This morning we are going to explore one of the most powerful statements of faith in all of Scripture. One of the fun things in preaching through The Story, this year, is that I get to pick what slice of The Story I am going to focus on. This morning, I get to preach one of the most insightful observations about how our relationship with YHWH ought to be.
This morning, I am going to do the story of Hananiah, Mi-sha-el, and Azariah or more famously known by their Babylonian names... Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego. Their statement of faith in Daniel 3 is as powerful as anything, I know, in all scripture... I wish I could have said this...
Daniel 3:17-18 “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
“Wow, don’t you wish that, once in your life, you could make a statement of faith like that? Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego were able to make an enormous impact on all the people around them, including the King.
That is the statement I want to explore this morning. I order to do that, I need to back up and place this statement in its story. Let’s do the story of Hananiah, Mi-sha-el, and Azariah or, if you prefer... Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego.
First a dab of history.
Babylonia was the Big Dog of the world from 605 BC until it was defeated by the combined forces of the Medes and the Persians in 539 BC. It was a wondrous empire. The hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world would have been around for Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego to explore.
Nebuchadnezzar was the Big Dog of the Big Dogs. He was king of the Babylonian empire. Don’t think monarch, like England, which is mostly for show, so they can have pretty weddings on TV... Think, absolute ruler... Think, tyrant... Think, his word was instantly law... Nebuchadnezzar ruled for 43 years from 605-562 BC. It was the height of the Babylonian Empire.
This is the Nebuchadnezzar that destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. But before that, Nebuchadnezzar had taken captives from Jerusalem to Babylon. Listen to the beginning of the book of Daniel.
Daniel 1:1-4 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
Thus... Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego had been taken from their homes in Jerusalem and had ended up in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace being taught how to be a Babylonian. You can see the red line on the map...
Here is where the story starts to get interesting.
It would have been easy for Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego to allow themselves to be assimilated by the Babylonians.
--They were, most likely, teenagers a long way from home. Mom and Dad would never know what they did, or even what became of them.
--Their God, YHWH had abandoned them. Or at least, He was not as powerful as Marduk. Marduk was the Babylonian national god. Marduk was the Big God... of the Big Dog empire. It would have been easy for Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego to think Marduk was more powerful than YHWH.
--The weird thing is, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego had become a sociology experiment. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to see if he could take these nice Jewish boys and make fine Babylonian leaders out of them.
--To survive Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego needed to conform. They needed to let themselves be assimilated into their new home. It would have been easy.
And the remarkable thing was it seemed to be working. Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego were given amazing positions of responsibility. After Daniel interpreted a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel gets Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego a great job.
Daniel 2:48-49 Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel made a request of the king, and Nebuchadnezzar appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon.
Wow, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego are doing well in their new home... they were officials in Nebuchadnezzar’s government. They are Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and joy... they were becoming outstanding Babylonians.
All was well, except for one thing...
Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego had not given up their faith in YHWH. The three understood the reason they were exiles in Babylonia... they were in Babylon because of idolatry.
Jeremiah 25:6-11 “Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them or provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm. Yet you have not listened to me, declares the LORD, that you might provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm. Therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations... This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”
Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego knew their people had broken the covenant with YHWH. Their own people had chased the idols. Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego may have even seen Manasseh offer their young prince to the evil god Molech. The three knew they were in captivity because their people had broken the covenant to love the LORD with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their might.
Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego knew YHWH was, in fact, faithful. YHWH was not powerless. YHWH was not defeated by Marduk or any other god. Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego got the message loud and clear... “Do not go after the other gods! Worship YHWH alone with all your heart!”
Now, to the specifics of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego’s story...
Daniel 3:1-5 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits (90 feet) and its breadth six cubits (9 feet). He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up... And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And the herald proclaimed aloud, "You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.
Nebuchadnezzar is not claiming to be the only god, nor, necessarily, the most powerful of the gods. Nebuchadnezzar was just saying he needed a little attention; a little worship; a little homage. Whenever the musicians would play, everyone would bow down... pay Nebuchadnezzar a little respect... not that much to ask.
No harm, no foul. Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego would not be denying their God, they would only be giving a bit of worship to the King and his cool, ginormous golden statue...
Just to make sure everyone was on the same page...
Daniel 3:6-7 “And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
But Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego remembered the words of Jeremiah. They would have nothing to do with any bowing down to any sort of idol, golden or not.
Sure enough, in the world now and then, there are always tattle tails. There are always people who love to point out wrong in others. You have noticed that. Some people take joy in pointing their fingers at others. It makes them feel good about themselves, if they can jump on others...
Daniel 3:8-14 Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So, they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?”
Those jealous of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, because the were Jews, I suspect, and they had been promoted to rulers... squealed on them. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were called into the principal’s office. They were busted.
But Nebuchadnezzar, being the nice guy, he was, gave them one more chance...
Daniel 3:15 “Now, if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?"
The choice was real. The choice clear. There was no confusion about what might happen. “You will bow before my golden image or you will be thrown into the furnace. You got one more chance... the music is playing... bow or burn.”
What is interesting is what is really going on. “Is your God powerful enough to deliver you out of my hands? I am more powerful than your god. Your YHWH is not able to deliver you out of my hands!” There it is. There is the heart of the conflict... Whose god is the Big Dog?
We have the story. We know the context. Now, we have our faith statement...
Daniel 3:16-18 "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. (This is not up for discussion.) If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
There is no doubt YHWH is able. And He will. Then, there is that amazing faith statement... “But if not...”
I wish these three words were my slogan... “But if not...” Yes, YHWH is able... but if not...
--Can God cure me of cancer? Yes, YWHW is able... but if not...
--What about Alzheimer’s? Yes, YWHW is able... but if not...
--Can God restore my marriage? Yes, YWHW is able... but if not...
--I lost my job? Yes, YWHW is able... but if not...
--Can God put my life back together? Yes, YWHW is able... but if not...
--Can God care for my kids? Yes, YWHW is able... but if not...
--Will God give me safety? Yes, YWHW is able... but if not...
--What about the worst-case scenario? Yes, YWHW is able... but if not...
I will still be faithful.
That is the difference between worshipping YHWH or bowing to a Golden Idol.
--Golden Idols are cold.
--Golden Idols are cruel.
--Golden Idols need appeasement.
--Golden Idols are never satisfied.
--Golden Idols make intolerant demands.
--Golden Idols cannot love.
YHWH is faithful. “But if not...” When it appears, the answer is no...
We will still be faithful.
May 27, 2018
Los Alamos Church of Christ