Monday, 28 September 2015

Bible reading: Daniel 3v24-30 'Divine Deliverance'

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisors, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’
They replied, ‘Certainly, Your Majesty.’
25 He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’
26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!’
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisors crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.’
30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

A furious Nebuchadnezzar knows what he expects to see and hear as he has the three bound friends thrown into the fire.  But as God intervenes to rescue his servants he contradicts Nebuchadnezzar, showing him, and everyone else, Nebuchadnezzar's impotence and the futility of idol worship in the face of Yahweh.  But also that Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego have their service of him right; they serve the KING and they are right to do so.

The text also stresses (v27) the extent of their deliverance, its totality is emphasized by the detailed piling up of descriptions of the men as they come out of the fire: “unbound… unharmed… not harmed… nor was a hair… singed… not scorched… no smell of fire…” In contrast to the soldiers (22) who are burned up the moment they go near to the fire, this rescue is as complete as it is miraculous, not even a whiff of smoke on their clothing.

Verse 25 raises a big question, who is the 4th figure? Some say it is an angel some say it is a pre-incarnate vision of the Son of God. The Authorised Version has ‘Son of God’ in v25 where NIV has “like a son of the gods”.  Indeed Nebuchadnezzar himself seems unsure, having referred to the figure as "like a son of the gods" in verse 25 in verse 28 he refers to him as God has sent “his angel to rescue”.  The Bible is not clear on who he is and it also doesn’t raise it as an issue.  The key to our understanding this fourth figure is that he is God’s deliverer, God delivers his people just as he promised (Isaiah 43:2-3 “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”)  It is not a universal blanket promise of deliverance for all of God's people who take a stand, even the three friends recognised that God may not rescue them, and God rescues them in the fire not from the fire, and later in the book, in the visions Daniel has, we read of God's faithful people who stand and are killed for it.  God is our deliverer but he may not always deliver us physically every time.

In verse 28-29, as at end of chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar is impressed but not converted.  He comments on the nature of the miracle and the commends the faithfulness of Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego and gives a bloodthirsty protection to the Jews which I'm not sure they wanted.  Again the question is does Nebuchadnezzar come to faith in God or is he just impressed by God's power.  We see clearly that this is not a conversion, Nebuchadnezzar is not humbled, he is not seeing how he needs to relate to God.  There is another question which is left hanging; does he destroy the idol? Does he repent and recognise his place/impotence before God? Chapter 4 clearly tells us answer is no.

As the chapter ends Meschach, Shadrach, Abednego have gone from peril to promotion, just as Daniel had in chapter 2. God is the faithful deliverer of his people even in a foreign land.  He keeps his promises (Isaiah 43) so he can trusted to keep his other promise made in Jeremiah that the exile will only last 70 years then God's people will return to his place.  Seeing the faithfulness God is to spur his people on to greater faithfulness and trust in God's promises.

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