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THE HEBREW YOUTHS IN THE FIERY FURNACE
Daniel 3:28. Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshech, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.
A BRIGHTER example of fidelity to God than that before us is not to be found in all the records of antiquity. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, full of pride and vain-glory, determined to erect an image of gold that should be worshipped as a god. The image was above thirty yards in height, and three in breadth; and all covered over with plates of solid gold. The expense of making this image must have been immense; and it puts to shame the worshippers of Jehovah, who grudge to expend their money for the promotion of his glory. The image being erected, the chief men in all the provinces of the empire were summoned to attend at the dedication of it, and, at a given signal, to how down and worship it. The three Hebrew youths mentioned in our test, having been set over different provinces, were necessitated to be present at the ceremony; but, being convinced of the sinfulness of idolatry, they would not them-selves be guilty of it. As far as they could conscientiously obey their king, they would: but where there remained no alternative but to disobey him, or offend their God, they determined to “obey God rather than man.”
To bring their history more fully under our view, let us notice,
They were certainly under great temptation to comply with the wishes of the king—
[They were under far different circumstances from the rest of the governors that were assembled on this occasion. They were not merely subjects, but captives, who were entirely at the king’s mercy. They were also under peculiar obligations to the king, who had educated them at his own expense, and had even invested them with authority over whole provinces of his native subjects. These considerations were calculated to operate strongly on their minds, and to render them somewhat less scrupulous than they would otherwise have been about a single infringement of the Divine law. A sense of duty to their king, and of gratitude to their benefactor, might seem to justify a small deviation from the stricter path of duty. They might possibly compare the act required of them with the con-duct of the whole Jewish nation, both priests and people: the Jews had erected idols of their own, and, of their own free-will, had worshipped them in preference to Jehovah: but these youths were brought into the situation against their will, and in their own minds intended no disrespect to the God of heaven. Were they to act as their own priests and people had done, they would doubtless be highly criminal; but could there then be any great harm in merely bowing their heads, as an act of obedience to their prince? Moreover, when every governor in the empire complied with the edict, why should they refuse; more especially since their refusal would subject them to the most cruel death, and rob them of all opportunity of benefiting their respective provinces in future?
They who know how the mind and conscience are apt to be biassed by such reasonings as these, will see, that they must of necessity present a very formidable obstacle to the preservation of integrity under such circumstances.]
But they manfully withstood the royal edict—
[They would not for a moment confer with flesh and blood. No regard to their own ease or safety, no, nor to their eventual usefulness in the world, could induce them to swerve from the plain path of duty. They were offered by the king to reconsider their determination: but their minds were made up, rather to suffer any thing, than to sin against their God. The king had exultingly said, “Who is that God who shall deliver you out of my hand?” But they told him, that their God was able, yea, moreover, that he would deliver them out of his hand: but that, whether he would or not, they were fixed in their purpose, never to violate their conscience in bowing down to this golden idol [Note: Daniel 3:16-27.3.18.].
In the midst of all this firmness, we observe not one indecorous expression; no invectives, no complaints, but simply a declaration of their affiance in God, and of their determination never to sin against him.]
How God appreciated their fidelity, we may judge from,
The judgment threatened was, that they should be cast into a burning fiery furnace: and the command was instantly given, that it should be executed upon them. But behold how God interposed for them!
Whilst it was executing—
[The mightiest men in all the army were selected to execute this judgment, and to cast the offenders into the furnace, now heated seven times more than usual for their reception. The youths were bound in their clothes, that nothing belonging to them might be preserved; and they were cast into the furnace, according to the king’s commandment. But, behold! the flames burst forth, and consumed every one of the executioners. This, taken in connexion with the mercy vouchsafed to these faithful youths, marked indisputably the indignation of God against the persecutors, and his approbation of those who had braved death for his sake.
Had the Hebrews died, this destruction of the soldiers would have appeared an accident: but as God appeared, during the execution, to punish his enemies, so he appeared still more visibly in behalf of his friends.]
After it was executed—
[The youths fell down bound into the midst of the fire: but the fire had no power to hurt them. It burned the bands by which they were tied, so that, being loosed, they could walk about; but it could not so much as singe a hair of their heads, or incommode them in the least: they could breathe, and walk, and converse as easily as in the open air. Behold too, now “one like unto the Son of God,” “an angel,” (who, I doubt not, was “the Angel of the Covenant,” the Lord Jesus Christ, who had often assumed the form of an angel before,) came into the furnace, and walked with them. This Nebuchadnezzar and his courtiers saw, and were beyond measure astonished at it. And how different now were the feelings of the oppressed and their oppressors! The oppressed had such communion with their Lord as they had never enjoyed before, such as was a foretaste of heaven itself: but their oppressors were filled with shame and confusion of face.
Still further did God appear for his servants,]
After it was reversed—
[The king himself, who had sent them into the furnace, carne to call them thence; and was constrained, in the presence of all his people, to commend their constancy, and to acknowledge the supreme dominion and power of the God of Israel. On examination of the persons of these youths, it was found, that not so much as the smell of fire had passed on them. The fire that had consumed their bands, and destroyed their persecutors, had had no power at all over them; so that the king, who had just before persecuted unto death the adherents of Jehovah, now forbade, under the severest penalties, that a single word should be spoken against him.
What a triumph was here; and how gloriously attested! and what a report must now be carried into all the provinces of the empire, by those who had been summoned to attend the ceremony!
But further, these very Hebrews were not only restored to their respective governments, but were promoted to yet higher honours, as a recompence of their fidelity to God. And how they have since been rewarded in a better world, no tongue can express, no human imagination can conceive.]
Amongst the numerous and important reflections which this subject suggests, consider,
What a mercy it is that we enjoy civil and religious liberty!
[We have no power over us to make such cruel edicts: we are not subject to the decrees of a capricious tyrant: we all can worship God according to our conscience, without restraint. There are, it is true, some small sacrifices made by those who choose to dissent from the established mode of worship; but they are small indeed, and required only with a view to the welfare of the State: they are such as no man who is of a spiritual and heavenly mind feels in the least burthensome. [Note: These are now put aside by the repeal of the Test Act in 1828.] In fact, there is no sacrifice at all, except of a negative kind: all are at liberty to serve God in their own way: the infidel, the Socinian, and the idolatrous Papist, are as free to follow the dictates of their conscience, as the servant and worshipper of our Incarnate God. Let us be thankful for this inestimable privilege. It is not universally so even in what is called the Christian world: there is yet in existence the Popish Inquisition, which is little else than a repetition of Nebuchadnezzar’s ediet; and which shews us, how necessary those very tests are, to which we have before alluded: for, were the Papists once to regain the ascendant in this country, we should yet again be subjected to all the bloody edicts of former days. O let us bless our God, that the rights of conscience are respected amongst us; and that, in relation to the object or manner of our worship, we are left to stand or fall to our own Master!]
What a mercy it is, if we are under the influence of divine grace—
[The whole mass of the Babylonish courtiers, being under no divine influence, complied at once with the order that was issued. So it is with men amongst ourselves. Whatever has the sanction of the great, whether it be good or bad, is followed; and no one dares to stem the torrent of iniquity which overflows the land. But men who are renewed in the spirit of their minds, will “not be conformed to this present evil world:” on the contrary, “they are transformed in the renewing of their minds, and they prove in their conduct what is the good, and perfect, and acceptable will of God.” What the principle is by which they are actuated, may be seen in the history before us: “By faith it was, that these pious youths were enabled to “quench the violence of fire [Note: Hebrews 11:33-58.11.34.].” And if faith was so powerful under that dispensation, when the object of faith was so indistinctly and partially revealed, what shall it not effect, now that the Sun of Righteousness is shining in its meridian splendour, and the full “glory of God is displayed in the face of Jesus Christ?” Seek then to have this grace formed in your hearts: it is the root from whence all other graces proceed: it is faith that “works by love,” and “purifies the heart,” and “overcomes the world.” Live in the exercise of this grace, and all the persuasions or terrors of the world will lose their force.]
What a mercy it is to have God for our God!
[If once we possess this blessing, we need never fear what either men or devils can do against us. If we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, we need not be concerned about it; for our God will come and walk with us in the fire, and make the wrath of our enemies the occasions of richer Communications of his love. He has said, “When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee; for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour [Note: Isaiah 43:2-23.43.3.].” “If our afflictions for his sake abound, our consolations through him shall much more abound:” and in due season he will bring us forth “out of the furnace, purified as gold.” But oh! what a furnace awaits our impenitent persecutors! Who can conceive what “a lake that is which burneth with fire and brimstone,” into which all the ungodly shall be cast; and what it will be to “dwell with ever-lasting burnings?” But for the faithful servants of Jehovah there is reserved “an eternal weight of glory proportioned to the light and momentary afflictions” which they here endured. Fear not then, any of you, to give yourselves up to God, or to encounter the wrath of man for his sake; for “them that honour him, he will honour.” Only “be faithful unto death, and lie will give you a crown of life.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Daniel 3". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany