dependence on God can stretch from the simple primitive things in life to the greatest things. We cannot hope to trust God in weightier matters when we lose confidence in His ability to touch our smallies! I have often spoken to several young men who seem to believe more in God’s power and ability to do the extra-ordinary but fail to trust Him for a dollar to ferry them to their preaching point. Some trust the Lord to raise the dead but fail to believe Him to heal a tooth ache. They believe God has the resources to build mansions in heaven and is just not interested in raising their standard of life on earth. They believe God can save the poor but have no faith that He can likewise save the rich. To such, Jesus can say today, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25).

God is not only concerned about bigger things in our lives, even the minute details of our lives cannot escape His attention. The secret was not in the vegetable that Daniel requested, the lentils and beans, leeks and onions, etc. The secret was their faith and trust in God in whom they were not ashamed to stand for and make known their faith. “Our God has said we should not eat these foods, and even if it means despising the king’s order, we are committed to do exactly that!” Such is the faith and trust that moves God. The Psalmist declared, “They that trust in the LORD [shall be] as mount Zion, [which] cannot be removed, [but] abideth for ever” (Psalm 125:1). When we have our eyes fixed on God, when we put our trust in Him, we are guaranteed that we will not be moved or shaken. “They that trust in the Lord…” The Scripture did not classify their ethnic origin, their denominational background or number of years in the church. This is an open invitation to trust in the Lord. The Hebrew youths trusted in the Lord and were never shaken. The king found them to be ten times better than all his people. “This is the Lord’s doing and it’s marvellous in our sight” (Psalm 118:23).

 Daniel’s Advancement

For a time after Daniel and his friends enjoyed the king’s favour and promotion, the spiritual landscape in Babylon began to experience a new shifting. Daniel 2:1-13 recounts,

And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him. Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king. And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream. Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriack, O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation. The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill. But if ye shew the dream, and the interpretation thereof, ye shall receive of me gifts and rewards and great honour: therefore shew me the dream, and the interpretation thereof. They answered again and said, Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation of it. The king answered and said, I know of certainty that ye would gain the time, because ye see the thing is gone from me. But if ye will not make known unto me the dream, [there is but] one decree for you: for ye have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me, till the time be changed: therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that ye can shew me the interpretation thereof. The Chaldeans answered before the king, and said, There is not a man upon the earth that can shew the king’s matter: therefore [there is] no king, lord, nor ruler, [that] asked such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean. And [it is] a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can shew it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh. For this cause the king was angry and very furious, and commanded to destroy all the wise [men] of Babylon. And the decree went forth that the wise [men] should be slain; and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain.

The time came for the Lord to raise His people higher than the Chaldeans. “For promotion [cometh] neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God [is] the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Psalm 75:6-7). The Lord wanted to raise Daniel and his fellows with unique standard that would testify to the heathen Babylonians that the Lord of Heaven, the God of all flesh is the true God of Israel. He causes the king to have perplexing dream which he then forgets. He summons his council with urgency to the king’s chambers. The urgency surprises the cabinet as they hear the king speaking, “I have a dream, so perplexing and I have forgotten about it. I want you to tell me the dream I dreamt, interpret for me and I will reward you. But if you can’t, you will be slain!” They tried to buy their way out of the king’s decree but to no avail. The king commanded all the wise men to be brought and be slain for their failures. The king reasoned that the one who is able to interpret a dream should by an act of the gods know the dream then supplies its interpretation. His cabinet had advised of the impossibility of such mysteries. Therein is the folly of the Chaldeans and their gods made manifest. They don’t know dreams and neither n they interpret them. They rely on some clues to manipulate an interpretation. Now the king knows that, but he has a dream and the dream had to be interpreted.

How often like Nebuchadnezzar, do we rush to wrong people seeking for solutions to our spiritual dilemmas? Instead of seeking for the Lord, the first solution we seek shows us whether we trust in the Lord or not. Nebuchadnezzar had not learned what the prophet had said, “Thus saith the LORD; Cursed [be] the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, [in] a salt land and not inhabited” (Jeremiah 17:5-6). Instead, he had gone to seek for his wise men, magicians and sorceres. They were his; they were not men of God and hence could not know what the Lord’s will was.

It was a trying time for the magicians, witches and wise men of Babylon. “For this cause the king was angry and very furious, and commanded to destroy all the wise [men] of Babylon. And the decree went forth that the wise [men] should be slain; and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain” (Daniel 2:12-13). There was the mistake of the king. He also wanted Daniel and his fellows to be slain and yet he had not enquired of them. He had called his men and not God’s man. God would not allow His people to be taken together with unbelievers. He made a way of escape for Daniel and his friends.

Then Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom to Arioch the captain of the king’s guard, which was gone forth to slay the wise [men] of Babylon: He answered and said to Arioch the king’s captain, Why [is] the decree [so] hasty from the king? Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel. Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would shew the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: That they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise [men] of Babylon. (Daniel 2:14-18)

Daniel and his friends again displayed their faith and trust in the Lord. “They would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise [men] of Babylon.” In other words, they were going to ask the Lord’s intervention in the matter of the king’s dream. Daniel did not say, “Guys, you know I am gifted with dreams, visions and their interpretations. Let’s go and teach that heathen a lesson!” Rather, he understood that their lives were at stake and since the king had raised the stacks high; they would end up dead within hours. The hand of the executioner had been raised and the king’s decree had been uttered. Because the king wanted to hear his dream and interpretation, he agreed to give the boys time to seek the Lord. “For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 10:11).

After the boys had prayed and put their trust in the Lord to spare them from death by revealing the dream and its interpretation, “the secret was revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven” (Daniel 2:19). He prayed,

Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what [is] in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast [now] made known unto us the king’s matter. (Daniel 2:20-23)

After the Lord had revealed the dream to Daniel, he first gave thanks to the Lord for such amazing spiritually unique abilities above all the peoples of Babylonia. How often do we forget to thank the Lord because we are so overjoyed that the Lord has done something good for us? But we learn from Daniel that with the sme haste we ask the Lord for his intervention in our lives, with the same enthusiasm, we should also thank the Lord. Many believers are guilt of ungratefulness. We should always be grateful and thankful to the Lord God in every situation in our lives.

Therefore Daniel went in unto Arioch, whom the king had ordained to destroy the wise [men] of Babylon: he went and said thus unto him; Destroy not the wise [men] of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will shew unto the king the interpretation. Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste, and said thus unto him, I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation. The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name [was] Belteshazzar, Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof? Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise [men], the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king; But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these; As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came [into thy mind] upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass. But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for [any] wisdom that I have more than any living, but for [their] sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart. (Daniel 2: 24-30)

The king thought he had found a man who could now interpret his dreams and use as his man. But Daniel sensing the expectations of the king quickly took the attention of himself off from the king and hastily pointed the king to the Lord, “The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise [men], the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king; But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets”. It is not in the wise men, the astrologer, the magician or the soothsayer of Zoroaster, but the God of Heaven who reveals secrets. Daniel had read Jeremiah’s prophecy and learned from his prophecies,

Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise [man] glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty [man] glory in his might, let not the rich [man] glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I [am] the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these [things] I delight, saith the LORD. Jeremiah 9:23-24

Daniel could not boast of anything except to acknowledge the Lord’s doing. How often do we here several men of God attributing to themselves what only God can do! We should not glory in our wisdom and abilities. We should seek to use our gifts to benefit others. We should know the Lord and be able to lead people to Him as Daniel did to Nebuchadnezzar. “There is a God in heaven…” This God supersedes all the gods of man’s inventions and imaginations. When we sleep, our thoughts can come to us and cause us to have some dreams, but the God of heaven can do far much better than that. He reveals secret things, things that will come to be in the latter days. No pagan god can do that. Marduk the chief Babylonian god cannot do that. He had failed to protect his magicians and soothsayers and had led them along a highway to the grave as the wrathful king sought their end. Oh the wonders of the God of Heaven, the king of Kings and Lord of Lords!

The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth [it is], that your God [is] a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret. Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise [men] of Babylon. Then Daniel requested of the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, over the affairs of the province of Babylon: but Daniel [sat] in the gate of the king. (Daniel 2:47-49)

At long last the king heard his dream and its interpretation. The God of Heaven would one day establish a kingdom not made of man’s hands and the kingdom would last forever. The heathen king was forced to confess the greatness of the God of Israel whose temple he had desecrated. He even acknowledged Him to be the God of gods and Lord of kings. Daniel was promoted and being unselfish, entreated the king for the promotion of his three friends too who were also given higher positions in Babylon. However, Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation of the God of Heaven as Lord of kings and God of gods did not last long. The king was to learn some unique greatness of the God of Heaven as the battle of the gods began to unfold as we see in Daniel’s third chapter.

In the furnace of Fire

It seems that Nebuchadnezzar had not fully learned the ways of the Lord. Just because he had his dream interpreted did not cause him to fear the Lord. Most people today think that they can serve God because they have witnessed Him at work. On the contrary, man’s heart is deceitful and stubborn. God can display his power and still see the heart hardening instead of becoming soft. It is not witnessing to a miracle or a mere profession from the mouth that saves. The heart also should believe.

Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height [was] threescore cubits, [and] the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, [That] at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down [and] worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. (Daniel 3:1-7)

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are basically a lot like Daniel. They stick to their principles despite the accusations brought against them by the snivelling officials of King Nebuchadnezzar. Their real names were Hananiah, Misha’el, and Azariah. These names mean respectively, “God is gracious,” “Who is like God?” and “God has helped.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could mean, respectively, “Command of the Moon God,” “Who is what Aku is?” and “Servant of Nabu” (Nabu is the Babylonian god of Wisdom and Nebuchadnezzar’s favourite god).

In Daniel 3 we read about three men Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, together with Daniel, had been appointed to authority positions in the province of Babylon (Daniel 2:49). They were godly Jews to whom God had given “knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom” (Daniel 1:17), and whom He had furthered to these authority positions. Because of their position, they would probably enjoy many things that not only the Jews but also most of the natives did not enjoy. They were certainly blessed people. However, one day the situation changed.

Nebuchadnezzar, the king, had made a golden image asking everyone to worship it. All in the kingdom had to worship this image and if someone disobeyed, he would be burned in the lake of fire. God had said long ago to the people of Israel that they should worship no other God than Him, so the three wouldn’t go against the word of God. As statesmen, they were supposed to honour the king and do his bidding.

Thus, Shadreck, Misheck and Abednego faced a challenge: Would they follow the king’s command, defending their lives, their blessings, their families, their positions, and then probably asking “sorry” from God, or would they obey to His Word, never bowing to this idol? Daniel 3:8-12 tells us that they finally chose the latter. Thus, they were brought before the king. Well, Nebuchadnezzar got mad at their refusal to serve the golden image. He had a furnace of fire prepared. This furnace was for anyone who disobeyed the order to worship the statue. If they didn’t bow down, they were to be thrown into the fire.

And though he was very angry with them, he decided to give them one more opportunity: “Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; [well]: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who [is] that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15), he told them. After the king had Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego brought before him and they still refused to worship the statue, he got so mad he had his men heat the furnace seven times hotter than it was supposed to be. Strong soldiers tied up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and were told to throw them into the furnace.

I have come to appreciate and covet the young men’s loyalty to God. Their loyalty to God was not as a result of what the Lord would do for them but it was unquestionable loyalty based on their love for their God. Their obedience to God was not motivated by their desire to be delivered from the wrath of the king. They loved God and would serve Him in life or death. When we just read this short story from the Bible, we learn about the genuine faith and trust of Shadreck, Misheck and Abednego, but another look at the character of Nebuchadnezzar can help us understand what great heroism these Hebrew boys presented. The following is a detailed quote from the Jewish Encyclopaedia,

Nebuchadnezzar was most merciless toward the conquered people. By his command the exiles on their way to Babylon were not allowed to stop even for a moment, as the king feared that they would pray during the respite granted them and that God would be willing to help them as soon as they repented (Lam. R. to v. 6; Pesiḳ. R. 28 [ed. Friedmann, p. 135a]). Nebuchadnezzar did not feel safe until the exiles reached the Euphrates, the boundary-line of Babylon. Then he made a great feast on board his ship, while the princes of Judah lay chained and naked by the river. In order to increase their misery he had rolls of the Torah torn and made into sacks, which, filled with sand, he gave to the captive princes to carry (Pesiḳ. R. l.c. [ed. Friedmann, p. 135a]; Midr. Teh. cxxxvii.; comp. Buber’s remark ad loc. and Lam. R. v. 13).

On this occasion Nebuchadnezzar ordered the singers of the Temple to add their music to his feast; but they preferred to bite off their fingers, or even to be killed, rather than to play their sacred music in honor of the Babylonian idols (Pesiḳ. R. 31 [ed. Friedmann, p. 144a], 28 [136a]; comp. Moses, Children of). He heartlessly drove the captives before him, entirely without clothing, until the inhabitants of Bari induced him to clothe them (Pesiḳ. R. l.c. [ed. Friedmann, p. 135b]). But even after the heavily burdened Jews finally reached Babylonia they had no rest from the tyrant, who massacred thousands of youths whose beauty had inflamed the passion of the Babylonian women—a passion which did not subside until the corpses were stamped upon and mutilated (Sanh. 92b; comp. Ezekiel in Rabbinical Literature). Nebuchadnezzar carried to Babylon, together with the Jews, cedar-trees which he had taken from Lebanon (Lam. R. i. 4), and millstones which he made the captive youths bear (l.c. v. 13). Even the Jews who had sought refuge from the Babylonians in Ammon and Moab or in Egypt did not escape Nebuchadnezzar, who, on conquering Egypt, carried all the Jews in that country, including Baruch and Jeremiah, to Babylonia (Midr. ‘Eser Galuyyot, ed. Grünhut, l.c. iii. 14; Seder ‘Olam R. xxvi.) Nebuchadnezzar was equally victorious in his expedition against Tyre, whose king, Hiram, his stepfather, he dethroned and put to a painful death (Lev. R. xviii. 2; Yalḳ., Ezek. 367).[6]

Nebuchadnezzar had a dreadful history. The young men knew about it for all the world had learned of the great exploits of the powerful Babylonian monarch. It was not easy to speak in whatsoever manner to the king. We are told that during his reign, people could not laugh in his presence and were even careful about their word choice. Nebuchadnezzar had elevated himself to a god until such a time that the Lord would later drive him to feed on grass. But the Hebrew boys chose to serve the lord and be His martyrs should He fail to deliver them from the fiery furnace. A decision had been made, and the king of Babylon as well as the King of Kings should hear the decision of the trio. Everyone waited for the oracle of the lads. Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we [are] not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be [so], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver [us] out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. (Daniel 3:16-18)

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had determined that they would by no means worship this idol. Though they knew that God could deliver them, they did not consider it as given. They obeyed God unconditionally, and even if He did not deliver them (“But if not“) they would still not worship the king’s idols (“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”). As Daniel 3:28 says: They had “yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.” Their reply made the king even angrier and the den even hotter. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were immediately cast there.

Here is the challenge presented to us by the Hebrew children. Are we in situations similar to theirs? Do we worship God in a politically unfriendly environment where human beings deify themselves and claim deity? Are we forced to serve idols and foreign gods by political leaders, village chiefs or the society? Are there repercussions for failing to adhere to the ungodly counsel of the wicked in our day as then? Are we threatened by death, violence or torture? Can we still remain true and serve the Lord even if we know He is not going to deliver us? Do we run away and betray Him simply to safeguard our lives and protect our families, possessions and positions in the world? Or, we are going to use our adversities as testimonies?

Many people today will only serve God in times of peace and prosperity, health and stability. When difficulties and hardships cross their paths, they will engage in spiritual warfare and try to get rid of the devil; they will prophesy and speak to their situations and commands them to move in the name of Jesus. We have been taught that every seemingly bad thing is of the devil and we have no interest tolerating anything that want to fight against our relationship with God. We ask God to help us or else! The mindset is like, ‘God, I am your child. This thing should not happen to me. I command it to get out of my way. I pluck it with the roots. I am your child God. It shouldn’t happen to me!’

But here we see a different approach from the Hebrew lads. The Sovereign Lord is the LORD. He has the right to be worshipped in our lives, whether He delivers us or not. Our salvation and deliverance from our earthly problems is not His first priority. His first priority is His pleasure. If by our death He is glorified, so be it. If by our lives He will be glorified, so be it! We cannot compromise for the benefit of the flesh and the pride of an ungodly king. We cannot live to save our lives, for those who seek to save their lives will lose them (Luke 17:33; Matthew 10:39). In Revelation 12:11, we are told that the overcomers “overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Jesus spoke to the disciples and promised them, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Word witness martus (mar’-toos) actually mean a “martyr”. Jesus did not promise them some miraculous powers to do whatever they desired and show off with that. The supernatural enablement of the Holy Spirit would make them effective martyrs as they shared the word of the Lord even to the point of shedding blood without any hope for physical escape.

Oh how has been our sugar coated Christianity drifted far from the biblical examples! We have a generation that defies suffering and persecution. Persecution and suffering are said to be the fruit of sin and disobedience in the lives of Christians. A suffering Christian is told to confess his sins and like Job among his three friends, accused for wrong doing. Shadreck, Misheck and Abednego suffered for what is right. The New Testament even teaches us that the godly suffers for their righteousness. Even Jesus the captain of our salvation suffered and was tempted in all points as we, and yet without sin. They had hope for deliverance, or hope for death. In whatever way, they anticipated nothing but sought to express their desire to serve God even in the face of danger.

The king’s wrath worsened, he commanded a sevenfold furnace of fire to be prepared for the lads. The boys were thrown into the furnace, and the fire devoured the soldiers who threw them into the fire. Yet, something unexpected made the king and his counsellors astonished: instead of being burned instantaneously, these people were walking in the fire, not alone but together with someone whose form was “like a son of God” (Daniel 3:25)! They had not anticipated any deliverance, but God honoured their faith, courage and commitment to His cause that He was not ashamed to be called their God. He rewarded them by making the fires of the king’s fury harmless. There in the fires, one like a son of God was walking with them freely in the furnace, the fire having no power to harm them. Immediately, the king commanded to take them out. His response is recorded in verses 28-30:

[Then] Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed [be] the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.

Thus we learn from this story in Daniel chapter 3 that God can still be worshipped even when there is no promise of deliverance from physical catastrophes. God does not change whether we have been killed or saved from death. He remains God Almighty, gracious, merciful and sovereign. In this age where believers are running to and fro seeking for workable solutions for their life problems, where are those that seek to align themselves with the three Hebrew boys who can stand boldly in the face of danger and still proclaim, “Even if the Lord will save us or not, we are not going to bow down to the demands of evil surrounding us”.

[1] http://www.ancient.eu/babylon/

[2] http://www.bible-history.com/babylonia/BabyloniaNebuchadnezzars_Babylon.htm

[3] http://www.ancient.eu/Nebuchadnezzar_II/

[4] Ibid.

[5] According to Josephus (“Ant.” x. 6, § 3), the King of Judah voluntarily received Nebuchadnezzar and his army in the city; but Nebuchadnezzar treacherously broke the compact between them, and massacred the king together with the strongest and most beautiful inhabitants of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar then carried away into captivity 5,000 Judeans and 7,000 of the other tribes, including all the nobles and scholars of the city (Josephus, l.c.; Seder ‘Olam R. l.c.; Midr. ‘Eser Galuyyot, l.c.). For more information visit http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11407-nebuchadnezzar

[6] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com

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