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 troublesome dream that led to insomnia (Dan. 2:1). Ancient Babylonians strongly believed in supernatural forces and looked for omens in the stars, dreams, and even the shapes of animal livers. Nebuchadnezzar could not understand its message, so he called his “magicians … enchanters … sorcerers” and other wise men to help him understand his vision (v. 2). 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 (vv. 3–11).
When no Babylonian wise man could help him, Nebuchadnezzar threatened to kill all of his wise men including Daniel and his friends. But Daniel prayed and God revealed the dream to him. Before Daniel runs to the king with the interpretation, he sets his heart in the right place by proclaiming the sovereignty of God in his most famous words.
Daniel 2:20-23 “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.
21 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;
22 he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.
23 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 was concerning 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 (vv. 25–43). But the end of the dream is the most remarkable part—a rock not cut by human hands would destroy all these kingdoms and become a mountain so large as to fill the whole earth (vv. 44–45). 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 paid homage to Daniel and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and 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 you hear music to bow and worship the image of gold and whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.
Next, we read how Daniel’s three appointed friends would not bow when the music played.
Daniel 3:14 …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 is a direct attack on God’s command to not have any other gods before him.
It is a direct attack on the exclusivity of Christ who claims that he is the only way, truth and life.
Let me show you how center this is in our culture today.
If you are in the business world: whether you own your own or are in sales or 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 Christ-bled-for child of God, this is an incredible pressure on you. Because to not play by the same rules is to likely mean you lose clients or bids or even your job because you are not willing to do what the next guy is. So now this affects your conscience, your livelihood, your character.
This is not just a “WORK” thing. This becomes as core as it gets in your daily life.
If you don’t feel this pressure, then you have likely given into the pressure and are compromising yourself more than you know. 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 serve another God whose kingdom is very 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 you are in.
In our passage today, we see that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had none of it.
Now, we assume that because they stood so strong against the cultural pressure that they must have been like the Amish set out and 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 conquered them. Daniel was one of the highest advisors to King Neb 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 say, “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. 17If 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. 18But 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 pending painful death is awesome.
-They believe that God can save them.
-They believe that God will save them.
-But if in his sovereign plan he does not, they still will not bow down to that false image.
This is an awesome example of true devotion and faith.
Despite the level of threat, despite the ability and authority of the rule they are conversing with to carry out their penalty for disobeying, they hold fast full of faith and devotion to God alone.
Now, what is so key in this that we must see here today is that:
they are saying “we do not trust in our God, worship our God, live for our God, suffer for our God because of what we get out of it”, but 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. People who claim to worship God alone
but in the end, when life doesn’t go the way they want it to, they are furious with God.
WHY? Because deep down, God was just the means to an end. A greater affection of the heart.
In the end, they want to be God and determine what they need and the way it should be.
Do you see the deception in that? The hypocrisy?
Do you know what you are truly devoted to? What you truly trust in to live and enjoy life?
The apostle Paul understood this kind of devotion for who God is and not for 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. Not my stuff. Not my status, my health, 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. Because 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 happens next they have already won! WHY?
Because they are spiritually FIRE PROOF. They are not clinging to something that they might lose. They are not trying to earn something they still need. They have God. They are 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 happens next? King Neb is furious with these three. He is steaming. So, what does he do?
He has his men turn up the heat 7 times its normal temperature and has them bound fully clothed and tossed in. The fire is so hot that the men who put them in die from the heat!!!!
NEXT, Neb sees two shocking things:
1. He sees Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walking around in the blazing furnace.
2. He sees not 3 but 4 men in the fire. The 4th he says, looks like a son of the gods.
What can we glean from here: 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 few 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- 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 deep down believe if you do life right 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 “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 - 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.
2 …When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
3 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 Neb said it himself in verse 28:
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 I today?
How does this help us walk through the fires and 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 Neb says it right. Verse 29- …no other god can save in this way…
If you cling to any self-righteousness… any other God… any other power and try to walk through the furnace, it will not be able to save or sustain you. You will be forever consumed with agony.
Jesus Christ suffered for me not that I might not suffer, but so 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 Neb got it he still struggled making it all about himself! Daniel 4:28-30 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 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 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 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. It is all from him and for him.
In Daniel 4:31- 33 The word of the Lord came to King Neb and his judgment came quick and complete.
Only in humble judgment did King Nebuchadnezzar see God for who he was and honor him for it.
Read 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; 35 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?”
36 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. 37 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 or manmade thing but only to the living God.
May we cling to nothing to be our hope or our joy but God alone so that when we face the furnace of this life’s trials, we will say bring it on and remain faithful to our living and eternal God. To him be the glory forever and ever.