Daniel 3:16-18 – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
If I were asked to make a list of the most inspirational accounts in all of the holy scriptures, this one would be very close to the top of the list. This account is that of three young men who stood their ground for the glory of God in the face of a godless king. They were never disrespectful. They were always faithful to God. They believed God could deliver them And, they were ready to deal with it if he did not deliver them.
After the king ordered that everyone present bow down and worship thee idol he had set up, these three young men, perhaps teens, though that is hardly for sure, refused to disobey the command of God not to bow down to any image. They refused to worship the king’s statue, and thus put themselves in a precarious position.
When the king addressed these men, giving them a second chance to do what he had commanded, they responded with the words we read above. What strikes me in their response is the phrase “but if not.” They knew that the God who created the world, who had established the nations, who set the stars in place could most certainly take care of them. They understood that God would have no difficulty in rescuing them from the hand of the king, though they likely did not know exactly how God would do that. However, though they knew God was able to deliver them, they did not know whether or not he would. They trusted in God, and fully had faith in his ability, but they were not presumptuous, assuming that they could say what God might choose to do. But, they were ready to die if that were necessary, rather than dishonoring God’s name by bowing to the statue.
First of two things we need to take away from this account is that we, like these three young men, dare not assume what God will do. If God has not specifically revealed it in the scriptures, we must not think that we can read his mind. For example, we know that God will never again destroy the earth by a flood, because he revealed it in the scriptures. However, we can not assume that God will not let flood waters overtake a city or two, as we have no divine revelation in that direction. We know that Jesus will return someday, because it is revealed in God’s word. We do not know, however, what that day will be. We know that God has the power to heal any diseases, as we saw in each of the Gospels; but we dare not assume that we know whether or not he will choose to heal anyone that we know today. God does not let us presume to know his will. We only know that what he will do is best. So, let us not assume we know what he will do. Let us say that he is able to deliver, but if he does not, we still will follow him.
The second thing is what followed the “but if not.” These three men were not willing to sin against God, regardless of the outcome. So many of us are the kind of people who think we have the right to sin against God if things are not going our way. “I know I said things I shouldn’t have said, but I was really upset,” we rationalize. “I know this is wrong to do, but I deserve a break,” we excuse our selves. Let us be clear, there is no excuse for us to sin against our God. His word is perfect. His law is perfect. His ways are perfect. We never have the right to sin against him, even if that sin would keep us out of trouble. Instead, we need to follow God’s will, and trust him for the outcome. And, let me be clear, that does not mean that the outcome will be easy. The “but if not” means that we may suffer because of our willingness to follow God and to not bow to the idols of the world. We may be hurt, tortured, scorned, ridiculed, or killed for the simple fact that we will not bow to what the world has set up. But let us remember that it is better to be tortured, scorned, ridiculed, or killed than it is to sin against our God who made us and who saved us.
Dear Lord, I have a deep desire to be like these three young men. No, I do not want to suffer or be put in a situation where I have to make a life or death decision. However, I want the kind of character that would make the right statement were I placed in that predicament. I pray that you will help me to choose always to risk danger above sinning against you. help me also not to assume I know your secret plans, because that is presumptuous and dishonoring to you. Help me to trust you, and to willingly suffer if that be your will. I most want to honor you. Please help me do that.