Life Lessons: The Fiery Furnace
The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is probably one of the more well known tales of the Old Testament. It’s the type of story that has made for a great dramatic retelling on numerous occasions including with a chocolate bunny. (Looking at you, “Veggie Tales”!) We love an underdog story where the little guys stand up to the big guy and come out on top… even better if it includes some miraculous and unexplainable interventions but I think we sometimes get so wrapped up in the outcome that we miss the details of the story, itself. This particular story started long before the furnace and ended long after it turned to embers but today I’d like to focus on the first few chapters of Daniel and how we can still apply these lessons to our present lives.
Don’t miss out on your preparation chapters.
When you read chapter one of Daniel, you see that the titular character and many other men from Judah have been taken into King Nebuchadnezzar’s service. This moment has come about because their homeland has been conquered by the Babylonian King and he requested that certain Israelites be put to work in his household, however, before they can begin they must undergo THREE years of training which included culture, arts, language and more. Little did Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego know but these years were preparing them for their future tasks.
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you were stuck or that your life was in a rut? Maybe you hate your job but you can’t find a new one? Maybe your home is less than ideal but the market isn’t great? Maybe you’re single but the dating scene seems to be lacking? We’ve all had moments where we didn’t understand why the Lord was allowing that chapter but I’ve often found that those are moments of preparation for my next chapter… my next purpose!
These men could have easily thrown a hissyfit or just gone all in with the Babylonian culture after being dealt such an unexpected and, I’m guessing, unwanted blow but instead they not only behaved with integrity and character to those around them, they also chose to continue living right before God. They honored God while keeping their noses out of trouble. It reminds me of the verse in Matthew 10, where the disciples are told to be “...shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves”. These years allowed them to gain knowledge, wisdom and the respect of their captors which would be very important later. So, if you feel stuck or are in a challenging situation, look around and see what you can gain while you are there because who knows how that may benefit you in your next step…
Always ask for wisdom.
After being set up in the kingdom for a while, several of the king's “wise men” got into some hot water with Nebuchadnezzer which angered him with everyone including Daniel and his friends. The king essentially realized that his astrologers were big phonies and just giving him lip service. He was tired of hearing what he wanted to hear and needed someone to tell him the truth. The issue was that to tell the king the truth required someone magically knowing the king’s dream and being able to interpret it which is a bit of a tall order.
However, when Daniel is told that he and his friends are to be executed, He calmly, with “wisdom and tact” asks why the king has required this. This may seem a strange moment to highlight in the midst of Daniel’s whole story but to me, it reinforces what the Bible says many times throughout. ASK FOR WISDOM! James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” The Lord wants us to have wisdom but so often we stumble around in the dark because we refuse to ask.
The fact that Daniel spoke with “wisdom and tact” in the midst of a very overwhelming situation tells me that he already had the wisdom because he had already asked for it. I can only imagine that from the moment he was taken captive he probably asked the Lord to give him wisdom in how best to handle the situation. Personally, I have situations where I’ve asked the Lord to give me wisdom in every interaction because I will screw it up royally without His help and that prayer for wisdom may occur five thousand times over the course of years. Ask the Lord to help you discern the words to say or the steps to take. God doesn’t set boobie traps for us with the hopes we fall in. If you’re unsure about something, ask for wisdom and seek godly counsel.
Your community matters.
When Daniel learns of the king’s plan to execute the wise men, he asks for some time to think about the king’s dream and immediately returns to his friends where he asks them to pray over the situation and ask God for mercy concerning Daniel. Do you have a community of prayer warriors that you can call upon when you are facing one of life’s battles? If you would feel uncomfortable or embarrassed going to your closest friends and asking them to pray for you then you might need to reconsider who surrounds you. I’ve been in both situations. I’ve had friend groups with which I felt it was a waste of time to discuss prayer needs and I’ve had friend groups that have fought many a battle at my side. Let me tell you… the difference is life giving! There’s a reason why the Bible harps on community and it’s because it is necessary to run this race successfully.
When Moses’ arms got tired from holding his staff up during the battle against the Amalekites, what happened? Aaron and Hur, his community, held them up for him. (Exodus 17) When Esther is charged to approach the king on behalf of her people, knowing that death could surely await, what happened? Her people and servants began fasting and praying on her behalf. (Esther 4) Even Christ chose to surround himself with community in the Garden asking them to watch and pray. (Matthew 26)
I am very fortunate to have what my pastor calls a 2 AM friend. Actually, I am very fortunate to have three. These are the women that hold me accountable and with whom I can trust my greatest struggles and yes, I can call them at 2 AM if necessary. Prayer requests are a regular part of our group text, peppered among the memes and discussions on snacks. Of course, I have others that pray for me but these women don’t mind marching into battle with me and I will gladly do the same for them. Find a 2 AM friend because 2 AM will come…
Give credit where credit is due.
Have you ever seen someone take credit for something that was clearly not of their doing? It’s extremely frustrating and definitely wrong but when it comes to taking glory from God, it’s also a sin! The wisest person is someone who is overwhelmingly talented but knows not a drop of that talent is their own doing. God gives us gifts and abilities to use for His kingdom but that does not give us bragging rights.
Daniel was a smart man and he understood the power of prayer and a heavenly Father that was showing compassion on his situation so when the king asked him if he was able to interpret the dream in chapter 2, Daniel's response was direct and to the point. “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” Translation? If I’m successful in this only God can get the glory! I can do nothing without him! And shouldn’t that be our cry as well?
I have a dear friend who jokes that the Lord didn’t give her the ability to sing solos because she would get too big for her britches, real quick. The Lord knew she needed non-spotlight talents of which she has many that have been used by the Lord more times than I can count. Ultimately, we need to do heart checks to ensure we are giving God glory for the blessings, talents and opportunities He has given us.
Finally, we come to my favorite verse in Daniel and definitely one of my favorite words in the whole Bible, “but”. Take note, when you see that word because the Lord is most likely about to shake things up. However, in chapter 3, this “but” comes not from the Lord but from our brave trio. As chapter 3 begins, King Nebuchadnezzar has created a gold idol for everyone to worship which is obviously a problem for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who are men of God. As if this isn’t bad enough, the punishment for not bowing down is death and being Biblical times, it’s a pretty horrific death… burning alive in a 1000+ degree flame! You can understand why everyone else seemed real keen on complying but our three could not bow to anyone but the one, true God.
Of course, this choice didn’t sit well with everyone which is why Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were brought before the king to explain themselves. As they explain to Nebuchadnezzar that they could never bow down to the idol, it says the king became “furious with rage” and he gave them an ultimatum… bow down or die. This is the moment in the story I think we gloss over because we have hindsight. We know the Lord saves them but they did not know how their story would end.
In the face of certain death, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego make the following declaration, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.” That, in and of itself, is an incredible statement to make at this moment. Almost like poking the bear but it’s verse 18 that I love the most. “But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” These men knew that the Lord COULD save them in the way they hoped but they also knew that their plans might not line up with God’s and that’s a good thing to remember in our everyday life.
Actually, my favorite translation of verse 18 has to be, “But if not, He is still good.” This means that God’s goodness and righteousness is not based on what He does for us, therefore, our faithfulness in those challenges shouldn’t be based on that either. God is not a genie. The truth of who God is doesn’t change based on my circumstances. I realize that is an easy thing to say sitting here now but a lot harder to remember in the midst of the dark valleys. This is why I think it is so important not to skip to the end of the story and forget that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced the unknown with a known God. That should encourage us! I may not understand my circumstances but I do know my Father and I can rest assured in the fact that He loves me and His plan is best even if it’s painful.
I have experienced many moments of pleading with the Lord in prayer to change a circumstance, speed up a journey or take away a trouble knowing that the outcome won’t always reflect my wishes but I have learned that if I can end those encounters with “But if not, You are still good.” my heart can find the peace that only the Lord can offer. Not easy but no less true.
The story of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego doesn’t end in chapter 3. Just like modern life, there are more hills and valleys to come in the next nine chapters of the book but the message continues to be the same. God is good, faithful and actively working out His plan. So, if you take nothing else away from their story remember that you don’t have to understand your circumstances to trust your Father.