King Nebuchadnezzar (6-6-20)
As we look back over our reading about King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2-4, the setting is the Babylonian court shortly after Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream that led to his having insomnia.
Ancient Babylonians strongly believed in supernatural forces and looked for omens in things like the stars, dreams, and even the shapes of animal livers. Nebuchadnezzar could not understand the dream’s message, so he called his “magicians, enchanters, sorcerers,” and other wisemen to help him try to understand his vision. Anyone could invent a meaning they could attach to the dream, but to give the dream itself without help from the dreamer was a sign of clear inspiration of understanding. That is why Nebuchadnezzar demanded to hear both the dream and its meaning.
When no Babylonian wiseman could help him, Nebuchadnezzar threatened to kill all of his wisemen including Daniel and his friends. But Daniel prayed, and God revealed the dream to him. However, before Daniel ran to the king with the interpretation, he set his heart in the right place by proclaiming the sovereignty of God in his most famous words.
Daniel 2:20-23 Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him. To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for you have made known to us the king's matter.”
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream concerned the empires that would succeed Nebuchadnezzar. Most likely, we are to understand the kingdoms represented by the various part of the statue as follows: head of gold—Babylon; chest and arms of silver—Media- Persia; middle and thighs of bronze—Greece; legs of iron and feet of iron mixed with clay—Rome. But, the end of the dream was the most remarkable part. It included that a rock, not cut by human hands, would destroy all these kingdoms, and it would become a mountain so large as to fill the whole earth. God’s kingdom, not established by human initiative, would rise, victorious, during the Roman era. Here we have a clear prediction of Jesus Christ.
In verses 46-49, King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and gave honor to Daniel and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and the chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.
As we turn to Daniel 3, we read about King Nebuchadnezzar’s self-worship and how he made a huge image of gold and set it up where everyone could see it—what a blatant move of sinful idolatry; mankind is so prone to make ourselves the center of our universe. The command on the people was that whenever one heard music to bow and worship the image of gold and whoever did not fall down and worship would immediately be cast into a burning, fiery furnace.
Next, we read how Daniel’s three friends would not bow when the music played.
Daniel 3:14 (NIV) 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?”
This was a direct attack on God’s command to not have any other gods before Him. It was a direct attack on the exclusivity of Christ who claims that He is the only way, truth, and life.
Let me show you how central this is in our culture today: If you are in the business world, whether you own your own business or are in sales, marketing, or labor, the culture plays by the rules that you must be ruthless, and ride the line of ethics and honesty in how you do business, if you are going to overcome your competitors and make it. If you are a blood-bought child of God, this is an incredible pressure on you because to not play by the same rules means you will likely lose clients, bids, or even your job because you are not willing to do what the next guy is willing to do. So now this affects your conscience, your livelihood, and your character. This is not just a work thing.
If you don’t feel this pressure, then you have likely given in to the pressure and are compromising yourself more than you realize. You have likely figured out a way to bow to the image at the market-center without seeing it or feeling it.
If you feel this pressure, then that is a sign that you understand you are an exile in this land and you serve another God whose kingdom is quite different than this one. You embrace the struggle that comes with not bending to the twisted rules of this world in order to honor the God of the kingdom of which you are a part.
In our passage today, we see that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had none of it.
Now, we assume that, because they stood so strongly against the cultural pressure, they must have been like the Amish who have set themselves apart and are removed from the city life, but they weren’t. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all lived in the center of the city and worked for the very leaders that had conquered them. Daniel was one of the highest advisors to King Nebuchadnezzar that there was, much like Joseph was to Pharaoh, as the one interpreting his dreams.
But when they were asked to privatize their faith and to compromise their worship of the one true God, they said, “No, and we don’t care what the consequences are.” Listen to their response.
Daniel 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O 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 save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Their response, in the face of a pending, painful death, was awesome. They believed that God could save them, and that God would save them; but if, in His sovereign plan He did not, they still would not bow down to that false image.
This is an awesome example of true devotion and faith. Despite the level of threat, and despite the ability and authority of the ruler with whom they were conversing to carry out the penalty for disobedience, they held fast, full of faith and devotion to God alone.
Now, what is so key that we must see here today, is that what they were saying was, “We do not trust in our God, worship our God, live for our God, or suffer for our God because of what we get out of it, but we do these things simply for who He is.”
We love God for Himself, not just for what He can give us! This unveils for us one of the biggest controversies we have in the church today—people who claim faith and devotion to God alone, who claim to worship God alone, but in the end, when life doesn’t go the way they want it to go, are furious with God.
Why? Because deep down, God was just the means to an end—to a greater affection of the heart. In the end, they want to be God and to determine what they need and the way it should be.
Do you see the deception in that? Do you see the hypocrisy in that? Do you know to what you are truly devoted? Do you know what you truly trust in to live and enjoy life?
The apostle Paul understood this kind of devotion to who God is and not to what He does for us: “To live is Christ. To die is gain.” You have heard, or said, this before. But do you really get it?
It means the most important thing is God—not this life, my stuff, my status, my health, nor my family. If I have to lose it all; if I die; if God Himself determines I must go into the blazing furnace, then so be it. Why? How? Because, I have God; God is my end! To live is Christ! To die is gain because I get to enjoy and feast with Christ all the more.
Do you see that when these three said, “If God doesn’t save us from the fire we still will not bow down,” no matter what happened next, they had already won? Why? Because they were spiritually fireproof. They were not clinging to something that they might lose. They were not trying to earn something they still needed. They had God and they were satisfied in God!
These guys said, “You can have it all, but you can’t separate us from God. So, turn the heat up. Let’s do this!”
What happened next? King Nebuchadnezzar was furious with these three. He was steaming. So, what did he do? He had his men turn up the heat seven times its normal temperature and had them bound, fully clothed, and tossed into the furnace. The fire was so hot that the men who put them in died from the heat!
Next, Nebuchadnezzar saw two shocking things:
1. He saw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walking around in the blazing furnace.
2. He saw not three, but four men in the fire. The fourth he said, “looks like a son of the gods.”
What can we glean from this? In the Bible, furnaces are a metaphor for trials, suffering, and trouble. Exile doesn’t mean comfort. It doesn’t mean home. When you are in captivity, or stuck in a strange and foreign land, you are not comfortable at home.
A couple of things to take away here:
While in this life, you will suffer, struggle and experience great trials! It is inevitable.
Job 5:7 … man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.
1 Peter 4:12 (GNT) Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.
As Americans, we really struggle with fully accepting this as true. Americans believe deep down if you do life rightly you will not, and should not, suffer. The simple answer to that is: Jesus lived a perfect life and He suffered greatly during His life and in His death.
We need to hold to the truth the apostle Paul gives us that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).”
If you truly trust in God, and hold nothing as more valuable than Him, then when the fire of this life comes, you will not burn up but instead it will be to you what fire is to gold.
It will refine you at your very core, changing you from the inside out, producing in you a character of the fruit of the spirit that you and I cannot produce ourselves.
But, if you hold onto something as more valuable to you than God, the fire will consume you. Why? Because it has something to cling to and consume! But in God, you cannot be consumed by the fiery trials. You will instead be refined!
1 Peter 1:7 (NIV) These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
The good news for us today is: “God says if you trust in me, I will walk with you in the furnace of your trials and suffering.”
Isaiah 43:1-3 … “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. … when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior …”
“I will be with you.” Jesus said it to us before ascending to heaven. “I will always be with you.”
How is He with us? The same way He was with the three men in the furnace. We see, in this encounter, the appearance of the angel of the Lord. Did you catch it? King Nebuchadnezzar said it himself in verse 28.
Daniel 3:28 (NIV) Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him …”
The angel of the Lord in the Old Testament can be appreciated only if we understand Him as a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, Himself.
Why is this good news to you and me today? How does this help us walk through the fires, trials, and struggles of our lives here and now? You will feel Jesus Christ walking with you through the furnaces you face in this life to the degree that you know that Jesus was willing to be thrown into the ultimate furnace for you!
Now at the very end of this passage, King Nebuchadnezzar says it correctly.
Daniel 3:29 “… no other god can save in this way”
If you cling to any self-righteousness or to any other god or to any other power and try to walk through the furnace, it will not be able to save nor sustain you. You will be forever consumed with agony.
Jesus Christ suffered for me not so that I might not suffer, but so that when I suffer, I might become like Him who is victorious over suffering unto eternal life with Yahweh! No other god can save in this way. Amen?
Even though King Nebuchadnezzar got it, he still struggled with making it all about himself!
Daniel 4:28-30 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”
Even with the warning from Daniel about the coming judgment and his need to humble himself and be merciful to the oppressed, the king remained in his pride, as we see him testify to in verse 30.
Our knowledge of Babylon at the time, indicates that, humanly speaking the king had every right to be proud. Isaiah 13 alludes to Babylon’s reign over a huge empire that encompassed the area, in modern terms, from Egypt to Iran and Syria to Saudi Arabia. Nebuchadnezzar’s city was incredible. The king certainly had no shortage of reasons to be puffed up with pride. But this never justifies a haughty, prideful attitude. We must not make this life about us. It is all God’s and it is all from Him and for Him.
In Daniel 4:31-33 The word of the Lord came to King Nebuchadnezzar and his judgment came quickly and completely. Only in humble judgment did King Nebuchadnezzar see God for who He was and honor Him for it.
Daniel 4:34-37 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
Apparently, only a drastic humbling could convince the king of his proper place, and so God brought him to his knees. To paraphrase one writer, a man who thought himself a god was made a beast to learn that he was but a man. Those who will not humble themselves in the sight of the Lord will be cast down, not lifted up (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:6–7).
May we live humbly before our God. May we not bow to any idol nor manmade thing but only to the living God. May we cling to nothing as our hope nor our joy but God alone, so that when we face the furnace of this life’s trials, we will say, “Bring it on,” and we will remain faithful to our living and eternal God. To Him be the glory forever and ever.
By His grace and for His glory,
Soldiers for Jesus MC