Today we’re plunging into the book of Daniel. Yeah – the guy known for his little adventure in the lions’ den. We’ll get there later this week, but for now, we’re going to take a quick look at who Daniel was, and then we’ll meet a few of his friends.
If you’re like me, you’re familiar with Daniel and know some things about him. If you’re asked to quickly flip to his story in the Bible, though? Not so very much. Where in the world is Daniel? I took an embarrassingly long time finding him this morning, so if you have to flip to your Bible’s table of contents, that’s okay. (Here’s what I learned: Psalms is in the middle of the Bible…after that are Isaiah and Jeremiah and Lamentations – a pretty big chunk of stuff…then Ezekiel, which is forever long…and then there’s Daniel. He kind of hides there after those bigger books.)
Now that we’ve found him, we meet Daniel in chapters 1 and 2. Here’s what we learn there:
- Daniel is an Israelite from the kingdom of Judah in what is called the Babylonian Captivity. (You can read about that debacle in 2 Kings 24.) He’s from Jerusalem but is in exile in Babylon.
- Daniel stands out among the young men from Judah, was selected for royal service, and was given a new name: Belteshazzar. Three of Daniel’s friends were chosen as well: Hananiah (who was renamed Shadrach), Mishael (renamed Meshach), and Azariah (now called Abednego).
Note: Throughout the rest of the story in Scripture, Daniel retains his Hebrew name, while the others are alternately referred to by their Babylonian names. It’s confusing, but it’s important later.
- King Nebuchadnezzar, under whom Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego serve, had a dream that greatly disturbed him. Daniel was the only one who was able to interpret it for him, and thereby earned the king’s favor. He was then made ruler over the entire province of Babylon, and chose his three friends for high positions under him.
Note: Does this sound familiar? Does it remind you of another Israelite in a foreign land, perhaps? One who interpreted dreams? And who was a favorite of the king? If you’ve made the connection to Joseph, well done!
This is where we pick up today’s story: that of Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and the fiery furnace.
What, if anything, do you already know about this story?
Read Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2:29-47. How does the king respond when he is told what the dream means?
Now read Daniel 3:1-3. What stands out to you? When I read it, I find it pretty interesting that the king interpreted the dream so literally. His dream had a symbolic statue…while Nebuchadnezzar clearly thought it was a good idea to built a real one. And he didn’t stop there.
Read Daniel 3:4-7. What are the instructions to the people?
Go back to chapter 2, verses 46-47, and contrast those to chapter 3, verse 5. What are your thoughts?
It’s easy to shake our heads at Nebuchadnezzar’s fickleness, but can you remember a time when you experienced God but then quickly turned back to your old ways? (Personally, I don’t have to search my history very long before I find a few examples.)
Read Daniel 3:8-12. What do we learn about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?
Why do you think the three of them – who, remember, were in high positions of service to the king himself – refused to worship the statue?
They’re favorites of the king…but how do you think someone like Nebuchadnezzar is going to respond to their disobedience?
Read on to Daniel 3:13-15. (Don’t get sidetracked by the constant repetition of this chapter! I know it’s hard and kind of annoying. Stay focused.)
Nebuchadnezzar is angry, and reminds them of the punishment if they won’t worship the statue. Read verses 16-18 and prepare to be inspired by their response.
Fill in the blanks: If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, ____________________________________________
But even if He does not, ________________________________________________________________________________
Wow. I don’t know about you, but I wish I had this kind of attitude when life gets hard. The kind of attitude that stays focused on what I know to be true. The kind of attitude that won’t be swayed by fear. The kind of attitude that takes the focus of others off myself and turns it to God.
Read Daniel 3:19-23. It’s hard for us to imagine what kind of furnace this was. Scholars believe that based on Babylonian culture and the artifacts archaeologists have found, the furnace was likely a brick kiln. For normal operation, such a kiln could reach 1300 degrees Celsius – and Nebuchadnezzar ordered it to be even hotter. It’s clear that things were not looking good for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Read verses 24-27.
What does Nebuchadnezzar see in the furnace?
How does he describe what he sees? It “looks like _______________.”
Read Isaiah 43:2.
Who does it sound like the fourth person was? Why do you think that?
If that IS who it was – Jesus, the Son of God, as scholars generally agree – what does that tell us? How does He care for us during our times of suffering?
Friends, we don’t have a God who is content to stay a safe distance from suffering. We have a God who sees the suffering of His children and enters it to be with them.
Are you going through a painful situation right now? What evidence have you seen that God is with you in the middle of it?
For your information and to wrap up the story, read Daniel 3:28-30. This sounds familiar – like Nebuchadnezzar’s declaration of who God is in Chapter 2. For everyone’s sake, I hope his revelation sticks this time….but I have a feeling it won’t.
What can we take from this story? We might not be facing death in a blazing kiln, but we, too, can be brave. We can refuse to cave in a world that is increasingly divisive and hostile to mindsets like ours. We can stand firm in faith regardless of how it is that God shows up. We can do that because we know that He will show up – like He did for Daniel’s friends – and we can trust His faithfulness even if things don’t look like we wish they would.