Today let’s look at another instance in which God endorses disobedience to a civil authority. The record is of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the burning, fiery furnace. Or rather, how they got themselves tossed into that furnace. The quick version is that the king of Babylon ordered them to worship an idol, they refused and were thrown into a furnace to die, but God miraculously saved them.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were taken captive, along with Daniel, when the Babylonian empire conquered Judea. God brought them favor in Babylon by giving Daniel the interpretation of the king’s dream. The king elevated these four young men to positions of authority within his kingdom. Daniel was made an advisor to the king, while the other three were put in charge of the affairs of the province of Babylon. This province of Babylon was a part of the empire of Babylon. Think of the city of Rome inside the empire of Rome. Or think perhaps of New York City, which is inside New York state.
In the Babylonian system, king Nebuchadnezzar was an absolute ruler. The law was whatever he said it was, for as long as he said it was. And as soon as he changed his mind, the law changed with it. It was an unrestrained, totalitarian dictatorship. Such an arrangement is contrary to God’s law, as we will see.
Nebuchadnezzar setup an idol, an image of gold, and commanded everyone under his authority to worship it. The roll-out of this new policy is described Daniel chapter 3. The king gathered all the officials under him to the dedication of this new idol. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were among the rulers of the provinces who were gathered to this dedication.
Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
At the dedication, the king’s new policy concerning religious *ahem* “freedom” is announced. Everyone is commanded to worship the image when the music plays. Then right on cue, the music plays, and all the people fall down to worship the image. Everything is going according to Nebuchadnezzar’s plan, or so he thinks.
At least three men did not fall down and worship as they were instructed. The report finds it way to Nebuchadnezzar.
There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
The king flew into a rage. Here are three of his subordinates, men in positions of authority below him, apparently showing total disregard for his command. When the three men are brought to him, he questions them and reminds them of the penalty for disobeying this particular law.
Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?
The response is jaw-dropping.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.
Daniel 3:16 (ESV)
They refuse to even acknowledge the king as having authority in this matter. Such defiance! Such disregard! I’m almost surprised Nebuchadnezzar listened to the rest of their response.
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.”
They virtually dared him to throw them into the fire. You couldn’t think of a much worse answer for avoiding the furnace. This is not a “soft answer turneth away wrath” type of response. In fact, if you read carefully, it’s an ultimatum.
Here are these three conquered Jews, totally defenseless, without a shred of physical saftey, trading ultimatums with the supreme, all-powerful dictator of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezar: “If you worship my idol, great. Otherwise, you get the furnace”
Shadrach, Meshach and Abedgnego: “If that’s how it has to be, God will deliver us. But if you change your mind, you need to know one thing: we will NEVER serve your gods.”
TO BE CONTINUED