1 King Nebuchadnezzar ordered a gold statue to be built 27 meters high and nearly 3 meters wide. He had it set up in Dura Valley near the city of Babylon, 2and he commanded his governors, advisors, treasurers, judges, and his other officials to come from everywhere in his kingdom to the dedication of the statue. 3So all of them came and stood in front of it.
4Then an official stood up and announced:
People of every nation and race, now listen to the king's command! 5Trumpets, flutes, harps, and all other kinds of musical instruments will soon start playing. When you hear the music, you must bow down and worship the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6Anyone who refuses will at once be thrown into a flaming furnace.
7As soon as the people heard the music, they bowed down and worshiped the gold statue that the king had set up.
8Some Babylonians used this as a chance to accuse the Jews to King Nebuchadnezzar. 9They said, “Your Majesty, we hope you live forever! 10You commanded everyone to bow down and worship the gold statue when the music played. 11And you said that anyone who did not bow down and worship it would be thrown into a flaming furnace. 12Sir, you appointed three men to high positions in Babylon Province, but they have disobeyed you. Those Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refuse to worship your gods and the statue you have set up.”
13King Nebuchadnezzar was furious. So he sent for the three young men and said, 14“I hear that you refuse to worship my gods and the gold statue I have set up. 15Now I am going to give you one more chance. If you bow down and worship the statue when you hear the music, everything will be all right. But if you don't, you will at once be thrown into a flaming furnace. No god can save you from me.”
16The three men replied, “Your Majesty, we don't need to defend ourselves. 17The God we worship can save us from you and your flaming furnace. 18But even if he doesn't, we still won't worship your gods and the gold statue you have set up.”
19Nebuchadnezzar's face twisted with anger at the three men. And he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20Next, he commanded some of his strongest soldiers to tie up the men and throw them into the flaming furnace. 21-23 The king wanted it done at that very moment. So the soldiers tied up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and threw them into the flaming furnace with all of their clothes still on, including their turbans. The fire was so hot that flames leaped out and killed the soldiers.
24Suddenly the king jumped up and shouted, “Weren't only three men tied up and thrown into the fire?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” his officers answered.
25“But I see four men walking around in the fire,” the king replied. “None of them is tied up or harmed, and the fourth one looks like a god.”
26Nebuchadnezzar went closer to the flaming furnace and said to the three young men, “You servants of the Most High God, come out at once!”
They came out, 27and the king's high officials, governors, and advisors all crowded around them. The men were not burned, their hair wasn't scorched, and their clothes didn't even smell like smoke. 28King Nebuchadnezzar said:
Praise their God for sending an angel to rescue his servants! They trusted their God and refused to obey my commands. Yes, they chose to die rather than to worship or serve any god except their own. 29And I won't allow people of any nation or race to say anything against their God. Anyone who does will be chopped up and their houses will be torn down, because no other god has such great power to save.
30After this happened, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in Babylon Province.
Was it the dream that stimulated the image? Did Nebuchadnezzar want to take control of his destiny? Perhaps he wanted to assert that he was no one’s puppet, not even God’s! The scene was set for one of the most remarkable acts of compelled submission. It would set the standard for future totalitarian states. The music began and the drama unfolded. Across the land in unison they responded – except not all. The refusal of three men spoiled the whole show, worse when they were among the king’s favoured few. Never mind, perhaps the message had not got through.
Daniel was not the only Jew who dared to be different. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego remained completely unmoved by either the generosity of a second chance or the fearful consequences that would follow a repeated act of disobedience. For them the issue was clear.
Life was not limited by the time between birth and death, but instead defined by the choices you make. They had made their choice and whatever followed was not in their hands. They trusted that God would deliver them, whether from death or through death, and so they faced the flames fearlessly.
The king showed how foolish he was. He heated things up to make death quicker. By doing this he incidentally wiped out the execution squad(!) He could have cooled things down and increased the suffering. He couldn’t believe his eyes when three became four! Shaken, Nebuchadnezzar called them out of the fire and they emerged with not even a scorch mark to display. Nebuchadnezzar praised God, but his threats reveal that he still had some way to go in letting God be God!
Father God, I’m amazed at how you saved these men. Thank you for their courage and their principles. Please give me wisdom to know when and how to make a stand when, as a Christian, I believe that something is wrong. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
First used in Encounter with God, July to September 2015, written by Colin Sinclair, copyright Scripture Union. Used with kind permission.
Colin Sinclair is a Church of Scotland Minister serving a congregation in the centre of Edinburgh. He is married to Ruth and they have four adult children and three grandchildren. Colin served on the SU staff in Zambia 1974-77 and as General Director SU Scotland 1988-96 and is currently the chair of the SU International Council and Executive. Colin and Ruth led SU holidays together for many years. Publications: “The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Bible”; has contributed regularly to Encounter with God/ Wordlive for the last decade.