This week's Bible Study - November 1, 2015
Quotes of the Week:
"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
Winston S. Churchill
Have you ever had to take a stand? In the world we live in, if you have any beliefs that are important to you, you will find yourself either taking a stand or caving to the pressures of the world. There are plenty of areas where people are willing to take a stand for one thing or another. I think of different sports fans who root for their teams, even in the midst of opposition. Berkley and I go to a lot of St Louis Cardinals games, and we often see fans from other teams in Busch Stadium in St Louis. Generally, they are treated rather well and are able to cheer on their teams with no recourse, other than an occasional glare when their team wins or hits a homerun. I have heard that in some stadiums, it is more risky to stand up and root for any team other than the home team. Even when there is some amount of abuse for standing up for your team, there is no real risk taken in standing.
There are other times in life where you may find yourself standing for something, even when others around you seem to be in direct opposition. Those times are often much more difficult, because we know that it could have some negative impact on us in one way or another. I know of some believers that are forbidden to say anything about their faith in their jobs. However, even in many of those places, agendas for all other 'non faith based' types of lifestyles and behaviors are 'applauded'. There are other times when we may hesitate in taking a stand as it may cause problems with the people that we are around. Thankfully, in our country, even though restrictions seem to become more prevalent, by and large, we can say what we want and believe what we want. In some other parts of the world, people put their own lives at risk by even hinting that they are believers. What would be different if we were at risk to even say we believed in Jesus Christ? Would there be a stronger contingent that seemed to be more faithful, or would the pressures of this world force many people to relax their stance?
In the previous chapter of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar (to be known as Neb in this lesson) had a dream that terrified him. He wanted his smart people to tell him what he had dreamed and what it meant. They protested that they could not possibly tell him what he dreamed, but if he told them his dream, they would certainly interpret it. Neb was a hothead, who wore his emotions on his sleeve, so he ordered all of his advisors and other wise guys to be executed. When Daniel was made aware of this issue, as he was being rounded up as part of the execution, he asked to talk to the king, and God was able to give Daniel the dream and its meaning. This soothed King Neb, as Daniel was able to relay the dream and tell him about a huge statue that was representative of the future of Neb's kingdom and the successive kings. Neb no longer wanted to execute his advisors, but gave Daniel a high position in his kingdom, and set his friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, over the affairs of the Babylonian province. Neb made it clear that Daniel's god is a God of gods and a Lord of kings.
We are not entirely sure what happened between chapters 2 and 3. In chapter 2, Neb extolled the greatness of Daniel's God, and in chapter 3, Neb began to focus on the greatness of himself, or at least what seemed to be an attempt to replicate the statue from his dream. He made a large image of gold and set it up in the province of Babylon. He then summoned all of the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image. In some ways, this sounds like a Babylonian All-Hands meeting. These people showed up and stood before the image.
A herald loudly proclaimed the command to all nations and peoples of every language. Whenever they would hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, they MUST fall down and worship the image that King Neb had set up. If anyone chose to not fall down and worship, they would be thrown into a blazing furnace (not sentenced to jail for a period of time, but executed in a blazing furnace - recall the issue of Neb being somewhat of a hothead?). It was very clear what the King had commanded, so when the music was heard, all the nations and people of every language fell down and worshipped the image that Neb had set up.
Some of the astrologers and others in prominent positions in the kingdom happened to notice that the Jews did not fall in line with the command. If you recall the situation, the Jewish people were in exile in Babylon and the king had chosen some of the more capable young men to serve in his kingdom. Among these were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were set over the affairs of the Babylonian province. You can imagine that there must have been some hostility between the Jews and the Babylonians, especially among other leaders if the Jews were put in charge. The astrologers (who had not been able to tell the king his dream in the previous chapter) came to the king to perform the age old skill of 'tattling'.
As they approached the king, they said "May the king live forever!" I suppose it seemed that it would be a good thing to butter him up, lest he remembered the debacle with his dream they couldn't answer. They reminded the king of the decree regarding the image and how everyone must fall down and worship at the sound of the music, or else they would be thrown in the blazing furnace. Surely the king remembered this and listened attentively. They went on to say that there were some Jews who had been set over the affairs of the province of Babylon - this Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - who had shown blatant disregard to the king's command. "They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty", they said. They said that these men would not serve the king's gods nor would they worship the image of gold that he had setup and had so clearly told everyone to worship. Surely they felt giddy, knowing that their problem with these Jewish leaders would now be solved.
I find it odd that in the previous chapter, when these same people were dealing with the wrath of the king, they were fearful. Now, when they seemed to be 'clearly' on his side, they wanted to use that same wrath of the king, but have it directed at these Jewish leaders. Isn't this much of what some people do today? Often even we, as believers, do this. On one hand, we are so upset at what our government might be doing in one area, but in other areas, we encourage the government to step in and fix the situation in the way we would like. Many people 'play the system'. That will happen from time to time, but we must remember that our clear allegiance must be to our Lord.
The king played right into the ploy of the astrologers. We read in verse 13 that King Neb was furious with rage. It was as if you could picture him saying "How dare they…" He summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and asked them if this were true that they would not serve his gods, nor worship the image of gold he had set up. Again, we can look back in chapter 2 and see that Neb had said himself that Daniel's god was a God of gods and a Lord of kings. Perhaps Neb had the same feeling that many seem to have today, that though God is a God of gods, there would be no problem in appeasing the lesser gods. Or, perhaps Neb was so focused on his own self and desires, that he had forgotten what he had said altogether.
So Neb told these men that he would give them one more try. When they heard the sounds of all kinds of music, if they were ready to fall down and worship the image he had made, then very good. However, if they were not going to follow his command and worship the image, they would be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. In another act of bravado, Neb added that when he did that, "then what god will be able to rescue you from 'my' hand." In essence, Neb was saying that he was greater than the power of any other god and that he should not be trifled with.
If you were Shadrach, Meshach or Abednego, what would you have done? We certainly say that we would respond as they did, because we know the rest of the story. However, how many of us would really take this stand and face the blazing furnace?
They replied to King Neb that they did not need to defend themselves before him in this matter. I would imagine that this turned up the gain on Neb's rage just another notch. They continued to say that if they were thrown in the blazing furnace, their God is able to deliver them from the fire and from the hand of the king. However, they continued to say that even if God didn't save them, they wanted king Neb to know that they would not serve Neb's gods nor would they worship the image of gold that he had set up.
These men made it clear that they had drawn the line and they weren't going to cross it. They would worship their God and their God alone, and they would not bow to any other images. Although I feel sure that they were praying that God would bring them out of the fire, they had no guarantee of success. They were not merely serving God based on His provision in getting them out of the situation that they were in.
We read that Neb was furious with these men. He certainly had some anger issues, as we have seen in multiple occasions as he was ruled by his own emotions. We need to be careful in our own lives so that we do not act as Neb. You may have heard of some people that when they are happy, they are very happy and when they are sad, they are very sad. Although we will experience ranges of emotions in our lives, we need to safeguard from allowing them to drive our behavior and impact the way we treat others.
We read that not only was Neb furious, but his attitude towards them changed. He didn't even give them another chance to bow and worship - he was prepared to follow through with his penalty. He had the furnace heated to seven times hotter than usual and had some of his strongest soldiers in his army tie up these man and throw them into the blazing furnace. This command was so urgent and the furnace was so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who were carrying Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - and these three fell into the blazing furnace.
I have to take an aside here, as my mom, I am sure, is thinking back to when I was in children's choir at church. We performed a musical called "It's Cool in the Furnace". There aren't many songs that you sing from as much as 40 or more years ago that you remember, but I can remember that one. We had an adult who was into acting who played the part of King Nebuchadnezzar, and he played off the fury and hothead nature of the king brilliantly.
As we think of Neb and his fury, you would have to think that he was watching with giddiness, waiting for the three men to be burned to a crisp. He had already seen three of his strongest soldiers killed by the flames, so he surely expected a quick end to this scenario. However, we read that he leapt to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers if they were in fact three men that were tied up and thrown into the fire. They replied that was certainly the case. Neb told them to look inside. He saw four men walking around, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looked like a son of the gods.
I am not sure if the advisers were the same ones who had 'tattled' on these three men or not, but in my mind, it would be funny if it were. I could picture them taking steps back, slowly moving away, just in case Neb's wrath turned back towards them. I mean, the furnace was already really hot, and if he realized that these men had orchestrated this event, perhaps the advisers would be the next to experience the flames!
We read that Neb approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" These men came out of the fire, and all of the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisors crowded around them. It was noteworthy that their bodies had not been harmed by the fire. Not even a hair on their heads was singed. Their robes were not scorched and there was not even the smell of fire upon them. Can you imagine? We had a fire out in a fire pit behind the house the other night, and we found that if you sat close enough to it, you would end up smelling like the smoke. What an amazing miracle that God performed! If you were these men, how would this impact you personally?
In verse 28, Neb praised the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who had sent his angel and rescued his servants! Although I feel certain that Neb was not real happy about them being defiant, he announced that they had trusted in their God 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. Do you find it interesting to see that, after this happened, it wasn't even the words of the three men in the fire that served as a witness, but instead it was the one who threw them into the fire? Often, when God works in miraculous ways, it is noted by others and they will often in turn become a witness. In this case, Neb ended up witnessing to all of his government officials who had crowded around, in essence saying that the command that he had given all of them previously was wrong.
In these last verses of chapter 3, we read that Neb decreed that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would be punished. I find it interesting that the punishment was the same punishment that he was going to use on his own advisors that couldn't tell him his dream. They would be cut into pieces and their houses would be turned into piles of rubble. Neb said that no other god can save in this manner. Then he promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
We haven't seen quite the same kind of command that goes against our faith in our country. We haven't seen a command to renounce our own God and worship others, although this sort of thing has happened around the world, resulting in many Christian martyrs. We often think about what we might do if we were in that scenario. However, the more relevant thing is what you will do where you are right now.
Are you willing to take a stand for your faith? For some, it might mean sharing their faith with others around them or simply living in a way that is glorifying to our Lord. It is easy to get caught up with the crowd and just living for today, as so many other people do. When we lose sight of who we are - and whose we are, we end up making decisions to be like others which will water down our impact on the world. If you were to ask yourself those you are around frequently if you were a believer, what would they say? It may be in your work, your neighborhood, in your hobbies or around other friends, are we having an impact?
When we think of what life should be like as a believer, we often think of the do's and don'ts - the behavior that we should promote or avoid. This certainly is a part of showing who we are. Are we participating in behavior that we know to be wrong? Or, are we avoiding doing things that we know we should be doing? We must remember that our faith is not based on the do's and don'ts of life - it is based upon the work of Jesus Christ. However, the way we live our lives is evidence.
One other subtle aspect of our faith that we often forget is simply in how we treat others. While it may not be direct ungodly acts that we are engaged in, it can be easy to let our emotions drive how we treat each other. One behavior that is common in the church is gossip. This often happens simply in prayer requests, where we share a situation, but we end up coloring the situation with our own words in an attempt to make it look one way or another. How many people have been damaged because of words that have been shared, causing others to view people or situations in one way or another?
There are a multitude of areas that we need to take a stand. We can't possibly hit on them all here, but where is God speaking to you right now? Is there something that you need to do to take a stand today? When we take a stand, we'd like to think that it would result in a positive situation in our lives. We'd like to think that God would step in and give us the release that we desire. Are we willing to say as the men in the story, our God is able to deliver us and even if God doesn't deliver us, we will continue to stand for Him?