The Fiery Furnace
J. R. Miller, 1910
"As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music—you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up! Whoever does not fall down and worship—will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace." Daniel 3:5-6
Every child knows this story. It is one of the classics of Christian households. It would be well if all our modern Christians had the sublime moral courage of these "three Hebrew children." We will never have to meet precisely the same trial of faith, that these young men had to meet; but we need just as heroic a spirit—in order to be faithful.
Imposing images are set up even now in many a place—and all are expected to bow down to them—and woe to him who does not kneel!
We all have opportunity enough to be heroic. The popular religion is inclined to limpness of the knees. We have grown wonderfully tolerant in these modern days! We bow to almost anything—if it happens to be fashionable. It would not do us any harm if we were to take a good lesson from the example of these "three Hebrew children."
As Nebuchadnezzar grew great—he grew proud. He knew no God. There was no one to whom he thought of bowing down. He exalted himself as God. He demanded that all men should pay homage to him. That is the meaning of this strange story of folly. His people obeyed his command. "Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music—all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up."
But there were some whose knees did not bend! Quickly the king was informed by anxious spies, that certain Jews did not worship the golden image he had set up. Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury, commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Here we see a great king—in a very bad temper! That was certainly an unkingly mood. No man is fit to rule others—who has not learned to rule his own spirit. Peter the Great made a law that if any nobleman beat his slaves—he should be looked upon as insane, and a guardian should be appointed to take care of his person and his estate. This great monarch once struck his gardener, who then died in a few days. Peter, hearing of the man's death, exclaimed, with tears in his eyes, "Alas! I have civilized my own subjects; I have conquered other nations; yet have I not been able to conquer or civilize myself!"
There are Christian people who would do well to think a little of this matter. Self-control is the mark of completeness in Christian culture. It is the lesson of peace perfectly learned. Bad temper is always a sad blemish in disposition and conduct. To get into a rage—is a mark of lingering barbarism in the character. Self-mastery is Christlike.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were all young men who were in peculiar circumstances. They were away from home, out from under parental influence and restraints, and exposed to very strong temptation. They had now their choice between duty—and the fiery furnace! We should study this lesson for its example of heroic devotion to duty, regardless of consequences. Even yet, the world's promotion is obtainable ofttimes—only at the price of a trampled conscience!
There are several things to note in these young men.
Note their calmness; they displayed no excitement, no heat of passion. The peace of God ruled in their hearts.
Note also, their sublime courage. They had a contempt of death. They feared only one thing—sin.
Note also, their trust in God. They committed the matter utterly into His hands. They did not know what He would do—but they were sure it would be the right thing.
The king did not want to destroy these young men, and repeated his command. "Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made—very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace! Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?"
The king wanted to give them another chance, as he preferred not to burn such useful servants; but they told him there was no need for a second opportunity. They would have no other answer to give. They could make no possible change in their decision. The thing that was demanded of them was contrary to the plain law of their God—and that settled it forever. There was no room for discussion or for deliberation or for persuasion—when it was the law of God that was concerned. They could burn—but they could not turn!
It would save many people a great deal of weighing, balancing, and discussing of fine points—if they would act always on this principle—that the Word of God is final in all matters of duty. When a thing is forbidden in the Word—that should be the end of it.
But too many people keep questions of duty open, waiting for new light, secretly hoping that by some logical process it may become possible for them to avoid making the sacrifice, and to do the thing that now appears to be wrong. So they parley with the matter, and weigh the pros and cons, and wonder if they are mistaken in their sense of duty—and usually end in yielding to sin. It is never safe to parley with temptation! There is no need for it. Duty is final, and no process of reasoning can change it. There is no new light possible on a divine command. It would save many of us much trouble if we fixed it in our mind—that God's Word settles some things, settles them finally and forever, and that we have no need to consider them—but should obey them without parley or question!
The answer of the young men was given promptly. "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace." There is a wonderful majesty in these words. About the whole of the creed of these men was in the words, "Our God." God was theirs—and they were God's. He was taking care of them, and therefore they had no need to concern themselves about their own safety.
It is a great thing to be able to call God OURS, and to say, "God is our refuge!" "The Lord is my Shepherd." When we can really say this—we are ready for anything. No danger can terrify us. It is not the assurance of personal safety which gives us confidence; it is the fact that we are in God's hands, that we belong to Him, and that He is taking care of us! We do not need to know just what He will do with us—or for us; whether He will deliver us—or let us suffer. The ground of the confidence is that we are in His hands—and that He will do the right thing. It is not the highest trust that merely believes in being brought out of the trouble—or being delivered from danger. Perhaps we shall not be delivered. God may permit us to suffer. Very well—our trust does not depend on deliverance. It has no condition. It is simply trust without stipulation or suggestion. The highest confidence is that which suggests nothing—but lies in God's hands, and leaves Him to decide the manner of the care and the blessing.
The next three words are almost equally important: "Whom we serve." There are plenty of people who like to cry to God in time of trouble or danger—but they have never been willing to obey or serve Him—when there is danger. They even scoff at Him in the sunshine; but when the storm arises—they fall down on their knees and pray to Him!
These Hebrew young men were not of this class. They could cast themselves upon God's protection in this time of danger without shame, because they had been God's loyal friends and had been serving Him before the danger came. If we want to be able to call God ours and commit ourselves to His care when trial or peril comes—we must not only believe in Him—but must obey His will.
True religion is not all creed; it has also a very practical side, and we ought not to overlook this word "serve." We must serve God—as well as trust Him. We must be willing to serve Him, too, even if it costs and hurts and burns. We must continue to serve Him though He brings no earthly deliverance. "The Christian who lazily looks for nothing but His personal comfort—will never look at fiery furnaces with composure." So if we would be without fear in the day of danger—we must be God's loyal and faithful servants without condition.
Then comes the expression of the faith of these men. Our God is able to deliver us!" They did not say He would deliver them from the fiery furnace. They did not know that He would. They knew that He could—and that if it were best—He would. There they rested the matter.
God's power ought to be a strong comfort to us in trouble or danger. He is able to deliver us—there is no doubt about that. No combination is too strong for Him. He can easily do whatever He pleases. Men say there are no miracles in these days—but God can always find a way to work any deliverance He desires to work for His people. He is never handicapped in His own world. And since He is our Father, and loves us and is taking care of us—we should know that if it is best that we should be delivered—He will surely do it. If He does not deliver us—we should know that it is because it is better for us and for His glory that we should suffer. True Christian faith is willing to leave to God—just whatever He shall do, confident in God's power and in God's love.
"But if not." They made no condition of loyalty to God. They would obey Him just as loyally—if He did not deliver them. There are some people who call themselves Christians who never get above self-interest even in their religion. They believe it will be best for them in the end—if not just at present, to be Christians and to be faithful to God. Their consolation in losses and sacrifices is that God will more than compensate them in some way. They like to quote, "To those who love God—we know that all things work together for good." This is true. We shall never lose anything in the long run—by doing right. God's service brings great reward. Yet even this should not be the condition of serving God. We should serve Him for Himself, even if we know that serving Him will bring loss that never can be made up to us.
There is a legend of one in the old times, who walked the streets of Alexandria bearing in one hand a torch and in the other hand a vessel of water, crying, "With this water I will put out hell, and with this torch I will burn up heaven—that God may be served for Himself alone." It surely is not the highest kind of faith—which always thinks of the benefit to ourselves; it is far higher if we say, as these men said, "Whether God shall deliver us or not from the furnace—we will serve Him!" Or as Job, "Though He slays me—yet will I trust in Him!"
The king was angered by the quiet determination of the young Hebrew children, and commanded that no time should be lost, and that their punishment should be as terrible as possible. "So these men, in their trousers, robes, head coverings, and other clothes—were tied up and thrown into the furnace of blazing fire!"
There are furnaces burning yet all over the world, and faithful ones are continually being cast into them.
There are furnaces of physical pain and suffering, in which saintly ones lie, sometimes for years. But they are not destroyed by the fire. The only result is—that they become more saintly. The sin and the earthliness are burnt out of their lives—and the pure gold remains.
There are furnaces of trial, too, in which men suffer loss for being true and loyal to God. We must not suppose that a holy life is always an easy one. Says one: "God's judgments—it may be the very sternest and most irremediable of them—come, many a time, in the guise, not of affliction—but of immense earthly prosperity and ease."