Obedience Above All Else (Daniel Chapter 3)
Colin Shek—Sunderland, UK
As Christians, we are blessed if we obey God. The Bible teaches us to overcome the tides of the world through our obedience—to resist the secular norms of pursuing money, satisfying our lusts, and fulfilling our dreams.
At times, such obedience seems to come at a cost. You may do your best to shine for God at work and yet be passed over for promotion. Instead, the person that parties every night or spends Friday afternoons surfing the Internet is promoted. While firmly maintaining godly values, speech, and conduct at school, you may find yourself as the class loner or the butt of every joke. You may offer as much time and money as you can manage to God, yet you constantly struggle to balance your family schedules or finances. Why do Christians encounter such things? Why can’t the lives of good and obedient Christians be smooth sailing?
While God promises blessings in return for obedience, He does not bubble wrap us from life’s hard knocks. Although God allows us to experience pressures and challenges in life, He is always there for us. This is the encouragement and promise given to us in the Bible. Daniel’s three friends served God wholeheartedly, shunning the ways of the world, yet they met with dire consequences. Their experience has been penned for us today, to remind us that obedient Christians have to withstand the pressures of the world.
TRIALS ARE PART OF CHRISTIAN LIFE
Having been assimilated into the Babylonian regime, Daniel and his three friends passed the training expected of them with flying colors (Dan 1:19, 20). God’s intervention in Babylonian affairs and His constant abidance with these Jews also led to their promotions within the Chaldean government (Dan 2:46–49).
However, Daniel chapter 3 records how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego found themselves in a sticky situation—obeying the first commandment (Ex 20:3) became socially and politically challenging. Pressures mounted against them to abandon their loyalty and obedience to God.
First, they encountered pressure from authority, namely, King Nebuchadnezzar whose image of gold was to be dedicated by all workers of the government (Dan 3:1–2). Next, they faced peer pressure from their fellow civil servants from around the region, who were willing to abandon their own gods at the blow of a horn to pledge allegiance to the god of Babylon (Dan 3:2–7). Finally, not only did the three Jews have to stand firm against the idol and peer pressure, they also had to deal with the Chaldean workers plotting against them: “There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up” (Dan 3:12).
The king became furious at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego and gave them an ultimatum:
"Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which 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?” (Dan 3:15)
Bow down to the image or prepare to be killed; all because they chose to obey their God and refused to take part in some “office ritual” or “official engagement.” It seems that the best thing they could have done was to dutifully nod-along, accept the king’s grace, and seemingly bow down to the idol. After all, why should they not compromise? Why obey God and incur the wrath of the king when the consequences of doing so would be disastrous?
The Bible tells us that we may
encounter sticky situations in life when we choose to obey God (
Perhaps you feel the pressure to “keep up with the Joneses.” Why have less than others? Why not spend a little less time with the family and with God to pursue more wealth? With more money, we can buy bigger and better things. Why should we not reduce our Sabbath worship and attendance by enrolling our children in weekend tutoring to improve their success? By doing so, we are following the societal model to improve our children’s future.
However, what does God expect from us in such circumstances? How did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego respond to the pressure put on them to momentarily abandon their faith?
GOD DESIRES OBEDIENCE DURING TRIALS
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 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.”
Their answer was clear, even if it was suicidal. Our God can deliver us, but even if He does not, we would rather die than bow down to your gods. They believed that God was more than able to save them, but their obedience did not rest on Him doing so. It was a case of honoring the first commandment or nothing: obedience above deliverance. What was most important to them was standing by the law of the one true God. “But if not ….” This statement revealed their great reverence towards God and their faith in Him.
And so, what about us? What is our response when the odds are stacked against us? Are we willing to obey the commandments of God above all else? Even if it means we will lose out?
Some may wonder, “Why should I believe in a God who does not protect or deliver me in my time of need? I have a career to think about. I have a family to take care of. I have my bank balance to maintain.” The issue is not that God cannot deliver. In fact, He is able (Dan 3:17), and more often than not, He does.
However, God wants to see us hold fast to Him at all costs. To have the attitude that says, “I will shun the ungodliness of the world, the vain pursuit of money at all costs, even if it means less job security and less digits in my bank account. I will hold fast to my godly conduct and speech, even if it means missing out on all the office in-jokes, and having fewer Facebook ‘likes’.” The godly attitude that says, "I don't need to be super rich. I don't need to be popular. But I need to obey Christ. I need to follow Him." That, after all, is the faith described in the Bible (Heb 11–12); the faith that pleases God (Heb 11:6).
GOD MEETS US IN THE FLAMES
In response to the Jews’ steadfastness in God, the Babylonian king commanded that the furnace be heated up seven times more intense than usual (Dan 3:19), the three men be bound and cast in (Dan 3:20). The king was astonished at what he saw next:
“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.” (Dan 3:25)
A fourth man like the Son of God? All of them unbound and walking about? Against all laws of physics and biology, they were unharmed inside the furnace. The king called them out and the workers gathered for a quick assessment. Miraculously, no hair or clothing was singed (Dan 3:27). The chapter concludes with the pagan king, who had built a pagan idol, praising the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (Dan 3:28–29). It was impossible to dispute the sovereignty of the one true God preserving His people. The king even acknowledged that there was no other God who could do such a thing (Dan 3:29).
It is notable that God did not prevent the furnace from being heated up, nor did He prevent His loyal followers from being bound or from being thrown into the furnace. While He allowed them to experience the struggle and challenges, He abided with them and met them in the midst of their trials.
This is the same for us today. God may not always prevent us from experiencing the struggles of life, such as dipping into our overdraft to make ends meet, but He always sustains our lives, in that we will have food on the table. He does not always prevent us from being isolated in our pursuit of godliness, but He does abide with us and builds us up to be stronger and godlier. Even if not immediately, He will provide us with godly friends to support and walk with us. God may not prevent us from going into the operating theatre but He does help us throughout the procedure and the recuperation. He does not always stop us getting burned in life, but He does have a tendency of meeting us in the flames. In such moments of trials, is it not a blessing to have a great God who promises to be with us (Deut 31:6)?
Life as a Christian may not be easy or smooth sailing at all times. Often, our obedience to God seems to come at a cost. Obeying the first commandment means having to make tough choices from time to time, demonstrating our willingness, devotion, and faithfulness to God. By doing so, we will likely be forced out of our comfort zone, lose our sense of security, and even our popularity. Despite these, God desires our obedience above all else. In return, He will abide with us and meet us amidst our pressures and challenges. May we courageously stand firm and willingly follow Christ. By doing so, we will know and experience that above all else, God Himself is our most precious blessing.