This week my husband is out of town on a five-day fishing trip, completely off the grid, enjoying a much-needed and well-deserved time of respite.
Not that it’s great timing on this end. We are coming out of the absolutely most difficult time of our lives. I’ve been horribly, terribly sick. I’m pregnant and on all sorts of crazy medications. We have been walking under a heavy cloud of spiritual oppression as the enemy has tried anything and everything to discourage, distract, threaten and prevent us from following God and planting our church. People we trust and love have believed and participated in spreading lies, accusations, and rumors. It’s been, quite truthfully, awful.
What would I do without God's Word? I've been deep into the Psalms and the book of Daniel this week, and I have a few thoughts to share with you.
This morning my Psalm reading was in chapter 109:
Wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They beset me with words words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me, even while I make prayer for them, so they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love....
But you, O LORD my Lord (love that! not just once, but twice beseeching), act on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me. (verses 2-5, 21)
Something that has absolutely overwhelmed me about my OT reading is the faithfulness in which some of God’s people walked. The book of Daniel, of which I’ve read four chapters since Ben’s been gone, contains the stories of faithful men who trusted in God and were protected from distraction, from accusation, and from fire itself when they called on the name of the Lord. This difficult week’s (month’s/season’s) theme might as well be:
God is great, God is in control, God is sovereign. Trust him.
First, Daniel, of which the Bible says, “God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master (Daniel 1:9). The Bible says also of Daniel and his fellow nobles Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams (1:17)
From the beginning of their time in service to the King, God gave these men what they needed in order to be faithful as they acted in trust and obedience.
When King Nebuchadnezzar has a troubling dream, he asks his servants to tell him both the dream and the interpretation, testing their “skills” and calling into question their competence (versus desire to remain alive by being agreeable and sharing favorable prophecies all the time). None of his magicians, sorcerers, enchanters, or the Chaldeans are able to fulfill his request. In his rage and frustration, the King is about to have all his wise men executed when Daniel steps in. Trusting God, he requests that the King “give him time and he would tell the king the interpretation (2:16).”
Daniel goes to his companions Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and “told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery (2:18),” in order to save their own lives from the King’s execution decree.
That night, the mystery was revealed to Daniel. He goes to the King, and he ways, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries (vs. 27-8).”
What strikes me about this particular instance is that 1) God gave the gift of insight into visions and dreams to Daniel ahead of time, so he is prepared for this moment; 2) God gives Daniel the gift of faith to tell the King he would have an interpretation for him; 3) when God reveals the mystery, Daniel immediately blesses the God of heaven (v. 19); and, 4) Daniel takes absolutely none of the credit but gives God the glory he deserves for being revealer of mysteries and holder of truth (2:28-30).
The result is that King Nebuchadnezzar recognizes that “God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries (2:47).” God gets the glory from the lips of the King!
A chapter later, the king erects a statue in his honor and orders everyone to bow down and worship, or be thrown in “a furnace of blazing fire (3:6).” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to worship anyone or anything beside the true God. Listen to their faith and conviction: “We have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If (this is a REALLY big ‘If’) our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O King, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up (3:16-18).”
The king is so mad that he heats the furnace up to seven times its customary blaze and orders the strongest guards to bind these men and throw them in. The fire is so hot it consumes the guys who lifted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the furnace!
What strikes me here, again, is the unabashed trust in the sovereignty of God displayed in the words and actions of faithful men. As Daniel put himself out there without any promise of God’s revealing, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego put themselves out there, fully recognizing that God in his greatness (in control of everything) can either choose to save them or not, but regardless, they will not deviate from worshipping God alone.
D.A. Carson says this about these men:
“Observe: (a) Their basic courtesy and respect are undiminished, however bold their words. (b) They are completely unwilling to apologize for their stance. The wise believer never apologizes for God or for any of his attributes. (c) They do not doubt God’s ability to save them, and they say so: God is not hostage to other gods, or to human beings, emperors or otherwise. (d) But whether or not God will save them they cannot know—and the point is immaterial to their resolve. Faithfulness is not dependent upon an escape hatch. They choose faithfulness because it is the right thing to do, even if it costs them their lives. The courage we need in this anti-Christian age is courteous and steadfast. It never apologizes for God. It joyfully believes that God can do anything, but it is prepared to suffer rather than compromise hearty obedience.”
The king looks into the furnace and sees not 3 men, but four, one of whom “has the appearance of a son of God (3:25).” The men are called out, and everyone in attendance can see that “the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them (3:27).”
I went to a commentary on the above passage, and this is what I read (it’s long, and it’s in KJV-talk, but it seriously moved me to weeping tears in the coffee shop where I was sitting, reading):
“He answered and said, lo, I see four men loose: Not bound as the three were, when cast in; but quite at liberty in their hands and feet, and separate from one another. As this fiery furnace may be an emblem of the fiery trials and afflictive dispensations the children of God pass through in this world, being not joyous, but grievous to the flesh, though useful to purge and purify; so this and some other circumstances attending these good men in the furnace are applicable to the saints in such cases; for though afflictions are sometimes themselves called cords, with which men are said to be bound, yet by means of them they are loosed from other things from the power and prevalence of sin over them; from the world, and the things of it, they sometimes too much cleave and are glued unto; from a spirit of bondage, and from doubts and fears; their hearts under them being comforted and enlarged with the love of God; he knowing, visiting, and choosing them in the furnace of affliction; or making known himself to them, his love and choice of them; whereby their souls are set at liberty, and the graces of his Spirit are drawn forth into a lively exercise, through his love being shed abroad in them. Walking in the midst of the fire; the furnace being large enough to walk in, and where they took their walks as in a garden; nor were they concerned to come out of it; nor uneasy at being in it; the violence of the fire being quenched, as the apostle says, referring to this instance (Hebrews 11:34 ). So afflictions are a path to walk in, the narrow way to eternal life, through which all must enter the kingdom of heaven, of which there will be an end. Walking in it supposes strength, which God gives his people at such seasons; and when they have his presence they are unconcerned; none or these things move them, nor can they separate them from the love of Christ; they walk on with pleasure and delight, sing the praises of God, as did Paul and Silas in a prison, and as many martyrs have done in the flames: conversing with Christ, and with his people, they pass on, and pass through the more cheerfully, and are not anxious about their deliverance, but leave it with God to work it in his own time and way; nay, are ready to say with the disciples, it is good for them to be here; and indeed it was better for these good men to be with Christ in the fiery furnace, than to be with Nebuchadnezzar in his palace without him. And they have no hurt; either in their bodies, or in their garments, neither of them being burnt; they suffered no pain in the one, nor loss in the other. Afflictions do no hurt to the people of God; not to their persons, which are safe in Christ, and to whom he is a hiding place and covert, as from the storm and tempest, so from the force of fire, that it shall not kindle upon them to hurt them; nor to their graces, which are tried, refined, and brightened hereby; faith is strengthened, hope is encouraged, and love made to abound. All the afflictions of the saints are in love, and are designed for good, and do work together for good to them that love God; they are sometimes for their temporal, and often for their spiritual good, and always work for them an exceeding weight of glory.
“And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God; like one of the angels, who are called the sons of God; but many of the ancient Christian writers interpret it Christ the Son of God, whom Nebuchadnezzar, though a Heathen prince, might have some knowledge of from Daniel and other Jews in his court, of whom he had heard them speak as a glorious Person; and this being such an one, he might conclude it was he, or one like him; and it is highly probable it was he, since it was not unusual for him to appear in a human form, and to be present with his people, as he often is with them, and even in the furnace of affliction (see Isaiah 43:2, 48:10, or my experience in the hospital), to sympathize with them; to revive and comfort them; to bear them up and support them; to teach and instruct them, and at last to deliver them out of their afflictions.”
Okay, I’m crying again. Read that bold section one more time. We are coming out of the furnace. I believe it. God himself has been walking with us in our affliction, he has taken what Satan intended for evil and is using it for our good. God is not only in control of our situation, not only is he sovereign, but he already gave us all the gifts we needed to withstand the journey. In our weakness, he gave us faith to walk forward, one step at a time. In the lies and accusations, he covered us with steadfast love. In the deepest, darkest, loneliest moments of this season, God entered into the fiery furnace. He walks right alongside us, refining, encouraging, loving, protecting, strengthening, and in all, bringing himself glory.
D.A. Carson, one more time:
“Nebuchadnezzar articulates the lesson he has learned: God is sovereign, he raises and abases whom he wills, none can withstand him, and every virtue or strength we possess we derive from him.”
God, you are sovereign. May you get the glory in all things, both in our affliction and also in our deliverance. Amen.