Fire is hot.
Okay, duh. Yes, fire is hot. Barely hotter than where I grew up in SW Oklahoma. You see, I lived a mere 28 miles from Altus – often mentioned in weather reports as the hottest city in the state. Sometimes the nation.
I remember going to that city one summer evening for a movie. We picked the late show, hoping it would cool off by then.
As we waited outside to pay, I glanced at the bank’s electronic sign. (It blinked the time and then the temperature.) Here it was, almost 9:00pm, and the temperature was 113 degrees Fahrenheit! It felt like our skin was on fire!
This fire was punishment
Today we are in Daniel 3:8-30. Israel is in exile in Babylon, but there are some who still hold tight to God and His commands.
This story begins with astrologers denouncing the Jews. Three quick points about that:
- Astrology is not for believers. Do not mess with it. Anything that has people denouncing God’s chosen people should be off limits. It began as a Babylonian cult.
- In Gen. 12:3, God tells Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
- This first line of the story explains the ending.
King Nebuchadnezzar had built a golden statue of himself about 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. Then whenever the people heard any kind of music, they were commanded to fall down and worship this image of King Neb. If they didn’t they would be thrown into a fire. (Dan. 3:1-7)
But the reason the astrologers came to the King like tiny tattletales was that 3 Jews who had been given positions in control over parts of Babylon – Shadrack, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and they were not obeying this command. AND they didn’t serve the gods of the king.
The astrologers manipulated the king by playing on his pride. Verse 12, “There are some Jews…who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty…”
The King summoned them, asking them if the accusations were true. Then he offered a final chance to worship the statue or be thrown into the fire. In verse 15b, he asks a loaded question, “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
The 3 God-followers say in verse 16 that the God they serve IS ABLE to deliver them. And, v.18, “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.”
Man! That’s the kind of faith I want. Boldly speaking TRUTH to POWER and knowing God is ABLE to prevent calamity, BUT a peace with the consequences if He chooses not to.
Stoke the fire!
His pride now wounded at this refusal in front of so many, King Neb had his men heat the fire to 7 times normal. He commanded his strongest guards to bind the trio and toss them in (v19-20). Extra heat, no doubt, to match the level of his embarrassment. The strongest guards were a bit of over-kill since the trio had given him no indication that they would try to break free.
Still clothed – most executions had the criminals stripped bare, so it seems Neb was in quite a rush – the 3 are thrown into the fire. As these strong guards did this, they were killed by the fire as the king watched (v21-23).
Within the fire
Suddenly King Neb jumps to his feet. “Didn’t we throw 3 bound men into the middle of the fire?”
“Yep,” his advisors reply (v24, Okie Standard Translation).
Then the king drops a bombshell: He sees FOUR men in the fire – walking around. And the 4th looked like a “son of the gods.” (v25)
Think about that for a second. Within the flames, the men were walking. Maybe the fire destroyed only the ropes that bound them. But even more amazing was the 4th man! Even through the glow of the 7-times hotter fire, Neb could see this was no ordinary human. And he even identified who it was — as much as he could. Who IS the “Son of God?” Yes! Most scholars believe this was yet another appearance of Jesus before He received His earthly body.
Jesus walked WITH THEM IN THE FIRE. He didn’t prevent them from being put IN the fire, but He certainly protected them inside it.
Old thinking was torched
In v26, Neb calls them out by name. Good thing, since he can’t really send anyone else to go get them… When they came out, the only difference was that their ropes were gone. No smoky smell in their clothes. Or singed hair. No burns from the fire that killed the men who had only gotten close to it.
Neb’s reaction? He praised God! The God of these men. Capital G. And in v29, he deals with those tiny tattletales with a decree, “I won’t allow people of any nation or race to say anything against their God. Anyone who does will be chopped up and their houses will be torn down, because no other god has such power to save.”
Besides Neb’s new-found protectiveness of the 3 men he had just tried to execute, his statement of God’s power is pretty amazing: “No other god has such power to save.”
Amen. This time, POWER spoke TRUTH.
What it means for me:
- I should be faithful to spend time with God. Despite laws against it, our brave trio continued to make their time with God a priority. They knew the cost of their devotion if they were caught, but it didn’t stop them. This year I’ve spent time daily slowly reading through the Old Testament. I’ve posted my reading plan below. The Old Testament in One Year. It only requires 3 chapters per day with several catch up days per month.
- There will be those who want to stop our time with God. Just like the tattletales, there will always be things and people that try to keep us from God. Who knows, as evil becomes more prevalent, we may even face persecution for our faith here, as it already happens in other countries.
- Don’t follow blindly. Assess new situations through the eyes of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Don’t just go along with the crowd.
- Know who you serve. This happens as you spend more time with God and build your personal relationship with Him. (See #1)
- Tell others about God. Even in the face of danger, these men BOLDLY spoke up about their faith. They told what God is capable of doing, but they also weren’t going to abandon Him if things didn’t pan out.
- Sometimes you have to go THROUGH. So many times I’ve prayed for God to spare me FROM HAVING TO GO INTO a time of fire or trial. But sometimes God allowed me to go IN – so He can get me through it. My faith is stronger as I exit, and others are witness to how I handled it. Lives can be changed.
Ending 2023 next time…
As we near the end of our year studying some Old Testament miracles, I’d remind you that this isn’t an exhaustive list of the mind-boggling things God recorded there. And I’d urge you to read through the pages on your own. Instead of doing a “read the entire Bible in a year” plan that forces you to read so many chapters per day that it’s difficult to remember any of it, this year I made my own Old Testament Plan It requires reading 3 chapters a day, with at least one day off per week, so it’s much more manageable. And it makes it more likely you’ll remember more of what you read. (There’s a New Testament plan, too. I’ll share it next time.)