This is the one chapter in the book of Daniel in which Daniel doesn’t actually feature. It may be that Daniel was away on business and thus was not involved in this incident.
It seems that Nebuchadnezzar has taken some exception with Daniel’s interpretation of his dream in chapter 2. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that he was the head of gold, but Nebuchadnezzar wants to make a statement that he is not merely a head of gold - he is gold from head to toe, so he constructs this golden image and commands everyone to bow to it.
Now this obviously presented a major problem to the Hebrews, and they were faced with a huge decision: would they just take a bow? You know, just nod their head at the right time, and then go and get on with life, or would they create a whole big fuss, come across as intolerant, lose their jobs and their lives, and then not be able to influence anyone for God and for good? It’s amazing how we can justify just about anything, isn’t it!
Let’s look at the choice again: would they bow to the will of a godless man, give in to a pagan society, disobey their God, and defile their own souls, or would they obey God? That’s the choice.
We can try to minimize our sins, and rationalize our actions, and excuse our behaviour, and say it doesn’t matter, but be sure it does. These Hebrews knew that there would be massive consequences to offending the king, but they also knew that there would be far bigger consequences to obeying the king - they would have offended God, and to them, that was much more serious. The enjoyment of God’s presence and pleasure was worth more to them than a long life with a great job and a bad conscience. There is no such thing as a sin without consequence. Yes, some sins have huge and obvious outward consequences, but every sin has its effects upwards to God, and inwards to us. Our sins are an offence to God’s goodness and holiness; they have a damaging effect upon the human soul, and they mar our communion with God. There is no benign sin.
What are you being pressured to bow to? There are pressures all around us in our society. Many people have lost their jobs or had their livelihoods threatened because they aren’t prepared to bow to culture’s moral standards. It is not enough in our society that you live and let live, it is demanded that we approve and applaud behaviour that God condemns. If you don’t bow, then there are consequences. But if you do bow, then there are consequences - you’ll lose your testimony, you’ll lose your peace, and you’ll lose the enjoyment of God’s presence.
Now these three Hebrews weren’t prepared to pay such a high price, so they would not bow.
It’s quite humorous to read the way Nebuchadnezzar goes about trying to get Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to do what he wants. He literally asks them, ‘Is it on purpose you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?’ He thinks they obviously didn’t get the memo or understand the instructions, so he goes over it again with them - what they have to do, and what will happen if they don’t comply - it’s their final warning, v. 14 - 15.
This is what a Government is like that doesn’t recognise that there is a law above our law, that there is a power above those in power. If God is expelled from the national consciousness then those in power are free to make any laws they want and impose any penalties they like. Little wonder Paul exhorts us to pray for those in authority, 1 Tim. 2. 1 - 6!
Anyway, the Hebrews understood perfectly well what was expected, and they made that clear to Nebuchadnezzar. They knew that God was able to deliver from his hand, but they also recognized that it might not have been God’s will for them to be delivered, and even if it wasn’t His will for them to be miraculously preserved from the fire, they would still trust and follow God anyway.
This is so important for us to remember. We often hear the verse quoted, ‘Them that honour me I will honour’, 1 Sam. 2. 30, and this is usually quoted in connection with a story about someone taking a stand for God or resisting a temptation to do something dishonest, and then compensation following immediately or shortly thereafter. For example, he gets promotion, or a better job, or a pay increase, or something like that. Those stories are thrilling and encouraging, but can be misleading, because sometimes standing for God and doing what’s right doesn’t have a happy earthly ending - it is often the case that there is no higher position, there is no better job, there is no bigger wage packet. But the scripture is still as true in that circumstance - ‘Them that honour me I will honour’. God doesn’t honour His people today with earthly prosperity, but rather with spiritual enrichment and eternal reward. The day of honouring is at the judgment seat of Christ - ‘Then shall every man have praise of God’, 1 Cor. 4. 5, but until then the child of God can and often does experience dishonour in the eyes of the world. The Bible, church history, and a look around the world today, will combine to show us that not every Christian is delivered from a martyr’s death. We need to ensure we don’t have false expectations and think that God will deliver us from the threats of the world around us so long as we are faithful to God. God is still faithful no matter what we go through.
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were thrown into the furnace. The men who threw them into fire were killed by it, but the fire didn’t kill the Jews, it actually freed them from that which bound them. There are many believers who can testify to a similar kind of thing - the fiery trial they have had to pass through because of their fidelity to the Lord has given them a real freedom. What I mean is this, when a saint is presented with a temptation or a difficult decision, they often feel real anxiety, but when they make the right choice they feel themselves to be free - they no longer are bound by fear or held by anxiety - leaving it with the Lord gives a release from tension.
Another thing happened in the fire; they not only knew freedom, they knew nearness to the Son of God. The Lord drew near to them as never before v. 25. Again, many of the Lord’s people would bear witness to the fact that in the hottest trials they knew the Lord’s nearness in a special way.
The way the three Jews went through the trial in a miraculous way drew the attention and invited the enquiry of those who looked on. It is still the same today – the believer who goes through the trial with the Lord will make an impact on others and leave a mark for God.
Don’t bow! - No matter the pressures they exert, no matter the prize they offer, no matter the punishment they threaten, don’t bow. Nothing is worth sacrificing your integrity, losing your testimony, stifling your conscience, damaging your soul, and spoiling your fellowship with God.