The Triumphant Three
Nebuchadnezzar versus God! an unequal combat surely! Nevertheless the Babylonian king in all the pomp and majesty of state made his decree. Princes, governors, captains, judges, treasurers, counsellors, sheriffs and rulers of provinces accepted the inevitable and bowed to his dictate. They worshipped the golden image set up in the plain of Dura. In the midst of such an assemblage, representing as it did the overwhelming might and well-nigh universal dominion of the emperor, who would refuse submission?
Three Hebrew youths would.
They had been brought away as captives from their own land. Their names, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (which by their terminations linked them with the true God), had been changed. The great monarch might juggle with their names, but he could not change their purpose of heart. They were faithful in their allegiance to Jehovah their God. Then by wisdom and understanding given them of Him they rose to positions of honour in the province of Babylon. And their prosperity did not mar them any more than their previous adversity had done. Unswervingly they adhered to their faith. Now surrounded by imperial stateliness and magnificence a fresh temptation assailed them. Would they dare to stand erect while all the world prostrated itself idolatrously before its god? Yes! they would dare.
Three against the world. What a sight for angels and for men! Three, do I say? Ah, besides the three frail men was God, there to maintain and uphold them in the face of all the force of the foe.
Accused before the king of having withstood his commandment, he in rage and fury demanded their immediate arrest and that they should be brought before him without delay. Probably because of their former valuable services his royal clemency was extended towards them and a further opportunity of submission was offered, the threat, however, being repeated that in the event of their non-compliance an awful death awaited them. To this they give a simple uncompromising refusal. “O Nebuchadnezzar,” they say, “we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 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! But if not, be it known unto thee, O king! that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Dan. 3:16-18). There was evidently no yielding here, not to the extent of a hair’s breadth.
Was ever a haughty monarch withstood thus by three of his weak subjects? But he was on trial as well as they. He had before acknowledged to Daniel that the God of the Jews was a God of gods, and a Lord of kings. In his pride he had forgotten this now, however. Before his assembled princes and nobles from the length and breadth of his vast dominions he had entered the lists against Almighty God.
Full of wild anger and with wrathful visage he at once commands that the furnace shall be heated to sevenfold strength and that picked mighty men from his army should bind the heroes hand and foot as they were in their clothing, and there and then cast them into the flames of the fierce fire. The result was that his soldiers proved to be fuel for the furnace, while the pinioned prisoners were set free from their bonds by the same devouring element.
Then, instead of three shackled men writhing in their death agony as he expected to see, the monarch was amazed to descry four men walking at ease, and to his astonished eyes “the form of the fourth was like the Son of God.”
It may be that he little understood the full import of his statements. Perhaps, like Balaam and Caiaphas, he was used of God to bear unwitting witness to the truth. But his words of astonishment are recorded for our comfort and encouragement today.
May we not believe that this time of outward disaster was one of the best, if not the very best that these valorous Hebrews ever knew. Amid the fires they were not only free from their bonds and out of the reach of their foes, but they were in the presence of the Son of God, enjoying nearness to Him, walking with Him, in a way they had never known before. When they came forth it was as those who had been with Him to be witnesses to His saving strength and power during that awful experience.
And is it not ever thus? The Son of God draws near to succour those who stand for God’s glory and truth.
We have an instance of this in the case of the once blind man of John 9. He had been questioned and persecuted, forsaken by his parents and scorned and derided by the religious rulers. Undismayed he had upheld the truth, and more and more the glory of the Great Healer had dawned upon his soul’s perception. At length he had been cast out by his adversaries and was alone, despised, abandoned. Yes! so it appeared to human ken, but the One for whose honour he had endured the conflict had not been inattentive. His eye had been upon His stout-hearted servant. It was His hand, unseen, which had ministered grace and strength to him in the hour of his trial. And now that he was deserted, excommunicated, He heard that they had cast him out, and when He had found him He said unto him, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” He made Himself known to the courageous champion of the right in a new way. He presented Himself as his companion in the hour of testing. The Son of God was Himself cast out. They were walking together in the midst of the fire.
It was the Son of God who loosed the bonds of the three young men in the furnace of Babylon. It was He who loosed the bonds which had bound the recently sightless beggar. And it is He who by His atoning death and by His resurrection life looses our bonds today “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” He says. But more than that He adds, “If the Son shall make you free ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:32-36).
This liberty is pictured for us in that fiery furnace incident. The fire of judgment at Calvary has been the way of deliverance for us, and how blessed a deliverance it is.
Set free from the slavery of sin. No longer to be driven by the cruel taskmaster. To hear the voice of the oppressor no more. The cords of iniquity are consumed, the bondage of evil is ended. The emancipated soul breathes the air of freedom now. The truth releases us. Christ has died and we have died with Him. His death is ours. Thus we reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God in Christ Jesus. Yes! we live now in Him. His life is ours. Beyond judgment, beyond the domination of sin, beyond the power of Satan we have our being in the sunshine of the smile of God. More than this, it is the Son who makes us free. Then we are free indeed! He gives us to share His freedom before the face of His Father and God. He cried “Abba, Father,” in the sense of relationship and nearness, and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God’s Son, in our hearts cries “Abba, Father” today.
We have heard with delight the resurrection message, “I ascend unto My Father and your Father; and to My God and your God” (John 20:17). Well may we rejoice. We are not servants now, we are sons. We are no longer minors under the law, we are of full age and under grace (see Gal. 3:23 to 4:7). Sonship’s joys are ours already and soon we shall be at home as sons in the Father’s house on high.
Radiant with glory, fully conformed to the image of God’s Son we shall still walk with Him. No longer amid the fire of trial and tribulation but amid the light and love and blessedness of our everlasting home.
Brave three! Their names are inscribed upon the pages of holy writ as men of mettle who feared not to face the whole world for the truth they counted dear. They “yielded their bodies” (Dan. 3:28), as Nebuchadnezzar said of them later, “that they might not serve nor worship any god except their own God.” Valiant confessors, your example has inspirited the hearts of many and nerved many hands to fight the battles of our God.
“Yield your bodies.” So the Apostle Paul exhorted the Christians at Rome, of old, and through them exhorts us today “Yield your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
Have we done this? Have we in honesty and integrity of heart placed ourselves unreservedly at His disposal? Are we at all like the doughty doers of Daniel.
Surely nothing less than this becomes us. Our lives were forfeited through sin and we were exposed to His just judgment, but the compassions of God have been manifested. He yielded up His Son, His only Son, for our salvation. Christ has yielded up Himself even to the death of the cross in order that eternal blessing might be our portion. Surely the only right reply on our part is to yield ourselves to God that in life or in death we may glorify Him. So shall we be like the triumphant trio, and honouring God shall be honoured of Him in the coming kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.