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Heaven’s messenger (or heaven itself?) in the fiery furnace

November 30, 2023

Daily Scripture

Daniel 3:1, 6-20, 24-30

1 King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue. It was ninety feet high and nine feet wide. He set it up in the Dura Valley in the province of Babylon.

6 Anyone who will not bow down and worship will be immediately thrown into a furnace of flaming fire.” 7 So because of this order as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, lyre, harp, flute, and every kind of instrument, all the peoples, nations, and languages bowed down and worshipped the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
8 At that moment some Chaldeans came forward, seizing a chance to attack the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar:
“Long live the king! 10 Your Majesty, you gave a command that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, lyre, harp, flute, and every kind of instrument should bow down and worship the gold statue. 11 Anyone who wouldn’t bow and worship would be thrown into a furnace of flaming fire. 12 Now there are some Jews, ones you appointed to administer the province of Babylon—specifically, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—who have ignored your command. They don’t serve your gods, and they don’t worship the gold statue you’ve set up.”
13 In a violent rage Nebuchadnezzar ordered them to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were brought before the king.
14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Is it true that you don’t serve my gods or worship the gold statue I’ve set up? 15 If you are now ready to do so, bow down and worship the gold statue I’ve made when you hear the sound of horn, pipe, zither, lyre, harp, flute, and every kind of instrument. But if you won’t worship it, you will be thrown straight into the furnace of flaming fire. Then what god will rescue you from my power?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar: “We don’t need to answer your question. 17 If our God—the one we serve—is able to rescue us from the furnace of flaming fire and from your power, Your Majesty, then let him rescue us [or he will deliver us]. 18 But if he doesn’t, know this for certain, Your Majesty: we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you’ve set up.”
19 Nebuchadnezzar was filled with rage, and his face twisted beyond recognition because of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In response he commanded that the furnace be heated to seven times its normal heat. 20 He told some of the strongest men in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the furnace of flaming fire.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in shock and said to his associates, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?” They answered the king, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”
25 He replied, “Look! I see four men, unbound, walking around inside the fire, and they aren’t hurt! And the fourth one looks like one of the gods.” 26 Nebuchadnezzar went near the opening of the furnace of flaming fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire. 27 The chief administrators, ministers, governors, and the king’s associates crowded around to look at them. The fire hadn’t done anything to them: their hair wasn’t singed; their garments looked the same as before; they didn’t even smell like fire!
28 Nebuchadnezzar declared: “May the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be praised! He sent his messenger [or angel] to rescue his servants who trusted him. They ignored the king’s order, sacrificing their bodies, because they wouldn’t serve or worship any god but their God. 29 I now issue a decree to every people, nation, and language: whoever speaks disrespectfully about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s God will be torn limb from limb and their house made a trash heap, because there is no other god who can rescue like this.”

Daily Reflection & Prayer

Daniel 3 told of three loyal Hebrews, exiled in Babylon, who refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar’s command to bow to an image he had made. The text didn’t explain why the king made the golden image. It seems likely that the proud king wanted to refute Daniel’s dream explanation that Babylon’s kingdom would not last forever (cf. Daniel 2:26-39). In the end, it was the Babylonian king who said God sent “his messenger” to protect the Hebrews from the fiery furnace the king’s sentence required.

  • As in Exodus 3, Daniel 3 left room for interpretation about what exactly happened in the fiery furnace. Verse 25 said the pagan king saw four figures in the flames, “and the fourth one looks like one of the gods.” Then in verse 28 he said the Hebrews’ God had sent “his messenger” to protect the faithful men. The story’s point was not to sort out heavenly ranks or characters, but to say God stays with those who are faithful. When have you had to depend on God’s presence?
  • Look at the three charges against the three Hebrews in verse 12. How were the charges aimed at flattering the king’s ego and triggering his fury at the men who had previously held his confidence? How did the king make his edict a challenge between his power and the God the Hebrews served in verse 15? We know the history: Persia defeated Babylon around the year 530 B.C. Why did the king’s coercive decree in verse 29 not last and make Babylon a God-fearing empire?

God, your servants in this story were exiles, far from home and facing an absolute tyrant. Yet they trusted you above the human power that made them prisoners. Grow their faithfulness in me under much easier conditions. Amen.

GPS Insights

Mikiala Tennie

Mikiala Tennie

Mikiala Tennie serves as the Student Discipleship Program Director with Resurrection Students. She has nearly 20 years of volunteer and professional ministry experience and loves walking alongside and encouraging others in their spiritual journey. Mikiala is blessed to be an adoptive aunt and godmother to many kiddos and lives with her 10-pound Yorkie, KiKi Okoye Tennie.

It’s no secret that the holidays can be extremely difficult for some. While some are basking in all the hope, joy, and peace the season celebrates, for others, the celebration magnifies any grief, sadness, or loneliness one might be experiencing. I once heard someone say that with grief, every good day will always be a little bit sad. So even those who enjoy the season might also experience heightened negative feelings. This time of year excavates and exacerbates wounds we might otherwise forget.

My aunt passed away this week, and moments like this are a poignant reminder about the harsh realities of life. God, in His infinite power, could have saved her from the disease that plagued her… God could have saved my mom from sudden death back in 2016… but in both cases, He did not.

I am reminded of the verses in Daniel where three young men living in exile stood up to a king who wanted to redirect their worship from God to a statue he had built. This king threatened their lives if they didn’t obey. He then taunted them and their religious beliefs and in his own hubris questioned, “What God will rescue you from my power?”

These young men had an incredible understanding of who God is, one I often struggle to emulate. In response to this king, they explained that if God rescued them, so be it. But then they said, “But if He doesn’t…”

Often when we read this story it can be easy to gloss over these words and skip to the part where God sent a messenger—a representative from heaven—to be with them when they suffered the king’s punishment for disobeying. We love the part where God was with them in the fire! It helps us lean on that when we experience the metaphorical fires in life. And while this message is so encouraging—knowing that in the midst of difficulty, God is always with us—it’s important we don’t forget their words to the king.

“But if He doesn’t.”

Those young men understood that the types of rescues we pray for and desire are not always what God does. And with that deep knowledge and understanding, they still stood face to face with that powerful king and said, even if God does not rescue us, our allegiance will not waiver.

A few years ago, a friend of mine made me a shirt that says, “And if not, He is still good.” It’s a saying pulled from these same verses, and I wear it as a reminder to myself and hopefully to others. I wear it on particularly tough days when I’m worried about the outcome of a situation.

Like me, I’m sure you have encountered multiple “but if He doesn’t” moments. Those moments where the answer to our prayers is, “No.”

What’s encouraging about this story though, is that the fourth figure in the fire shows us that God is with us in our struggles when the answer is yes and we are rescued. But it also means that God is with us in the “no’s.” In the darkness. In the grief.

I pray that in those worrisome moments when the “if” in “But if He doesn’t” turns to “when,” there would be a palpable way for you to feel God’s presence. I pray that God will send a heavenly messenger—even in those moments—to remind you that God is near, and that God is still good.

He’s Good Quote – 1
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Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.