Facing the Furnaces of Life
Sometime in your life you probably have asked, “Why does God let us suffer?” Why do we go through adversity and pain?
There are several answers. Sometimes hardship is God’s chastening. When we’re not walking with Him as we ought, He steps in like a loving father to provide circumstances designed to bring us back to Him. Sometimes we suffer simply because we live in a world filled with sin, brokenness, and heartache.
Yet sometimes God allows us to suffer to benefit those around us. In Daniel 3 we encounter three young Jewish men who were carried away captive to distant Babylon where they endured a hardship that enabled God to reveal Himself to the most powerful Gentile kingdom on earth.
To understand their story, we must remember that in Daniel’s second year of captivity (603 B.C.), King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. Not only did he want someone to interpret the dream, but he demanded that person recount it to him as well. No one could until Daniel and his three friends went to the Lord in prayer. Then Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar what he saw: a statue of a man with a head of gold. That statue provided a nutshell picture of the future of the world. Nebuchadnezzar represented the head of gold––the Babylonian Empire.
So Daniel revealed and explained the dream. Nebuchadnezzar understood something of the scope of what transpired because he declared, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings” (2:47). Yet he apparently forgot that fact because several years later, his response to the dream was to erect a 90-foot-high statue overlaid with gold and command every man in the kingdom to bow down and worship it. Three men would not: Daniel’s friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Their Babylonian names were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So the Chaldeans brought them up on charges before the king.(Daniel was not there, and Scripture does not say where he was.)
Nebuchadnezzar asked them, “Is it true…that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up?” (3:14).
The next verse is the crux of the chapter: “If you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” (v. 15). At this point, Nebuchadnezzar saw himself as God.
The three responded,
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, 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. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up (vv. 16–18).
Sometimes, when God brings hardships and difficulties, it’s not because you did something wrong or because of the normal circumstances involved with living in a fallen world that’s cursed with sin. Sometimes God wants to say something to those around you, and He wants to use you to convey His message.
That’s what He did with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. This was not a pleasant experience for them. Scripture says the furnace was hot; and in his anger and pride, the king ordered that it be heated “seven times more than it was usually heated” (v. 19). It was so hot, in fact, that the fire instantly destroyed all the soldiers who threw in the young men.
So God entered into a contest, as it were, with Nebuchadnezzar. He wanted to make clear the extent of His power, sovereignty, goodness, and grace.
It may well be that something that you are going through has less to do with you (although you will grow from it) than it does the people around you. Perhaps God has chosen you as a vessel for reaching others.
These men had a regard for God that enabled Him to use them. Whereas the world thinks highly of itself, believers regard God. That is, they honor His truth and His ways and respect and serve Him. That’s what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego did. So they were tied up and thrown into the furnace.
Serving God does not come with guarantees that we will survive every adversity unscathed. Nor does it mean that we will always survive. It means we are at His disposal, and He can do with us as He wishes. In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, God delivered them.
Astonished, Nebuchadnezzar asked, “’Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’ They answered…‘True, O king’” (v. 24). Then he declared, “Look! …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” (v. 25).
But you know what? Those three men had no guarantee going in, and neither do we. We never know if it’s God’s plan to glorify Himself through our martyrdom or through our deliverance.
That was where John the Baptist was in Matthew 11. About two years into Jesus’ ministry, John sat in jail, probably scratching his head and thinking, Wait a minute. I thought I was the forerunner of the Messiah. So he sent messengers to Jesus asking, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Lk. 7:19). Things didn’t compute. He thought Jesus would deliver Israel from Rome and set up the Davidic Kingdom. Yet there he was, the forerunner (Lk. 1:17; 7:27), in jail. Soon thereafter his head was cut off.
We are servants of the living God. That means we are expendable. We are at His disposal. And we must choose to think of ourselves, not as priceless porcelain, but as paper cups that God may use for what He wants to accomplish. You cannot outgive the Lord. God never takes anything away that He doesn’t replace many times over.
And sometimes He delivers in a miraculous way. Nebuchadnezzar “went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here’” (Dan. 3:26).
They emerged from the fire unscathed. It had no effect on them. Their hair was not singed, their clothes were not damaged, and the smell of fire was not on them. God had chosen to protect them by an angel of the Lord.
The world was forced to regard God because of three young Jewish men who resolved to worship Him only:
Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this” (vv. 28–29).
Sometimes God desires to demonstrate His greatness and power and is looking for people who are willing to walk with Him through the fiery furnace. Perhaps you’re in that furnace now. Or perhaps you will be six months from now. Although it can be a scary place, you need to know that God is totally able to deliver you through the furnace as well as from it. The decision is His. What he requires from us is faith.
This experience was one of three major “God events” in Nebuchadnezzar’s life that turned the first king of the Times of the Gentiles into a worshiper of Yahweh.
If you and I are willing to put God first, then those around us will see Him also. They’ll see how you trust Him as you go through difficulties and will marvel at what He does in and through your life.