The conversation was painful. I could see the pain in my friend’s eyes as he spoke of his beloved wife. I’ve known my friend for some time, and he’s one of the really good guys in this world. So as he described the nature of her illness, my heart began to ache. As a pastor, I’ve heard such stories for years. But there’s something he said that made my heart smile. He told me about his recent private devotional time with the Lord and His Word. The portion of Scripture that he read included the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. I knew the passage, but it was his takeaway from the story that God used to bless me. He and his wife have decided to use the pain of their story to bring glory to God. They are asking God to use their situation to bring someone to faith in Him. They are determined to honor God even if they have to come to the possible “but if not” portion of life.
Let me explain.
When you’re the king, not only can you make the rules, you can enforce them any way you choose. At least that was the way things were during the days of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Having invaded and conquered the nation of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar ordered the deportation of some of Judah’s citizens. Among the deportees were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The first name in that list is familiar. The remaining three are known better today as the three Hebrew children, ironically known by the Babylonian names they were given. Hananiah would be known as Shadrach; Mishael as Meshach; and Azariah we’d know better as Abed-Nego. It would not take long for the “three Hebrew children” to get in trouble.
It seems Nebuchadnezzar had an ego. (What were the odds?) In the first few years of his reign, “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits” (Daniel 3:1). The day came for the dedication of the image and it was commanded that at the playing of the kingdoms musicians, everyone was to fall down and worship the golden image. Disobedience would be punished with swiftly. Anyone who refused to worship the image would be thrown alive in to a fiery furnace. Guess who refused to fall down and worship? You’re right. Our guys, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego simply could not bend their collective knees in worship to what they deemed an idol. Here’s what happened next: “Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltry, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?’” (Daniel 3:13-15). The answer these men gave the king has encouraged millions of believers. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego made the decision to honor God with their lives – even if such honor resulted in their death. Continuing to read Daniel 3, we discover what happened to these three Hebrew children. Nebuchadnezzar threw the boys in to the fiery furnace, but saw something he never expected. Here’s his testimony: “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25). Yes, God providentially delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. But they weren’t sure deliverance would come in that fashion. We know that because of their “but if not” statement. They were willing to embrace deliverance on God’s terms.
So is my friend. He told me he and his wife’s great desire was for God to be honored and use their trials to bring others to faith in Christ. In a society that tends to blame God for the problems and crises of life (ask your insurance agent to define “Acts of God” to you), such an attitude goes against the grain. But every now and then you will come across special people like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego...and my friends who are willing to trust God even in the “but if not” possibilities of life. As I pray for my friends (and ask you to also), I also thank God for my friends – very special people of God.