Daniel 3:8-12, 19-25
8 Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, 11 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, 20 and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21 So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics, their trousers, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. 22 Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” 25 He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”
One of my most favorite stories is this one from the book of Daniel. Daniel is an apocalyptic book because it prophesies the end of times. Three men who refused to bow down to the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar were saved by God. One of the really interesting artist renditions for the Faces of Faith is this one. Hannah Garrity, the artist of this piece wrote, “In this image I tackle a meeting between God and fear. Each face presents a determined expression in the face of adversity. God’s impervious and embolden courage is represented by a landscape in the background. Panels of translucency hide God’s fearlessness with us intermittently. The panels and open spaces represent the struggle with fear and fearlessness that we face as human beings…”
So who are these three guys and how did they end up in this mess? Jeohoakim was the king of Judah. He had lost favor with the Lord and the Babylonian king named Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took hostages back to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was a fairly intelligent man and knew that in order to get the best out of his hostages, his slaves, he should elevate some people to give them hope. Daniel and two other men were made seers of the king’s court. Education and language skills were taught, food was prepared even though they didn’t want it because the food as not kosher it was almost the end for them. Worked out a deal in which the cook would give them only vegetables and water and they survived without defiling their bodies before God. One day he had a bad dream and he called all of the Chaldeans to him and told them to interpret his dream. They said tell us the dream and we will tell you what it means.
The king was smarter than that and he said if you are really seers tell me the dream and the meaning because if I tell you what the dream was then you will find a way to make me happy and not actually interpret the dream. The seers could not do it and he went into a rage, a common event for Nebuchadnezzar, and he ordered that they all be killed. The executioner came to get all of the seers but the Jewish seers had not been summoned because they were still learning the language.
He goes and tells the dream to the king and its meaning. It was good news and bad news, Nebuchadnezzar would have success but future generations would struggle until the kingdom would be divided and eventually fall. A statue was made of various precious metals but as you looked down the statue the metals would be of less and value and eventually the feet would be made of clay, that would not last. King was impressed and wanted to reward Daniel but Daniel said the credit belonged to God who had given him the insight. King gave him power and let him name three guys Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to the position of magistrate over a province.
Shadrach Meshach and Abednego were doing great and life was good, until Nebuchadnezzar decides he want to build that statue and make it all out of gold. The people are to bow down to this statue whenever the band plays. If they refuse they will be thrown in the fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to worship this statue and word gets back to the king. He calls the three guys and in and gives them one more chance to bow down and they refuse saying that they will only worship God. The Nebuchadnezzar gets mad and condemns them to be thrown in the fire. But he is so mad that he commands the fire to be turned up 7 times hotter than it normally is. The men are bound a symbol of slavery and oppression and led off to the fiery furnace. The furnace so hot that when the executioners go to throw them into the fire they die from the heat. Shadrach Meshach and Abednego fall down in the furnace but Nebuchadnezzar is watching all this go on and he sees that the men are now dancing in the fire and there seems to be four people in the furnace. He jumps up and wants the door to be opened to see what is going on?
The men emerge from the furnace and their clothes have not been burned, the hair on their head has not been singed, they are remarkably intact. Nebuchadnezzar believes that it is a god in the furnace with them he bows down to worship them and then decrees that all should worship this God of Shadrach Meshach and Abednego. There is a feeling that even though they were to worship God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our God, they were also supposed to worship Nebuchadnezzar and all the other god as well. The fear was subsided for a while, but that fear was transferred to others when Nebuchadnezzar declared, “Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy 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 deliver in this way.” (Daniel 3:29)
Where does our fear come from today? Paradise California would be one source. The fire that has destroyed an entire town in Northern CA. There are the people in the LA area that were victims of another shooting Wednesday night, on a night in which college kids from ages 18-21 were there and alcohol was not being served. There is fear for people of color, ethnicity, different religions and different sexual orientation. Kids get scared in school, new parents are afraid they will make mistakes and they will, middle aged people are afraid of having enough to retire, and old people are afraid of being lonely or dying. Fear can be everywhere, and we have all felt that fear. There are times when fear can heighten our awareness and other times when it can cripple us. Fear is used as a tool of manipulation especially in politics.
The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego reminds us that fear can come in many forms, but that God is present with us in those fears. They still had to go into the fiery furnace which is a metaphor for the fiery trials and tribulations we all face. God did not take them out of the fire. God sent the angel or the Spirit, to be with them. We are never alone, God promises to be with us in our greatest fears. The power of the Holy Spirit draws us in and keeps us from being alone in our fears. It does not remove us from our scariest moments. God provides us the courage to face the fears, to draw on our sense of faith knowing that in this world it will happen. This world is not the final answer, we are currently residents of this world for a time, but we are citizens of the kingdom of God.
The redeeming message in the book of Daniel is that we are destined for more. We have more to look forward to. Even when things seem the bleakest, we are destined for so much more because of God’s love for us. When Jesus died on the cross that was not the final answer. When we face our fears, we are not powerless, and that is not the final answer for us either. God’s grace is enough. God’s love for us will endure. God’s hope in humanity is redeemed in the resurrection of Jesus. God allows us to face our fears and to become fearless. May our fearlessness grow so that we can help those who need our love the most. Amen.