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Living in the mystery

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, are ripped away from their families and friends and taken to Babylon. There they undergo the process of enculteration in order to serve King Nebuchadnezzar. Their lives depend upon pleasing him. Everything goes well until the king builds a huge image of gold (inspired perhaps by the dream he had), and demands that all of his officials bow down to it as a show of allegiance. Everyone bows down except the three young Hebrews.

They are brought before an angry Nebuchadnezzar who rhetorically asks if it is true "that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?" (Daniel 3:14 – emphasis mine). Nebuchadnezzar has evidently recovered his pride (2:46-47), and takes their actions as a personal affront. He has treated them well, promoted them at Daniel’s request (2:49), and has spent some political capital on them (making outsiders insiders was not a poplular ting to do - Daniel 6:1-4).  He will give them one more opportunity but if they fail to comply, they will be thrown into a blazing furnace. Nebuchadnezzar asks them, "Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand? Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?" (3:15). The fast forgetting king has clearly lost sight of how he got to the throne in the first place (2:37-38), and like one of the balloons in Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, he has bloated himself out of proportion. Like Pharaoh, he will find out the answer to his question "What god?"

But the best is yet to come. These young men who had every reason to bow down (i.e., who would know? --- they were away from home; they knew better --- so bowing down wouldn’t mean anything; they would just do it just this once; etc.). They had one reason not to and they choose it. But there’s more. It’s not only what they do, it’s how they do it. They tell the king two things:

1. We don’t need to defend ourselves in this --- we’re not the ones on trial (v. 16),

2. God is able to handle any fire you can up with (v. 17).

And here’s the best part --- they tell him they don’t know whether God will choose to save them from the fire of not, but they do know that they won’t be bowing down to any of his gods! Ahhh . . . don’t you love that? The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, inundated, and you can’t see anything but a world of people constantly choosing evil over good, comfort over commitment, and wrong over right --- don’t forget there were three young men who refused to compromise.

And remember, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were just like us in that they had no clue how things were going to work out. (It’s interesting that in a book where several hundred years of history are clearly spelled out to them, their immediate personal destinies are not). They didn’t know if they would be rescued from the flames or rescued by the flames --- they just knew through trust that God was in control and whatever He chose was okay by them. Now this is hard and I’ve no wish to be glib here, but there are people in pain from disease, disasters, absolutely toxic situations, and they have no clue whether their circumstances will result in life, death, or simply become chronic. They have their preferences obviously, but they are content to live in the mystery --- quietly trusting the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They may not understand what purpose their suffering is serving, but they are convicted that it does have meaning and they gallantly press on.

I know a man who just went home to be with Christ, but not before cancer had its way with him. Through it all, he exhibited peace and serenity. He was confident God would deliver Him somehow and he was not disappointed. Can you imagine the witness this was to others? Like Paul’s courage during his imprisonment, it has inspired fellow believers to live more courageous lives (Philippians 1:14). I’m sure it impacted the lives of those outside of Christ as well.

It’s part of our Father’s will that there is mystery in our lives (and that some have more than others). The response to mystery (especially the painful kind), is faith. The next time this kind of mystery comes calling, keep trusting. When it knocks on your door just say, "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit." You’ll be in great company.
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