Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury and his facial expression was changed [to antagonism] against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Therefore he commanded that the furnace should be heated seven times hotter than it was usually heated. And he commanded the strongest men in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Daniel 3:19-20
You know the story...
King Nebuchadnezzar makes an image of gold and then commands that when anyone hears the sound of "all kinds of music" that they were to fall down on their faces and worship the image. If they didn't, they would immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.
So the decree goes out, the music plays and "certain Chaldeans" report to the king that there are three of his administrators that refuse to bow down and worship the image -- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are confronted, acknowledge that they have no intention of worshiping this golden idol, and are immediate sentenced to be tossed into the furnace...after it is stoked seven time hotter than normal!
And they miraculously live to tell the story!
Recently I was reading this passage and I was struck by the fact, that in the whole narrative, Daniel is never mentioned once. I began to wonder where he was at the time and what was the significance of his absence from the story?
Where was Daniel?
In the previous chapter Daniel interprets the kings dream and is rewarded by being made ruler of the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon (Dan. 2:48). He then appoints Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as administrators of the province of Babylon.
So where was he when Nebuchadnezzar's image was being made and the decree to worship it went forth? Why wasn't he part of the company that ended up in the fiery furnace?
There are at least three explanations that have been proposed:
- He actually did bow down to the image and therefore was not indicted by the Chaldeans who sought to destroy the Jews.
This is certainly a very weak explanation, bordering on ridiculous, given all that Daniel had gone through previously with the king. Daniel had repeatedly put his neck on the line with Nebuchadnezzar and trusted God had come through for him in amazing ways. There is just no way I see him bowing down and worshiping what he knew to be an abomination to God.
- He was out of Babylon at the time and therefore his behavior was not observed by his adversaries.
This seems like it might be a reasonable explanation for his not being caught up in the conspiracy to destroy the Jews. But there is no indication in scripture that he was not in Babylon at the time and therefore not a concrete explanation.
- He had such an elevated position that he was either exempt from bowing down or his enemies were too afraid to accuse him before Nebuchadnezzar.
This explanation might have some merit on a couple of levels. The first being that the king had just confessed that Daniel's God was, "a God of gods and a Lord of kings..." In other words Nebuchadnezzar had great respect for Daniel's God and might have made an exception in his case. Knowing his esteem for Daniel and his God, the Chaldeans might have been too intimidated by Daniel's position to make an accusation.
But this explanation does not explain why Daniel did not come to the aid of his companions in their time of need. It is almost impossible to believe that Daniel was the kind of person to just look away while those whom he had hazarded much with, and appointed to places of privilege, were led off to such an horrific end. That just doesn't add up.
So what are we left with?
Bottom line? We just don't know why Daniel wasn't scooped up with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and tossed into the furnace!
Not very insightful, or satisfying, I know, but if we take a moment and reflect on the significance of his absence, at this moment in the lives of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we can glean at least three things.
The Significance of Influence
Daniel set the tone among the sons of Israel who were dedicated to the king's service. He was the one that 'made up his mind' that he would not defile himself with the king's food and that he would keep himself completely for the Lord. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego followed his lead and were blessed with Daniel.
He was also the one that courageously approached the king to interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dream so that he and his companions would not be slain with the failed wise men of Babylon. We should note that at the time he approached the king he didn't have a clue what the dream was all about. However, he was willing to trust God with his life and the lives of the others.
In a word, Daniel was the 'leader' of that little band. Not because he got the right degrees or credentials. Not because he was elected or appointed. Not even because he was gifted and brilliant. He was their leader because he led! He was the first to act upon conviction and faith in God and that had a significant impact on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They saw how Daniel genuinely trusted God and how God came through and provided in the most amazing ways.As a result of seeing how Daniel lived before God day by day, an aspiration to be like Daniel grew in them.
What follows is a testament to the significance of Daniel's influence.
A Time to Shine
So Daniel, for whatever reason, is not around and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are hauled before King Nebuchadnezzar with their lives on the line. What should they do?
Should they recant and bow down? After all it was just a worthless idol, it really didn't mean anything in the great schema of things. It would be just a meaningless gesture, right? After all, God would understand and just think of the wonderful work they could do for him if they retained their positions in Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom!
"Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.'" (Dan. 3:16-18)
It was their day to shine as bold, fearless, courageous witnesses to the God of heaven...their day to "dare to be a Daniel!"
Daniel had been a powerful influence on them, but the true test of the depth of the impact he had was when it really counted. I have to remind myself that for them this was not a story...Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced a horrible, horrible death if God did not deliver them. And the amazing thing was that they didn't even seem to have to think about it. They had already made their minds up. What was most important to them was not their own well-being, but rather their faithfulness to God. Their stand was not dependent on whether they were delivered from the fires of the furnace.
It made me wonder if I have that kind of faith? Faith that doesn't look for a benefit for self, but to the glory of God.
A Reciprocal Encouragement
We can rightfully make much of Daniel's influence on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. But have you ever thought about how much of an encouragement they were to him when he faced his own horrific trial? After all, they had to face the fiery furnace long before Daniel had to face the lions den!
I have no doubt that when Daniel was faced with decision to stand firm or stand before the lions, he thought back to how God had come through for his companions when they faced their fiery trial. What a moment of reinforcement of faith it must have been for him. How it must have helped to strengthen his resolve and brighten his countenance! After all, the fangs of a few lions couldn't be nearly as nasty as the seven-times-hotter fiery furnace, right?
I think this is such a beautiful expression of what one aspect of the fellowship of believers is all about. We have those that influence and lead by example and are an encouragement to us to make our own stand. And as we do, we become a reciprocal example and encouragement to them when God brings them into their own times of exceptional trial and tribulation. There is no hierarchy to being an example and encouragement. It is not for the privileged few. We are all in this together and we need one another to be that source of strength and encouragement when we need it most.