They Yielded Their Bodies – Lessons on Persecution and Commitment from Daniel 38 min read
We are normally quick to hail the bravery of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego and try in some superficial measure to learn from them; but we should admit to ourselves that we often view their situation as being long ago and far away, thus lacking true potential for changing our lives. But the reality is, these men existed. These men had feelings and fears that really existed. They had a sinful nature just as we do. Yet they were faithful to God – not because it was easy, but because these men had a true fear of God. The idolatry they faced is not far from us at all, and neither is the persecution. These men give a tremendous example for us to follow in our day – not as lofty saints, but as believers who, among many, have understood the value and the cost of serving their God. To shirk from the same kind of commitment is not “average Christianity” on our part: it is sub-Christianity. The endurance of these three men is what we should see as “average” in Christian life. God demands full commitment from all.
The Choice that Faced Them (v. 1-15)
Standing for God has never been easy. Standing for God has never been preferable on the surface. The true follower of God, however, understands that the harder work is the more valuable work. The true follower of God understands that the surface is never the true standard. The world doesn’t like to think in depth; therefore what is superficially appealing will be their attraction. The same is true for lukewarm Christianity. But faithfulness stands out: it looks thoughtfully for true value and merit then pursues that.
For the three Israelites in Daniel 3, they were faced with an opportunity which all of Babylon had no problem with. “Bow to a statue? Why not? We do it all the time! Someone would have to be very intolerant and bigoted to not bow.” The first threat for these men was the pressure of their peers. It takes deep dedication and conviction to stand against a whole society. We often find ourselves asking “Can the majority in the world really be wrong?” Yes, and they are especially when it comes to worship. We must remember this. But a second threat faced these men: emotional appeal. Notice that bowing to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue followed the musical signal from at least seven instruments. Music moves the heart to do radically illogical things, at times, even a mindless and clueless action (which, as a side note, is why music style does matter in Christian circles, since what we call “worship” could really just be our hormones firing). But these men were men of the mind, not of the flesh; this equipped them to resist the merely emotional appeal of this pagan “worship service.” There was also a third threat that faced these men: their knowledge of what their convictions would cost. It is easier to remain faithful when we are ignorant of the consequences than when perhaps the burning stake or guillotine faces us. But what if we knew the cost? Would we still endure? Fourthly, if the first three threats were not enough, Shadrach and his friends were faced with two opportunities to recant their faith. If we are successful in resisting temptation at one time, the devil knows we may not always be that strong and will face us with the same temptation again and again. Little by little, he wants to gain the victory in our lives. One spiritual success is not permanent victory, especially when that success could physically or socially ruin us, like it would for these men. But, even with time to think about their decision, they did not second-guess themselves; rather they glorified God all the more. Only deep character in their hearts could produce such commitment.
The Character that Fortified Them (v. 16-18, 28)
This character that committed them to God was marked by two main things: unconditional trust and unconditional obedience. Their view of God determined both of these things. In verse 16, they acknowledged the true Ruler of all, which was Yahweh and not Nebuchadnezzar: in their mind, God was to be obeyed always because of this. In verse 17, they acknowledged God as Deliverer; thus God was worth confiding in. In verse 18, they acknowledged God as the only true and living One; thus there was no pressure on earth that could reasonably persuade them to deny God, since His existence is an unchangeable reality. If there is to be any character developed in us to fortify in persecution, it will be character based on a high and accurate view of God. It was a vision of God that equipped Isaiah for His ministry. It was a vision of Christ that saw the conversion of the apostle Paul. We are a people who have come into contact with the living God: we absolutely must grow in our understanding of Him. If God is a reality to us, He will be worth our utmost sacrifice in our eyes.
But there was one other mark of the character of these men that is essential to our mentality. The phrase in verse 28 tells it all: “His servants that trusted in Him… yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.” This is called consecration: the utter and total yielding of one’s self to God and worship of Him alone. But this is not an action; it is a lifestyle. And we will not choose to serve God when death faces us if we have not yielded ourselves when life faces us. These men were faithful to God from their youth, which prepared them for faithfulness in the light of suffering. Yes, they yielded their bodies, but they yielded their souls before that ever was demanded of them. Yes, they were called to sacrifice themselves in death if needed, but they were living sacrifices beforehand. We must understand that life is not made up of defining moments every single day. Life has its regular temptations and its struggles that we need to be honest about. We may not feel bold in facing them daily, but it is our response to these that defines our response when the defining moments really do come. How are we doing with yielding our bodies? To yield means to leave nothing uncommitted to God: he must have our all. Are we ready for consistent daily living? If not, we won’t be ready for the moments we will be most remembered for. Thankfully, we serve a God Who is worth trusting in all circumstances, whether extreme or mediocre.
The Creator that Freed Them (v. 19-27)
In their stand for God, the three Hebrews faced the full onslaught of fury from Nebuchadnezzar. In verse 19, his face grew evidently bitter, and he heated the furnace seven times hotter than normal. In verse 20, we find that he summoned mighty (not weak) men to bind Shadrach and his friends. In verse 21, we find that there was no leniency in how the three men were tied and bound. In verse 23, these men fell into the midst of the furnace with no chance to escape. Pagan men put all their effort together in their own wisdom, yet God in His wisdom confounded their plans and delivered his own from the flames. From a man’s perspective, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were doomed with no hope. But logic doesn’t always work with the living God, and it certainly didn’t in this case. Even through the fire, God was with His servants and gave them such freedom that even a hint of damage could not be found on their bodies or clothes. While we cannot take this as a lesson that God always delivers from persecution, we can be assured that He will always carry us through it, even it its end be death. “Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Ps. 55:22). Man’s wisdom and efforts are no match for the living God. This is the God we serve today. Surely we can trust in Him with our circumstances, if the three Hebrews could trust Him in a death-ensuring furnace.
The Consequences that Followed Their Faithfulness (v. 28-30)
But, even though God at times does not deliver from persecution, there are times when He does and when He works to the very end that the persecutors are working against. In fact, in this record the persecutor himself began a journey toward salvation. While he was not saved in this chapter, God used the seed of Nebuchadnezzar’s acknowledgement to bring salvation a number of years later. As well, the persecuted men themselves were promoted in the kingdom. Oh, the irony! We cannot overestimate the potential of faithfulness, especially when we have the assurance of a living God honoring that faithfulness. To be afflicted for our testimony is only ever a true threat on the surface. God in His supreme will can override man’s purposes as He pleases. Our responsibility, however, is to leave that with God while we guarantee Him our own commitment even in the most dire circumstances. Let us make no mistake: commitment is worth the effort. Not only will Divine strength carry us through, but Divine power will ensure that fruit will be ours to enjoy.