“Even If” is the title of two songs that came on the radio while we were in the van this week. I thought it funny that both songs had the same name and a similar message. My mind wandered to the Old Testament story and lessons from Daniel chapter 3 while Joshua and Micah argued in the back seat over whether or not there was a black dog in the neighbor’s yard and Caleb randomly listed facts he remembered about his favorite singers.
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego and the fiery furnace is often one of the first Bible stories we teach our children. It is easy to embrace the wicked king Nebuchadnezzar ruling with a rod of iron and the brave men of God standing strong in faith. We rejoice as servants of the Most High God are delivered from the blazing furnace without a single hair of their heads being burned.
A testament to the one true God. He is one who rewards the faithful and delivers us out of our troubles.
For me, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego proclamation of faith when threatened to be thrown into the fire is the best part of the story, but first, let’s get a feel for where our story takes place and who are brave Jewish men are.
Who Were Daniel’s Friends?
So who exactly are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and why were they in charge of the affairs of the province of Babylon?
First of all, the Hebrew names of our friends are actually Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. King Nebuchadnezzar changed their names to help them assimilate into Babylonian culture.
We first meet our young Hebrew boys at the beginning of the Book of Daniel.
Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans.
And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king. Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. (Daniel 1:3-6)
Think for a minute what it was like for these young men. Their beloved city was destroyed, separated from their families, and brought to a foreign palace. Their short lives were filled with the horrors of war and the fear of being taken captive.
That being said, God was blessing them and giving them a second chance. A comfortable place to live, food to eat, and rank in a huge kingdom. Considering how bad things had gone for them, they could have been so much worse.
God also blessed them with something else. Great faith. Before long they were considered wise men, not because they were educated as Babylonians, but because God was with them and blessing them.
Where Was the Babylonian Empire Anyway?
Babylon was an ancient city in modern-day Iraq. It grew into a large empire two times. The first time it began its rule was in the 18th century BCE and lasted for 200 years. The second rise to power was during the 7th century BCE and only lasted a short time. Our story of the fiery trial faced by our faithful young men is found in the second Babylon, also known as neo-Babylonian Empire.
This empire came to power when a Chaldean leader named Nabopolassar rose to power. He conquered the Assyrian empire, capturing their capital city of Nineveh (yes, the same Nineveh that is in the story of Jonah and the whale!) in 612 BCE.
Nabopolassar’s son, Nebuchadnezzar II followed his father and grew the kingdom to the biggest it had ever been. The empire stretched from the Persian Gulf in the east to the borders of Egypt in the west. He conquered Judah and its capital Jerusalem in 587 BCE. This is what we read about in the first chapter of Daniel.
God had allowed this Babylonian rise to power for a very specific purpose. To punish Judah for centuries of idolatry and disobedience to Him.
The Golden Statue
Now, let’s continue with the story of the 3rd chapter of Daniel. I have a very specific point to make to Christians today about what we can learn from the story of the faithful Jewish young men so even if you know this story inside and out, keep reading til the end!
Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. And King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to gather together the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
So the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered together for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Then a herald cried aloud: “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”
So at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the horn, flute, harp, and lyre, in symphony with all kinds of music, all the people, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the gold image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. (Daniel 3:1-7)
No one knows exactly what this giant statue looked like, but we know that the king was the ultimate authority and if he said bow, everyone bowed. That is everyone who was not set on obeying God’s law.
Of course, there are men in every era determined to destroy God’s children, and our faithful young men, who refused to bow to false gods, were soon found out.
Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good!
But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” (Daniel 3:13-15)
Valuable Lessons from Daniel Chapter 3?
Finally! We have come to my favorite part! Even when faced with the flesh burning flames of the fire, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have already decided that they bow to the one true God and would not betray Him. They see the king’s wrath and are determined to remain faithful to the God of Israel.
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 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 thine hand, O 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 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 3:16-18)
Here they are saying that they know God is able to deliver them if He chooses to do so, BUT they will remain faithful even if He chooses not to.
I looked up the word “if” in the dictionary and one of the meanings is “allowing that”.
They accepted God’s will before they even knew what it was. They knew the wicked Nebuchadnezzar was only able to do to them what their God allowed. Life and death were in the hands of the real king.
The power of “even if”
What if we viewed all of our situations in the light our friends from Daniel chapter 3 shed? What if Nebuchadnezzar was our fears, worries, anxiety, and stress? Shouldn’t we have the courage to stand before them and declare our faith in a living, all-powerful God?
“Even if” will be our proclamation of faith, our stand against the enemy. Can we boldly confess that we believe God is in control and then be at peace even when threatened with fire?
We would walk through the fire and not be burned, standing strong in the knowledge that whatever happens, we need only to trust and obey! We would sleep at night, not trying to control what is out of our hands. Living in the present and seeking God’s will for each day would be our focus, leaving no thought to a painful past or uncertain future.
These men were not making impulsive decisions by disobeying the king’s orders. Their fear of God ( the healthy fear found in Proverbs 1:7) was greater than their fear of an earthly ruler. They knew they were in God’s hands.
Enter one of my favorite verses.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you. (Isaiah 43:1-2)
The other valuable lesson is about when and if we should disobey government officials. When in doubt, my mind always goes back to the stories of the apostles preaching the good news of Jesus in the early church. They are imprisoned, beaten, and told to stop. Their reply?
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)
They had been commissioned to share the gospel of their Lord Jesus Christ and they were prepared to do anything to remain faithful to him.
May the word of God always be your plumbline. May your decisions always be measured against God’s word.
Who Was the Fourth Person in Daniel 3?
Let’s continue our story.
Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace.
Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.
And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?”
They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”
“Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Daniel 3:19-23)
While the point I want to make is that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s hearts were in the right place, we cannot overlook the fourth man in the fire. Not only did the fire not burn them, but they had a visitor in their midst. Who was he?
Some will tell you that it was Jesus, others believe it to have been an angel. In either case, it was the presence of God. And why was the presence of God in the fire with them?
Because God has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. He is with His children through the good and the bad. He is here to defend us, fight for us, encourage us, and wrap us in His love and grace. His words to Joshua stand true for us today.
Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
Jesus understood the “even if”
Jesus taught us to view life through our faith. This life is not laced with worry and anxiety because we have confidence that we are being taken care of. Just like our brave Hebrews in ancient Babylon, true heroes from Daniel chapter 3. Jesus encourages us in Matthew.
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
Click the above image to download these inspirational cell phone wallpaper designs!
“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
And these last two verses continue our lesson from Daniel chapter 3. Our 3 Hebrew friends knew the secret to seeking first the kingdom of God. Their focus was in the correct place.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34)
A Happy Ending to Daniel Chapter 3
Now that we understand the lessons from Daniel 3, let’s read the rest of the story.
Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire.
And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.
Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!
Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.”
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon. (Daniel 3:26-30)
The most important thing in this story is not that God rescued them, but that they remained faithful to Him. This is what the Christian faith is all about. Remaining faithful to God no matter the circumstances.
Very few of us will ever face the fire of the third chapter of Daniel or the death penalty for our obedience to Him, but we have our own furnace of affliction in which we cling to God. Keep clinging in full faith! Continue to stand steadfast.
Determine in your hearts “even if” and allow God to save you in whatever way He chooses to do so. May you also learn these lessons from Daniel 3.
Here are the two songs we listened to. I hope they encourage you where you are!