Uncompromising Faith: Shadrah, Meshach and Abednego
Faith Separates Us from the World
An account is told about the famed preacher and theologian Donald Grey Barnhouse who was the pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1927 until his death in 1960. The account tells how Barnhouse had led the son of a prominent American family to the Lord during World War II. The young man who was converted showed the reality of his faith by professing his love for Jesus Christ to the soldiers in the army troupe with which he was serving.
Then the war ended and the young Christian man had to go back to the wealthy American suburb that he'd left before the war. He then went to Barnhouse and told him that he was fearful of compromising and slipping back into the old life that he'd left behind. He was afraid that his love for his parents, brothers, sisters, and friends would turn him from following after Jesus.
Donald Barnhouse told him that if he would simply give a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ that he wouldn't have to worry about having to give up the wrong friends. They would give him up.
As a result of their conversation, the former soldier agreed to tell the first ten of his friends that he encountered that he'd become a Christian. Almost immediately he met a girl that he'd known socially before the war and she was delighted to see him. The girl asked him how he was doing and he told her: "The greatest thing that could possibly happen to me has happened!" She then inquired: "What happened? Did you get married, or something?" "Oh, no", he said. "Something far better than that! I have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior!"
Suddenly the girl's expression froze. She mumbled a few polite words and then went on her way.
A short time later the young Christian met another former colleague that he'd partied with during his former life. The other man was also glad to see him and suggested that they get together and go to some parties in the near future. Of course, those parties included some questionable things that they'd done before the soldier's profession of faith. "I just became a Christian!" the man replied. With that came the same frozen expression, the same polite mumbled words and a quick exit of his former friend.
This happened two more times. Once with a couple that he contacted. Then with another friend that he'd spent a lot of time with before the war. Finally, the word got around to all of his old companions that he had confessed Christ. He had become peculiar, religious and some may have even called him crazy. And for what? All that he'd done was accept Christ into his life.
That same confession that had aligned him with his Savior, had alienated him from those who didn't want Jesus Christ and didn't even want to hear about him. This also happens, to one extent or another, to all who refuse to compromise their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and live a life to please Him.
However, those who truly live a life like this will find that living for Jesus more than makes up for any seeming losses that we have on this earth. And they ultimately find that what they have given up, can never really be kept by anyone, in the first place. They truly realize as Jim Elliot, who was one of the martyred missionaries to the Alca Indians of Ecuador, found out:
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
That is also what three young Hebrew men discovered in the Book of Daniel when they were faced, in a foreign land far from home, with either compromising their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or being cast into a fiery furnace to perish in its flames.
I. Background of the Story
The biblical account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, found in Daniel 3, took place around 600 years before the birth of Christ, when Nebuchadnezzar was the King of Babylon. This King was allowed by God to build a great empire that took over the world, and in the process, defeated the Southern Kingdom of Judah which was being punished for its sins. He besieged and conquered Jerusalem, taking away and deporting many of Judah's finest citizens. Among them, were four Hebrew youths named Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
The nation of Babylon made attempts to assimilate these youths into their culture. And while they did become part of the culture to a point, they refused to give up or compromise their faith in Yahweh, the one true God. As part of the process of assimilation, the youths were renamed. Daniel was given the name Belteshazzar. Hananiah was called Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach, and Azariah's name was changed to Abednego.
God blessed these youths with exceptional wisdom and they quickly found favor with Nebuchadnezzar. As it turns out, Daniel was the only man capable of interpreting one of the King's dreams for him because God had revealed it to him. Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar rewarded Daniel by placing him in a very high position in the Kingdom, including the position of being over all of the wise men in Babylon. At Daniel's request, the monarch appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as Daniel's advisors.
II. The King's Decree and the Youth's Refusal
We see from Scripture that there came a day when King Nebuchadnezzar built a huge gold statue in the plain of Dura in Babylon. Not only that but he brought together all of the officials of Babylon in order to make a decree to them that anytime anyone heard the sounds of various instruments, that everyone was to bow down to that golden image. And the penalty for disobedience for anyone who didn't bow down was to be thrown into a huge fiery furnace (Daniel 3:1-6).
The three Hebrew youths could never obey such a decree because that would be idolatry. They could worship only the one true God, maker of Heaven and Earth.
Since we don't hear anything about Daniel in this story, it is presumed that he was away at the time. If he were there, he'd likely have offered resistance to this decree as well. Especially since we see him, as a much older man in Daniel 6, facing similar circumstances when he refused to stop praying to the God of his fathers whom he would bow before 3 times daily (6:10). His penalty was to be thrown into a Lion's Den.
From Scripture, it appears that there is complete obedience to Nebuchadnezzar's decree by the people of the nation, except, of course, from the three Hebrew youths. And inevitably, there is always some tattle tale around in such situations to make sure every wrong is righted. In this case, the tattlers were a bunch of Chaldeans who brought charges against the men, letting the king know that they refused to bow (3:7-12).
This enraged the king and he ordered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be brought before him. When they arrived, the king questioned them and confirmed that they indeed refused to comply with his decree. And then he ordered them a second time to do what he told them to do, with this warning:
"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?" (3:15b).
These men knew that the king meant business and that he wouldn't hesitate to kill them. However, their reply was out of total faith in the God of their fathers. They told Nebuchadnezzar:
"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!"
III. The King's Punishment and God's Protection
These words infuriated the King, who was used to getting his own way. He had the furnace heated 7 times hotter than normal and ordered them tossed into the midst of it. So they were tied up and thrown in. The furnace was so hot that the text said that the people who tossed the three into the flame were killed immediately from the heat (19-23),
When Nebuchadnezzar continued to gaze into the furnace, he realized that, even though they'd only thrown 3 people into the blaze, he could see 4 in there. And he said: "Look! I see four men in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!" (24)
Who was this fourth man in the fire? Some have thought an angel. But it is more likely that it could have been a pre-incarnate encounter with none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! Jesus, long before His birth into this world, was showing His presence and His power as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. So, God, Himself was in the midst of the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abnego keeping them from harm.
IV. The King's Change of Heart and Second Decree
After seeing the impossible happen, King Nebuchadnezzar went as close as possible to the entrance and called out to the men in the fire. He ordered them to come out and come stand before him, which they did. And the King and all of the officials noted that the fire had no effect on their bodies. Their hair wasn't even singed, their clothes weren't burned and they didn't have the smell of smoke on them.
This totally changed the king's tune, and caused him, for at least that time, to praise the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And he made a further decree about the Lord that affected all of Babylon. He said:
"Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king's command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way." (3:28,29).
The account of the fiery furnace ends with the King causing the 3 faithful men to prosper in the province of Babylon (30).
V. Lessons from the Past
We can learn much from this true story of these 3 Hebrew men? First of all, we can see that even in a foreign land that knows and cares nothing about the Lord, God's people can participate in the government and help make life better for the people of the land and can work within that government to bring glory to God.
God's people, in almost all generations, have been involved in government. In fact, the Apostle Paul, in Romans 13 tells us that government is ordained by God and it is our duty to be in subjection to it (1,2). The government is to be an instrument of God for good. And they are to avenge its citizens by bringing God's wrath on the one who practices evil (3-5).
The exception to our obedience is if the government begins to tell God's people that they need to do what God has forbidden, or not to do what God has decreed. In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, these 3 men were told that they had to bow down to an idol. This was totally forbidden by the Lord in His Law.
We can also see this principle in Acts 5. When standing before a Jewish Council and the High Priest asked the Apostles why they didn't obey them when they told them no longer to teach anymore in the name of Jesus Christ, Peter and the rest of the Apostles replied:
"We must obey God rather than man." (5:29).
Not only does obeying God rather than men's opinions apply to government, but it applies to our everyday lives when dealing with the world in general. Our Christian faith needs to be more than a Sunday faith, or only a one day a week religion. Rather it should influence everything we do, every day of the week. If God is indeed the Creator and Savior of the world, then He must have first place in everything. And if we lose a few friends over our faith, then they weren't true friends in the first place.
We in the United States, are not being threatened like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We are not being beaten and imprisoned like Peter and the other Apostles, who were, with the exception of John, all later martyred for their faith. And we're not being persecuted like millions of other Christians throughout the world.
We, of all people, have no excuse for not standing up for Christ and our Christian faith. Americans and those in other free lands should never be accused of compromising our beliefs when so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are living and dying for our Lord in horrible conditions in other countries throughout the globe. We should rather be standing up for Christ and should also be speaking out for those in the Body of Christ who cannot freely speak for themselves without persecution. American Christians should be praying for them and giving to causes which aid the families of martyrs as well.
Paul teaches us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). He also admonishes us that when one member of the Body suffers we all suffer (I Corinthians 12:26). We must ask ourselves: "When was the last time I felt pain for my brothers and sister who are being persecuted across this world?
Let us all stop being afraid to speak in His name. Let's not fear man, but obey God.
In 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion in China, insurgents captured a mission station. They blocked all the gates but one and placed a cross flat on the ground in front of that gate. Then the word was passed along that any who trampled the cross underfoot would be given their freedom and life. Those who refused would be shot.
Terribly frightened, the first seven students trampled the cross under their feet and were allowed to go free. However, the eighth student, a young girl, refused to commit a sacrilegious act. Kneeling beside the cross in prayer for courage, and strength, she arose and carefully walked around the cross, and went out to face a firing squad. Strengthened by the example of the brave young girl, every one of the remaining 92 students followed her to the firing squad.
None of us in America even comes close to facing such a decision. Yet we are called by the Lord nonetheless, not to deny Him, but to show the world that we belong to Him.
May we, like this young girl and the other martyrs of that mission, gather strength from kneeling before our crucified and risen, Lord and Savior. Then with that strength, let us remain faithful to Him, no matter who opposes us. And may He be pleased with our sacrifice done in His name.
© 2019 Jeff Shirley