These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.
Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 38 ~ Sep. 14-20
Daniel, Ezra 1-6, Psalm 137, Haggai
But Even If He Does Not…
Exile. God has been warning Israel of the consequences of idolatry for centuries and has finally brought it to fruition. Last week we saw Ezekiel comfort the people with the good news that God’s anger and their punishment would not last forever, but today we find them smack dab in the middle of their time as Babylonian expatriates. How could they live as God’s people while being punished in a pagan nation? How could they please Him apart from temple sacrifices and offerings? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are going to show us.
The Problem- 1-7 (Exodus 20:1-6)
Here, the stage is set for the drama that is about to unfold. Nebuchadnezzar set up a 90 foot tall (probably much of that was a large base), 9 foot wide statue of himself, and commanded everyone under his rule to worship it. Emperor/king worship was not uncommon at any time during the Old or New Testament periods. While the emperor’s ego certainly must have played into this, it was mainly about loyalty and obedience to that leader and his rule. He was trying to preclude any hint of sedition while reinforcing to the people that he had control over every aspect of their lives. This was an especially important message to drive home to all of the governmental officials (2), because they were the ones most likely to slaughter the emperor and stage a coup.
From the emperor’s perspective, emperor worship also had less to do with actual religion and worship than submission to his absolute rule. Nebuchadnezzar and nearly everyone else in Babylon worshiped a panoply of gods, which was fine with Nebuchadnezzar as long as none of those gods superseded him and his rule in the eyes of his subjects. He was to be esteemed and obeyed above all others. That’s where our young Hebrew friends found themselves butting heads with Nebuchadnezzar’s new law. God is not OK with his people worshiping any other god before, besides, instead of, or in addtion to Him. He is the only God, and He alone is to be worshiped, even if your life is on the line.
The Persecution- 8-12 (2 Timothy 3:12, John 15:18)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three of the Judean exiles. We saw in chapter 1 that they, along with Daniel, were godly young men who risked their lives to be obedient to God’s commands. By the end of chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar had promoted them to prominent positions in his government. This is probably why the Chaldeans accused them– they were jealous. As with Daniel’s accusers in 6:4-5, they likely could not find any other grounds on which to discredit Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because they were upstanding, ethical, loyal citizens.
Satan hates God and anyone who loves and serves Him. John 15:18 says,
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me [Jesus] before it hated you.
Because of this hatred, Satan will do anything in his power to get God’s people to turn away from Him or sin against Him. He is the force behind all persecution, and he often uses his own servants to attack God’s servants. This was true for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and it is true for us today. Second Timothy 3:12 says,
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
If we love God and strive towards holiness, we will find ourselves under attack at times.
The Predicament- 13-15
Being a child of God can often mean facing scary situations in which we are tempted to cut corners or sin. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tempted to bow down to the image the first time when the music played. Here, the heat is turned up because they’re standing in front of the man who holds their lives in his hands, and they face the same temptation a second time. Why not just do it? God will understand and forgive them, right?
The Profession- 16-18 (Psalm 115:3, Romans 8:28)
Although it’s tempting to think that way, we can’t, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego prove this out beautifully. They would rather die than disobey their true King. And notice the strength of their testimony in the simple fact that they needed no time to consider Nebuchadnezzar’s offer (16). Immediately, they answered that their minds were made up. Under no circumstances would they bow to the image.
Why? Because they knew nothing was going to happen to them? No. We know that because we have the rest of the story. We have to remember that this was a real event happening to real people in real time, the same way things happen to us. They didn’t know what was going to happen next. For all they knew, they were toast. Yet they stood and boldly declared that God was able to do anything and they trusted Him no matter what.
But even if he does not…Those are probably the most important words in this story. To Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God was still God, still worthy of worship and obedience, whether he spared their lives or not. Can we say the same?
There are a lot of false teachers out there that will tell you it is always God’s will for you to be healed, wealthy, successful. And if you’re not, it’s your fault because of your lack of faith. But the Bible clearly teaches the opposite. If God had not saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, could anyone say it was due to their lack of faith? Did God refuse to take away Paul’s thorn in the flesh because of his lack of faith? Were 11 of the 12 disciples martyred because they lacked faith?
The truth is, Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Ps.) God does what He does for His glory and our good. And, much like when we take our children to the doctor for a shot, what’s good for us can be scary and painful. What if God doesn’t heal you? What if your child dies? What if your marriage isn’t reconciled? What if you lose your job? For those that love God and are called out to His purposes, He works all things together for good (Rom.) He has not promised us an easy way, but a difficult way. But He has promised to be with us all the way. Can we stand in faith with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and say, but even if He does not…?
The Peril and the Protection- 19-30
If we were writing this story, it would probably end right after verse 18 with Nebuchadnezzar so impressed with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that he backed down and honored them for their courage and integrity. But God’s didn’t want Nebuchadnezzar to be impressed with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to be impressed with Him.
If you’ll notice, God did not rescue Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego after their profession of Him. Things got worse. Nebuchadnezzar got angrier. The fire got hotter. God did not rescue them before they got tied up. Or before they got to the furnace. Or before they were thrown into the furnace. Or before they hit the bottom of the furnace. God allowed these three men who loved Him and were loyal to Him above all else to hit bottom before He rescued them. He didn’t rescue them from the furnace, He rescued them through the furnace.
God (possibly the preincarnate Christ in a theophany) was with them in the fire and, eventually, He brought them out on the other side. What do you think that did for their faith in Him? How much more intimately did they know Him, how much more thankful were they, and how much more intensely did they worship Him after God walked through the fire with them?
It’s the same for us. We grow to know and love God so much more intimately, when, instead of rescuing us from trials, He walks through them with us. I would not know and trust God as provider the way I do today had He not walked with me through some very difficult situations that only He could provide for. Others know God as healer or comforter or strength because of what He has walked through with them.
And what happened to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego wasn’t just about them, personally. God had a broader purpose for their suffering, and also for Daniel’s experience in the lions’ den. In those two incidents (and others), God got to pull back the curtain and reveal Himself to pagan people who desperately needed Him. He showed that He was superior to their gods, that they needed to repent and turn to Him, and that He loves His children. It had always been God’s plan to make Himself known to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and here were God’s first missionaries. If these four men hadn’t gone through what they went through, Nebuchadnezzar and the rest of watching Babylon would not have seen God. What they went through showcased the great God they served.
Likewise, our trials can be an opportunity to point people to the Christ who has rescued us from the ultimate fire, and who can rescue them as well. Even if He does not…is a glorious opportunity to shine the spotlight on our great, mighty and merciful God.