This famous story centers on three Hebrew friends of the prophet Daniel, and takes place during the Babylonian captivity, around 600 B.C. Although this account is found in chapter three of the Old Testament book of Daniel, the events leading up to this narrative really begin in chapter two. Daniel and his friends are four of many Hebrews taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces when Jerusalem is besieged. In essence they are deported as hostages, possibly to insure that a vassal Hebrew king left in charge would be loyal. Nebuchadnezzar also had the habit of taking prominent, royal, or highly educated people back to Babylon, giving them new names, and training them to serve in the kingdom. Daniel and his friends are integrated into royal service, but remain true to the God of Israel. God blesses their devotion. They are elevated in Babylonian society as wise men, and Daniel is given the ability to interpret dreams.
One night, God sends an incredibly vivid dream to King Nebuchadnezzar. He calls in all his pagan advisors, demanding that they tell him his dream and interpret the meaning. Additionally, he tells them that failure to do so will result in their untimely demise. Flummoxed, they stall for time, explaining that no ruler could expect such a thing. This does not sit well with the king, so he orders the execution of all wise men in Babylon, which would have included Daniel and his three friends. When Daniel is made aware of the situation, he sends word to Nebuchadnezzar that he will interpret the dream. Together the four friends petition God for interpretive help.
Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven. Daniel 2:17-19, NIV
Daniel appears before Nebuchadnezzar and the king inquires if Daniel is able to tell him his dream and interpret it. Daniel explains that the God of Israel has given him the insight to complete the task, and that his dream represents a succession of kingdoms which will rule over the earth in the future.
“Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.” Daniel 2:31-35, NIV
Daniel further explains that Nebuchadnezzar’s reign is the strong head of gold, but later his kingdom would be replaced by successively weaker rulers until God himself destroys all earthly governments and establishes his own earthly kingdom. Happy to have a true interpretation of his dream, the king is initially grateful.
The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court. Daniel 2:47-49, NIV
Daniels three friends (referred to by their Babylonian names above) are elevated to key positions in the kingdom, much to the displeasure of other wise men in the kingdom. Although their lives are spared when Daniel is able to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, jealously and animosity reigns in their pagan hearts. Eventually, they find a way to take revenge on the Hebrews, when Nebuchadnezzar’s pride gets the better of him. By the time we get to Daniel chapter three, the king has constructed a huge statue on the plain of Dura, much like the one in his dream. However, instead of just the head being made of gold, the entire statue is gold, possibly signifying Nebuchadnezzar’s defiance that his kingdom will ever end.
The king invites kingdom officials to the dedication, and then commands under threat of death that everyone worship the image when the music plays.
Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” Daniel 3:4-6, NIV
Knowing the Hebrews would refuse to submit, the pagan advisors bring this to the king’s attention.
“… there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:12, NIV
Well the king is ticked, so he summons the three friends, reminds them of his decree, and then arrogantly challenges the God of Israel to rescue them.
Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Daniel 3:15, NIV
The Hebrews are fully committed to the God of Israel, so they adamantly refuse to worship the pagan image.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18, NIV
Now the king is really ticked, so he orders the furnace to be heated extra hot. The three friends are bound, and thrown into the furnace. The burning fires are so hot, that they also consume the soldiers tasked with the execution. Nebuchadnezzar watches from the sidelines, hoping to get the satisfaction of seeing those who disobey him get exactly what they deserve. However, the scene inside the furnace is not what he expects to see.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Daniel 3:24-27, NIV
The three friends were committed to the will of God and he honored their faithfulness by saving them in a very public way. God did not deliver them from the fire but delivered them through the fire, and their faith was a great testimony to King Nebuchadnezzar.
“It takes great faith to say, ‘my God will deliver me’ – but it takes even greater faith to say, ‘even if he doesn’t deliver me – I’m still not going to bow’.” Pastor Chuck Smith
The three friends’ story was one of peril, but God’s provision was one of preservation.
Join me tomorrow for a story involving a woman with a secret, an abandoned water pot, and a provision of forgiveness!
If you’ve missed any part of this series, you can find all of the posts in the side bar category 31 Days of God’s Provision.
On the journey toward Home,