A King's Challenge
Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
- Matthew 10:28-33
Tim Tebow, former N.Y. Jets back-up quarterback and openly practicing believer in Christ, was scheduled to speak at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Tebow is a Baptist and was invited to speak at the 11,000 member congregation as part of their $113 million dollar building campaign. He cancelled his appearance, however, because he was criticized for agreeing to appear alongside that church's preacher, Robert Jeffress, who is an outspoken critic of the gay rights movement.
Tebow has shown remarkable poise in the past facing ridicule for his public display of faith, but it seems that standing up to the gay lobby was just too intimidating for his public relations people, so he cancelled. Such is the power of this movement in today's society, especially for those in the public eye. Tebow would have made such an impact had he stayed the course. I wonder if he would have made the same decision had he been reminded of the story of other young men who faced similar challenges with much more than just their reputations on the line.
Of course, I'm referring to Daniel and his friends who faced a king's challenge, and remained true to God and their faith despite the risk of death. Perhaps we can learn some important lessons from their experience that will help us when our time comes to stand firm for our beliefs.
Background - Daniel 3:1-30
The story is set in the period of Jewish history where the original kingdom of the Israelites had been attacked, divided, and ultimately destroyed. When Joshua led the people into the Promised Land from the desert, they subdued the land and established control with each of the tribes dwelling in certain parts of what is now known as Israel. With time these tribes were formed into one kingdom under Saul, succeeded by David, and then by Solomon as kings. There was peace and unity until war broke out between Solomon's sons over control of the kingdom. This resulted in division into the Northern and Southern kingdoms. In time, the Northern kingdom was destroyed and only the Southern kingdom remained. The story of these young men takes place when the Babylonian Empire was world ruler and threatening to take over the small Southern kingdom of Judah. The Southern kingdom tried to mount a revolt to break away from the grip of the Babylonians and as a result, the Babylonian army was sent to put down this rebellion:
In 597 BC, the Babylonian army led by Nebuchadnezzar came and subdued the city and carried away its wealth and leading citizens, leaving the poor and old to maintain the land and city. Among the young noblemen taken into captivity was Daniel and several of his friends. We read of this account in Daniel 1:1-7:
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king's court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king's choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king's personal service. Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego.
In a subsequent invasion (586 BC), the Babylonians returned to completely destroy the city and take into exile most of the remaining population. During this period of time Jeremiah, the prophet, remained in the ruined city and prophesied of their eventual return 70 years later. Another prophet of that era, Ezekiel, was carried off with the captive population to Babylon and ministered to them there. Daniel and his young friends were sent to the court of the king of Babylon for special training. With time, the people settled into their new land and life went on, but their faith (that they took for granted before) was severely tested in this new pagan environment.
The story of Daniel and his three friends shines forth as a wonderful example of how these believers stood up for their faith even when they were challenged by the most powerful king the world.
In chapters 1 and 2 of the book of Daniel we read about the great king and ruler of the then known world, Nebuchadnezzar, and the strange dream that he had. Daniel had been trained as a royal advisor and as such was brought in to interpret the dream that the king had about a great statue. Daniel successfully interpreted the dream for the kind regarding the statue, and as a reward the king appointed Daniel and his three friends to important positions in the government. The king, however, decided to use his dream as an excuse to solidify his political power and built a real statue made with gold, 90 feet high, and commanded all of his officials and political allies to meet before the statue and bow down to it or else face death.
Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent word to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the herald loudly proclaimed: "To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire." Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
- Daniel 3:1-7
This was more politics than religion, and for most of the people there (who had many gods) this was no problem. A mere political expression to show honor to the powers that be. For Daniel and the three young Jews, however, this was a challenge that needed a courageous response.
For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: "O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up."
- Daniel 3:8-12
The situation is complicated enough, but to make matters worse jealous officials accuse Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego of not bowing down to the statue - they leave Daniel alone because he is too high in the administration to attack for now.
Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?"
- Daniel 3:13-15
Note: The diabolical challenge that the king makes to these young men:
- Worship the idol or die.
- Dare your God to save you.
In those days, the generals fought the battles, but it was the gods who were credited with the victories. Usually vessels from defeated nations' temples were paraded through the streets as victory signs.
The Jews were fenced in with what seemed to be an impossible challenge:
- If they worshipped the idol, they sinned in the worst possible way.
- If they didn't, they died.
- If they accepted the challenge (dare your God to save you), they tempted God.
- If they said nothing and meekly went to their deaths, they would be seen as cowards and dishonor their people and their God.
It seemed like an impossible situation with insurmountable odds, but look at the way these men responded to the king's challenge.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, "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. 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 3:16-18
1. If God wants to, He can save us. Don't judge the strength of our God by our weakness. They were fully convinced of God's ability, and whatever happened to them did not change who God was and what He could do.
This is such an important idea for us to remember when we begin judging God's love and ability merely on the circumstances of our lives (whether good or bad) - God is always more generous than our best blessing, stronger than our greatest pain and failure.
2. Whether God wants to save us or not makes no difference, since we are determined not to serve your idols or gods. No matter who you are you cannot make us do what is wrong. Another valuable example for us today who are under pressure to compromise what is right because doing right is unpopular, politically incorrect, or inconvenient socially. - I.e. Tim Tebow caving in to gay lobby pressure.
The balance of the chapter (vs. 19-30) describes what happened after they made this reply to the King:
- They were thrown into the hot furnace ("Kiln" used for baking bricks).
- They were saved by a 4th person appearing with them in the fire. They came out of the furnace without even their clothes smelling of smoke.
- The most amazing thing is that the king, seeing this great miracle, glorifies God publicly and rewards these men for their faith.
The king goes from being a hater and taunter of God to someone who openly glorifies and honors God and His servants.
This event changed the King's life and teaches us two important lessons that could change our lives as well - if we could only learn them:
1. These men had absolute faith in God's ability, even though they did not know His will for their lives at that moment. Even though we don't always know the details of God plan for our lives, let's never doubt His ability to save, to know, to forgive, to strengthen, to provide, to protect, to mature, to comfort...and ultimately to raise us up from he dead - "And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by His power." (I Corinthians 6:14)
For this context let us be assured as these people were, that God..."is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think." (Ephesians 3:20)
2. These men were absolutely committed to obedience. These people were not just dependable, they were committed to obedience as a way of life! Their minds were made up long before as to how they were to react if faced with such a situation - they would obey God! When they first arrived in Babylon, they had refused to eat the King's food - Why? Because they were committed to the principle of obeying God, whatever the circumstances. So many problems are easily handled:
- Decisions become crystal clear.
- Yielding to the Spirit is so effectively done - when we are committed to obedience!
The best application for this principle is for young people who have to deal with sexual issues. Decide now where you stand. Don't wait until the moment of temptation comes to decide. Deciding what we will do ahead of time is the best way to avoid temptation when it comes. We would save ourselves so much grief and pain and we would accelerate our personal growth and the growth of the church if we would decide to commit ourselves to obey God now, so that when the challenge comes, we are ready.
These Jewish men faced the challenge of the King and his fiery furnace and walked away unharmed because:
- They believed God was able (whether they were saved from death or not).
- They were committed to obedience (whatever the circumstances).
When we hope and dream and plan - do we pray knowing that God is able? When our dreams crumble and our plans and prayers go unanswered, do we lose faith in God or do we continue to honor Him - no matter what!
It is easy to praise and trust God when we are on the mountaintop; it is when we can trust and praise God from the bottom of the valley that we show that our faith is genuine.
Finally, are we committed to obedience? Have we already made the decision to do the Lord's will in every situation or are we still obeying when it is convenient or comfortable and making excuses for the rest of the times (e.g. nobody's perfect)? These men saved themselves and converted their enemy because they refused to compromise what was right from the very beginning. Our salvation, and that of those in this world, rests on no less a commitment to such an obedience for ourselves and others in the church.
If you haven't already done so in your life, I call on all of you today -- To place your trust in God no matter what your life is like. To decide today that whatever the situation in the future your choice will be to obey God. For some of us this decision might mean that we have to obey God's command to repent and be baptized in order to be forgiven for sins or to be restored to God through repentance and prayer. If this is the decision you face, I encourage you to obey God without delay. God bless you.