The Fire and the Fury
Updated: Mar 24, 2020
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was the most powerful ruler of his era in the ancient middle east. He had an empire that spread over much of the known world and a vicious imperialism that ravaged weaker nations, turning their kings into his subordinates and their people into his servants. He enters the biblical narrative as God’s unwitting vessel to punish Judah, the remaining tribe of Israel at the time, for its waywardness and idolatry. His brutality was on full display in his treatment of God’s people; he imprisoned Judah’s kings Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin, he pillaged the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he laid siege upon the city for two years, allowing nothing in and nothing out. At the end of the siege he attacked the famine ridden city, slaughtering men, women, elderly and sick, and he set fire to the Temple after which he carted most of the survivors off to Babylon to be his servants.
A great deal of Nebuchadnezzar’s destructiveness lies in the fact that he had absolute authority. He sought to rule without restraint and without adherence to anyone else, including God. In fact, like most ancient rulers, he saw himself as a god and demanded that the people worship him as such. These are traits that we find in dictators from the beginning of time until now. And an analysis of personalities will reveal that the mind and behavior of a dictator is not limited to a governmental ruler. Dictators are not just in offices of government. They are in corner offices, and front offices and board rooms. They reside in high paying jobs and low paying jobs. In large organizations and small collectives. And yes they even reside in pulpits. These individuals seek only power and self promotion. And you and I only serve as boosters of their ego, or villains to be vanquished. These individuals constantly seek to quiet voices of even slightest opposition in order to squelch any sign of dissent. They seek to limit their followers’ knowledge in order to preempt future challengers. They change long held institutions and obscure history in order to inflate their own image. They position themselves to be worshipped and receive praise from their followers. And they unleash fire and furry on those who don't bend to their will.
But even as we face Nebuchadnezzars in our lives and in the world (and in the church) we must remember that Nebuchadnezzar’s only relevance comes from him being used by God. His name has not endured because of his own greatness, but rather because of how God used him to get glory. And we see God use Nebuchadnezzar in one of the most well known stories of the bible, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
For the record this is the second of three attempts that God makes to show Nebuchadnezzar that power belongs to God. The third attempt that we see in chapter 4 resulted in Nebuchadnezzar losing his mind and wandering in the field like cattle for seven years before finally humbling himself and submitting to God. The first attempt occurs in chapter 2 and is the backdrop to the story of the three Hebrew boys.
In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar is recorded as having dreams that troubled him so much that they caused him to lose sleep. Fed up with the anxiety, he called on his sorcerers and magicians to give him the interpretation of his dreams. And not wanting to waste time with false interpretations by false prophets, he refused to tell them the details of the dream, demanding that they first give him the details of his dream then the interpretation. And if they could not, they would be “chopped into pieces.” These “wise men” acknowledged they could perform no such feat and so Nebuchadnezzar decreed all the wise men were to be killed. The prophet Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, Jewish captives and lower level advisors, enter the scene as the captain of the King’s guard comes to kill them, per the Kings decree. Daniel pleaded with the king for more time, and after praying to God and receiving a vision from God he went back to the king with both the king’s dream and the interpretation.
Daniel told him, starting with verse 31, “You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
Daniel continued, “You, O King are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength and Glory…you are this head of gold…after you shall rise another kingdom inferior to yours, then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over the earth. The fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron…and whereas you saw the feet of Iron and clay, that Kingdom shall be divided yet have the strength of Iron mixed in it….And in the days of these kingdoms the God of Heaven will set up another kingdom that shall never be destroyed: and it shall break to pieces and consume all these kingdoms and stand forever. This is the stone hewn out of the mountain.”
Now upon hearing his dream and its explanation King Nebuchadnezzar fell to the ground and said to Daniel, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret.”
And he made Daniel ruler over Babylon and chief administrator over the wise men. Daniel in turned looked out for his boys and got good government positions for his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, whom we all know better by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.
There is an issue though with Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding of the dream that Daniel interpreted. Like all who seek absolute power, Nebuchadnezzar is high on arrogance and low on self-awareness. Daniel told him that he was the head of Gold, and after him three other kingdoms would take over in succession. And a weaker version of the fourth kingdom would be crushed by the stone hewn out of the mountain and the history of all those kingdoms including Nebuchadnezzar’s would vanish like straw in the wind as God sets up his eternal kingdom…But apparently all Nebuchadnezzar heard from all this was that he was the head of gold.
And so, in chapter three the king builds a large statue out of gold and made a law that whenever the symphony began playing, everyone was to bow down to the statue of gold and worship it, and thus by extension worship King Nebuchadnezzar. And the rule was that anyone who did not immediately bow would be immediately thrown into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. Thus, whenever the symphony played, all the people in all the provinces were to bow down to worship the golden idol.
However, word gets to Nebuchadnezzar that he has three Jews by the names of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-Nego who do not serve his gods nor do they worship the golden image. Daniel 3:13 reads “Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-Nego.” And a little further down he says “Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the symphony and you fall down and worship the image 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?”
Clearly Nebuchadnezzar has forgotten the words that he spoke to Daniel in chapter 2 when he said, “Clearly your God is the God of gods.” The king has set himself up to be worshipped based on the vision that the Hebrew God gave him, yet he turns around and threatens the Hebrew men asking what god can deliver them from his hands. There again, the dangerous combination of arrogance and lack of self-awareness.
But it introduces us to a reality that all Christians will be faced with at some point. That is, when we are committed to serving the Lord and obeying his commands, we will have to face the fire and the fury of the enemy. We must understand that the enemy will always try to inflict fire upon us and will always threaten us with his fury in order to prevent us from accomplishing the work of the Lord. And the reason is because if he can devour us with his fire or frighten us with his fury, he can prevent us from influencing others, which prevents others from being saved, which prevents God from being known throughout the nations, which increases the wickedness and destruction in the world. And we know destruction is the enemies forte, as Jesus said told us that he only comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
However if we are able to endure—not avoid, but endure—the enemy’s fire and fury then we will attain a higher glory and make a greater impact.
We can verify that statement with the text, starting with verse 23: “And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? Look!’ he answered, ‘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.’ And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!’ Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon.”
Because the Hebrew men endured the fire and the fury of the enemy, they were able to prove God to a king and a people who did not know Him and they themselves were promoted to a higher position of authority and influence.
But this is the end of the story. Before we attain a higher glory, we have to endure the fire and the fury.
As the Hebrew men show us, the first task is to not be deceived by the fury. The fury is the threat of the fire. But it’s not just the threat. It’s the attempt to make you believe there is finality within the fire. In other words, the enemy does not simply want to threaten you, he wants to make you believe your options are limited to obeying the dictator or facing complete destruction. Nebuchadnezzar told the Hebrew men that he would throw them into the fiery furnace and then he said, “who is the god who can deliver you from my hands.” By saying, who is the god that can deliver you from my hands, Nebuchadnezzar was seeking to convince them that they had no other options—obedience or death.
However, with God there are always other options. There may not be other visible options, there may not be other logical options, but there are always other options than that which the adversary presents. We can look at various examples in the Old testament: Abraham and the ram in the bush, Moses at the Red Sea, Joshua at the Wall of Jericho, David and his five smooth stones. We can also look at a man named Jairus in the New Testament who upon watching his daughter dying, does not seek a medic, but seeks out the one man whom he knows has unlimited options. By the time Jesus gets to Jairus’ house the young girl has died and the family is morning but when Jesus leaves the house, the girl is alive and well because God always has other options.
This same spirit powered the Hebrew men. In response to Nebuchadnezzar’s question, They say “We have no need to answer you in this matter. If you will throw us into the fiery furnace then the God that we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from your hand, O King.”
There is interesting word usage here. The men told the King that their God is able to deliver them from the fire and that he would deliver them from the hands of the King. Its commonly understood that the Hebrew men predicted the miracle that God brought to pass. This is not so. In reality, the only thing they did was acknowledge that God has other options. See, they proclaimed that God could deliver them from the fire, not that he would. But they came back and said that he would deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. Which is to say fire or no fire, God will give us the victory in the end. We may not know how he’ll do it or when or what he will do, but fire or no fire, God will give his people victory in the end.
I am of the opinion that the Hebrew men had resigned themselves to death. In their mind they were going to die. However, their understanding of death and Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding of death were two different things. To Nebuchadnezzar death was final. It was the annihilation of the individual. No life after death. No resurrection. Just destruction. But the Hebrew men would have had a different understanding. They would have understood death to be the vehicle to eternal rest with God. For them death would not be the end but rather the beginning of that which will never end—that is life in paradise with God. So they proclaim to the King, our God is able to deliver us, even from the fire. But whether we live or die you will not have the final say. The destruction you intend for us will not come to pass. Life or death, fire or no fire, we are not in your hands Nebuchadnezzar, but we are in the loving and mighty hands of our God and he has unlimited options, all of which work in our favor.
So, we cannot be deceived by the enemy’s fury. We cannot let him convince us that there are no other options. Stage four cancer does not guarantee death. And even if death is God’s will, we sooth ourselves with the fact that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. But, the news of the ailment does not take away Gods options! The loss of employment does not guarantee poverty. We may have to struggle. But loss of the job does not take away God’s options as it relates to supplying our needs. A withering marriage does not guarantee divorce. Family discord does not guarantee division.
It’s the enemy’s plot to make us think the only option is the destruction that he presents but those who serve God understand that God has other options and other ways. The fury of the enemy is just talk, but God has the final say and its always in our favor.
After having gotten over the fury, the second thing we must do with an adversary like this is embrace the fire. In verse 15, Nebuchadnezzar told the Hebrew men that if they did not bow down and worship the golden statue when they heard the symphony play, then they would surely be thrown into the fiery furnace. The Hebrew men responded in a way that Nebuchadnezzar was not expecting. They didn’t respond with fear and cowardice. They didn’t try to beg for his mercy or beg him to soften his stance. Instead they responded with defiance toward Nebuchadnezzar’s order and indifference toward his threat. They said “If that is the case, our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us from your hand. 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.”
What is missing from a great deal of us Christians is a but if not faith. That is to say, we ought to have a faith and a loyalty to God which says that even if He does not do what we want, He is still God. He is still our God.
God is not obligated to do what we want Him to do and if he chooses not to do it, we have a lifetime of evidence that proves he has already done more than enough. So even if he doesn’t, He still has our loyalty, our love, and our obedience. With that firmly established the Hebrew men said, let it be known to you, O King, that we do not serve your gods and we will not worship the gold image that you have set up.
It’s humorous that the Hebrew men continued to say “O King” all the while showing the king that his title was meaningless in this situation. And then they got bold and said—let it be known to you. Not please listen, but let it be known to you. And then they broke him off with some common sense: If we haven’t been bowing down to your gods, why would we start now? We are not going to bow down to your gods and we are not going to bow down to you.
We need this type of defiance in our Christianity today. Its good and biblical to respect people’s positions but when these dictators get out of pocket and start throwing around weight that they don’t have, somebody has to remind them of who God is. Someone has to tell them, all due respect but I’m not going to do what you want me to just because you want me to do it. Because I have an allegiance to a higher authority, and I won’t disobey him in order to obey you. I won’t anger him in order to appease you. I serve the Lord, therefore I don’t bow down to you and I won’t bow down to you.
But in order to have this Godly defiance, you have to embrace the fire. When the Hebrew men told Nebuchadnezzar that they would not bow down to the image, they were accepting the punishment that he had in store for them. They were welcoming his threat of throwing them into the fiery furnace. And they did so knowing that there was something worse than the fire. There is something worse than losing one’s job. There is something worse than losing friends. There is something worse than losing status in the community or even in the church. And indeed there is something worse than losing one’s life. And that is losing fellowship with God because you betrayed him in order to save or serve your own self.
Our forefathers understood this during the intense persecution of the Jim Crow era. When their communities were attacked and their churches were bombed, and the options the enemy gave them was accept being made to be subhuman or suffer the consequences of violence and murder. But our forefathers’ response to the enemy was, we shall not be moved. It would have been easier to quit but they understood that you can’t ask God for deliverance and then cower down when things get tough. So, they endured the hardships in order to reach a greater glory. That’s what our brothers and sisters living under persecution today understand. When their villages are attacked, and their wives and daughters are raped and taken captive and a gun is put to their head and their attacker says renounce Jesus or die. But the response by these men and women just before a bullet travels through their skull is, Jesus is Lord. Yes, because these individuals take seriously Jesus’ statement, “But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt 10:33). Moreover, they appreciate the ability to say Jesus is Lord, to be filled with his spirit, to be in fellowship with the one true God, and to have heaven as their destination. So, to denounce or disobey him in order to save their own lives is both unconscionable and anti-productive. Like the three Hebrew men, when put in life or death situations for their faith, they prefer to embrace death in order to be embraced by God.
We are not like this anymore. We’ve lost something that our forefathers had. We lack something that our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world have. We have the same word, but we don’t have the same defiant spirit. We can recite the same verses that they lean upon but we lack the defiance that allows them to embrace the fire. Our fear of being burned prevents us from doing so, and thus it also prevents us from seeing the glory on the other side.
The three Hebrew men, because they embraced the fire, were able to participate in a miracle and were able to be in the very presence of God while they were in the furnace. So whatever our particular situation is, when we are face to face with a Nebuchadnezzar who is attempting to hold us to the flames, we need to embrace the fire knowing that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are the called according to his purposes.
This is what the Hebrew men understood. But more importantly this is what Jesus understood as he faced off against the Jewish religious leaders, and against the Roman governor Pilate, and against sin and death. The priests took Jesus to Pilate, accusing him of blasphemy and demanding that Pilate crucify him. Pilate interrogated him and when he could get no answer out of Jesus he said, "Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You” (John 19:10).
But Jesus, following the example of the Hebrew men, answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11).
The priests whipped the crowd into a fury, and they shouted crucify him. But Jesus knew his options were not limited. So instead of avoiding the cross he embraced it. He embraced being whipped and mocked. He embraced the crown of thorns on his head. He embraced the nails in his hands and his feet.
And as he hung there with the blood pouring from his body, He didn’t beg for Pilate’s or the priests' mercy. But he said Father into thy hands I commend My Spirit. And being face to face with the sins of all mankind, he took our guilt and accepted the punishment for our wrongs.
Christ disregarded the fury and embraced the fire, and therefore God has highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow to him, and every tongue should confess that he is Lord. And if he is Lord then he is also Savior. Savior from the fire. And Savior from the fury.
So we owe it to Christ to stand in the evil day. We owe it to him to worship and praise him. To spread his word to the lost and perishing, to preach the Gospel of reconciliation, to teach the good doctrine, to pray for the world, and to serve those in need. We owe it to our God to be united one with another in love and to continue in the good work despite the fire and fury, knowing that the Lord our God will work all things to our good in the end.