The Faithful Three
Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king: O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this is so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, 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." Daniel 3:16-18
The Jews were at this time in captivity at Babylon, and these three young men were of that people. They were friends and companions of Daniel, and at his request had been set over the affairs of the province of Babylon. This made some of the Chaldeans, the people of the land, very jealous and angry. They could not bear that these foreigners should be put into the high places — which they themselves would have been so glad to fill; and doubtless they were continually on the watch to ruin them, as was the case afterwards with regard to Daniel himself.
An opportunity soon arose. King Nebuchadnezzar, in his wicked pride, and forgetting, as it seems, the lesson which God had taught him in the dream interpreted by Daniel, made a huge image of gold and set it up in the plain of Dura and commanded that all people should worship it. The signal was to be given by music. As soon as the sound was heard, all were to fall down and worship; and any who would not do so were to be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace! This proclamation was publicly made, and the people generally obeyed it. At the sound of the music, all fell down and worshiped the image.
All but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They alone did not worship. Where Daniel was, we are not told; but we may be quite sure that if he had been there, he too would have refused to worship the image. Now their enemies thought that they had their Jewish rivals in their power. They went at once to the king and accused them. "There are certain Jews," said they, "whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
The king, full of rage, sent for the men. "Is it true," he said, "O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?" However, he would give them another opportunity. If, even now, they would fall down and worship when the music sounded, all would be well; but if not, then they should be cast into the furnace. "And who," added he impiously, "is the God who will deliver you out of my hands?"
There was much to make them afraid. They saw rage and fury in the king's face; they heard his angry words; they knew his absolute power; they were well aware of the malice of their accusers; they saw that all the people bowed down to the image and that none but them dared to disobey the king. There was much to make them afraid. Yet no sign of fear appears in their conduct. They do not even hesitate. They take no time for consideration. They ask for no delay. At once they reply in the words of the text: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful [have no need] to answer you in this matter." They were not careful to answer the king; they were in no doubt or anxiety as to what they should do; their duty was quite plain. If it came to the worst, their God could save them. Even if the king should cast them into the furnace, He could deliver them from it. Such was their firm belief. But, in any case, they would not worship the idol. If they must die for obeying God — then die they would. Come what might, they would not serve the false gods of the king nor worship the image which he had set up.
We know how the history ends. They were cast into the furnace and came out unhurt. Their faith was answered; God saved them from the fire; the malice of their enemies was defeated; the king himself made a decree acknowledging the one true God — and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were advanced to further honor.
It is a striking history, one of the most striking in the Bible. But it is much more. It is full of instruction and encouragement.
We live in happier times than Shadrach and his companions. We are not subject to the will of a tyrant; we are free to worship God according to our conscience. The law of the land protects us instead of oppressing us; and so complete is our religious liberty, that no one can either be forced to worship against his will, or hindered from worshiping as he sees right.
Yet, though we are safe from legal persecution, occasions do arise when the servant of God must make his choice between following Him and pleasing man. At such times the conduct of the three Hebrew young men may well be taken as an example.
The customs of the world are often opposed to the word of God. There are many worldly pleasures, for instance, in which the servant of God must not take part. Yet the world will dislike him if he refuses, and a young Christian finds it hard to meet the scorn and dislike of those around him. But his course is plain. He must be faithful. He must not bow down to the image of public opinion — when that opinion is against the word of God.
Sometimes the Christian must face more than scorn and dislike in serving God. A clerk, a shopman, a servant, a workman, may be required by a master, on pain of dismissal — to do what is against his conscience. For instance, orders may be given that such and such goods are to be represented to be what they are not, or Sunday work beyond what is necessary may be required. Is there any doubt what the right course is? None at all. God must be obeyed — not man. Even at the risk of loss of employment — the plain straightforward line of duty must be followed.
In such cases a real pressure is brought to bear on the person, though he cannot be actually punished for doing right. Men have at all times, much power to do good or to do harm to one another. It must be so. It is no light thing to lose a good employment; it is no trifle even to be scorned and disliked. And persecution of this kind may still take place. Yet what is such persecution — compared with that which these three men had to meet? What is contempt, what is loss of employment — compared with loss of life itself, and in so dreadful a way?
How noble was their conduct! Perfectly respectful to the king — yet prompt, firm, decided, unhesitating. No balancing of one consideration against another, no thought of consequences, no suiting of their principles to their circumstances. Calmly they braved the wrath of the king, prepared to meet all that he could do against them, and trusting in God to deliver them.
When duty is plain — then we need not take long to consider what to do. Nay, it is dangerous then to hesitate. The heart is deceitful; and in the face of difficulty and danger, we might be tempted to persuade ourselves against our better judgment that a wrong course was, under the circumstances, allowable. If any danger, if any authority could rightly outweigh plain duty — then the danger of an awful death at the command of an absolute king might have done so. Yet these men did not hesitate. Nor must we. We must not stop to think of consequences; we must not give ourselves time to go wrong; we must not pretend to comply. In such cases, the first thought is usually the best.
Observe the fullness and simplicity of their faith. They thought that God would deliver them from the furnace; nay, they seem to have had a firm conviction that He would. "If this is so — then our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king!" Yet if not, if it should even please God to take them to Himself by that fiery way — still they would serve Him and trust Him; still they would never worship the image.
True faith does not dictate to God, but leaves ways and means, and time and circumstances to Him. Such was the faith of these men. Whatever it might please God to do with them, they would commit themselves to Him and follow Him fully. "But if not," said they, "be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
Sometimes the Christian has been tempted into a less decided line of conduct; he has tampered with the difficulty and tried to take a middle course. Has such a course brought peace? Has it even delivered him from his difficulty? Is it not, in fact, a trying to serve two masters? And we know what the Lord Jesus said of that, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money!"
If ever there has been in us such weakness and unfaithfulness, let us henceforth resolve to serve God faithfully and fully. These three young men never gave way, but were bold for God from the very first, and God owned and delivered them.
But God is gracious and merciful. Even if there has been a lack of faithfulness or an actual denying of Him through the fear of man — yet He will forgive for Christ's sake. Peter was pardoned and restored and became, through grace, one of the boldest of the servants of Christ. The like pardoning mercy is ready to be bestowed on all who seek it for Jesus' sake; the same grace will be given in answer to prayer.
Nothing should humble us more than the recollection of past unfaithfulness. Let it humble us, but let it not lead us to despair.
For all past weakness and sinfulness,
for every compliance with wrong,
for all guilty silence when we ought to have spoken out for our Lord,
for all fear of man, for all unfaithfulness to God —
there is forgiveness, full and free, through the blood of Jesus.
Let us seek grace to walk henceforth more humbly, prayerfully, and hopefully. Taught by past experience, let the Christian more than ever watch and pray; and let it be his firm and humble determination, made in the strength of God — that he will never again give way to sin or the world, but will henceforth follow God fully. This is the right, the safe, the happy course.