Integrity- Counting the Cost
By Don Jones
To say that they went from the frying pan into the fire would be incorrect. They simply went into the fire. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to stick to their convictions regardless of the punishment. In this case, the punishment was death. Daniel is conspicuously absent from this account in Scripture.
Robert Shank says, “its one thing to debate the elevation of moral high ground: it’s quite another to face death while defending it. As long as acceptance is assured by opposing viewpoints, the resolve of the person with integrity remains untested. But, when principle has a price tag, the depth of commitment is discovered.
That day came for Daniel’s friends. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were spotted as non-participants in the unacceptable behavior that had become the legislated requirement of their society. When given the chance to bend and live, they chose to be heroes for what seemed to be a martyr’s cause. But, the conclusion is never written in advance in the accounts where God is the key player.”
Jesus told us to count the cost when looking to follow Him. What can happen when we are willing to follow God no matter what the cost? Let’s look at this miraculous account to see how our God breaks into human history to reveal himself in the midst of the fire.
Once again, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found themselves in a crisis situation. The king decided to build a monument to his kingdom. It was a tremendous undertaking and the result was phenomenal. I can’t imagine how this was accomplished with ancient technology but it was. He was absolute ruler and had the resources, so the golden image was built. Verses 1-2 says,
King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up.
After the dedication ceremony, a decree went forth in the land. They were to bow down before the golden image and worship it whenever the musical instrument sounded. It seemed like a fair law, it applied to everyone, no exceptions. Verse 4-6 says,
Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
The cost of not obeying the decree was also made very clear. If you do not obey, you will die. You will be thrown into the blazing furnace (archeologists have found the plain and the pedestal). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were once again being called upon to compromise their beliefs and values. The cost had gone up. When they wouldn’t follow the diet in chapter one they might have been thrown out of the king’s service but now, it was very clear that non-compliance meant death.
Unfortunately, for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, obeying Nebuchadnezzar’s decree meant breaking the Law of God. They knew that God’s law was clear on the subject of idol worship. Exodus 20:3 says,
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
I am not sure if we will ever be called upon to die in a fiery furnace for following Christ. My guess would be, we will not. I am pretty sure that we will never be called upon to die a martyr’s death. But we are called on constantly to live out His life in front of others and be identified as a follower of Jesus. Our lives are to be lived with love, charity, forgiveness, kindness, and selflessness that there can be no mistake we are his child. Are there pressures and situations that make living life for Christ difficult and sometimes costly? Yes, but those are the times that we really will be identified as disciples of Jesus.
These men of God must have had some enemies. Scripture tells us that the other astrologers went to the king to tattle on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. I am not sure if they were angry with the Jews in general, or if they were angry with these friends of Daniel. Remember, Daniel had been put in charge of the astrologers at the end of Chapter two. Perhaps this was their way of getting back at Daniel and the king who dared put Jews in charge of Babylonians. Whatever the reason, Nebuchadnezzar was made aware of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s transgressions and scripture says he was “furious with rage”.
Amazingly, the king gave them a second chance. Maybe he knew the other astrologers were scheming or perhaps he was a “fair” king and wanted to give them a “fair” trial before sentencing. For whatever reason, the king gave them a clear choice. Verses 13b-15 says,
So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man on the face of the earth in terms of “earthly” power. He had conquered nation after nation with his mighty armies. He had unquestioned authority over the lives of his people and those he had conquered. His boast was that even God could not save them from his judgment. How little he knew about God’s mighty power.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego told the king that their God was bigger than his punishment and was bigger than him. They were unwilling to compromise their beliefs even in the face of death. On top of that, they had an unyielding confidence that God would deliver them no matter what life or the king threw at them. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego challenged the assumption of the king concerning their God and said in verse 17,
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.
In essence, they told the king, “Bring it on”. How this must have angered the king. These men were, in his eyes, about to meet a horrible death and yet they were unafraid of the punishment and the king. The king was again as scripture says, “furious”. So, into the fire they went.
The men who threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fire were consumed immediately because the fire was so intense. But to everyone’s amazement Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were still alive. Miraculously, there were untied and instead of three men in the fire, there were four men walking around in the fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar in verse 25 says,
Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.
It has been said that it is in the midst of the fire that the personal presence of our Lord is experienced in mighty and miraculous ways. Many commentators believe, as do I, that this “person” is the pre-incarnate Christ. Whoever he was, he was definitely the presence, power, and protection of almighty God. In essence, God was with them in the furnace protecting them. I sometimes wonder if the Lord has to “turn up the heat” in our live so others can see His work.
What Nebuchadnezzar saw was the power of God first hand in the lives of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He called them out of the fire, no doubt from a safe distance and went to examine them. They were not even singed from the fire and even more miraculous, they didn’t smell of the fire either. If you are like me, even grilling in the back yard causes my clothes to smell, not so with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were the same coming out as when they went in.
Nebuchadnezzar began praising God. He even issued another decree concerning Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Verses 29 says,
Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”
I do not believe that the king had a salvation experience at this point, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were protected and promoted much like Daniel was after his ordeal.
Do you have this same type of unyielding faith like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Lord?
Several years ago I received a call from a man who I thought had great faith. He had been a faithful member of the church. He gave testimony about his relationship with Jesus Christ. He was supportive in thick and thin. He was even a deacon and served faithfully in ministering to other members in the church. During one of our many visits he even told me of God’s deliverance during the Battle of the Bulge. He was a machine gunner in the 101st and survived that horrible ordeal. He testified it was by God’s saving power.
Unfortunately, like so many others, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. He took the news hard. He called to say he was angry and disillusioned. He was angry at God that he was going to die of cancer and be the shell of the man he once was. No matter how many people tried to talk to him he would not let go of his anger toward God. He died 5 weeks later still angry and bitter. Many commented how his faith failed at this time of trial. It was an unfortunate legacy to leave. The trial by fire consumed him and his testimony. Few, if any, saw the person of Christ in his life at that point.
Another man I know had similar news. Like the first man he served in WWII in Patton’s 3rd Armored. He too experienced the horrors of war and knew it was by God’s power he survived. He had lived his life for Christ in much the same way as the first man. Aggressive cancer had spread in his body as well. He was turning into a shell of the man he once was.
Unlike the other man, this man told how God had blessed him and how he was finally going to be in the perfect presence of Christ. Many commented that his last days were spent like the rest, peaceful in the midst of the fire, knowing that it was all in God’s hands and that he was in Christ. His trial by fire was met with the same courage as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
How would you meet the fire? Do you have the commitment now that will carry you later? It begins by experiencing the risen Christ in your own life today.