Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this 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 or worship the golden image that you have set up"
~Daniel 3:16-18

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were three of the young men who were taken into captivity by King Nebuchanezzar of Babylon's forces when he laid siege to Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:10-17; Daniel 1:2-4). This capture of the capital of the nation of Judah was part of God's purpose to punish His people for their sins of disobedience and idolatry (2 Kings 23:26-27). Daniel recognizes this by describing this capture as being ordained by God. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God (1:2).

These young men that were captured could be described as the "best of the best" and the "brightest of the bright." The group would consist of youths probably around the ages of 14 or 15. They had to be physically fit (without blemish, of good appearance) and intellectual (skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning) (v.4). The goal of the Babylonians was to eradicate any evidence of their former life of Judaism and make them into full-fledged Babylonians. They were taught the literature and language of the Babylonians and even were given new names. Though we know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, their given Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. In the Hebrew culture, names were important because they usually revealed something about the person's character, circumstance of their birth, or were in praise to God. In fact, each of these three young men's name said something about the one true God, Yahwah. Hananiah's name meant Yahwah is gracious, Mishael's was Who is what God is?, and Azariah's was Yahweh is a helper. The new Babylonian names they were given replaced the reference to Yahweh in their names with the names of Babylonian gods. Hananiah became Shadrach, meaning command of Aku. Mishael would become known as Meshach, Who is like Aku?. Azariah then was given the name Abed-nego, servant of Nebo (v. 7). While the Babylonians sought to eradicate every trace of their past, they could never take away the faith of these young men.

When King Nebuchadnezzar built a golden statue and commanded everyone to bow down and worship it at the playing of the instruments, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to bow. The king even stated that any who would be defiant of his command would face the fiery furnace (3:6).

Due to some certain Chaldeans who reported their refusal, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego find themselves called in to stand before the king (vv. 8-13). After inquiring for himself if the accusation against them proved true (v. 14), King Nebuchadnezzar gave them another chance and reminded them of the consequence of their actions (v. 15). They reply with one of the most powerful statements of faith found throughout all of Scripture.

If this 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 or worship the golden image that you have set up (vv. 17-18). These three young men refused to bow down to the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar made inspite of the consequences of being thrown into the fiery furnace. They refused to bow down to any other god than the one true God, regardless whether God would save them or not. The verb able in this verse appears to refer to God's willingness instead of actual literal ability. These men would have certainly not denied God's omnipotence. There is a contrast here between the if God is able and the but if not. The point they were making to the king was that if God decided to deliver them then He would but even if He chose not to, they still would not bow down to the idol that the king had set up. The He will deliver us out of your hand is dependent on the condition of this willing ability. (The and before the He will deliver can also be translated then as a waw in Hebrew carries several different meanings in a narrative to connect and move the story along. It can be translated and, next, then, but and several other choices.) Their worship and commitment to God must have been based on Who He is and not what He would or would not do for them. They refused to turn from God even if He, in His divine providence, decided not to deliver them from the threat that awaited them. They would trust God no matter what the result He planned for them to be.

So often, we base our trust and worship of God on what He might give us or how He might respond to our prayer. This means that we are worshipping not for Who He is but instead based on how He might benefit us. He would not be the end that our worship is centered on but merely the means to an end being what we want. Also, in face of persecution like what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego faced, could we say with them that we would be steadfast in our faith and refuse to bow to any other god (which does not have to be a statue but is anything we give adoration and devotion to that only belongs to God)? Do we waver in our faith and worship of God when God does not answer our prayers the way we want Him to? Or do we worship Him regardless? Could we say with Job that Though He slay me, I will hope in Him (Job 13:15)? May God give us the unwavering faith that refuses to bow to anyone or anything else, the faith that will trust and worship Him when life doesn't make sense and when we may not understand what He is doing.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

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