Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?’
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’
Daniel 3:13-14, 16-18 (NIV)
Read: Daniel 3
Consider: Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were Jewish exiles in Babylon who, along with Daniel, were brought into the court of Nebuchadnezzar and trained in the ways of the Babylonians. Retaining their cultural and religious identity would prove difficult in the Babylonian court. Their names were changed to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, with Daniel being named Belteshazzar (1:7). Their Hebrew names each had a connection with the worship of the true God, while their Babylonian names made reference to particular Babylonian gods (i.e. Aku – god of the moon, Nebo – god of wisdom, or Bel – chief of the gods). The name change was done to assimilate the Jewish exiles into Babylonian culture and religion, probably with the aim of helping them to forget their past.
The acclimatisation and assimilation of these young Jewish men into the royal court of Babylon would take a minimum of three years (1:5), during which time they were to be taught the language and literature of the Babylonians (1:4). We are told later in chapter 1 that at the end of their training they excelled in wisdom and understanding and were accepted into the king’s service.
The incident recounted in Daniel 3 clearly indicates that these particular Jewish exiles clung onto their religious identity and refused to bow down and worship the huge statue Nebuchadnezzar had erected on the plain of Dura. Refusing to bow down the three young men put themselves in immediate danger and their punishment was to be thrown into a fiery furnace. Of course we know from the story that God delivered them and this had a profound effect on Nebuchadnezzar who was able to say: ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God’ (Daniel 3:28).
As Christians we are constantly being bombarded with messages from the media that Christianity is irrelevant and even harmful. We have choices to make about maintaining the integrity of our faith in the face of this opposition.
When I was thinking about this passage from Daniel 3 it occurred to me that something Paul says in 2 Corinthians applies to us today, as much as it did to Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Paul says:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
For we live by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:1, 7 (NIV)
Those young Jewish exiles long ago knew that the physical body wasn’t the most important part of our existence. They knew that even if the physical body was destroyed, their spiritual body would continue on. They knew there was more to life than meets the eye. Now, as then, we need to ‘live by faith, not by sight’.
Pray: Father, help us to see beyond the physical and to place a high value on our spiritual welfare. Protect us from the compromises the world would wish us to make and to stand firm in our faith in the face of opposition. Amen