DUNCAN/The golden image
Please turn to Daniel 3:1-30. As we come to chapter 3 we begin to notice a certain repetition in the book of Daniel. Initially, we see that the people of God are faced with a crisis because of their faith. Then, having prayerfully and carefully followed the commands of the Lord, the people of God are delivered by the Lord and they are honored even by the civil rulers. In Daniel 3, God’s people are faced with another crisis. Specifically, they are faced with the question, “Will the image of God bow down to the image of man made by man?” As we consider the crisis that the people of God are facing in this passage, let us reflect on four important things. First, we observe an example of unchecked power. Secondly, we see an example of true love for the Lord and true faith in God. Thirdly, we observe that God draws near to His people in times of testing. Fourthly and finally, we see God’s faithfulness in delivering His people, and we see a picture of man’s hard-heartedness.
I. Unchecked Power Running Spiritually Amuck.
In verses 1-7, we see the tyranny and threat of King Nebuchadnezzar and his actions against the people of God. It is an ugly picture of unchecked power running spiritually amuck. In setting up this statue, Nebuchadnezzar seems to be enlarging upon one aspect of the dream that Daniel had interpreted for him in chapter 2. You may remember that Daniel had told Nebuchadnezzar that that head of gold represented him. Yet, Daniel had also bravely looked him in the eye and said, “Nebuchadnezzar, you’re the head of gold and you’re going to pass away and God's kingdom is going to be established.” Therefore, we see that Nebuchadnezzar is directly opposing the Lord God here by his crafting the statue. The people of God would have been very well aware of the first two commandments in which God has said, “You shall have no other gods before Me” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not worship them or serve them.” When we read this passage, we immediately know that this scenario is going to set up a conflict with the people of God in Babylon because the people of God cannot compromise the first and the second commands.
There are also two important things that we learn about Nebuchadnezzar in this section. First, we see that he had immense power and that he misused it. In Daniel 4:27, Daniel makes it clear that Nebuchadnezzar had not used the power that God entrusted him with in a proper way. Secondly, we see that Nebuchadnezzar shrouds the dedication of this statue with a religious veneer. His actions remind us that something can look spiritual and still be blasphemous. This scenario also reminds us that it is wrong to assume that the most important thing about worship is it’s aesthetic effect. The most important thing about worship is ascribing to the Lord alone the glory due to His name.
II. True Love for God and True Faith in God.
In verses 8-18, we see the illustration of true love for God and true faith in God. These three Hebrew men had been faithful to the Lord. They had not bowed down to the statue. Their faithfulness in spite of Nebuchadnezzar's threats has been a constant encouragement to God's people through all ages. The author of Hebrews tells us that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had the kind of faith that could quench fire. What kind of a faith quenches fire? Well, Daniel tells us here in verse 17. First, he tells us that they had confidence in the power of God. Remember that they said, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us.” Thus, they were utterly confident in God's power to deliver them. Secondly, they were completely submissive to God's will. They did not say, “We are going to trust in God because He is going to deliver us.” Instead, they said, “We are going to trust in God even if He decides not to deliver us.” Their faith was not in their deliverance, their faith was in their God. And that's the same kind of loyalty and faith to which the Lord God is calling us.
III. God Draws Near to His People During Their Trials.
In verses 19-25, we see the perfect picture of Christian testing. Despite being faced with the command to worship the king or die, these three men remain faithful to God. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar is enraged because they have undercut his whole purpose which was to gather an assembly there to show how great he is and show their loyalty to him. Sometimes we seem to be called into a service that seems overwhelming and impossible. Yet, the deliverance which God gives to these three men is a miraculous inbreaking of the future triumphant kingdom of God to vindicate His servants and His message. This passage also reminds us of how God draws near to His people in the midst of their trials. We have to remember that it is our job to be faithful. It is the Lord's job to decide in His good providence how He's going to work out the consequences of our faithfulness.
IV. God's Faithfulness and Man's Hard-Heartedness.
Finally, in verses 26-30, we see their faith triumphant. God had delivered these three faithful men from the fiery trial. But we also see a tyrant still intact in his depravity. Nebuchadnezzar’s words may seem gracious, but notice that he doesn't acknowledge the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as his God. He simply acknowledges that their God is pretty amazing. He doesn’t say that Babylon will forego its idols and worship the living and the true God. He just says, “We’ll tolerate your particular way of worship.” In other words, Nebuchadnezzar's response is superficial. He was astonished by the miracle and he was no doubt impressed by the courage of these men, but he has not fundamentally changed in his heart. Nebuchadnezzar makes a poor attempt to compensate for the wickedness that he had done by giving the three men religious freedom and advancing them in the kingdom. In his actions, he is saying, “For my evil deed I'm going to do a couple of good deeds and that will make up for what I did.” That's classic pagan thinking. That is works-based righteousness. But only the work of Christ can cancel out your sins. No deed that we can do can cancel out our sins. There are many lessons here. But surely two stand out. First, God works all things for good for those who love Him. And secondly, the truth that God gives us grace in a time of need. May God, by His Holy Spirit, give us grace so that we would remain faithful to Him no matter the circumstances.