Who Rules Over Kings?
What do you do when you live in a foreign country and you are forced to embrace the official religion of that country? Imagine, you've moved to one of the Arab countries in the Middle East, where Islam is the national religion, and as you live there you are being pressed by the authorities to become a Muslim. You are called upon to worship Allah, the Muslim god. What do you do as a Christian?
That’s the kind of situation Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found themselves in at one point during their Babylonian exile as described in Daniel 3. These young men, with Daniel, were among the small group of Jews who now worked for Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonian king had carried them away to his country to serve him. This followed a raiding expedition Nebuchadnezzar made in Judah which resulted in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the holy temple of the Jews. Once in Babylon, Daniel and his companions were in such a position that they either did what the king required of them and they lived or they disobeyed and they died.
At a time when Daniel, the leader of the group of Jews serving the king, was not around Nebuchadnezzar required all his subjects to fall down and worship a gold statue he had set up. The Babylonian people being, like their king, worshippers of false gods complied to his command, but Daniel’s companions did not. Daniel being absent, these three men did not yet allow their faith to depend on their leader. This is one of the lessons of the story in Daniel 3.
The three men’s refusal, for Nebuchadnezzar, meant they lacked gratitude as he had honoured them by allowing them to work in his administration. They had earlier been made officials, their appointment coming as a reward promised by the king for the excellent job Daniel did in interpreting a dream he had when none of his magicians could (cf. Dan. 2). Their refusal further meant that they were being disobedient to the great king of the Babylonian Empire, the one referred to by Daniel as “a king of kings” when he interpreted his dream (Dan. 2:37). Enraged, the monarch ordered that the three Jewish men be thrown into a blazing furnace (Dan. 3:19-20). This was the sentence he pronounced against them after hearing from them first hand their intention not to comply to his command. The good impression those young men had made on the king quickly dissolved.
Nonetheless, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not change their stance. They were consequently cast bound into the devouring flames of the furnace. But they trusted God to save their lives. They had said to the king, “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.” (Dan. 3:17) The three young men proved they had undaunted courage and unshaken trust in the living God. We learn here the second lesson.
The third lesson is that although they faced the dreadful outcome of death, the young men spoke to the king without conferring with each other. They were not going to worship a foreign god in a strange land. There was no room left for them to question what was right for them to do. The second commandment clearly stipulated, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4). Jesus taught this example when in the desert Satan tempted Him into worshipping him. He said, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matt. 4:10) Only God should Christians worship and serve.
After the three men were thrown into the blazing fire what followed was astonishing. Nebuchadnezzar saw them walking around in the furnace. They even walked in the furnace in the company of a fourth Person who had not been in there in the first place. The fourth Person was certainly not an angel but rather the pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ, the Son of God. And when the king called the three men out of the furnace, they came forth unscathed. The three servants of God were thus delivered from the hands of the Babylonian king as they told him He would. A mighty miracle had just been performed by God. God was for the second time in the book of Daniel demonstrating to Nebuchadnezzar that He was mightier than him and all the earthly monarchs, not only those reigning then but also the ones to come. Kings were the highest authorities on earth in the ancient world, but we learn here that God is the King of kings. In other words, He is the Most High (Dan. 4:25). When Christians have this clear view of God, they can better worship and serve Him.