Bend Not, Budge Not, Burn Not
IN THE THIRD chapter of Daniel we read a preview of events soon to take place in our world. The record tells of an ecumenical attempt to unite the nations by uniformity of worship. This chapter and Acts 5 are classic scriptures for teaching the separation of church and state. Endeavoring to link church and state is like trying to weld iron and clay. It is contrary to the Creator's law and can never work successfully.
Many in today's world urge Christians to use political measures and if necessary revolutionary force to implement worthy objectives. But the end can never justify the means. Seventh-day Adventists must follow their Lord, who refused to employ physical powers of compulsion in a world that was socially and politically rotten. He changed men's minds and hearts through the sowing of truth, and thus their deeds were redirected and the history of the Roman Empire became other than what it would have been.
The dictator of Daniel's day legislated into action his own system of idolatrous worship. Nonconformists were to be cremated alive by a "burning fiery furnace." "He [Nebuchadnezzar} spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated." What makes the story relevant is the conviction that comes from reading Revelation, the New Testament counterpart of and commentary upon Daniel a conviction that when a similar situation arises in this age, some of us may feel the flames.
The First Persecutor
The first "abomination of desolation" sketched by the Old Testament prophet was the idolatrous, persecuting power of Babylon. Thus the first of the worldwide heathen empires to dominate the people of God after the destruction of the Temple celebrated its supremacy by a decree enforcing idolatrous worship, and attached to the decree was the threat of death for any who might choose to worship otherwise. In the last pages of the New Testament, prophecy foretells that in the latter days another image will be set up for the selfsame purpose (see Revelation 13:11-18). A universal boycott and ultimately death is promised all who refuse to worship "the beast and his image." The final "abomination of desolation," the ultimate antichrist, patterns after the Babylon depicted in Daniel and even carries that ancient name on its forehead.
Note that the imagery of Revelation 13 and Daniel 3 coincides at several points. Even the number six is prominent in both, as a symbol of man under the control of the serpent. (Both man and the serpent were created on the sixth day, and that number is frequently associated with apostasy or Satanic opposition to the truth. For examples, see 1 Samuel 17:4-7; Genesis 7:6; 11:10-16; 10:25; 2 Chronicles 9:13.) The people in typical Babylon were to worship the golden image. This is referred to six times. (See Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 18.)
And by some coincidence, in the book of Revelation, the warning against worshiping the beast and his image is given six times. (See Revelation 13:15; 14:9-11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4.) The number of man is declared in Revelation to be 666, a trinity of evil, intimating the thorough apostasy of the last days. A similar hint is found in sexagesimal measurements assigned to Nebuchadnezzar's image. (See Daniel 3:1.)
Trial of Faith
But the most important point to observe is the fidelity of the three Hebrews who would neither budge, bend, nor burn. Observe their courteous but determined refusal:
"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up' " (Dan. 3:16-18, R.S.V.).
Dr. W. G. Heslop has commented admirably on the event: "To hesitate, argue, reason or parley with sin is fatal. Where the path of duty is plain, unhesitating decision and implicit obedience is the only safety. 'We are not careful to answer thee.' The homage demanded of them was a POSITIVE homage; that demanded of Daniel was a NEGATIVE homage of abstaining from prayer. They would not yield to either!" 1
It is particularly important at this point to take note of a key word that recurs throughout Daniel, beginning with this chapter.
King Nebuchadnezzar had blasphemously asked the question, "Who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?" The courageous youths replied that their God whom they served was "able to deliver. "We find at the close of the chapter the proud king's confession, "There is no other god who is able to deliver in this way." In the later account of the persecution of Daniel we find the same key word (Daniel 6:14, 16, 20, 27). But it is only when we read the description of the final crisis as found in Daniel's climactic prophecy that the significance of the stories dawns. The final verses of Daniel 11 picture a latter-day onslaught against the church of God, His "holy mountain." Antichrist goes forth with great fury to "utterly destroy many." Next we read:
"At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book" (Dan. 12:1, R.S.V.). (Italics supplied.)
The darkest hour of the saints is God's noon. He who attacks them attacks "the apple of His eye." Thus Christ, here called Michael (which means "Who is like God?"), the prince who stands on guard over His people, rises to put down all oppression and to save His people. He comes down to earth in the midst of a time of trouble such as never was when the whole earth is as a burning fiery furnace for the faithful few who refuse to conform to apostate worship. He comes down to deliver as He delivered the three worthies of old.
"HE CAME DOWN and linked arms with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
"HE CAME DOWN and walked with Enoch.
"HE CAME DOWN and talked with Noah.
"HE CAME DOWN and feasted with Abraham.
"HE CAME DOWN and wrestled with Jacob.
"HE CAME DOWN and manifested Himself to Moses.
"HE CAME DOWN and filled the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple.
"HE CAME DOWN and revealed the will of God to Gideon and Manoah.
"HE CAME DOWN and guided Israel through the wilderness.
"HE CAME DOWN and defended Israel as Captain of the Lord's hosts.
"HE CAME DOWN and delivered Daniel from the den of lions, and the three Hebrews from the fiery furnace, and finally HE CAME DOWN and was born in a stable and cradled in a manger God manifested in the flesh. Oh, the condescension of Christ! Oh, the goodness, greatness and grace of God!
"The same Christ who appeared to Adam in Eden, who walked with Enoch and talked with Noah, who wrestled with Jacob and feasted with Abraham, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and to Joshua on the walls of Jericho, again stepped from the heavenly portals and entered the fiery furnace to succour and support His faithful followers. The form of the fourth is always in the midst of His holy people." 2
For Our Time
Another writer has seen the meaning of the story for our time:
"Important are the lessons to be learned from the experience of the Hebrew youth on the plain of Dura. In this our day, many of Cod's servants, though innocent of wrongdoing, will be given over to suffer humiliation and abuse at the hands of those who, inspired by Satan, are filled with envy and religious bigotry. ... At last a universal decree will denounce these as deserving of death.
"The season of distress before God's people will call for a faith that will not falter. His children must make it manifest that He is the only object of their worship, and that no consideration, not even that of life itself, can induce them to make the least concession to false worship." 3
Again she states: "By many, the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is made void, being treated as a thing of naught; while the spurious sabbath, the child of the papacy, is exalted. In the place of God's laws, are elevated the laws of the man of sin, laws that are to be received and regarded as the wonderful golden image of Nebuchadnezzar was by the Babylonians. Forming this great image, Nebuchadnezzar commanded that it should receive universal homage from all, both great and small, high and low, rich and poor." 4
The most fearful warning found in the entire Bible is that of Revelation 14:9-11, a warning against the worship of antichrist, the beast, his image, his mark, in the last days. But nearby is given strong consolation. John declares: "And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands" (Rev. 15:2, R.S.V.).
All God's biddings are enablings and His forbiddings also. Those who learn the message of Daniel 3 will be strengthened to resist evil at the time of its greatest deceptiveness and strength. Profiting by the divine warning, they will be enabled to say No to principalities and powers and to share in the greatest airlift of all time, when One like unto the Son of man comes down to lift His people to the throne of God. In preparation for that time let us today claim in Christ divine deliverance from the vices, passions, and trials that constitute our present crucible.
Those who choose to obey God in all things will experience His presence and power in every overwhelming temptation and trouble.
"Fear not, for I am with you,
Be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." --Isaiah 41:10, R.S.V.
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1. W. G. Heslop, Diamonds From Daniel, pp. 66, 67.
2. Ibid., pp. 69, 70.
3. Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 512, 513.
4. The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Dan. 3:1-5, p. 1169.
Based on material appearing in the Australian Signs of the Times, July 1, 1973.