But If Not…. A Statement of Irrational Faith

 

Daniel in the Lions' Den

 

I love to read in the book of Daniel because it contains two of my favorite stories of ridiculous faith in the face of adversity.  In Daniel 3 we see the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In this chapter, the king had built a giant altar to himself. I am talking huge; 90 feet tall and made of gold. He set it up and ordered everyone to bow down to it to offer worship to the king. Anyone who refused would be cast into a furnace and burned alive.

 

Some Chaldeans brought charges against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because when the signal was given, they refused to bow and worship the king’s idol. Furthermore they did not worship any of the gods that the king worshiped and chose instead to worship their own God. The king was enraged and furious. Not only did these men refuse to worship the king’s appointed gods but they also refused to worship the image of the king himself, despite a direct order with the penalty of death attached to it.

 

The king decides to give these three men an opportunity to bow to the image once more in his presence and then finishes up his offer to them with a question: He asked them, I am guessing out of arrogance, what God could deliver them from the hands of the king and his furnace? It was almost as if he was setting up the confrontation as a showdown between the kings, gods, and the God of these three men.

 

The response from the men is absurd, irrational, ridiculous, and audacious. They respond by saying, “King, we don’t need to give you an answer other than to say that if you throw us in the furnace, our God is more than capable to deliver us from your hands. But if not, if God does not deliver us, we will never serve your gods or worship the idol you have created with human hands.”

 

But If Not…

 

Those words always strike me in this story. Their faith and the power of God were not contingent on the activity of God in their life at that moment. They had experienced enough of God in dan3-before-the-kingtheir lives to know of His existence, His power, and that He was worthy of praise. Whether or not He delivered them in this instance was irrelevant to their faith. God was still God. They knew this, and they let the king know it.

 

They informed Nebuchadnezzar that their God was easily capable of delivering them, not just from the furnace but also from he himself. This was a massive insult, and it filled him with rage. In Daniel 3:19 of the scriptures, it says that anger was so fierce on the king’s face that his appearance seemed altered. The rage on his face in his body had so overcome him, he actually looked like a different person.

 

The king ordered the furnace to be heated to seven times the normal temperature and called on strong men from the army to tie up the men of God to ensure they could not escape. The king meant to kill them and do so in front of everyone to assert himself as the most powerful being in the land. The furnace was so hot that when the king’s men threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into it, the guards themselves were all consumed by the fire.

 

Now the king has had his prisoners thrown in the furnace, a furnace so hot it killed the men who threw the prisoners in. No doubt that these men are dead now and their God has been shown to be weak. I can imagine Nebuchadnezzar sitting there feeling pretty good about himself. Then he peers into the flames and sees one, two, three……..four men? Not just in the flames but walking about in the fire. Not running and screaming because they are dying, but rather just strolling around in the fire. Nebuchadnezzar notices that the fourth man shines like a son of the gods, brighter than the gold of this idol gleaming in the sun, and starts to wonder if he is imagining this. (Daniel 3:25) He asks one of the men around him, did we not throw in three men, yet now I see four? The king then runs toward the entrance of the furnace and got as close as he could without being consumed by its heat. He screams into the furnace, having to yell to be heard over the roar of the flames, for the men to come out.

 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego just walked out of the fire and right up to the king as if nothing had happened. Everyone standing around Nebuchadnezzar were the leaders of the land, governors and the king’s advisors. They were the wisest of the wise and the best of the best in the land. They saw these three walk out of the furnace and saw that not only are they not dead or even burned, but that the flames did not touch their clothes, did not singe their hair, and had not had any effect on them at all. Yet the ropes had somehow been burned and they were now free. As they walked farther out of the flames, the men noticed that they did not even have the smell of smoke on them. It was as if they had never entered the fire or even been near it at all.

 

Nebuchadnezzar was astonished. He was flabbergasted, and he was humbled. These men had offered up their own bodies as a sacrifice to God and had said their God was strong enough to deliver them. Even if God did not deliver them, though, they would never bow to another. The king sent out a new decree that anyone who said anything negative about the God these men served would be killed and their homes would be reduced to rubble. He wanted no part of making a God who could do what he had just witnessed angry. These men’s ridiculous and audacious faith caused all of Babylon to know of God and to respect Him. Through this act, God was returned to the place of importance that was deserved in these nations’ eyes.

 

Now we stroll a little further forward to Daniel 6 and the story of Daniel and the lion’s den; another story of extreme and audacious faith that plays out very similarly to the last one. In this story, though, the king and Daniel are good friends. It is the king’s advisors who do not like Daniel and trick Nebuchadnezzar into giving a decree that makes it illegal to worship anyone but the king for 30 days. These other leaders were mad because Daniel was going to get a promotion over the rest of them, and he was a slave. They knew that Daniel worshiped God and prayed to God every day in his upper room, so they set him up with this plan.

 

Daniel, however, refused to fail to worship God as he always had three times a day at his window. He even went a step farther than just saying he wouldn’t worship any other god, he refused to stop worshiping God almighty regularly, as he always had. He would serve no god but the One True God. He knew God could deliver him, but if not, he would still serve no other god.

 

But If Not again…..

 

These men hid out and caught Daniel praying. I am certain they felt quite sure that their plan was working. No slave boy would be in power over them now.  They took news of Daniel’s failure to cease worshiping his God to the king. They reminded him that in their nation, not even the king could nullify his own words. Once a decree was issued, it was law and could not be changed. The king was greatly distressed but knew that his hands were tied in the matter. He would be forced to send his closest advisor to his death in the lion’s den.

 

Here is where this story is a little different from the last. The king and not the man of God made the bold statement of faith: Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you Daniel.

 

DaniellionWhat a powerful thing. Daniel had so much made an impression on Nebuchadnezzar that even he believed that the God of Daniel would deliver him. The king had seen so much evidence of the working of God in the life of Daniel that even though he did not worship Him, he knew Daniel’s God was powerful and would save him. More than that, the king desired this deliverance because of Daniel’s innocence in his eyes. So Daniel was placed in the lion’s den and the entrance was sealed by the king. Nebuchadnezzar went to his room and fasted in honor of Daniel. He refused any entertainment that evening, and he could not sleep out of worry for Daniel. The king knew that they starved the lions they kept in the den to make them vicious and quick to attack when prisoners were thrown in there. Nobody came out alive. Often times, the lions even ate the bones of those cast in. It was a vicious, horrible way to die and he had just locked his friend in there.

 

The next morning the king rushed to the lion’s den. He stood at the door, probably in a cold sweat, and still in his sleeping clothes. He had abandoned decorum it seemed to rush and find out the fate of his friend. Calling out to Daniel, he asked if Daniel’s God delivered him in the night. I bet the time ticked by slowly as he waited for the response; seconds likely felt like hours. Then Daniel calls back that God had sent an angel to close the mouths of the lions and that he was fine, not even a scratch on him. I can almost see the huge exhale of pent up fear and dread that escaped the king. He had been right to believe that God would deliver Daniel. He was relieved…. then his face likely changed. The thought started at the back of his mind and then quickly spread to fill them entirely.

 

Nebuchadnezzar was a well-educated man and the leader of a vast empire. I would bet that he started to put together the pieces. It started with hating that new law he had enacted. “What was I thinking enacting such a law,” he might have asked himself. Then he remembered where the idea came from: The other advisors, the ones who resented Daniel, surely they were upset that a slave would be in power over them. Then the king connects the dots. “They convinced me to enact the law, they are the ones who brought me proof that Daniel had broken it, and they are the ones who suggested the punishment of the lion’s den.” He saw the entire conspiracy for what it was now, and his anger increased exponentially as the time passed.

 

At once, Nebuchadnezzar had all the men who had tricked him and maliciously accused Daniel  brought to the Lion’s den, as well as their wives and children too; all who were involved in this conspiracy and anyone they were related too. The evil, greed, and lust for power exhibited by these men was too great. Their family trees must be erased from the country for what they have done. The king had them all thrown into the lion’s den as punishment for the great evil they perpetrated. The lions were not only still starved and hungry, but likely angry from an entire night of staring at a Daniel buffet with their mouths closed by an angel, unable to eat him or raise a paw to claw him. The scriptures say that when these evil men and their families were thrown into the den that the lions attacked them and broke all the bones in their bodies immediately. Then Nebuchadnezzar issued a decree saying that the God of Daniel was to be revered by everyone and that He was greater and higher than any other god. Daniel was given his new position over all the lands.

 

These are two historical accounts with totally different content, but exactly the same message. Audacious faith is honored and respected by God and by others. What areas of your life may be calling for audacious faith to be shown? How can we take the lessons in these stories and apply them to our everyday lives? God calls for and honors irrational, audacious, ridiculous faith that He wants all of us to have. It is in those moments when God can shine the brightest.

 

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