“You shall have no other gods before me (or beside me). You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:3-5a)
Across our world today men, and women are facing the choice between worshipping God or a false ideology. Saints in Nigeria are being murdered in the name of religion and also in North Korea, the middle East, China, and other parts of the world.
Ken, you say, hasn’t that always been the case? In ancient Rome and in Babylon with Jews being put to death for their faith. In Germany during the Second World War the Jews among others suffered. Jesus Himself said, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Matthew 24:9)
In our reading today, taken from Daniel 3, we see three men confronted with a choice; either they will continue to worship God and die, or they will bow down and worship the idol that King Nebuchadnezzar made of himself and live. Before we go any further many would ask the question, “Are these guys for real? Did they exist?“ The records are clear. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego certainly did exist and the positions of prominence to which they were promoted are clearly stated. These men were flesh and blood historical characters living in the 6th century BC Babylon and not a figment of the imagination (see ‘The Authenticity of the Book of Daniel’ by Dr Bill Cooper, page 24).
To Bow or Not to Bow?
To bow or not to bow that was the question? The question was a nonstarter as far as these dear men were concerned. No matter the consequence they knew what their answer would be. They knew the right and only thing was to bow and worship none other than the Living God, even if it meant the Fiery Furnace. The site of this furnace was discovered by a 12th century Jewish scholar, Benjamin of Tudela, while visiting the ruins of Babylon. (Page 31)
Here was the king of the most powerful empire of its day. At the bidding of his jealous elders, this pumped-up king goes and makes a statue of none other than himself and tells his people to bow down and worship it. The statue or image was made of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. (Dan. 3:1)
How about our modern world?
We live in a world where there are many idols. When I see so-called celebrities on TV in various quiz shows promoting themselves, it makes me cringe. Pop idols and young girls screaming just to be touched by their shadow. Money: it means power.
In a magazine, Take a Break, we read of many women who think they have found their dream man only to discover that the only thing he was dreaming of is emptying their bank account.
It is easy to identify idols in other cultures but not so easy in our own. Think about the following:
- That idol in the corner of our living room, the TV? There is a programme on at 11am on Sunday and it is my only chance to see it, unless it is on the BBC when you can see it many more times, and Church for once we can miss.
- The Supermarket: the things we forgot to buy during the week, and there are guests coming for Sunday lunch. Did you know that there are more people in the shop on Sunday morning than in Church?
- The Football Match on Sunday were thousands gather to watch £1000,000 players kick a ball on a field?
A Christian is not someone who does not struggle with idols-worship, but they are someone who prays: ‘The dearest idol I have known, whate’er that idol be, help me tear it from its throne and worship only Thee.’
Martin Luther when facing being burned at the stake told the emperor, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Edward G. Dobson points out in his book on Daniel: Have you ever noticed that when you get mad you say and do things that do not make sense? This is what Nebuchadnezzar does. He does two things that are funny- in a strange sort of way. First, he orders the furnace heated seven times hotter. Now if he really wanted to make them suffer, he should have reduced the heat that way death would be prolonged and more painful. Otherwise, death would be instant. Secondly, he commands that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego should be tied up before being thrown in. Where are they going to escape? He is not making much sense. (Daniel Making the Right Choices)
Then the King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, O King.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like the son of the gods.” (Dan. 3:24-25). After he had brought them out and he had recognized that God had delivered them the king said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.”
As Alistair Begg in his book, Brave by Faith, writes, “Facing the fire as we live obedient to God and refuse to worship what society bows down to is not strange; it is normal life of a believer – in Daniel’s day, in Peter’s and in ours. Faith is still obedience despite the consequences. WE ARE CALLED TO OBEY“. Gerald Vann sums it up for us, “Worship, then, is not part of the Christian life; it is the Christian life.”