BOW DOWN OR STAND STRONG
In the story from the book of Daniel that we are discussing today, Daniels friends are facing a choice if they are going to bow down to cultural demands – or stand strong in their faith in God. This time, it is not just a test, but a life-or-death situation. You and I face similar challenges in our time and even though the consequences may be different, the choice is the same: will we bow down, or stand firm?
King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 Then he sent messages to the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up. 3 So all these officials[b] came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.4 Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! 5 When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. 6 Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”7 So at the sound of the musical instruments, all the people, whatever their race or nation or language, bowed to the ground and worshiped the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
I’m going to give you some context with this story. The golden statue was probably put up for one of Babylon’s gods: Marduk. What is happening here is that Nebuchadnezzar uses religion as a way of oppression and submission to his kingship For most people there, this was no problem. They lived in a polytheistic (many gods) society. There was a ‘small g’ god for each country, one for each area of society, etc. So bowing for this statue was very much symbolic for submission to Babylon. This was not adoration – but submission.
But for the Jews present there, this surely was a problem. They didn’t just believe in a God that was ‘their God’, but in the God they believed is the only living and holy God. The one that created the heavens and the earth. The BIG G God. The God that said: “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. “You must not have any other god but me. “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. (Exodus 20:2-5)
It was the continuing breaking of this commandment that got the Jews in Babylon in the first place!
Babylon of this time reminds me a bit of our world today. These people had their own gods, and some others, and bowing down to another god was no big deal for them. What difference does it make? It’s how we say to each other these days: you have your truth, I have my truth, let’s just respect each other and leave it be.
The thing is, this type of thinking is incompatible with faith in the One Living God. Because if God is the creator of heaven and earth, the uncreated Creator, the beginning and the end of all things – then He decides what is true and what is false, and what is right and what is wrong.
Believing in YHWH as the Creator implies that you write off every other alternative god, or truth claim as false and incompatible.
DILEMMA: AM I GOING TO STAND FIRM FOR WHAT I BELIEVE, OR BOW DOWN TO CULTURAL PRESSURE?
But some of the astrologers went to the king and informed on the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Long live the king! 10 You issued a decree requiring all the people to bow down and worship the gold statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments. 11 That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.”
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (their original Jewish names) have decided to risk their own lives and remain standing. Now I’m reading this and wonder, was this the only way? What would be some alternatives that would have crossed my mind:· Bow down to the statue, but keep YHWH as their main God· Bow down to the statue, but not mean it · Bow down to the statue, but worship God
These were alternatives that would have saved their lives. But they would have been a huge compromise to their faith. But they chose to remain standing. They couldn’t dishonor their God in this way.
So often, culture will lead us to a choice where we can either compromise our standards, or stand firm for what we believe in. Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah serve us as an example: no matter what you might lose – in their case certainly their jobs and probably also their lives – nothing is worthwhile compromising God’s standard for.
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? 15 I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”
Imagine this scene! The most powerful man on the planet (Trump, Putin) raging out against you like this with your life at stake! Spit flying around. You can feel your heartbeat rising. This is happening. These guys are completely left to the mercy of this man – and he is not having a great day.
Quick question. Where was God in all of this? Don’t you ever wonder in your life, when it all is going downhill, and nothing seems to make sense – where is God? Why did He let this happen? Couldn’t he have blinded the eyes of the astrologers so that they wouldn’t have noticed the three Jews? Couldn’t He have made sure that the king wasn’t as grumpy that day as he seems to be? Why was God not protecting them?
I’ve noticed that we often think of God’s protection as an umbrella in the rain. It might be raining around you, but God is catching all the water before it hits you. But I’ve come to realize that God’s protection doesn’t work like that. Rain still hits us. Cycling in the rain still is a miserable thing. But God’s protection means that, however hard it rains, however cold we might get – there is always a cup of hot coco on the other side of it. I know that this example is very limited, but bear with me. God’s protection means that it doesn’t have to spoil our day. That our shoes may get wet, but not our socks.
There is nothing in this life that can ever take away our hope, our peace or our relationship with Jesus Christ!
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
God’s protection means that He will guide and guard our hearts through every circumstance. With this confidence, our three heroes respond to the outraged king.
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
I LOVE THIS!!! Such faith! I don’t care what the consequence is, I do not bow for your idol. Let’s read the rest of this story, we are going to encounter an amazing miracle of God’s protection.
19 Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20 Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. 22 And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. 23 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.24 But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?” “Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied. 25 “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!”26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27 Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!
This is an incredible miracle. Do you know how you can smell your clothes the next morning after a BBQ or campfire? These guys didn’t even smell of smoke. Their faithfulness was rewarded with this incredible experience.
But the core of the story really is what we’ve read before. God can rescue us – and He did – but even if He doesn’t, we won’t bow down.
Three take homes from Daniel 3
So what are some things we can take home from this story?
1) Pray for the persecuted church
You and I may not face consequences like this for standing firm in our faith, but many Christians worldwide are suffering from persecution. And not everyone gets to experience a rescuing miracle like these men. The story of Asia Bibi recently hit the news and is generating some awareness on this issue. I hope that the Netherlands will grant her asylum, but her story is not even the tip of the iceberg.
The persecuted church reminds us about both the cost and the value of discipleship.
2) Don’t compromise
If there is one very clear message in this passage, it is don’t compromise your faith in God – whatever the pressure or whatever the temptation is. Nothing is worth compromising your faith for.
You and I were made to worship. We were created to worship our creator, but many turn their worship to something else. Whatever you hold higher in your life than God is your idol. Every day, our culture is offering us idols to worship instead of God. It’s demanding that we bow down to its golden statues of:· Pleasure – anything goes, have fun, enjoy, there is no moral standard· Wealth – gather as much as you can for yourself and rely on it· Self – I deserve the best and will do everything I can to get it
But when you stand firm in your faith in Christ Jesus – whatever the consequences may be – God will be able to use you in a mighty way as a testimony of His power and love. Yes, there is always grace when it goes wrong. But don’t let that be your excuse for bowing down anyway. I think we need to get a better sense again of what sin is – rebellion against God. I think we may start thinking way too lightly about it, thinking: “I’m doing this, I know its wrong, but God will forgive me anyway”. No, no, that grace that we’d be treating so lightly then – Jesus paid for that with His blood.
Here’s the thing. Blessing follows obedience. God cannot bless you where you are not walking in His ways. Yes, His arm is never to short and His love and grace are undeserved! But God rather blesses your obedience than forgives your disobedience. So when you are in that conversation about a colleague or class mate that is going south, or when you are at that party you know you shouldn’t be at. Or when you are pulled over that line you weren’t planning to cross DON'T COMPROMISE
God rather blesses your obedience than forgives your disobedience.
3) Know that Jesus is always with you
Who was this man that was there with the three guys in the fire? Nebuchadnezzar spoke of someone “like a god”, other translations say ‘the son of a god’. Was it an angel? Was it Jesus himself?
I think the message is clear – God was there with them in the fire. This is true for us as well. We may not always experience protection like this from threats and evil – but the Bible gives us firm promises that whatever happens – God is right there with us.
But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.O Israel, the one who formed you says,“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.I have called you by name; you are mine.When you go through deep waters,I will be with you.When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.When you walk through the fire of oppression,you will not be burned up;the flames will not consume you.