Thursday, October 11, 2012

Three, no four!

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in the Old Testament int he book of Daniel.  It is about four guys in a furnace.  King Nebuchadnezzar was a pretty "typical" king of the day.  He liked his pageantry  with all kinds of pomp and circumstance.  Many of the kings of the day would create some "form" which they would proclaim as the "god" of the hour.  The image they'd create carried some meaning to them, such as King Nebuchadnezzar's huge nine foot high, nine foot thick, golden statue he erected in the land of Dura in the province of Babylon.  His intent - all the people would hear the "band strike up" and then fall in worship toward the huge statue.  In the end, he'd get all twitter-pated about the pageantry and the homage of the people of his land.  Three Jews just wouldn't bow down - Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  Three guys who would ultimately find themselves face-to-face with the choice of their lifetime.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”  (Daniel 3:16-18 MSG)

In the scheme of an entire kingdom, how is it these three guys get the attention of the king.  Maybe it was because there were some "fortune-tellers" in the land, just looking to find anyone who would not bow the knee and do as the king said.  Perhaps they were rabble-rousers, just looking for a chance to see the king exercise a little of his might.  Or maybe it was because these three men were Jews, holding positions of authority and power in the king's land, appointed to some duties as overseers of the king's land.  We don't know their real intent, but we see the outcome of their scheming.  They point out these three men in their appointed positions of authority to  the king - in hopes the king will respond with some show of power - and are delighted to find their scheming is going to pay off!  

I guess this just goes to show, a position of authority is not always the safest place to assume!  The person given authority "over" is always subject to the outcome of what goes on "under" their leadership.  Leaders are just "open" to finger-pointing, accusatory talk, and misunderstanding about their motives.  When you are "out front", so to speak, it makes it quite easy for people to observe your actions!  When your actions don't align with what they expected to see, it also makes it easy to begin to point them out!

So, off they run to King Nebuchadnezzar - carefully taking their tale of woes to the king's court.  They start with fluffing the king's pride - reminding him he erected this glorious statue in order to give the people something to worship. Then they are quick to point out not "all" the people in the land are heeding the sound of the band and falling in worship!  In fact, they have three names they'd like to point out to the king - Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego (just to name a few, O King Neb).  Well, you don't fluff the feathers of a king and then not expect him to get a little riled when you tell him someone else isn't really "into" fluffing his feathers!  It ignites some rage in the king and he reacts as the fortune-tellers probably hoped - yielding them a show of sorts to satisfy their hunger for a good show at the expense of another!

True to form, the king reacts - commanding the three be thrown into the furnace.  Now, this is kind of a gruesome way to die - burning up in the furnace!  I know we use crematoriums today to dispose of human remains, but at least we wait until the guy is actually dead!  These three are thrown into the "crematorium" alive!  Imagine the scheming onlookers, just salivating to hear the screams of the three when fire laps at their flesh, hair melts from their scalps, and parched voice is consumed by enveloping smoke.  They are pretty wicked dudes to think this "show" would be good to watch!  Yet, we see them there - all standing around, gawking in anticipation as the fire grows hotter and hotter.  But...they don't hear the screams, there is no smell of charred flesh, the voices of the three don't seem to be sharing ANY sign of the anguish these fortune-tellers imagined!  Yet, they weren't totally disappointed, because the men carrying Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace were consumed by the fire!  Not the show they hoped for, but a show nonetheless!  

I love it when God's plan outdoes the schemes of the conniving schemers of this world!  They expect to see these worshipers of Jehovah burned up by the flames, but get to see the flames only lapping up around the men.  They plan one thing - God does another!  Can anyone else see the humor here?  These men were "fortune-tellers" - they were supposed to have the "inside track" into the future-telling of the day!  They "think" the fire will consume the three Jewish leaders - but when the furnace is opened, the king is amazed by what he sees.  Four men, not three!  No injuries from the fire - just four men walking around in the midst of the flames.  

I want to leave us with some thoughts.  What we determine in our heart affects our actions.  We can determine to do evil - it will create evil actions.  We can determine to live above compromise - it will yield obedience.  Obedience will not always be understood by those who choose to do and see only evil in this world.  Obedience will always be rewarded - it may not mean we don't face the furnace, but we don't have to fear the furnace.  When our hearts are set toward God's best for us, what others think will consume us becomes an opportunity to reveal how closely he walks with us.  The furnace is only an opportunity for God to reveal the integrity of our hearts - the commitment of our spirit.  We need never walk alone - he is there with us each step of the way.  Just sayin!