How do you handle societal pressure? Whether you are a teenager facing peer pressure at school, perhaps to try drugs and alcohol, or whether you are an adult tempted to misreport your taxes, there are multitudes of pressures in life, pressures to turn away from living in a way that is honorable to Jesus. Will we assimilate or we will choose the way of Jesus? As we continue our five-part series on Daniel and his friends, we’ve already learned how they refused to assimilate into Babylonian culture, when in a training program to serve in the palace, they were asked to eat foods that were dishonorable to God. The result was that God prospered them. But instead of living happily ever after, turn to Daniel 3 where we’ll find that Daniel’s friends are faced with a terrible challenge.
In this chapter, we learn that the king, Nebuchadnezzar, commissions the creation of a giant statue, probably an idol of a Babylonian deity, and he required all people to bow to it, or they would be punished by being burned to death in a furnace.
Daniel’s friends do not bow. It is important to remember that these guys are not no names anymore. As we saw in chapter 1, they entered the king’s service, and they were superior to all others. They are known. Look at verses 8-11 of chapter 3. Some others come forward to Nebuchadnezzar and tell on the Jews. Not only were they foreigners, but also, just as in our world today, when you are a foreigner, you stick out. Verse 12 reminds us that the king had set the three Jews over the affairs of the province of Babylon. They are top leaders now. They wouldn’t be able to just hide in the crowd. Other Babylonians could easily have been jealous of these men. Foreigners taking the best Babylonian jobs? Often that doesn’t go over well.
So the three Jews are called out and confronted, and Nebuchadnezzar is really upset with them. These some of his top men. Maybe he is wondering if he was stupid for taking a chance on foreigners. Maybe he is embarrassed. Maybe he is feeling betrayed because he trusted these guys, and now they are turning their backs on him. Look at the last line of verse 15. He says, “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Nebuchadnezzar is super arrogant. He is the top leader of the most powerful nation in the world. He invaded the homeland of these guys, and he defeated them. Who are they to defy him? Clearly he is more powerful than their God. I wonder if this discussion had come up before. Maybe he had issues with these Jews refusing to assimilate to the Babylonian religion, but Nebuchadnezzar can’t deny that these guys are superior. So he is glad for them to be a part of his kingdom. They are serving him well. But when it comes to their faith in their God, they just won’t crack, and perhaps that has really been bugging him. Now, though, he has them where he wants them. Obey or die. Surely, they will assimilate now. Smart guys like this will weigh the options, and know that it is obviously better to just bow to the idol and live.
That leads to verses 16-18 which are amazing. I encourage you to read them for yourself. The three men say that they will refuse to bow, because they believe God will save them from the fiery furnace. But get this: they tell the king that even if God doesn’t save them, they will not bow. Wow. I wonder if the place where they were talking went silent at that moment. Could you hear a pin drop? I bet it was icy cold. I’m thinking Nebuchadnezzar didn’t see this coming. You simply did not defy the king like that. Right to his face, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are saying, “We will not be assimilated.”
What an amazing statement of allegiance to God and trust in God!
Have you heard the story of the people at Bethel Church in CA that were praying for a resurrection? Two weeks ago, one of their worship leaders had a two-year old daughter who suddenly and tragically died. So they began a 24-7 praise and worship service asking God to resurrect her. Her body lay in the morgue for days. I have to admit that I heard the story and was unsettled. There is much we could say about it, but I bring it up because I believe it is so similar to Daniel’s friends. The people at Bethel were trusting in God and his power. They never once said that God had to raise the girl, or they would lose their faith. Just like Daniel’s friends, they were doing what they believed was right, and if God would choose not to raise the girl, they would remain faithful to him regardless.
Back to Daniel 3. As you can imagine, Nebuchadnezzar is even more upset now by the Jews’ defiance. He throws them in the furnace, and sure enough, God saves them. This results in a total change in Nebuchadnezzar who praises God and promotes Daniel’s friends.
What situations are you faced with assimilation? I encourage you to ask yourself how you might already be assimilated, and yet thus far you haven’t viewed it that way. Consider how you spend your money, your time, your energy? Is it in line the way of Jesus? Try to avoid the line of thinking that says, “Well, so many other Christians live like that, so it can’t be wrong.” Yes, it can be wrong. Just because lots of Christians do something doesn’t mean that it is honorable to Jesus. How will you be different?
We have one more story of assimilation, and we’ll look at that in the next post.