A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate
- the Human Condition
- God’s Revelation of His Plan
- God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
- Our Response (Current location of study)
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.’” – Daniel 3:16
One of the more well-known stories in the Bible is that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It was popularized in a jazz song written in 1931 by Robert MacGimsey. The video below is from a 1939 Vitaphone musical short called “Larry Clinton & His Orchestra.”
I also like the Louis Armstrong version from the movie The Strip.
The story is found in the book of Daniel, Chapter 3. Daniel was a prophet who lived during the time of the exile of the Jews in Babylon. His book begins with King Nebuchadnezzar and continues through the reign of King Cyrus (of Persia) some seventy years later. We won’t study the book extensively for this current study but will simply focus on the story recorded in Chapter 3. However, for background, we need to find out who Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were. Details about them come from Chapters 1 and 2.
“The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego (Daniel 1:5-7).”
These four men were given new Babylonian names in order to “cancel” their Jewishness. In spite of this, though, they remained faithful to their commitments to God and God blessed them. In fact he blessed them so much that Nebuchadnezzar noticed, as stated in Daniel 1:19-21: “And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.“
Then, in Chapter 2, we discover that, after God enables Daniel to successfully interpret a dream of Nebuchadnezzar’s, he is given a high position of authority in Babylon and requests similar positions for his friends. Verses 47-49 say, “The king answered and said to Daniel, ‘Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.’ Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.“
This is all well and good, but Nebuchadnezzar had a short memory and a large ego, which we find described several times in Daniel’s book. Chapter 3 tells one such story.
“King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits [about 90 feet] and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And the herald proclaimed aloud, ‘You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.’ Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.“
It was not all that unusual for royalty in that day and time to be considered divine. It also was not unusual for people to bow down and worship lots of gods (idols). Polytheism was common. What was unusual was for people to worship only one God and credit that God as being the one and only God, which the Jews did (at least those who were truly obedient to the scriptures). This became the basis for the antisemitic actions we see unfold next.
“Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
For some reason Daniel was not included in these accusations. It is possible, as Chapter 2 told us, that Daniel had special privileges or access to the king because he was a member of the king’s inner circle. Therefore, the Chaldeans may not have felt their attack would be as successful if they included Daniel. They were, however, successful in inciting the king against Daniel’s friends.
“Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, ‘Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?'”
Nebuchadnezzar gave them the opportunity to compromise their beliefs, but in his arrogance he went so far as to claim that their god is not as powerful as he is. This is where this week’s 3:16 verse comes in.
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’“
Notice the depth of their commitment to God. They confidently asserted that God is able to deliver them, and that He would deliver them. However, they said, even if he doesn’t, they would not abandon their faith or convictions and would accept whatever outcome would befall them. This level of commitment infuriated the king.
“Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.“
The king’s fury cost the lives even of some who were loyal to him! And it appeared that the fate of these Jewish men was cast and the outcome settled at last. But…
“Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.'” Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.“
We like this story because Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were spared and God used them to verify to the Babylonians that He is in control. But I want to focus on another aspect of the story – the faith and commitment of these Jews. I believe that they were certain that God would rescue them. But I also believe that they were willing for Him not to. This harkens to what the apostle Paul said in the first chapter of his letter to the church in Phillipi. Written while he was imprisoned in Rome, Paul was confident that God would intervene and he would be released. However, he gave us a glimpse of his thought process during this time (verses 18-26): “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.” When Paul says “my desire is to depart” he is not indicating suicidal thoughts. Rather, he’s simply acknowledging the truth that his life will be greatly improved with his death. To remain alive and on Earth, then, was not for his benefit but for the benefit of those to whom he was Christ’s witness.
Similarly, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s deliverance from the fire was for OUR benefit (and the benefit of the people watching them), not theirs. We got to be amazed at God because of them. We got to see that God is all-powerful. And, we got to see what it means to be whole-heartedly committed to God.
As we continue to live in a society that increasingly devalues faith in God, commitment to biblical principles, and even a world that might be headed into global conflict, we can learn from Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel, and Paul, among others, what it looks like to hold fast to our beliefs, our commitments, and our God!
The final study in this series will be from 2 Thessalonians.