King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon, like many political authorities today, was extremely egotistical. It was his way or the highway. Well, much worse than the highway. When he made a gigantic image of gold, he commanded everyone to bow down and worship it. The penalty for breaking the law? Death by cremation!
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not buy into being politically correct, death penalty or not. They did not believe that one religion is as good as another. They didn’t cave in for fear of offending someone’s religion. In short, they refused to bow down. Neither were they going to be hypocrites saying, “Well, I’ll bow on the outside, but God knows my heart is not in it.”
These three Jewish men were in captivity in Babylon. They had faith in Jehovah God of Israel, who was/is also the God of the universe. Here’s what they told the king: “If it 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, nor worship the golden image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18).
God Is Able
There was no question in the minds of these men regarding God’s ability. They knew that God sent ten plagues upon the Egyptians in order to induce Pharaoh to free their forefathers. They knew that God opened the Red Sea. They knew that God fed their ancestors with manna from heaven and water from a rock. They knew how the walls of Jericho crumbled. They knew about David and Goliath. They had lots of evidence of what God is able to do.
And today we have even more evidence. We know what the three young men did not know at the time. God did indeed keep them alive in the middle of the fiery furnace. We know about Daniel in the lion’s den. We know about a virgin giving birth. We know about Jesus walking on the water, feeding thousands of people with just five loaves and two fish, and giving sight to a man born blind. We know about Jesus rising from the dead. We know about prison doors automatically opening and letting Peter go free.
“But If Not…”
But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not have a blind faith, an egotistical faith, an unrealistic faith. They knew God was able, but they also knew that God might not be willing. That’s a huge difference! And that’s why they added, “But if not…”
God did not spare Abel from Cain’s anger. Joseph was blessed in the end, but God allowed his brothers to sell him into slavery. God allowed a wicked woman to have him imprisoned. And what about Job? Blessed greatly in the end, true; but oh, what suffering he endured because he was so good. But John the Baptist was not blessed in the end. He had his head chopped off without God intervening. Neither did God intervene to stop the angry mob from stoning Stephen to death.
Notice “others” in Hebrews 11:32-38. “What more shall I say? For the time would fail me if I told of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets; who, through faith subdued kingdoms, worked out righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, grew mighty in war, and caused foreign armies to flee. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Others were tried by mocking and scourging, yes, moreover by bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned. They were sawn apart. They were tempted. They were slain with the sword. They went around in sheep skins and in goat skins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts, mountains, caves, and the holes of the earth.”
Before the first “others,” are wonderful cases in which God victoriously intervened. After the first “others” are all the awful situations in which God did not intervene! He decides; not us!
View From Eternity
How many times have you heard, “Life isn’t fair”? Sadly, for many people, this is true – even for Christians. That is, if we define “life” as the time between conception and physical death. Contrary to the health and wealth gospel, God’s Word clearly teaches that the easy way is not necessarily God’s way. Scripture speaks of the narrow way, of taking up our cross, and that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).
But what if we define life as being from conception until eternity? Eternity! Not easy to comprehend. Not easy to keep in view. Not easy to let it govern our actions. Nevertheless, it is essential that we look at the issues of life from the viewpoint of eternity.
I don’t know how much Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew about life after death. With the NT revelations, we surely know more than they did. How much more then should we have the courage to say, “But if not…” I know, it’s easy for me to write this. It is another thing for me to live it.
Are we going to take the easy way or the right way, the selfish way or the selfless way, the worldly way or the Godly way? As the song says, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free? No, there’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.” Jesus bore the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb. 12:2). That’s the mindset we need. As Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” One of the most astonishing things is what Job said in the midst of his unbearable suffering: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).
Even if God doesn’t bless me, even if He doesn’t answer my prayers, even if life is hard, even if Satanic forces take over the world, even if it means being cremated alive, may I not bow down to the gods of this world! May I – and you – stand up for Jesus!