Standing in Resistance: A Word from Daniel 3

The Burning Fiery Furnace by George Jones

            There is much talk these days about resistance. It’s a topic in political circles and religious circles. A review copy of a book titled Preaching as Resistance arrived on the doorstep yesterday afternoon. It’s edited by a Disciples colleague and includes a wide variety of preachers, some of whom I know and some I do not. There is one sermon in the collection that draws from Daniel, but that sermon draws from chapter 7 and not chapter 3. You may know this story, which I am exploring with my Bible study group today. It features Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, three Jewish exiles who come to the attention of the great Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. This king, who has a high regard for his own power, has set up a great statue to one of his gods, though not to himself. However, he does have the power to force his subjects—represented here by the governmental power structure moving from the top to the bottom. Bow to the statue and worship it or face the penalty of dying a horrific death in a fiery furnace.

                As you might expect the governmental apparatus falls in line and obeys the king, who rules absolutely. As it has been said, “absolute power, corrupts absolutely.” And, so it is with Nebuchadnezzar. Everyone bows, except for three Jewish officials. Apparently, they are discovered doing something other than abiding by the king’s directive. They are brought before the king, questioned, directed to bow to the statue, or die. Their answer is direct and to the point:
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17 If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”  (Daniel 3:16-18 NRSV).
What happens next shouldn’t surprise us. The king gets angry, really angry, so angry that his face is distorted. He is so angry that he orders the furnace to be heated up even hotter than normal. Yes, seven times the normal heat. It’s into this overheated furnace that the three resisters are thrown, fully dressed in their official garb. The fall in, but don’t die. No, they survive. They walk around in the company of a fourth being. Is it an angel? We’re not told, though the king wonders if it is a good, or at least a divine being.

                When they are brought out of the furnace, the king bows in worship of this God who delivers. Resistance, in this case pays off. They are protected. The king worships their God. After all, no other god can do such things. Nebuchadnezzar, as he does in chapter 2, recognizes the superiority of the God of Israel, a God who is connected with a small and unimportant country.

                What is the message of Daniel 3 for us? Do we face a fiery furnace? Are we being asked to bow to idols? As I think on this a recent story comes to mind. A young girl in Texas, African American, was suspended from school, because she didn’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. She remained seated, much like Colin Kaepernick, as a sign of resistance. I didn’t know it was an offense punishable by suspension in places like Texas, but apparently it is. So, here’s my question, is the flag an idol? Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it is, and so they remain seated.

                Three young exiles were willing to die rather than worship this idol. They put their fate in the hands of God, not knowing whether they would be delivered or not. But apparently that didn’t matter. Either way, they wouldn’t worship the king’s gods, staying true to the God of Israel. So, what is our task at this moment in history? How will we respond?

Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)


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