Read Daniel 3
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26 NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 101: Zeal x 3. Have you ever heard the story of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? If not, these were friends of God’s servant Daniel and were among the aristocracy that had been exiled into Babylon. In Babylon, they had almost been put to death when none of the astrologers, magicians, or wise men of Babylon could tell the king what his dream was.
As a result, King Nebuchadnezzar II ordered that all of the wise men in Babylon (including Daniel and his friends) be put to death. Upon hearing this decree, Daniel met with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and begged them to pray for God to reveal to them the King’s dream so that they could avoid being put to death. That very night, Daniel was told in a dream what the king had dreamt of.
The next morning, Daniel told the king his dream and also revealed to the king its meaning. The king was so impressed that he fell down and worshipped Daniel. What’s more, he promoted Daniel to a high position his court and, at Daniel’s request, he also promoted Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The three friends became known by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach and Adednego, and Daniel became known as Belteshazzar. With that said, they had not eluded danger for long.
The narrative goes on to tell us that the Babylonian king decided to build a giant golden statue (possibly of himself) and demanded that all of his subjects bow down and worship the statue in order to show loyalty and respect to the king. I can only imagine how scared the Jewish people must have been. It was against God’s holy law to bow down to foreign objects but, with that said, they were now exiled in Babylon with God seemingly nowhere in sight.
I am sure that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among the Jews who were afraid of what would happen. I can imagine each of them racing through their minds and searching their own hearts for what to do next. Should they bow to the king and live to see another day, or defy the king and refuse to bow? The latter would most definitely get them killed.
The three friends, in that moment, became filled with zeal for their God and refused to bow. Zeal can be defined as a great energy or enthusiasm for God and for their faith. Rather than cower to the king, they refused to bow. Even when the king demanded they bow or be killed, they told the king that even if he threw them into the fiery furnace, their God would rescue them.
Well, that claim certainly got tested and the three, along with their zeal, were thrown in to the fiery furnace. They could have died; however, the angel of the Lord (who was visible to the king, and other onlookers, as a fourth person in the flames) protected Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah from the flames and they ended up coming out of the furnace alive.
This event brough great glory to God, and the king of Babylon decreed that no one could utter a word against them or their great God or such people would be torn limb by limb. Because of their devotion and their zeal for God, because of their unwavering faith in the heat of the moment, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah witnessed to the power of the true and living God. They, and Daniel, were witnesses to the reality of Immanuel…God with us.
While not all martyrs live to tell the tale of their martyrdom, like Daniel and his friends did, all believers in God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) are called to be martyrs (aka witnesses). Don’t misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that we are all called to DIE for our faith, but that we are all called to witness to our faith and to the love of our God regardless of the cost for doing so. When we witness to God’s truth in this wicked world, there is no doubt that persecution is sure to follow.
When God’s people stand up for what is right, the world tells them to keep their opinions to themselves. When God’s people oppose unjust laws and wicked government leaders, the world tells them that they should not mix religious morality with politics and that they should simply preach sterile messages of false hope and “happiness”. When God’s people seek to help the “least of these”, the greatest among us in the world seek to undermine and destroy any and all efforts, as well as those carrying them out. The challenge for us, as it was for Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, is to swallow our fears and allow our zeal for our Lord and Savior and God to give us the strength to resist.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When we choose our lives over what is righteous, we invite death into our souls. When we choose Christ over our lives, our souls become filled with true and eternal life.
Lord, give me the strength, in Jesus Christ, to be a mighty and powerful witness for your glory. Amen.