‘Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the five? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the five, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’
Marvelous manifestation of faith!
Such may the chapter of Scripture be called in which our text is found!
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego dared to change the king’s word!
Mind you, they set themselves over against the world’s mighty monarch! They braved every consequence, refusing to heed the command to fall down and worship the golden image the king had set up!
In the face of the dreadful threat of being cast into the burning, fiery furnace, they believed the God of their fathers could deliver them. If He would not save them from the oven, then certainly He could deliver them out of it. But if He was pleased to have them perish in the flames, they would be faithful to their God rather than men!
Miraculous deliverance in the way of faith!
Of that also the chapter under consideration speaks!
The Lord Almighty did reveal His power! It was not His pleasure that his servants should perish; nor was it His delight to deliver them from the fire. His way was much more glorious! He saved them out of the furnace! And so perfect was the deliverance that especially two things are to be noted. While the executioners are killed by the awful heat, the friends have not a hair on their head singed; yea, not even the smell of fire has passed on them. And the king is deeply impressed! O, to be sure, there comes to him no real change of heart, as subsequent history plainly shows; but a temporary impression in which he is forced to acknowledge the living God, and adore Him for His greatness!
The golden image and the fiery furnace!
The faithful God and His faithful servants!
With the fourth man in the furnace!
That is the, history and experience that surrounds our text! A history and an experience which is often repeated for the people of God’s covenant in the world!
To be with the fourth man in the furnace always has its occasion! Always there is the image that is set up! The image before which you are commanded to bow down and worship!
In the present case, it was the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar had set up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. As far as its appearance was concerned, there were especially three aspects to be noticed. First, its enormous size — perhaps as much as ninety feet in height and nine feet in width. Standing out in the open it could draw attention for miles around. Secondly, it was made of gold — not necessarily of solid gold, but more probably overlaid with gold. Along with its size, standing out there under a sunny sky, its splendor, its magnificence commanded attention and adoration. Thirdly, it was undoubtedly, in part at least, in human form. Perhaps a bust, set up on a pillar, also overlaid with gold.
Significant golden image!
Symbol of Babylon’s god, to whom gratitude should be expressed for the prosperity he was assumed to have given. It was meant to be a perpetual memorial to Bel. Symbol, too, of Babylon’s power. Babylon, the great nation of tremendous power and wealth. Symbol also of Babylon’s king. It was Nebuchadnezzar who had it made and set it up, the king who said, “Is this not great Babylon which I have built?” A combination of all these is evidently the significance of the image. Babylon is the golden head in the king’s dream. And Babylon is not great without its king, as he himself clearly intimated. And that the king intended it to be discovered as the symbol of Babylon’s god, is indicated in the fact that he commanded that it should be worshipped. In distinction from the God of heaven and earth, the image symbolized the power, the leaders, and the gods of this world.
Readily it is to be perceived that this image exists in all ages! The essence of the image is always present! Not necessarily always in the same form. Not always is the image so magnificent, nor is it always of golden texture, and a literal image to be worshipped. But the thing symbolized is always there! Sometimes that image is to be found in actual, historical personalities. History produces men like Caesar, Nero, and Napoleon; men like Hitler, Stalin, and Hirohito, Son of Heaven, who actually have commanded worship. Then again, it is an ideology, such as Jezebel imposed upon the Israelites, that Baa1 was god; or the paganish, antigodly philosophy of communism and socialism of our day. And in the consummation of the ages, Scripture predicts the literal manifestation of the image. Antichrist develops rapidly toward his final manifestation. Then the combination symbolized in the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s making will be literally fulfilled, when Antichrist shall appear with great power and pomp. Literally shall an image be made to the beast which will be more fearsome, awe inspiring, than that before which the three friends were compelled to bow down and worship. It shall be made to speak, and to cause that as many as would not worship it should be killed!
Indeed, the image becomes the occasion for the furnace!
Such it was for the three friends!
The command is issued! All were to be gathered before the image. The nobles and the people of the provinces of Babylon. Also the three friends! All were to fall down and worship at the sound of music. And refusal to do so, carried with it the threat of death in the burning, fiery furnace!
The friends refused unconditionally!
O, if excuses are ever permissible they could have made them! Could they not have said: We are young, and we desire to live? Were they not at the very beginning of their earthly career, just lately having been set over the affairs of the province of Babylon? Was not all of life right in front of them? Could they not also with a semblance of piety have reasoned that God could use living saints better than dead martyrs? Or, could they not have said: We shall bow only outwardly, but not inwardly in our hearts? Does not God know that in our hearts we love and serve Him, not the idol god of Babylon? Besides, we have families, wives and children, what will happen to them if we are killed?
But so they did not reason! Their answer is unequivocal! “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” Such an answer is not given by those who perhaps were weary of life, or merely obstinate, or perhaps extremely patriotic insurrectionists. Nay, rather, they answered thus because they believed in God.
With this answer, the king became furious, and he commanded that every precaution be taken to make theirs death swift and sure. The furnace is heated above its capacity. The strongest men in his army are ordered to bind the friends and to cast them into the furnace. Incidentally, we ought to notice how the Lord makes even the enemies cooperate to make the miracle He is about to perform more glorious! To be noticed too is the fact that the furnace is the last resort. At first it appeared the king was reluctant to dispose of the friends. He gave them a chance to escape, persuading them to conform to his command. The devil does not desire first of all the death of God’s servants, but their apostacy. But when the saints remain steadfast in their faith, he will not hesitate to bring them to their death. So also here the friends are given to the flames.
Thus is is principally in all history! Always there is the same command, and threat! Serve me, seek me, honor me! Or die! Die politically! Die socially and economically! And ultimately, die physically! And always there is that same duty of the child of God to reply unconditionally! They may not seek excuses, as they so often are inclined to do. How often today when so called Christians are confronted with much less awesome threats, but yet principally with the same command, they are making all kinds of excuses and so bending the knee before the image! We hear them say: It’s easy for ministers to tell us what we ought to do, but if they were in the same situation with which we are faced they would also succumb. We hear them say: We do not believe in the principles of ungodly unionism, and we do not attend their meetings, but we have to live! Some complain: How can anyone expect us to lose our seniority after we have worked so long to get it? And some have even dared to remind us that if they did not retain their jobs in closed shops, being members of ungodly unions, our churches and our Christian schools could not continue to exist. All who speak thus have never experienced the faith of the friends. It is not the speech of faith!
Our calling is to take an unequivocal stand, what ever the consequences may be! The victory of faith lies precisely in the way of sacrifice and faithfulness unto death! Always there will be the furnace! This is what we must expect also in the future! Anti-Christ will command! The remnant will be faithful! The reward will be the fiery furnace. A furnace, much hotter, a persecution much more severe than was the lot of the friends!
But God brings deliverance!
Through the fire!
God’s way with His saints is generally not to deliver them from the fire, from tribulation, but through the fire. The Chiliast dream of a rapture that delivers from tribulation will never be realized! Through the fire, that is the rule!
But always with the fourth man in the furnace!
“Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire! And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God!”
O, indeed, He is the Son of God, our Saviour! God has no other deliverer of His people! They cannot save themselves, nor have they any in their ranks who can save them. Therefore God Himself comes down in the Person of His Son, and assumes the form of man, and goes with His man servants into the flames to preserve them and deliver them. So wonderfully were the friends delivered that not a hair was singed, not even the effects of fire were upon them. Not so does the Lord always deliver from the physical flame, nor does He always deliver from physical death. Sometimes He allows them to be burned, to suffer, and die!
But always He is with them! Even in the shadows of death He accompanies them!
He delivers them through faith! Not, you understand, were the friends delivered because they believed. Our faith is never the ground for our salvation. They were saved through faith, a faith that placed them in God, the God of their salvation. And faith is the gift of God!