One of the challenges facing believers today is our relationship with the world around us. How do we live faithfully to God in a pagan world? And that is not something new in our generation. It has been true throughout history.
Read Daniel 3:13-18
Living in a Pagan World
There are a few different ways that we can choose to relate to our particular culture. One way is to separate ourselves from the culture; to live in an isolated community, potentially with other like-minded individuals. This escape from the world may be beneficial to some, at least for a while. But Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:13-16, to be the salt and light of the world, would require that we be in contact with our culture. How else can we be the salt and light of the world?
Another way that believers often interact with their culture is to blend in; to be indistinguishable from those around them. This clearly will solve the potential conflict you might have with those who would take offense if you lived by Biblical standards. But as believers, we are called to be distinct from the world around us (John 15:19). While we might be in the world, we should not be like the world.
The final way believers can interact with the world is to engage with the world. But to do so as believers in Christ, faithful to God and his calling in our lives. This is the more challenging position for us because it exposes us to abuse from a world that by and large rejects the light of Christ and all who seek to follow it. But it is what we are called to do.
Daniel and His Friends
The book of Daniel is one that has captured a lot of attention over the years; from two different audiences. The first time many of us are exposed to Daniel is as children, reading stories about fiery furnaces and lion’s dens. And the other time we come to Daniel is when we are trying to figure out what the end times will look like. But Daniel is about much more than just those two things.
As the Babylonian Empire consumed the nation of Judah, large numbers of the more educated Jews were taken to Babylon and immersed into Babylonian culture. Among them were four young men: Daniel, renamed as Belteshazzar; Hananiah, renamed as Shadrach; Mishael, renamed as Meshach; and Azariah, renamed as Abednego. All four of these young men went through a period of training to prepare them for service in the Babylonian government. Then they were placed into positions of leadership within that government.
And that presented a challenge to them. These men are all committed to being faithful to God as Jewish believers, while at the same time serving and living in the midst of a pagan culture that did not place any value on the things of God. The first few chapters of Daniel are more than simple children’s stories. They express how these men managed to be faithful to God, while at the same time serving in the government of Babylon.
The Fiery Furnace
In the third chapter of Daniel, you find the story that we commonly know as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. This account starts with Nebuchadnezzar building a giant statue and then requiring that all of the government officials in the empire of Babylon fall down and worship the statue at the playing of musical instruments. Anyone who refused to bow would be tossed into a fiery furnace.
Nothing is said about just what this image is. Or why Nebuchadnezzar had it made. But it is apparent that it was intended as representative of Babylon in some form, whether it was of Nebuchadnezzar himself; or Marduk, their chief deity; or something else entirely. But it is clear that bowing down and worshipping it would be a pledge of allegiance to Babylon.
This may not sound too bad until one considers that there was no separation of church and state. In the ancient world, they were the same thing. So bowing down to this statue would be the same thing as bowing down to Marduk and worshipping him.
So all of the officials were gathered, the music was played, and everyone bowed down and worshiped the statue. Well, almost everyone. It was soon reported to Nebuchadnezzar that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had not bowed to the statue. Those making the report were rival officials in the government; likely wanting to rid themselves of the influence of these three godly men.
The Stand for God
And that brings us to the critical moment in the account. Nebuchadnezzar gives them a second chance to bow. Will they continue to be faithful to God? Or will they compromise with the culture to preserve their lives?
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 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? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to him, “King 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 deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:13-18 NIV
Nebuchadnezzar makes clear to these three young men that their lives are hanging in the balance. Either make the pledge to Babylon or die. And their response to Nebuchadnezzar is equally as clear. “We will not serve your gods.” As well, they expressed their faith that their God would deliver them from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. In essence, they said that our God is bigger and better than yours, and we will be faithful to him.
And Into the Furnace
As you could guess, even if you had never read the story, their response further enraged Nebuchadnezzar and he had them bound and tossed into the fire. What you would not have guessed is what happened next. Nebuchadnezzar suddenly saw four men walking around in the fire. And the fourth had the look of deity. Nebuchadnezzar was amazed and called them to come out of the fire. They did and were no longer bound, their clothes were not singed, nor was the smell of smoke on them.
The story ends with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being promoted within the government. And a royal decree is issued that anyone who spoke against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would be killed.
The Moral of the Story
As you can see, this is much more than a children’s story. It is the courageous story of three young men who took a stand to serve and be faithful to God. In spite of the consequences. They had confidence that God would deliver them. But even if their stand were to end in death, they chose to be faithful.
These men had not withdrawn into the wilderness to separate themselves from Babylon. Nor had they gone native and become like all of the other Babylonian citizens.
Instead, they engaged their culture, serving faithfully and well in the government. They were in it. But they were also distinct from it. Their clothes may have been indistinguishable from those around them. But their faith and values clearly were. And they refused to compromise that faith.
And that is the wonderful example they set for us today. We can serve in a godless government, participate in a capitalistic society, and dress like our neighbors, without compromising our faith. But like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we should determine that we will not serve the gods of our land or worship them. Regardless of the cost, take your stand for Jesus.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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I am a follower of Jesus, retired, married for 35 years, with 2 children and 2 grandchildren. I enjoy gathering with the church, theology, reading, gardening and backpacking.