Daniel 3:1-6: King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. 2 Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 3 Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5 that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.”
Nebuchadnezzar was a slow learner. He had dreamed of a great image which had a head of gold, and body parts made of other materials. The head of gold represented Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom (Babylon), and the other parts of the image represented other kingdoms which would arise on the stage of world history after his (Dn. 2:36-43). However, instead of submitting himself to the God who revealed all this to him, Nebuchadnezzar attempted to assert his own power and glory.
He built an enormous image like the one in his dream, except that this statue was made entirely of gold. The implication which Nebuchadnezzar intended was clear: there would be no other kingdoms after his; Babylon would last forever. To try to enforce this imagined destiny Nebuchadnezzar decreed that all the peoples under his rule should fall down to worship the image every time they heard the sound of music. The penalty for refusing to do this was a fiery death. This was a way of uniting all the different peoples around worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s rule and might. It was meant to ensure their continuing loyalty to him. (There is even a Babylonian document from the time of Nebuchadnezzar in which he called future kings of the empire to continue to honor his statues and respect his rule!)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, however, would not abide by this edict. They refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image. Some Chaldeans who despised the Jews reported this to the king and the king had them brought before him. He gave them the opportunity to bow down to the image, and he warned them that death would follow if they refused (Dn. 3:8-15).
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. 17 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. 18 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.”
There are several things we can learn from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s loyalty to God and their refusal to commit idolatry. First, we can never give our complete or unquestioning loyalty to any human ruler. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were already trusted servants of Nebuchadnezzar (Dn. 1:19-20, 2:49). But their service to him had limits. They refused to compromise their loyalty to God in order to please the king. We must adopt this same attitude. We are to submit to governing authorities because God has appointed them. Our respect for human authority is one aspect of our respect for God’s authority (Rom. 13:1-7). However, we continually remember that God has authority over all human authorities. They are subject to Him. Jesus Christ is the only Lord to whom we give our complete and total loyalty. We will never worship anyone except Him (Rom. 10:5-13, 12:1-2). There are times, therefore, when our loyalty to Jesus obligates us to question, critique, or refuse human authority. We will not serve your gods!
Second, our loyalty to God is more important than our ‘patriotic unity’ with others. Everyone else readily went along with worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (Dn. 3:7). By refusing to comply Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were threatening the unity of the Babylonian empire. What if other Jews followed their example? What if other peoples in the empire started refusing to cooperate like the Jews did? Nebuchadnezzar simply couldn’t tolerate a situation in which his subjects refused to do the very thing which demonstrated their loyalty to him. If the people weren’t united in loyalty to him, his rule and the Babylonian empire itself could be endangered. This is why the penalty for refusing to worship the image was death. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s example shows us that there are some things more important than ‘national unity.’ In fact, when national prestige, power, wealth, or safety is elevated above the worship and will of the only living God, then ‘national unity’ is a very dangerous thing. Human history shows us what terrible things can happen when nations are united behind godless leaders. As disciples of Jesus we must be prepared to endure the “malicious accusations” (Dn. 3:8) of those who will say that we don’t care about the nation because we refuse to do what would be disloyal and dishonoring to God. We must choose “to be mistreated with the people of God [rather] than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). We will not serve your gods!
Third, our obedience to God is more important than our personal safety. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego believed that God would deliver them from the fiery furnace (v. 17). But, they were prepared to die for their obedience to God if God chose not to deliver them (v. 18). Throughout the centuries many millions of Christians have had to make this choice to remain faithful to Jesus even unto death. We have brothers and sisters around the world who are faced with this choice every day. We too may one day be confronted by the demand that we disobey Christ or lose our lives. If so, then we must remember the promise of the Risen Jesus: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:9-11). We will not serve your gods!
Take time now to seek God. This brief prayer can help you get started. “Almighty God help me always to worship and serve you alone. I give you my complete loyalty. I know that serving you is more important that ‘patriotic unity’ with others. Obedience to you matters more than even my life. Help me to love you with all that I am. Give me strength and courage to be faithful to you unto death. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”