"Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold." According to Usher's chronology it had been twenty-three years since the dream of this same Nebuchadnezzar as recorded in the second chapter of Daniel. As a result of the experience at that time, Daniel was made counselor, sitting in the gate of the king, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were appointed rulers in the province of Babylon. Many opportunities had presented themselves to these men of God, and they had kept the knowledge of their God before the people of Babylon. Jerusalem had in the meantime been destroyed. The Jews as a nation, were scattered throughout the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar; their king, Jehoiachin, languished in one of the prisons of Babylon. It was a time of sorrow and mourning for the chosen people of God. Could it be that they were forgotten by Him who smote Egypt, and led the hosts across the Red Sea? As far as human eye could see, it was right to think so.
Nebuchadnezzar had been humiliated when Daniel interpreted his dream, and he had then worshiped God. But as the years passed, he lost the spirit which characterized true worship, and while in the mind acknowledging the God of the Jews, in heart he was pagan still. So he made an image of gold, patterning it as closely as possible after the image revealed to him in
his dream, at the same time gratifying his own pride, for the entire figure was gold. There was no trace of the other kingdoms which were represented by the silver, the brass, the iron, and the clay in the dream. On the plain of Dura it stood, rising at least one hundred feet above the surrounding country, and visible for miles in every direction.
Then a decree was issued by Nebuchadnezzar calling to the capital the governors and rulers of provinces from all over the world. He, the ruler of kingdoms, thus showed his authority. It was a great occasion, and subject kings and governors dared not disobey the mandates of this universal king.
Heaven was watching with intense interest, for this was the occasion when the highest worldly authority was to meet the government of heaven.
Babylon was not only the greatest and most powerful government in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, but it is a symbol of earthly governments of all time, and for that reason we have the record as given in Daniel 3.
As a king, he had a perfect right to call his subjects together. As subjects, it was the duty of those who were called to obey.
As that great company gathered around the image on the broad plain, the voice of the herald was heard: "At what time ye hear the sound . . . of all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image. . . . Whoso falleth not down and worshipeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace."
"God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit." But of spiritual
worship, paganism is entirely ignorant. Except there be some form, some image before which they can bow, there can be, to them, no worship. It was wholly in accordance with the religion, the education, and the government of Babylon, for the king to erect an image such as he did. It was wholly in harmony with the customs, educational, religious, and civil-for the people in general to respect a command to worship such an image.
While it was in harmony with worldly government, it was not, however, according to the principle of the heavenly government. Hence it is, that again, in the person of the Babylonian king, Satan is challenging the government of God. When Lucifer and his angels refused to bow before the throne of God, the Father would not then destroy them. They should live until death should come as a result of the course they pursued. The Babylonian king, however, threatened utter destruction to all who refused to worship his golden image. The motive power in the heavenly government is love; human power when exercised becomes tyranny. All tyranny is a repetition of the Babylonian principles. We sometimes call it papal; it is likewise Babylonian. When the civil power enforces worship of any sort, be that worship true or false in itself, to obey is idolatry. The command must be backed by some form of punishment,-a fiery furnace,-and the conscience of man is no longer free. From a civil standpoint, such legislation is tyranny, and looked at from a religious point of view, it is persecution.
The vast throng fell prostrate before the image, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego
remained erect. Then it was, certain Chaldeans,-teachers in the realm, jealous of the position and power of these Hebrews,-having waited for a chance to accuse them, said to the king, "There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, . . . these men have not regarded thee."
Can it be, thought the king, that when the image is made after the pattern of the one shown me by the God of the Jews, that those men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, have failed to worship at my command? Can it be possible that when I have elevated those men, who were only slaves, to high positions in the government, that they disregard my laws? The thought rankled in the heart of the king. Self exaltation brooks no opposition, and the men were called forthwith into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar.
Can it be possible, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, after all that has been done for you, that ye do not serve my gods nor worship the image which I have set up. The reason for making the image was doubtless explained, and another opportunity offered them in which they might redeem the past offense. But if it was willful disregard of authority, the law of the land should be enforced. The furnace was pointed to by the king as awaiting traitors and rebels.
What a test of the fidelity of these three companions of Daniel! They realized that they were in the presence of not only the richest monarch of earth, and that disobedience meant death, but before the assembled multitudes of the plain of Dura, and that they were a spectacle to God, to angels, and to the inhabitants of other worlds.
The whole universe was watching with inexpressible interest to see what these men would do. The controversy was not between man and Satan, but between Satan and Christ, and eternal principles were at stake. Men were actors in the contest. They could stand as witnesses either for Christ or for Satan in this time of decision. Would they allow an unsanctified emotion to have possession of their lives, and compromise their faith? What could a religion be worth which admitted of compromise? What can any religion be worth if it does not teach loyalty to the God of heaven? What is there of any real value in the world,-especially when on the very borders of eternity,-unless it be God's acknowledgment of us as his children?
These Hebrew youth had learned from the history of God's dealings with the Israelites in times past, that disobedience brought only dishonor, disaster, and ruin; and that the fear of the Lord was not only the beginning of wisdom, but the basis of all true prosperity. They therefore calmly and respectfully told the king that they would not worship his golden image, and that they had faith that their God was able to protect them.
The king was angry. His proud spirit could not tolerate this refusal to obey his decree. He ordered that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual, and that the most mighty men of his army bind these three Hebrews and throw them into the fire. This was done, but God in this act began to vindicate his worthies. The furnace was so exceedingly hot that the mighty men who cast the Hebrews into the fire were themselves destroyed by the intense heat.
God suffered not envy and hatred to prevail against his children. How often have the enemies of God united their strength and wisdom to destroy the character and influence of a few humble, trusting persons! But nothing can prevail against those who are strong in the Lord. The promise is, "The wrath of man shall praise thee."
God preserved his servants in the midst of the flames, and the attempt to force them into idolatry resulted in bringing the knowledge of the true God before the assemblage of princes and rulers of the vast kingdom of Babylon. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." All things are possible to those who believe. "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." God may not always work deliverance in the way that we think best, but he who sees everything from the beginning, knows what will bring honor and praise to his name.
Suddenly the king became pale with terror. He looked intently into the midst of the fiery furnace, and turned to those near him with the words, "Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?" They answered, "True, O king." The king then said, "Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."
How did the king recognize the form of the Son of God? Evidently by the teachings of the Jews in the court of Babylon and in remembrance of his vision. Daniel and his companions had ever sought to bring before the king, the princes, and the wise men of Babylon, a knowledge of the
true God. These Hebrews, holding high positions in the government, had been associated with the king; and as they were not ashamed of their God, they had honored and given glory to the Lord whenever opportunity afforded. The king had heard from their lips descriptions of the glorious Being whom they served; and it was from this instruction that he was able to recognize the fourth person in the fire as the Son of God. The king also understood the ministry of angels, and now believed that they had interfered in behalf of these faithful men who would yield their bodies to punishment rather than consent with their minds to serve or worship any God but their own. These men were true missionaries.
They held honored positions in the government, and at the same time let the light of the gospel shine through their lives. This miracle was one of the results of their godly lives.
With bitter remorse and feelings of humility, the king approached the furnace, and exclaimed, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither." They did so, and all the hosts of the plain of Dura were witnesses to the fact that not even the smell of fire was upon their garments, and not a hair of their heads had been singed. God had triumphed through the constancy of his faithful servants. The magnificent image was forgotten by the people in their wonder, and solemnity pervaded the assembly.
What the Jewish nation as a nation had failed to do in proclaiming the truth to the nations of the world, God accomplished under the most trying circumstances, with only three men. The story of the miraculous deliverance was told to
the ends of the earth. The principles of religious liberty and freedom of conscience were made known. The history of the Jews was told from mouth to mouth as those unacquainted with the three Hebrews asked who they were and how they came into Babylon. The Sabbath was proclaimed. The story of Jewish education was made known. The glory of Babylon was for the time forgotten as the splendor of the heavenly kingdom and the principles of God's government became the absorbing theme. Without doubt some men dated their conversion from that day, and forces were set in operation which paved the way for the return of the Jews a few years later.
Again the heathen monarch is brought to acknowledge the power of heaven's King. When Daniel interpreted the dream, worldly wisdom and the learning of the Babylonian schools fell before the simple gospel teaching as carried out by faithful mothers in Israel. When the three Hebrews were saved from the heat of the furnace, the principles of God's government-true Protestantism, as it would be called to-day,-were proclaimed before the nations of the earth.
It was only a partial appreciation of these principles which Nebuchadnezzar at first gained; nevertheless it led to the decree that throughout the whole dominion, wherever a Jew might be living, no man should speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. This gave freedom to every believer to worship unmolested. Satan, in attempting to destroy the Hebrews, had overstepped the bounds, and in place of the death of three, life was granted to thousands.
The trial on the plains of Dura was the crowning
act in the lives of the three Hebrews. We are told that they were advanced to higher positions in the province of Babylon, but we hear nothing further of them. In the testing time they did not know that the Lord would deliver them from the furnace, but they had faith to believe that he had power to do it if it were his will to do so. In such times it takes more faith to trust that God will bring about his purposes in his own way than it does to believe in our own way. It is the absence of this faith and trust in critical times which brings perplexity, distress, fear, and surmising of evil. God is ever ready to do great things for his people when they put their trust in him. "Godliness with contentment is great gain."
Seldom are we placed in the same circumstances twice. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Daniel, and others were sorely tried, even unto death, yet each test came in a different way. Each one to-day has an experience peculiar to his character and circumstances. God has a work to accomplish in the life of each individual. Every act, however small, has its place in our life experience. God is more than willing to guide us in the right way. He has not closed the windows of heaven to prayer, but his ears are ever open to the cries of his children, and his eye watches every movement of Satan to counteract his work.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were men of like passions with ourselves. Their lives are given to show what man may become even in this life, if he will make God his strength and wisely improve the opportunities within his reach. Among the captives of the king who had similar advantages, only Daniel and his
three companions bent all their energies to seek wisdom and knowledge from God as revealed in his Word and works. Although they afterward held high positions of trust, they were neither proud nor self-sufficient. They had a living connection with God, loving, fearing, and obeying him. They allowed their light to shine in undimmed luster, while occupying positions of responsibility. Amid all the temptations and fascinations of the court, they stood firm as a rock in adherence to principle.
A direct compliance with Bible requirements, and a faith in God, will bring strength to both the will and the body. The fruit of the Spirit is not only love, joy, and peace, but temperance also. If these youth had compromised with the heathen officers at first, and yielded to the pressure of the occasion by eating and drinking according to the custom of the Babylonians, contrary to God's requirements, that one wrong step would undoubtedly have led to others, until their consciences would have become seared, and they would have been turned into wrong paths. Faithfulness in this one point prepared them to withstand greater temptations, until finally they stood firm in this crucial test on the plain of Dura.
The third chapter of Daniel may be studied with profit in connection with the message referred to in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation. The principles are the same in both. All the world was called to worship the image set up in the province of Babylon; refusing, they would suffer death. In Revelation there is brought to view an image to the beast,-governments on earth which will frame laws contrary to the requirements
of God. Life and power will be given to this image, and it shall both speak and decree that as many as will not worship it shall be put to death. All, small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, will be required to receive a mark in the right hand or in the forehead. Men will be disfranchised for not worshiping this image; for no one will be allowed to buy or sell who has not the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Who will be able to stand the test when this decree to worship the image to the beast is enforced? Who will choose rather to "suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season"? What children are now being trained and educated in these principles of integrity to God? From what homes will come the Daniels and the Meshachs? This will be the final test brought upon the servants of God. The scenes portrayed in the third chapter of Daniel are but a miniature representation of those trials into which the people of God are coming as the end approaches.
Page 39: Dan. 3:1-6; Luke 10:27.
Page 40: Matt. 6:24; Luke 14:11; Rom. 13:1; Dan. 3:7; Ps. 33:13-15; Rom. 15:4; Titus 3:1; Ex. 20:4-5; John 4:24.
Page 41: Deu. 4:14-19; Prov. 5:22; Rom. 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:14; Joshua 24:15; Rev. 22:17; Dan. 3:8, 9.
Page 42: Dan. 3:10-12; Isa. 3:13; Luke 21:14, 15; Prov. 23:11; Dan. 3:13-15.
Page 43: Dan. 3:16, 17; Isa. 43:10; Matt. 10:32; Matt. 16:26; 1 Kings 18:21; 2 Chron. 20:20; Rom. 12:19; Dan. 3:18-22.
Page 44: Rom. 14:4; Prov. 24:16; Ps. 37:24; Ps. 76:10; Dan. 3:23; Isa. 43:2; 1 John 5:4; Mark 11:24; Dan. 3:24, 25; Ps. 18:48; 2 Cor. 3:2, 3.
Page 45: 2 Cor. 5:20; Matt. 12:34, 35; Ps. 34:7; Prov. 22:11; Matt. 5:16; Dan. 3:26-28.
Page 46: Luke 21:12, 13; Ps. 145:11-14; 1 Peter 2:12; Prov. 21:1; Dan. 3:29; Prov. 16:7; 2 Cor. 13:8.
Page 47: Rom. 10:18; Ps. 19:3, 4; Dan. 3:30; Ps. 37:3; Ps. 17:7; Ps. 46:10; Isa. 26:4; 1 Tim. 6:6; Gen. 22:1-14; Num. 20:8-12 ;1 Kings 18:30-40; Dan. 6:10-23; 2 Chron. 16:9; Jer. 32:19; Isa. 59:1; Ps. 34:15; Isa. 13:12; James 5:17.
Page 48: Eccl. 9:10; Rom. 15:4; Isa. 57:15; Prov. 4:20-22; Prov. 3:7, 8; Gal. 6:22, 23; Prov. 23:20, 21; 1 Tim. 4:2; Matt. 24:49-51; Rev. 14:9; Rev. 13:14-17.
Page 49: Rom. 14:4; Heb. 11:25. 26; Prov. 22:6; Dan. 12:1.