The statue was ninety feet high and nine feet wide. It was big, and they set it up in a wide plain. This thing was meant to be noticed, meant to be respected, meant to be worshipped. (Ninety feet is the distance between bases on an official MLB diamond. Nine feet is the length of a good-sized couch.) It wasn’t easy to make, and it wasn’t easy to erect. Think what it weighed!
Attendance at the
ceremony wasn’t optional.
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, decided this monstrosity was a good idea (maybe to consolidate loyalty in his very diverse kingdom). He ordered a dedication ceremony, of sorts, and he invited everyone who was anyone in government—from the satraps to the provincial officials. This invitation didn’t have an R.S.V.P. though. No, when the King invited you to a ceremony, your attendance wasn’t optional!
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (a.k.a. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) were administrators in Babylon (Daniel 2:49), so they found themselves at this pagan ceremony. They were faithful God-followers, which King Nebuchadnezzar knew, if he’d taken a moment to think about it. (See Daniel 1 & 2. In Neb’s defense, it may have been twenty years later.) But he was so wrapped up in his latest self-glorification project that he forgot that significant detail.
The ceremony involved some flash-mob style choreography (or maybe it’s more like musical chairs…). When the symphony started, everyone within earshot was supposed to throw themselves on the ground and worship this huge image.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t prostrate themselves. They didn’t make a big deal of it, didn’t march up on stage in protest, didn’t organize a march. They simply remained standing (or seated). Their defiance was so unobtrusive that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t even notice.
The friends refused
a second chance.
Some astrologers, probably jealous of the friends’ high positions, pointed it out to the king. Still, Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction seems over-the-top. Maybe he was embarrassed to be disobeyed here in front of everyone. Maybe he was frustrated because it was such a straightforward command with straightforward consequences. He does offer them a second chance (v. 15), but they calmly refuse. We need to read their reply.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “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. 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.” -Daniel 3:16-18
Even God’s seeming failure to act
would not affect their faith in Him.
What peace in the face of peril! What level-headedness even when the king was furious with rage (v. 13)! What strength of character! What faith…yes, what faith: that God’s actions would not affect their dedication to Him. I think, “Even if you do not deliver me from this trial, Lord. Even if I die as a result of my decision here, I will not dishonor you. Your glory is more valuable to me than my own life.”
Later, the Apostle Paul would say,
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. -Philippians 1:20-21
This is one of the best biblical examples of absolute confidence in God’s sovereignty, but I want to make a different point today.
Integrity speaks with a soft voice.
Perhaps a soft voice
of faith will say all
that needs to be said.
The three friends didn’t need to protest, to complain, to make a scene. They acted according to their faith and let God take care of the rest. God doesn’t need us to defend Him. In fact, He defends us. In these hectic days of (mis)information overload, when people too often type in all caps and push their political opinions on everyone in their social media feed, perhaps a soft voice of faith, backed up by a life of integrity, will speak all that needs to be said.
You can’t insist on integrity in others and you can’t manufacture it in yourself. It comes from long-time, humble faith lived out in obedience. And it’s tested when a public or private opportunity to “save your own skin” arises.
God was doing something awesome here, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego got to be part of it because of their life-time pattern of faithfulness. Come back next week for the burning-hot part of the story.
The testing of our integrity is never easy. How does Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego’s story encourage you today? Leave me a note in the comments.