Daniel 4: “The Tale of Two Extremes”


The downfall of Nebuchadnezzar illustrates two opposite extremes.  First, the story highlights the inescapable wrath of God.  It doesn’t matter how rich and powerful you are.  It doesn’t matter how many bodyguards protect you.  You cannot defy God indefinitely.  You will run head-on into the withering heat of God’s wrath.  In his humanistic pride, Nebuchadnezzar thought that he was invincible, that he was immune from the weaknesses and maladies of other men.  He was above the law . . . even God’s law!  He quickly learned otherwise.  The mighty man was humbled.  It would have been an excruciating humiliation if he were to become like a common man.  It would have been unthinkable for him to descend to the level of a weak, below-average man.  But the reality was even worse.  God lowered him to a level below man.  God humbled him to the level of a beast.  So, the first warning is to beware of the inescapable wrath of God!  But, there is a second extreme that is highlighted in this chapter.  The end of the story points us to the extreme grace of God.  After seven years as a beast, Nebuchadnezzar receives the incomprehensible grace of God.  Didn’t God remember who Nebuchadnezzar was?  He was the general that sacked Jerusalem and spoiled God’s holy temple.  He was the brutal dictator who slaughtered entire families just to make a point.  In his arrogance, he set himself in the place of God, and openly defied God’s will.  He threw three of God’s faithful servants into the furnace.  If anyone was outside of the grace of God, it would be Nebuchadnezzar.  Yet, we find out that God’s grace is greater than anyone’s sin.  Nebuchadnezzar deserved to live the rest of his life like a cow eating grass, and then spend all eternity rotting in the flames of hell.  But, God did not give him what he deserved.  God gave him grace.  Extreme grace.  So, when you consider the example of Nebuchadnezzar, beware of the extreme wrath of God.  It will come to you if you don’t repent!  And, be eternally grateful for the extreme grace of God.  You have already received it in abundance!

Daniel 4: “Pride and Godlessness”

Nebuchadnezzar Pride and Godlessness You have heard the old saying, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”  King Nebuchadnezzar was the biggest of them all, and he certainly fell harder and faster than any other.  What caused his demise?  What caused him to inflame the wrath of God?  I’m sure the answer is multi-faceted.  After all, Nebuchadnezzar was the leader who invaded Jerusalem.  He took Judah’s king, Zedekiah, and slaughtered all of his sons in the presence of the humiliated king and father.  Then, he blinded Zedekiah, so that the image of his dying sons would be the last thing he ever saw.  Nebuchadnezzar was not a nice guy.  He threatened to cut his own wise men into pieces and burn down their houses with their families in them.  I’m pretty sure that everyone knew that he was serious!  He cast three of his best advisors into a fiery furnace!  His sins were legion:  violence, bloodshed, anger, mercilessness . . . and then there was pride.  His downfall begins when he surveys his beautiful kingdom and takes full credit for it.  He starts to believe his own fawning advisors.  He thinks that he really is a 90 foot statue of solid gold.  In fact, he believes that he is a god:  omnipotent, immortal, unlike anyone else.  He was ripe for God's judgment.  All of his sins are obvious to us, but perhaps they are just the symptoms.  The root cause of his sins is spelled out in Romans 1:22 “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  Nebuchadnezzar was out of control.  His sins were deep and wide.  But they all came from one source:  godlessness.  He knew the true God.  Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego made sure of that!  In fact, He had already publicly acknowledged the sovereignty of the true God.  Yet, he lived his life for himself, and left God completely out of the picture.  He did not glorify God or give Him thanks.  So, his godless life spiraled down to the level of a lowly beast.  Nebuchadnezzar is a warning to us.  It is quite possible to know God, but to live a godless life.  However, it is impossible to escape the judgment of God!

Daniel 3: The Crucible

fiery furnace The biblical narrative of Daniel 3 is fascinating.  The story contains all of the right literary elements.  It has captured the imagination of kids in Sunday School classes for generations.  When reading the text, it seems strange that most of the narrative centers around Nebuchadnezzar.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are the heroes of the story, but they really didn't do much.  The story begins by telling us what they didn't do (they would not bow to the image!).  Through the entire chapter, Nebuchadnezzar really steals the spotlight.  The chapter begins with his extravagant image and musical spectacle.  Then, his countenance changed from "rage and fury" in verse 13 to "full of fury" in verse 19.  It is Nebuchadnezzar that gave the foolish command to stoke the furnace 7 times hotter.  It is Nebuchadnezzar who was "astonished" and "rose in haste" when he witnessed the fate of the three men.  Nebuchadnezzar is the one that voiced the question that must have been on everyone's minds, "Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?"  Then, again, it is Nebuchadnezzar that described the scene as it unfolded before his eyes, "I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."  The rest of the chapter is Nebuchadnezzar's change of heart, and his declaration of faith in the Most High God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  So, the three faithful believers are the heroes of the story, but the story is told from the perspective of the antagonist.  And, the One who orchestrated the entire event is given a passing mention.  The fourth figure in the flames is the real power behind the miracle.  God did not prevent the three men from being cast into the furnace.  But, God went into the furnace with them.  In the midst of the crucible, the three men were able to see God in a way that they never could have experienced in the comfortable palace of Babylon.  And, isn't that the way God always does it?  He doesn't always keep us from painful experiences.  But, he always goes with us into the crucible of suffering.  In fact, isn't that what salvation is all about?  God did not prevent sin.  He allowed sin and suffering to enter into this world by the sinful choice of free individuals.  But then, Jesus Christ entered into the crucible of suffering with us.  He took our sins to the cross so that he could deliver us from the furnace of sin.  He is the real power of salvation and the center of the story.  The unbelieving world is like Nebuchadnezzar.  They may be the antagonist of the story, but they dominate the narrative.  The story unfolds from their perspective.  They go about their lives, fashioning their various idols until they run into an unflinching believer who refuses to bow.  They are witnesses of God's miraculous salvation.  They observe Christians who are going through the crucible of suffering.  The entire story of salvation is aimed at getting their response!  My goal is to have such a testimony, that when the world looks at me in the crucible, they will see the Son of God.

Bargaining or Believing?

fiery furnace Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are heroes of the faith.  Their single-minded courage and unwavering faith has been an inspiration to generations of Christians.  They resisted the overwhelming temptation of peer pressure and stood alone when everyone else bowed before a false image.  They refused to flinch when given a direct order from King Nebuchadnezzar.  Knowing that their fate would be instant death in a flaming furnace, they remained true to their convictions and trusted God for the outcome.  This is true faith.  It is the opposite of what many people do in similar situations. Have you ever known anyone who bargained with God?  Some people find themselves in impossible situation and attempt to negotiate with the Most High.  "If God heals me, then I will faithfully serve Him!"  "If God saves my marriage, then I promise I will go to church and read my Bible!"  "If God lets me win the lottery, then I will give Him the tithe!"  Three young heroes of the faith were in a similar situation.  They could have bargained with God, but instead, they believed God.  No matter what.  King Nebuchadnezzar was threatening to incinerate them.  They boldly asserted "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king." (Daniel 3:17)  In other words, they believed that God had the power to save them from the fire, but they did not know if it was God's will to save them from the fire.  Either way, they trusted God, and they knew that He would deliver them from the evil King Nebuchadnezzar.  If they are consumed by fire, they are safe in the loving arms of God, having stood firm in their faith.  Or, if God chooses, God will deliver them from the fire.  They did not fear Nebuchadnezzar, but they had absolute trust in the Almighty God.  Without any hesitation or reservation, they cast themselves upon the wisdom and mercy of the God of Heaven.  There was no bargaining, just unshakable faith.  They did not offer up any conditions.  They simply believed.  They were like the venerable suffering saint, Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." (Job 13:15)

Daniel 3: Everyone Else is Doing It!

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If you are a parent (and your kids are old enough to speak) you have heard the phrase countless times:  "Everyone else is doing it!"  Whatever "it" is, it must be good.  It must be right.  It must be necessary!  I must do it too!  You must do it too!  Why would anyone not do it? Sometimes it is hard to take a stand and be different.  It is easier just to go along with everyone else and blend in with the crowd.  This can be harmless if it just involves what clothes to wear.  (Everybody in Nebraska wears red, so I'll just go along with the crowd!)  But, what happens when everyone is bowing down to a false idol?  A Christian can't just follow the majority in such a blasphemous act.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found themselves in this predicament in Daniel 3. The late Dr. Bob Jones Jr. has a great sermon titled "The Knee-Benders Convention".  He eloquently describes the crowd of people who heard the inspiring music, obeyed Nebuchadnezzar's decree, and bowed the knee to the impressive image of gold.  Most of them probably thought it was silly, but they went along with everyone else.  They were all members of the Knee-Bender's Convention . . . except for three.  No doubt, the temptation was great and the peer pressure was intense.  Everyone else easily justified bowing the knee.  You could imagine some of the excuses that could have been entertained in the minds of these three young men. 1.  God knows my heart.  I'm not really worshiping the image.  While everyone else is bowing before the image, I will bow down and worship the True God. 2.  The image is nothing.  "We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one." (1 Corinthians 8:4)  So whether I bow or refuse to bow, the idol doesn't even know.  It is powerless and lifeless. 3.  Everyone else is doing it!  People that I know and respect are bowing the knee.  People of all different religious beliefs are joining together in this public display of ecumenism.  I should show them that I am not judgmental and intolerant. 4.  Hmmmm . . . everyone else is bowing . . . this would be a great time to search for my missing contact lens! Christians should not be unnecessarily provocative or rebellious against our worldly culture.  But, there comes a time when it is essential to take a stand.  When that time comes, I pray that I have the sincere faith and unwavering courage of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  (Daniel 1:7)

Daniel 3: The Image

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The story of the fiery furnace begins with a golden image.  The image perfectly embodies everything that is wrong with the sinful heart of mankind.  Consider the 10 commandments.  God summarized all the sins of the world into 10 basic categories.  After reading the first 2 (20% of the commandments!) you understand what the heart of the problem really is:  idolatry.  We tend to give preeminence to the wrong things in our lives.  We place other things where God should be.  Then, we go to work carving our lives into the wrong image. Nebuchadnezzar's golden image illustrates all of the sins that are wrapped up in idolatry. Pride:  Does he really need a statue 90 foot tall . . . made of gold?  And, everyone has to bow down and worship?  Really? Greed:  How much did all of that gold cost? Rebellion:  God gave him a vision about a statue that has a head of gold, feet of clay,  and ends up being crushed into fine dust.  Nebuchadnezzar rebels against God's vision, and makes a statue of gold from head to toe. Anger/Wrath:  Does he really need to incinerate anyone who refuses to bow before his image?  Does he really need to pre-heat the furnace seven times hotter than it took to melt the gold?  Nebuchadnezzar is out of control! Obviously, Nebuchadnezzar's image is an extreme example.  But, if we look closely, we can see much smaller parallels in our own lives.  It is only by the grace of God and constant vigilance that we are able to obey even the first two commandments.  We should have no other gods before God, and we should not make any graven images.  At first reading, they seem like the easiest commandments to keep.  But, beware, lest you become like Nebuchadnezzar!


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