The Testing of Daniel and His Friends
Perhaps one of the greatest failures of the church today is succumbing to the temptation of compromise. Should we embrace “queer” identities, ordain “gay” pastors, or bless (but not marry) same-sex couples? Our Christian sisters and brothers from the Global South are dumbfounded how pastors, churches, and denominations in the modern West are conforming to neopagan culture and bending the knee to the idol of sexual and gender identity.
Before my conversion to faith in Christ, I confided with a chaplain about my sexuality. I was astonished when the minister handed me a book explaining that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. Everything inside me wanted to accept those assertions to justify my life as a gay man. I began reading that book in one hand and the Bible in the other. In the following months, the Holy Spirit removed the blinders from my eyes and convicted me that the chaplain and the book clearly distorted God and His Word.
Around the sixth century BC, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were plucked from their homes, exiled to Babylon, and tempted to bend the knee to pagan idols. Yet their unwavering commitment to the Lord placed them among the saints in Hebrews 11, “who through faith . . . stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire” (vv. 33–34).
In Daniel 6, King Darius signed an injunction that petitions could be made only to him and no other gods. Daniel faced this test: disobey the king to obey God or disobey God to obey the king. All the prophet needed to do was not pray to God for thirty days and he would save his own life. Just meet the king “where he was” and simply practice “petition hospitality.” Could assimilation be Daniel’s way of escape?
In Daniel 3, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—known also as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were repeatedly tempted to forsake God by bowing to the golden image. Nebuchadnezzar even provided an easy way out by offering another opportunity to worship this idol.
Unwaveringly, these three stood up to the most powerful ruler in the ancient Near East at the time. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us” (v. 17). But their faith and resolve were made explicit through the following words: “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (v. 18).
Daniel and his three friends’ refusal to capitulate pointed to the fact that no punishment for disobeying the king—neither lions nor fiery furnace—could ever exceed disobedience to the King of kings.
After the furnace was heated seven times hotter than normal, Nebuchadnezzar ordered some of his men to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with all their clothes (v. 20–21). Because the furnace was so hot, the consuming flames killed the mighty men who bound the young Hebrews, causing the three friends to fall bound into the fiery furnace (v. 23). An astonished Nebuchadnezzar declared, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” (v. 24).
Notice the fourfold repetition of “bound.” Reiteration is like a spotlight in a play, focusing our attention on the key point. A double iteration could be incidental. A triple occurrence is surely intentional. Yet a quadruple repetition is forceful and provocative.
Why? Elucidation comes from Nebuchadnezzar’s own lips: “I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt” (v. 25). The Aramaic word translated “unbound,” sherayin, may also be rendered as “liberated” or “freed.” The flames did not touch the three men’s bodies, hair, or cloaks—not even a scent of smoke prevailed (v. 27). The only thing that God allowed to burn was the very rope that bound them.
Why does a loving and sovereign God allow fiery trials even as consequences for obedience? It’s a question that David asks in Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 1).
David’s words in Psalm 22 are ultimately realized by Christ on the cross, but they also represent the sufferings of all of God’s faithful—including Daniel and his three friends. “My heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast” (Ps. 22:14). “Save me from the mouth of the lion!” (v. 21).
Yet in the end, Nebuchadnezzar blessed God (Dan. 3:28) and Darius made a decree for people “to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel” (6:26). “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord” (Ps. 22:27). The faithfulness of God’s people in fiery trials brought glory to God.
From grief to glory. This has been the storyline of the elect. Will we acquiesce to the avant-garde, multinational display of idolatry? Or will we fearlessly face the fire and the jaws of lions? Let us choose the latter, that we may be welcomed by the cloud of witnesses, “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38).
Dr. Christopher Yuan is a speaker, author, and teacher. He is author of Holy Sexuality and the Gospel and the featured teacher of The Holy Sexuality Curriculum, a twelve-lesson video curriculum designed for middle and high school students.