August 30 – Daniel 3:13-30

by Aug 29, 2020Daniel0 comments

Intro

Don’t miss the connection between this week and last week. In Daniel 2 we read that King Nebuchadnezzar had a curious dream about a statue with a head of gold and a body of other materials, which was toppled by a rock that grew into a mountain and filled the whole earth. Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar that this statue’s head of gold represented Babylon and its other materials represented subsequent kingdoms, which would all eventually be erased and replaced by the mountain of God’s eternal Kingdom. After hearing this explanation Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face before Daniel and said, “Truly your God is God of gods and Lord of kings.”(2:47)

But whatever impression that dream had on Nebuchadnezzar seems to have vanished just three verses later. In Daniel 3:1 he has a gargantuan, 90-foot-tall golden statue erected (of himself or of a Babylonian deity, it’s not clear), and commands everyone to worship it when they hear music played. Notice that the whole statue is gold, not just the head, and worshipping this statue seems to exist to promote the nation of Babylon, considering residents were compelled to worship it by law. So it sure seems like Nebuchadnezzar is trying his hardest to reverse the dream God gave him.

But as much as Nebuchadnezzar wanted to ignore God’s words, we’ll learn that they’re unavoidable. In 3:8 some Chaldeans, likely magician-astronomers who counseled the King, brought forth charges against three Israelites who were refusing to worship the statue: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Based on what we read here, it doesn’t seem like these three were making a big deal about their refusal to worship the statue, they were just not doing what they were told. So these Chaldeans rat them out to the King, who is enraged. We’ll pick up in our reading below in verse 13, where he calls Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before him to verify these claims.

And they shut him down to his face! They tell him, “We don’t need to explain this to you. Go ahead and toss us in the furnace, our God can rescue us out of it! But even if he doesn’t, we will never obey you over him.” How powerful is that?? Their insolence makes Nebuchadnezzar even more upset, so he has the furnace heated as hot as it’ll go and chucks them in. And you know the rest of the story, miraculously their lives are spared, and in the midst of the blaze Nebuchadnezzar sees a fourth person, some sort of heavenly being, walking around with them. He beckons Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out of the fire  and exclaims, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!” Note that 1. he avoids saying anything to the fourth person and 2. he specifically calls God “the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” Apparently, despite all that he’s dreamt and seen, he’s not quite ready to be confronted by the living God or submit to his power (don’t worry, God gets a hold of him in chapter 4).

We often make this story primarily about the awful fiery furnace, and awful it was, but really the most offensive thing here was Nebuchadnezzar’s decree to worship a false god. It’s this decree that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused, even while they accepted the furnace. And in the end God wasn’t just proving that Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t take their lives, he was also proving that Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t steal away their worship of the one true God. We also often make this story primarily about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego “keeping the faith,” but really God gets all the credit for the outcome of this story.

You can imagine how this whole ordeal encouraged the rest of the exiled Israelites. Not only did they hear a story about these three courageous men, they also heard about God faithfully preserving his people. And they heard about this mysterious fourth person, who Nebuchadnezzar describes looking, “like a son of the gods.” Unsurprisingly, there’s some debate as to who or what this fourth being was (see below the questions for a note about christophanies), but suffice it to say that this heavenly visitor communicated that God would willingly lend his support and presence to his people, even in the very midst of persecution.

 

Now, here in 2020 no one is setting up 90-foot-tall statues or heating up a furnace for you. But I think this story has more to tell us than just, “Keep the faith.” We learn that the kingdoms of this earth (social, political, cultural, etc.) are interested in rerouting our worship to themselves to serve their own purposes, and they have the power to make attempted resistance both scary and costly. But we also learn that God is seriously interested in his people worshipping him alone, so interested that he will thwart the enemy’s attempts, preserve his people through the accompanying trials, and even come to be with them in the midst of suffering. A mere “keep the faith” sounds hollow if it doesn’t provide any reasons for why you should keep the faith, but this God and his steadfast, faithful love towards us gives us every reason to cling to him.

Questions for Discussion

• Would someone read Daniel 3:13-30 for us?

• What stands out to you from this story?

• Why do you think Nebuchadnezzar was so insulted by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s disobedience?

• What did you think about their response to Nebuchadnezzar?

• Why do you think there’s this mysterious fourth person in the fire?

• What do you think this story meant for the other exiled Jews in Babylon?

• Why do you think God is so interested in his people refusing to worship golden statues?

• In a time with less golden statues and fiery furnaces, how do you think this story relates to us?

Who was this fourth person?
As I said above, there’s some debate as to who or what this fourth being in the fiery furnace was. The answer we’re given in the passage is an angel, at least according to Nebuchadnezzar.(3:28) Spiritual beings like angels were known to Jews in Daniel’s time, with references like in Psalm 103:20, “Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!” The Babylonian religion had tons of different spiritual beings, including angels, so it could very well be that Nebuchadnezzar was correctly identifying this visitor from his own, more varied, background. However, the Bible also tells us about a far more puzzling candidate for this furnace appearance, one who is often called “the angel of the Lord.” For example, this is the title given to the being who spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:2, “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” But here’s where it gets tricky; in Exodus 3:4 we read, “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush.” So this “angel of the Lord” in the bush is…God? The same confusing thing happens multiple times in scripture, like in Judges 2 where the angel says to Israel, “I brought you up from Egypt.” So here we have a distinct being—the Bible goes to lengths to call him “the angel of the Lord” instead of just calling him God—who speaks as God and makes sometimes disembodied, sometimes physical appearances in the Old Testament (ex. Genesis 18). Consequentially many people wonder, “Wait, could that be Jesus?” Considering Jesus has existed for all time (John 1:2), theologians have speculated that these appearances of the angel of the Lord could have been pre-incarnation appearances of the Son of God. These suspected visits are called Christophanies, Greek for “Christ-appearances.” Considering the Spirit of God also shows up in the pages of the Old Testament (Genesis 1:2, 1 Samuel 10, Isaiah 61, etc.) it’s not outside the realm of possibility that all members of the Trinity are represented both in the Old and New Testament.  However, aside from Jesus’ eternal existence, we don’t have any confirmation within the Bible that the angel of the Lord was in fact Jesus, so while I think we need to hold onto this premise loosely, there’s also some pretty good evidence to back it up.