The God Who Deserves Our Allegiance
The apostle Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” In other words, “If I live I get Christ. If I die I get more of Christ! Either way, I win!”
This way of looking at life and death—of realizing that life and death are in God’s hands—must have been familiar to the three Hebrew men we encountered in the previous session: Hananiah, Michael, and Azariah. Taken captive to Babylon in 605 B.C., their names were changed to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
King Nebuchadnezzar once paid homage and praise to Daniel’s God, but his devotion was shallow and did not last long. In Daniel 3, we find him setting up a great statue “sixty cubits” by “six cubits” (ninety by nine feet), gold plated from head to toe. Perhaps it looked like a missile on a launching pad, or something like the Washington Monument.
When the time came to bow down and “worship the golden image that king Nebuchadnezzar had set up,” three men remained standing. There was no fanfare or outburst of protest, just a quiet act of civil disobedience. Quickly, the enemies of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego sprung into action. They stepped forward and maliciously accused the Jews of not bowing down to the statue. The reason: their ultimate allegiance belonged to God alone.
Nebuchadnezzar was “in [a] furious rage.” The three Jews had resisted the herd mentality and bravely stood alone. The king commanded they be brought before him and asked if these accusations were true, that they would not serve his gods or “worship” the golden statue he had set up. He asked the question that is the key to the entire episode: “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” In other words: if you are so foolish to ignore my gracious offer, who is going to save you?
Nebuchadnezzar’s question indeed is the question of the ages. “Who is the God who will deliver?” The three Jews were glad he asked. The answer to that question had been settled in their hearts long ago. If challenged to worship the gods of this world and be praised or worship the One true and living God and be burned to a crisp, they would follow God.
God’s people must be courageous in the face of danger. And sometimes that danger takes place in our mission of proclaiming the name and fame of God among the nations of the earth.
So, the three Hebrews were bound and “thrown into the burning fiery furnace” fully clothed. Nebuchadnezzar and his loyal, pagan, idolatrous subjects could now sit back and watch what would certainly be a brief human barbecue, an object lesson for all who pledge their allegiance to a god no one can see, above the gods of this world who weld true power.
But then something unexpected happened. The king himself was “astonished and rose up in haste” (v. 24). The men did not die. In fact, they were no longer bound, but were walking around as if being in a burning fiery furnace did not harm them (v. 25). Second, and more importantly, there were four men walking around in the furnace and the fourth had the appearance “like a son of the gods.” (Later, in v. 28, Nebuchadnezzar calls the fourth person an angel.)
Theologians have long debated the identity of the fourth individual. Some believe this is a theophany, a manifestation of God’s presence. Others call this a Christophany, a preincarnate appearance of the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God. The Lord was there with them. The God who did not deliver them from the fire was the God who met them in the fire and delivered them out of the fire!
When has God chosen not to deliver you from a trial, but to meet you in the midst of the trial? What is the impact of sensing God’s presence when you face opposition?
Although we may not be confronted with idolatry in the same way these Hebrew men were, we should expect to confront idols in our day — idols that demand our time, money, and allegiance. So, what should we do when the culture presses in on us and calls us to compromise by celebrating the idolatry of the day? We may not live in the ancient city of Babylon, but we are exiles in this world (see 1 Peter 2).
Honoring and obeying God is not always popular. Sometimes, allegiance to God leads to serious problems and life-threatening situations. While the latter may not often be the experience of Christians in the West, it is a daily reality for many of our brothers and sisters around the world. Simply trying to live a life that is faithful to the God and Savior they love, these believers are criticized, ostracized, and hated. Still, with the apostle Peter they declare by words and actions, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Excerpted from Danny Akin, The Gospel Project: God the Sustainer © 2016 Lifeway Press®. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.