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The Flaming Furnace of Fieriness

Ryan Joy


May 5, 2024

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“our God whom we serve is able to deliver us … and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18).

Have you ever felt pressured to do something you knew you shouldn’t? In Daniel, we encounter a moment of unwavering faith as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego choose between a fiery furnace or a false god. Somehow, the story of the fiery furnace is as relatable in its quintessential depiction of pressure to compromise as it is unrelatable in the extreme stakes they faced.

A Frightening Fool

Dale Ralph Davis tells two stories about Hitler that illustrate something strange happening in this story. In one story, Mussolini hosts Hitler for a big, showy visit. Yet it eventually becomes clear that all the cheering crowd noises were pumped in over loudspeakers playing a scene from an Italian movie. In the other, he has a man flogged on his birthday for failing to remove his beret to honor the swastika. So, one story shows the falseness of the “Fuhrer’s” power, while the other shows how dangerously real it can be. And both were true.

As you read Daniel 3, you’ll notice the author making fun of Nebuchadnezzar and this whole scene while acknowledging the sobering stakes of not heeding his decree. Especially when you read it out loud, you hear how repeating the humorously long lists of instruments (Dan. 3:5,7,10,15) and attending officials (Dan. 3:2,3,27) start to make the event sound pompous and over-the-top. The term “fiery furnace” — used eight times — is itself a bit over-the-top as a turn of phrase, combining three fiery Hebrew words to get across its super-de-duper hotness. So it’s a “burning fiery furnace” or, as the NASB translates it, “the furnace of blazing fire” — you can almost feel the heat radiating from the phrase! You might as well call it a “flaming furnace of fiery hotness!” It parallels the king’s red-hot anger, as he huffs and puffs “in furious rage” (Dan. 3:13), eventually ordering it to get seven times hotter! (Now, how do you measure that exactly?)

But the most ridiculous thing in this sea of silliness is people bowing down to the golden image Nebuchadnezzar had “set up” (Dan. 3:1,2,3,5,7,12,14,18). Or as he proudly commands, “worship the image that I have made” (Dan. 3:15). The text repeatedly borrows words from Isaiah’s famous rip into idolatry, reminding us how silly this whole charade really is (Isaiah 44:9-20). The image’s size alone could intimidate and impress — only 9 feet wide, but standing as tall as a nine-story building — yet Nebuchadnezzar’s “gods” prove as impotent as the king himself.

“He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it … Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, ‘Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!’ And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’ (Isa. 44:14-17).

A Fireproof Faith

Our text isn’t a superhero origin story. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego couldn’t see their future or burst out of rope with unnatural strength. They didn’t wake up that morning with flame-retardant skin from a radioactive fire ant. Like Elijah and all the other saints, they were just people “with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). But they had an extraordinary God and a fireproof faith in him. Nebuchadnezzar’s super-fiery flames couldn’t destroy their trust and loyalty to the one true God. They were vulnerable to life’s pains and pressures, just like you, and you must use your imagination to place the same choice before yourself. Will you stand when the fire comes for you?

Nebuchadnezzar’s super-fiery flames couldn’t destroy their trust and loyalty to the one true God.

These three men’s parents gave them names that honored the true God, yet their captors renamed them after their false gods (Dan. 1:7). They tried to give them a new identity, but they remembered who they were. When the chips were down, they showed that even in a distant land, dressed in Babylonian clothes and speaking their language, they would not bow to any God but the true God.

We will bend where it doesn’t matter. We can fit into our culture in a lot of ways, but we do not compromise our faith. We must not conform to the world (Rom. 12:2). They might call us fools, cancel us, or imprison us. May we pray for boldness like these three men to stand in the face of an unknown future.

Several months before his death, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon on Daniel 3, challenging hearers to decide between an “if” faith and a “though” faith. He likened the “but if not” stand of our three Hebrews to Job’s declaration, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15). He contrasted it with the if faith of Jacob’s vow: “If God will be with me … then the Lord shall be my God” (Gen. 28:20). Will you only stand with the Lord if you see results? Or do you follow him though you may not see his hand as clearly as you’d like?

“If I live, I have to live with myself, and if I die, I want to know I died with integrity and hope, walking with my God.”

But if not” means, “I trust that God knows best what to do here, and he’ll always work things out for my good.” Can you say that in your trials? “But if not” declares that doing right is its own reward. It says, “If I live, I have to live with myself, and if I die, I want to know I died with integrity and hope, walking with my God.” Because to live with a “but if not” faith means, “We’re here for you, Lord, not for what you’ll give us. You’re our treasure and our portion. Serving you is my life’s great privilege.”

A Faithful Friend

They must have felt alone. The sounds play, and the multitude falls down, but three heads stay up before the king as if volunteering for the furnace. But they did have each other, which sometimes makes quite a difference. There have been times when I thought I was alone, but then one other person stood with me against the pressure to compromise, and it felt like the difference between night and day.

Jesus leaves us unbound and alive but never leaves us alone.

But their friends weren’t the only company they shared in that fire. Nebuchadnezzar looked in and saw a fourth figure, “like a son of the gods” (Dan. 3:25). You may remember two promises to God’s people going through the fire in Isaiah 43:2: 1) “I will be with you” and 2) “when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” That’s precisely — literally! — what we see happen here.

Yet the promise is for all who turn to the Lord. Jesus entered the fire of our trial to deliver us from it. He walks with us always (Matt. 28:20). He leaves us unbound and alive but never leaves us alone.

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