Explore the Bible: Risky Faith
Jul 22, 2014
By MARK A. RATHEL

DANIEL 3

Living for God sometimes brings Christians into conflict with others. While believers do not instigate the conflict, the clear demarcation between the values and lifestyles of believers in comparison to many nonbelievers creates issues. The manner in which believers respond to conflict bears testimony either to faithfulness or fickleness. 

Daniel 3 involves the issue of the relationship of believers to government authority, cultural expectations regarding religious practices and the possibility of martyrdom. The combination of issues was not unique to Daniel’s generation. Believers in the 21st century will experience increasing pressures in terms of relationship to government, pressures to conform to expectations of proper worship and the real threat of martyrdom.

What principles does Daniel 3 set forth for believers living in the context of all-inclusive claims of government authority, cultural religion and possibility of martyrdom?

First, believers need to decide to serve God alone before potential issues arise (Dan. 1:8, 8-12). The issues behind Daniel 3 have played out in history repeatedly. First, like Nebuchadnezzar, governmental leaders have claimed supreme authority. In chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar receives a dream interpreted by Daniel with the Babylonian king portrayed as a head of gold, symbolizing the king’s authority over other people’s groups (2:37-38). Daniel informed the king that God had put him in the position of authority (2:37). In response, the king built a huge gold statue. The purpose of the king’s action was to unify his diverse kingdom (people of every nation and language, v. 4)—politically and religiously (fall down and worship, v. 6). 

 

Some of the Babylonian wise men serving with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego maliciously accused the men. The motive was twofold. First, the accusation expressed professional jealously because the three believers received more esteem than their coworkers. Second, the fact that the accusers highlighted the men as Jews reflects the racial prejudice of the accusers. The accusation was twofold: disobedience to the king and refusal to participate in Babylonian worship practices or the worship of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue of himself.

Second, when conflict arises, believers should remain faithfully and resist pressure to conform (Dan. 3:15b-18). Nebuchadnezzar stated the issue in terms of absolute authority and ultimate worship (v. 15). Who is the real power? Who is to be worshipped? Is the real power and allegiance due to the earthly ruler? Or is real power and allegiance due to God? Rather than being employees of the king (2:49), the young men served God. The issue for the three young men was obedience to the first two commandments: no other God and refusal to worship an idol (Ex. 20:3,4). In response to the king’s demand, the young men resolutely refused to offer an apology or a defense (3:16). The source of the young men’s courage was their belief in the power of God (v. 17) and commitment to obedience (v. 18). For the three, obedience was more important than life. The young men, although believing in the power of God to deliver, recognized that God might not intervene miraculously.

Third, during times of persecution, believers should trust in God’s presence and power (Dan. 3:24-28). In response to the young men’s refusal, the king’s fiery rage (v. 13, 19) results in the three men being thrown into the hottest possible fire (v. 19). This unit teaches several truths. First, the three men experienced the presence of God within the fire. Nebuchadnezzar intended the flames as a judgment. Yet, in the Bible, fire symbolizes the presence of God (Ex. 3:2; 13:21). The Jewish men experienced the presence of God within the flames. As one commentator noted, Daniel 3 began with a threat from Nebuchadnezzar to the kingdom of God and ends with a threat from the king threatening anyone who offends the kingdom of God.

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