The Empire Strikes Back

The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the furnace is an excellent example of both the challenge and reward of obedience to God in a disobeying world.

Sermon Notes:

1.As we read through chapter 3, remember the exhortation to ‘see’ the book of Daniel with your ears.

2.There is a lot of seemingly unnecessary repetition in this chapter, which is meant to reflect the boring, repetitious monotony that characterizes pagan worship.

3.We don’t know how much time has passed between chapters 2 and 3, but the narrative suggests that right after Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are promoted, their loyalty is tested (cf. Dan. 2:49).

4.Many of us have heard the story of the fiery furnace since childhood, and we should listen with fresh ears and not assume we know what this account is about.

5.After Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2, the king reaches the right conclusions about God, but then draws very wrong deductions about himself (cf. Dan. 2:47).

6.Nebuchadnezzar gets the idea for the gold-covered statue from Daniel’s interpretation; he understands his kingship as continuous with the divine, and his kingdom as a forerunner of the divine kingdom.

7.There is an element of truth in Nebuchadnezzar’s interpretation. All the most dangerous lies have this. He saw resistance to the king as resistance against God.

8.Nebuchadnezzar required worship of the representatives of all the people, every person in Babylon was not gathered at the statue. Daniel himself ‘remained at the king’s court’ (Dan. 2:49).

9.Nebuchadnezzar saw himself as the priestly leader of Babylonian worship, thereby undermining the role that God had given to the Jewish people in exile, to bear witness to the true God.

10.When God’s people abandon the gospel, the state steps into the place of God.

11.The dimensions of the statue (6 x 60 cubits) demonstrate that Nebuchadnezzar’s effort is man-centred. 6 is the biblical number of man, and its multiplication means that it is an instance of man enlarged, divinizing himself (v. 1; cf. Gen. 1:26-31; Rev. 13:18).

12.God forbids man-made images because man himself is God’s image-bearer (cf. Ex. 20:4).

13.Nebuchadnezzar’s goal was to unite the Babylonian empire under one state-sponsored liturgy.

14.The plain of Dura was walled in, with the statue in the middle and the fiery furnace at the other end – a counterfeit of God’s temple and altar.

15.Music helps unite people in worship. It is a powerful, corporate reality.

16.Christians ought to work to reclaim music to the glory of God.

17.Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego might have been overlooked in all of the commotion, but were noticed by the Chaldeans, who wanted to make trouble for them, and for Daniel by association (v. 8).

18.Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to acknowledge the priestly or divine claims of Nebuchadnezzar.

19.In his confused understanding, Nebuchadnezzar thought that God was on his side, that he was acting as the divine representative, and so he challenges them, "who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (v. 15).

20.Any state that tries to dictate worship is overreaching it prerogative. John Stott famously observed that whenever laws are enacted which contradict God’s law, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty.

21.Nebuchadnezzar’s false religion kills his own people, but true faith in the living God saves (v. 22).

22.The presence of the fourth man in the furnace confronted Nebuchadnezzar with the true Son of God, who converts the furnace to a symbol of the presence of the living God.

23.The robes of state that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were wearing did not burn off, a sign that God wanted them to continue in their official positions.

24.Nebuchadnezzar finally acknowledges his discontinuity with God (v. 28).

25.Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are promoted again over the Chaldeans, now having prophetic and priestly authority.

26.The Jews in Jerusalem would have heard this account and known that God is setting up true worship in Babylon, and a wall of protection for the Jews.

27.Rightly understood, exile was not a step back for God’s people, but God’s work to internationalize true worship.

Application Questions:

  1. Do we understand persecution as a means of spreading the gospel?
  2. What is the soundtrack to the corporate worship of our day? What are we being asked to worship when the music plays?
  3. What do you notice about this passage now that you don’t remember from Sunday school?