Nebuchadnezzar asked, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you don't respect my gods and refuse to worship the gold statue that I have set up? I'm giving you a second chance - but from now on, when the big band strikes up you must go to your knees and worship the statue I have made. If you don't worship it, you will be pitched into a roaring furnace, no questions asked. Who is the god who can rescue you from my power?"
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, "Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your raoring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O King. But even if he doesn't, it wouldn't make a bit of difference, O King. We still wouldn't serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up."
Daniel 3:14-18 (Message Bible)
The king (Darius) then went back to his palace. He refused supper. He couldn't sleep. He spent the night fasting. At daybreak the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. As he approached the den, he called out anxiously, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve so loyally, saved you from the lions?"
Daniel 6:18-20 (Message Bible)
So this morning, Pastor Scott was preaching in the 18th chapter of The Story, on Daniel. He spoke about the faithfulness of folks like Daniel, Shadrach, and the other guys with impossible names. These are all great stories, and I fully believe them. But something struck me as Scott was preaching.
At this point in biblical history, the Jews had been exiled to Babylon. They had ignored YHWH, worshipped all sorts of other worthless god, and the final straw was that they didn't care about the poor and most vulnerable in their society. (Ez. 16:49 & 50) So it seems that they had gone out of their way to deserve this punishment.
Exile seems to have drawn a very clear dividing line among the people. Many completely lost their way. Yet, this exile also seems to have brought out a fresh faithfulness on the part of some. In the process YHWH demonstrated that he wasn't bound to a geographical location like all of the other gods back then, but could go where ever he wished. Maybe that was one of the points he was trying to make. YHWH wasn't like any other god. He was, is and always will be Sovereign. Also, he was, is and always will be faithful, and he would demonstrate that.
At the beginning of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar was the King of Babylon. (His name means "Nebu is my god.") He seemed to have a substantial ego and a bit of a temper problem. The Jews had been sleeping around with other gods while the kingdom of Judah still existed. Now they were swamped in a land with gods in every direction. You couldn't swing a cat without hitting an idol. (Even if you could have missed an idol, you should still swing cats around until you hit at least 3-4 items with them. It's pretty much all they are good for.) So King Nebu decided to make some type of golden statue, most likely of himself, and to have all of his subjects bow down to it.
You probably know the story. Three of the young exiles who were being groomed for government administration refused to bow down to this image. Nebu decided that he would make an example of them and turn them into human S'mores. His threat was not an empty one, but neither was the refusal of Shadarch, Meshach & Abednego.
There is a strain in American christianity that believes that God wants you to be rich and perpetually healthy. If you have the right kind of faith, and speak that "Word of Faith," God will give you anything yo want. (Much like a genie in a lamp.) Even outside of those really weird types of pentecostal churches, most Americans still seem to think that God is supposed to bail you out of whatever jam you find yourself in. If he doesn't then you either didn't have enough faith, or you now have a handy excuse to blame him, and then to ignore him.
Nebuchadnezzar tells Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego (From here on, simply referred to as SM&A, because their names are too long to keep spelling fully.) that he will kill them if they do not worship what he tells them to worship. Nebu ends his threat with a question. He asks them what god could possibly come to their aid once he tosses them in the fire?
It's a fair question. But the answer is unusual. SM&A refuse to worship, but they also make an interesting response to the final rhetorical question. They point out that they believe that YHWH can rescue them. But they also say that "Even if he does not" they will still not worship that statue or any other gods.
"Even if he does not."
Belief is easy. Faith, however, is not. SM&A had FAITH. I would like to think that I could have that type of faith, but I'm not sure that I do. It's easy to believe that there is some type of God out there. It is even easy to believe that if there is a God, then it can do pretty much whatever it wants to do. It's easy to believe that this type of God could help you out in any given situation. And it's also easy to believe that this type of God might choose NOT to help you out.
What is NOT easy to believe is that a God could do all of the above, including not helping you in a particular situation, but that you would then still keep your faith in that kind of God.
SM&A had that type of faith. They knew what YHWH could do if he so desired. They knew that he could rescue them. They also knew that he might choose not to if he saw a reason for it. But they still had faith and chose to worship him alone.
I don't think I have that type of faith. I would like to believe that I do, but I know the sinfulness of my heart. I guess that is just one more area of my life that God needs to work in.
Daniel is an interesting guy. Of all of the characters in the bible, most of them have some very significant character flaws. From what is recorded, Daniel has none that were obvious or glaring. He was highly respected, and a very diligent worker. When the other government officials, who I would guess were extremely jealous of him, tried to find a way to get him into trouble, they couldn't find anything. They finally figured out that the only way to trap him would be to use his faithfulness to his God against him.
Think about that. Think about the kind of reputation that had Daniel earned.
He was very good at his job. He was an excellent administrator. He was a close & trusted friend of the Emperor Darius. He was extremely faithful to YHWH. Shame on him for being a man of such high quality!
When Darius was tricked into passing a law that could not be revoked, and would get Daniel killed, he recognized Daniel's character of faithfulness. "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you." I don't know where Darius' faith ultimately lay, but he knew where Daniel's was. Darius seems to have placed his faith in that.
BTW: Generally speaking, it is a pretty bad idea to play legal tricks and mind games with someone more powerful than you, let alone the most powerful emperor at the time. Unless you wish to see you and your entire family turned into cat toys, I would recommend against such behavior, especially when you are trying to frame an honest man.
You know the end of this story. The bible says that King Darius was overjoyed to see Daniel alive. I can only imagine the expression on his face when he got his hands on the guys who had framed Daniel and then tossed them to the lions. My dog, Rika, gets a very proud and gleeful look when she has managed to kill a squirrel. She will prance up to me and show off her fresh kill with great delight. I would imagine that Darius had a similar expression on his face.
SM&A and Daniel had a faith that I am still hoping for. They seemed to know their God in a way that I still desire, but have yet to grasp.
We all want to have a good life. A life that has at least a few creature comforts, some fun vacations, and hopefully a happy retirement. But what would it be like to have such an understanding of the more important things, of YHWH and of eternity, that your life would be so altered that you could give it up with little concern? What would it be like to have a faith in the God of the bible so deep in your soul & bones that to lose your life meant nothing?
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain that which he cannot lose"
For those of you who have read the book "Through Gates of Splendor," or are semi-familiar with it, you know the story of Jim Elliot and the four other missionaries down in Ecuador who were martyred for Jesus. It turns out that they were armed at the time, and could easily have saved their lives. Instead of shooting the Acua indians who were attacking them, they fired into the air...even as they were being killed.
For more on that, you can click this link. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Elliot
Anyone who knows me, knows that John Piper generally drives me crazy. He says that people like me walk with a limp because we have not fully embraced his version of Calvinism. Still, I think he is incredibly gifted and brilliant...and my christian brother. I also thought this video was very insightful. Give it a view.
Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming and Roger Youderian all had the chance to save their lives. They could have bowed down for a moment to a statue made of gold, made a diplomatic gesture to a king by ignoring their God for just a while, or shot and killed those who were intent on taking their lives. They chose to do otherwise.
They knew something about their God that I highly doubt most Believers do...and that includes myself. In some cases, YHWH comes through and rescues. Sometimes he does not...for whatever reason. None of them "knew" what the outcome would be at that time, but they did "know" who their God was. They "knew," and that gave them faith. That type of faith allowed them to say "Even if he does not."
I hope that someday I will be able to have that kind of faith.
P.S. For more on the story from "Through Gates of Splendor," it's companion movie "The End of the Spear" and the families involved, watch the following videos.
Be for warned, while the first video starts kind of cheezy, both of them are very powerful and moving.
I really want that kind of faith.