The Fiery Furnance

Bible Book: Daniel  3
Subject: Courage; Faithfulness; Deliverance; Peer Pressure

The text for this message consists of the first three words of Daniel 3:18: “But if not....”

You’ll see how that fits in as we move along.

The focus in this chapter is on Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They had an experience which has some powerful practical lessons for you and me. I want to point out three things about what happened to them. First of all, we see...


Instead of reading the entire chapter, let me summarize the story, reading highlights here and there.

King Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of Babylon, erected a massive golden image on the plain of Dura and sent out instructions that on a given date all the dignitaries in the kingdom were to come and take part in dedicating the image. Daniel and his three friends were Jews and had been brought to Babylon as captives. They had conducted themselves wisely and had been promoted to positions of authority in the Babylonian government. Thus, they were expected to be present for the dedication--that is, Daniel’s three friends were expected to be there. Daniel is not mentioned in this entire chapter, which must mean that he was away at the time--perhaps on some special assignment for the king.

Apparently Nebuchadnezzar was starting a new national religion, with this golden image being the central object of worship. Perhaps he thought that by requiring everyone to adopt this new religion he could thereby bring together all these captured people, with their various races, cultures and languages, into one manageable unit.

But whatever the reason, he scheduled the dedication ceremony, and he warned that anyone failing to take part would be executed by being thrown into a fiery furnace. Finally the day arrived. It must have been an impressive sight, as that enormous golden image glistened in the sunlight and as a great crowd gathered there on the plain of Dura. The instruction was that when the music began, everyone was to bow to the golden image. Verse 7 says: “Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sachbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.”

That verse says that “all the people” fell down and worshipped. Obviously that means one of two things: it may mean all the people, generally speaking--for we know that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow before the golden idol; or it may mean all the people who were present--which would then let us know that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t attend the ceremony. But whatever the case, these three Hebrew men did not bow before the golden statue.

Certain Chaldeans, no doubt out of jealousy, reported to the king that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had failed to participate. According to verse 12 these Chaldeans said: “There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

Nebuchadnezzar was furious. He had these three Hebrews brought before him, expressed his anger to them, and told them they would have one last chance. According to verse 15 he said: “Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut,psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”

Nebuchadnezzar said, “I’m giving you one more chance--conform or else!”

That story reaches across the centuries with application to your life and mine. The circumstances vary, of course. There are no laws in our land requiring people to bow before a golden image, but the pressure exists, nonetheless--the pressure to conform to the standards and practices of the unregenerate world. Often that pressure is exerted by our peers. For example, sometimes people will say, “Come on and have a little drink with us. Surely you’re not so narrow that you can’t be sociable. Do you think you’re better than we are?“ Or the crowd might say, “Oh, come on and make a little bet--this isn’t big-time gambling, this is harmless.” Or they might say, “Don’t be so straight-laced. This is the new century. This is the day of the sexual revolution. You don’t need to hampered by those old-fashioned, puritanical mores of the past. Loosen up. Have a good time. After all,” the crowd says, “everybody is doing it.”

Well, to begin with, that’s a lie. Not everyone is doing it. God has always had his remnant, and he has people today who hold the line whatever others do. But the pressure to conform is there--and often today, instead of a fiery furnace, the penalty for non-conformity is a cold shoulder. Or it might be failure to include you, or passing you by for a promotion. The penalty might come in the form of ridicule. The devil has all kinds of instruments with which to exert pressure on the believer--pressure to conform.

But look with me now at...


According to ver 16, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” They were saying, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we’re not full of care, apprehension, or worry as to how we’re going to answer you. We’ve already made our decision”--and here was their response, in verses 17-18: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou has set up.”

They said, in effect, “O king, we serve the great God who is the Sovereign of the universe, and if it is in his plan to do so, he will deliver us and keep us from being burned to death. But if not--that is, if delivering us from the flames is not in his plan, we still won’t worship your idol. Whatever happens, we’ll still trust God. We’ll stand firm for him. And even if we have to die a painful, horrible death, we’ll go down with all flags flying!”

Thank the Lord for that kind of faith--a “but if not” kind of faith. That’s the kind of faith that honors God, brings victory, and convinces a cynical, skeptical world.

What God is looking for today is people who have repented of their sins and in faith have said to Jesus Christ, “Lord, I’m trusting you as my Savior and my all-in-all. I know that all of your dealings with me are in love, whether or not I always understand them. I know that you make no mistakes, and that somehow, some way, one of these days--in heaven, if not in this life--you’re going to make it all come out right.”

When trouble comes our way, it’s normal to hope and pray for deliverance--but our commitment ought to be that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: “I know that God will get me out of this if it’s in his plan to do so; but if not--that is, if it’s not in his plan to spare me--I’ll still trust him; I’ll still obey him; I’ll still stand my ground for him, whatever happens.”

Now look with me, please, at...


We read in verses 19-22: “Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.”

Now look at verses 23-25: “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

You may have a translation that says, “a son of the gods.” The original language of the Old Testament would allow either rendering, but I believe that the context--especially the larger context--calls for the rendering I’ve just read from the King James Version: “the Son of God.” Here’s why I believe that: from what we know of Daniel and his three friends, in all likelihood they had witnessed to king Nebuchadnezzar about their faith in God’s promised Messiah. They didn’t have all the details that were to be given later in the Scriptures, but they knew from the few Old Testament books which already existed that one day God would send his Redeemer to save men from their sins.

Now, as Nebuchadnezzar sees that these three Hebrews are miraculously unhurt and that a fourth man is walking with them in the fire, he probably recalls to mind what Daniel and his friends have told him, and he says to himself, “They must have been telling me the truth--and that must be him! That must be the Son of God!” Even though Jesus was not born in Bethlehem until many centuries after this, several times in the Old Testament Jesus miraculously appeared on the scene. The theologians call these “pre-incarnate appearances.” Obviously this was one of them.

Upon seeing the Son of God, and upon seeing that God had miraculously protected the three Hebrews from harm, Nebuchadnezzar called them out. He was deeply impressed that their God was great beyond anything he had ever imagined--and he issued a decree that people were not to make light of or speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego.

Of course, God doesn’t always deliver in the same manner as he did in this case--but he does always deliver--in one of two ways. Sometimes he shields us from harm, as he did in the case we’ve just read about. However, at other times he allows his people to be hurt, or even killed, and yet pours such spiritual power into their lives that they have victory in spite of what is happening to them.

The apostle Paul cried out repeatedly for God to remove his painful “thorn in the flesh,” but God said “No”--however, God went on to say, in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” With that truth ringing in his heart, Paul said, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may best upon me.”

In the seventh chapter of Acts we read about one of the first deacons, a marvelous, courageous young man named Stephen. Because of his uncompromising stand for Christ, Stephen was stoned him to death by a crazed mob--but he had victory in spite of what they did to him. Even as they were stoning him, God permitted him to look up into heaven and see Jesus standing on the right hand of the Father. As they yelled and threw jagged rocks that ripped his flesh, Stephen prayed for them. In Acts 7:59-60 we read: “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

For reasons known only to himself, God didn’t deliver Stephen from the mob--but he delivered him from defeat. Stephen died leaving a great legacy that has touched untold numbers of lives; he died praying for those who were inflicting this horrible wrong on him. And he died with the wonderful assurance in his heart that he was going to be with the Lord! The devil’s crowd killed him, but they didn’t defeat him--God delivered him from defeat. He died, all right--but he went out into eternity with a glory in his heart, a radiance on his face, and the assurance of heaven in his soul!

You can’t defeat a person who is walking in close daily fellowship with Jesus Christ--whatever happens, he is a winner. Paul said, in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

If you’ve never done so, I challenge you this very hour to commit yourself in repentance and faith to the crucified, risen, living, coming again Son of God--and you, too, can be a winner, come what may.