Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
One of the more well-known stories from the Old Testament recounts the experience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego as they refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue. Their ability to stand firm in their beliefs while being faced with death by a fiery furnace is why this story is often cited as being a lesson on remaining committed to God, no matter the cost – and this is true. These three men were willing to sacrifice their lives to live out the first commandment which states: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3).
Nevertheless, if we take another look at this story, we’ll also find a warning about the cost of being obedient to man. It is true that Proverbs 19:20 states: Listen to counsel and receive instruction, That you may be wise in your latter days. We should be open to the advice and instruction of others, but the next verse gives us some much-needed context. It states: There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand. Sometimes the counsel or instruction from God will vary from that of man. Which will we choose?
In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, it was the Chaldeans who first pointed out that they had not chosen the king’s instructions. It was also the Chaldeans, who one chapter earlier, were among the group of “theologians” that could not tell King Nebuchadnezzar what he had dreamt nor its subsequent interpretation. Daniel, however, did after spending a night in prayer with God, joined by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. After revealing the dream and its meaning to the king, Daniel was promoted. He then requested of the king to also remember his friends – who were then put over the affairs of the province of Babylon.
Up until the mandate to bow, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego’s differences helped to bring them favor. Recall Daniel 1? Daniel and these three men decided not to defile themselves with the king’s diet, requesting healthier options instead. In Daniel 1:15 the results are revealed. The scripture states: And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies.
God’s blessings were evident upon Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, but it appeared as though life was about to change. The Chaldeans took their refusal to bow as an opportunity to point out what was already known. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego did not worship the king’s gods, nor would not bow down to the statue. The king, in anger, sent for them to give them one last chance to bow down, but they refused to fold.
The King’s Response
At this point, King Nebuchadnezzar became irate. His response is understandable, considering that as king, he had now been publicly insulted and challenged. Unfortunately, he put himself in this situation. Just one chapter earlier, after Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar his dream and its interpretation while citing God as the source, the king said this in response: “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret.” (Daniel 2:47)
Had King Nebuchadnezzar not lost sight of the one true God, he wouldn’t have been trying to make his own god. The decree would’ve never happened, and there would have been no choice between worshiping the king or God. The lesson here for us is this: people aren’t always wrong on the surface. It’s their intentions and hearts that are tainted. Whether from fear, trauma, anger, ego, or a myriad of other emotions, they become blinded to God’s true light. When this happens, everything else that comes from them is tainted too. Jesus confirmed this ideology when He said in Matthew 7:18: A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. We’d like to think we are the good trees, but sometimes – we’re not.
Mighty Men of Valor
As for King Nebuchadnezzar, in anger “he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace.” (Daniel 3:20) These soldiers are often referenced as a footnote in the story, but I think we should consider them to be main characters too. Chosen for their strength and courage, these men show us what it costs when we align ourselves with the wrong leader. We see the results in verse 22 when the scriptures state: Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Mighty men of valor were lost because a king was caught up in his fury and in his pride.
They were also excluded from God’s grace when He entered the fiery furnace to save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. As this pertains to us, I wonder how often we’re the mighty men of valor instead of the followers of Christ. How often does our loyalty to others take us down paths God never intended for us to go? Whether it be from positions of power, family relationships, or years of friendship, sometimes we take instruction from the wrong people – and it will cost us. And it’s not that everyone’s intentions are bad, they just aren’t what Christ has in store for you and me. Remember, each of our journeys are different. If we take action primarily based on the direction of others, we might be risking more than a simple mistake.
Dare to be Different
Whether it be advice, recommendations, mandates, and/or laws, God still calls us to do what we believe is right, as we abide in His will. It can be hard, however, to be different. We don’t always want to stand out or be seen as peculiar. For some of us, we feel as though we’re always being seen as different, and it would be nice not to bear the burden. For others, it can bring about feelings of discomfort or doubt. Yet I find encouragement in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. They went into the fire without anyone else thinking they could survive it – but they could. They knew that if God willed it, they’d live through it – and they did.
Their ending is an analogy to this world’s ending. The soldiers who died represent those who will be lost after Christ’s second coming. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego represent those who will be saved. Each of us will face the same choice, where aligning with God means falling out of alignment with others. We have to accept this in order for us to grow. Never forget – we aren’t saved by the opinions of others, nor can we be lost by them either. It’s our choices that make the difference… and should we foster a genuine and consistent relationship with Christ, when the time comes, we will have the strength and courage needed to dare to be different.
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