Week Forty Five: Daniel 1–6
The experience reported in Daniel 3 joins an impressive array of awe inspiring, and faith-promoting experiences in the Old Testament. A number involve fire, water and air. Noah, the flood and rainbow; Moses…the parting of the Red Sea and manna from the sky; Elijah, fire falling from heaven to consume his water soaked offering and Elijah ascending to heaven in a chariot of fire. These miracles were certainly memorable.
I would suggest that Daniel Chapter 3, offers scripture memory moments to rival any, delivering lasting impact and powerful latter-day lessons.
So…what’s the story? Need I say more than Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego? These are the names that have gone down in history, but originally these three young men were called Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Interestingly, we still remember Daniel by his Hebrew name which means “God is the judge”, but his three friends are usually remembered by their Chaldean (or Babylonian) names which pay homage to gods of Babylon. Whatever they’re called, these three young men are the real deal when it comes to faith and fortitude.
On the flip side, it is easy to see why the Chaldean King Nebuchadnezzar (named after their top god, Nebo….) is the favorite model for recurring Veggie Tale villains. In the previous chapter we witness Nebuchadnezzar in the throes of a royal fit because all the wise men, magicians and priests in the king’s realm cannot interpret a dream he had – one he cannot even remember! Daniel asks for a time out when Nebuchadnezzar’s top executioner shows up to slaughter the king’s hapless advisors as punishment.
With humility and faith, Daniel prays with his community of exiled young Jewish men to the one true God and is given to know both the dream and its interpretation. Like Joseph hundreds of years earlier, Daniel is ever mindful to give credit for his knowledge to the Lord.(Daniel 2:26-30) He shares the dream – a vision of a great statue made of many different materials – and its interpretation with the king. The king is impressed, falling down to worship Daniel and promoting him (and three of his friends) to oversee his affairs in Babylon.
In Chapter Three though, things have changed. Instead of heeding Daniel’s interpretation of his dream and working to fortify his kingdom against degradation, the king responds by building a mammoth gold idol – and when I say mammoth I mean HUMONGOUS! A gigantic Nebuchadnezzar now stands 100 ft. high, towering over everything else in Babylon. King Nebu wants the thing visible from a long way off. He also wants EVERYBODY to bow down and worship it, bringing in a slew of musicians to give the signal.
The custom of showing exaggerated respect and honor to the monarch was ubiquitous in the Middle East. There certainly were good reasons politically to keep the population in line by having them prostrate themselves physically and metaphorically to whatever or whoever the reigning monarch chose to honor. It is better for authoritarian leadership when those under them just follow orders, don’t think critically and certainly don’t put any principles like faith, honesty or the law above the principle of blind loyalty to the leader. This is a practice still violently enforced by modern day totalitarian leaders.
How quickly King Nebu seems to forget the extraordinary power of the God who recalled and interpreted his dream. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego explain that their God will not allow His adherents to bow down to other gods (it’s both the first and second of the ten commandments), Nebuchadnezzar goes ballistic.
King Nebuchadnezzar distinguishes himself …. as a terrible example. But there are valuable lessons to learn from bad examples. When I was an undergraduate, I enrolled in a teacher credentialing program offered by our school. While encouraging us to focus on our academic major, we had the opportunity to take a number of supplementary courses in education and to do a semester of student teaching. I remember being convinced I learned more about good teaching from the Church in-service resources than from most of the academic material on education, but there was one exception: the seminar on the History of Education.
The entire seminar was enlightening and one longitudinal study cited in it impressed me deeply. The study looked at the impact of excellent parenting, mediocre parenting and indisputably bad parenting on outcomes in childrens’ lives. As one might anticipate, the consistently best results in grown children were the product of consistent outstanding parenting. Similarly, mediocre parenting resulted in consistently mediocre results. The really atrocious parents had many very messed up kids. BUT…surprisingly… they also had a disproportionate percentage of excellent outcomes among their adult children. In fact, many more exceptionally outstanding people emerged from this third group of kids raised by messed up parents, statistically, than from the middle, mediocre group of parents.
Why? After more in-depth follow up, the researchers learned that that a significant percentage of children of really messed up parents were absolutely determined NOT to DO what their parents did. They were determined NOT to be alcoholics; NOT to flake out on supporting their families; NOT to go to jail or break the law; NOT to become addicted to drugs; and NOT to mess up their lives and the lives of those they loved. They were determined to BOUNCE OFF the bad example of their parents and do things differently.This was not an anticipated finding, but it was hopeful. Kids weren’t completely at the mercy of their situations.
I’m not sure why, but King Nebuchadnezzar reminded me of these bad example parents. He models so many things we should not want to be or want our children to be. AND, in that role, he does an outstanding job. Meanwhile, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, are exemplary models of holding fast to the covenants they made to God. Singled out to explain why they did not bow down to his golden idol the first time, they forthrightly declare:
“Oh Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.”(To me this means they are not going to flatter the king with their answer, they are going to tell it like it is.)
” If it be so [if they are thrown into the blazing hot furnace because they will not bow down to the image Nebuchadnezzar has set up,] our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. (Daniel 3:16,17,18)
This declaration of faith and commitment to their covenants reminds us that true faith in action cannot be dependent on getting the outcome we want. These three young men are given an ultimatum. Either they violate a fundamental tenet of their faith or they die. When asked whether their God can save them from the fiery furnace prepared for those who will not fall down and worship as the king worships, they assert that, “YES! Absolutely their God is capable of delivering them from the fire.” They continue, “whether He chooses to do so is not something they cannot know. But, what they do know is that either way, they shall be faithful to their covenants and obey God not man.” This is how we are asked to believe and to manifest our faith. Our faith cannot be contingent on prizes: not on health, wealth, good circumstances or good outcomes…or the outcomes we want from our earthly perspective. Easy to say when the going is pretty good, one might assert. But my experience leads me to insist….even more valuable and helpful when things are not going our way.
The den is bbb* ouement of this harrowing drama can’t be missed. Azariah (Yahweh helps), Hananiah (Yaweh is gracious) and Mishael (who is what God is), do not bow down. The furnace is heated up to far hotter than before and the three Hebrew men are bound and thrown into the fire. Indeed, the strong men who do the throwing burn up themselves because the heat of the fire is so tremendous.
24)” Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in his haste and spake, and said to his counsellors, Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered,…’True, O king.’
25) He answered and said, Lo. , I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire , and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of Man.”
The three emerge unscathed and all present note, ” the fire had no power, nor was a bit of their head singed, neither their coats changed, nor the smell of fire passed over them.”
What a brilliant metaphorical demonstration of my experience that our deep and fervent commitments to keep our covenants and promises to the Lord will be met with unimaginable forms of protection and comfort in the Lord’s due time. The only things burned in our individual fiery furnaces will be the cords that bind us. It is my prayer we will each find a way to trust God in the crucibles of our life and find the peace that He will offer us in return.