The Fiery Furnace

 

Turning Up the Heat

Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel 3:13-18

 

We are all familiar with this story. It reads like juvenile fiction: a group of three teenaged friends who refuse to compromise their principles, even with the means of their death blazing before them.

But let’s try to suspend our preconceived associations and look more closely at the story. The three friends had been trapped, ratted out by some of the other members of the Wise Men Guild (specifically named as “astrologers” in v.8). They were summoned and stood in front of the throne of the king, and issued an ultimatum: Bow down or perish!

At this moment, the hornist, flautist, zitherist, lyrist, harpist, piper, and all the other musicians on the worship team are looking at their drummer, waiting for him to click in a tempo to start their next tune. But before two clicks are completed, the three lads interrupt the service to make an important pronouncement. They will not bow down. They will not serve a false god. They will not worship an image of gold.

This story encourages us to be faithful to what is true, no matter what the cost. But listen to their words. They are not claiming certain victory. There is an element of resignation in their voices. In fact, an alternate reading of the original Aramaic in verse 17 says “If the God we serve is able to deliver us, then he will deliver us from the blazing furnace.”

“Even if he does not”? What sort of faith is that? Obviously these young men had never read The Power of Positive Thinking. These were not charismatic believers. They had not heard of the “word of faith,” the “name-it-and-clam-it” theology of health and wealth and wish-fulfillment. No, they freely acknowledged that they may be broiled to a crisp in the furnace and permanently silenced.

Why were they so blasé about their imminent, horrific, sizzling fate? Did they lack faith? If we interpret the Scriptural narratives as providing examples for us to emulate, what ought we to emulate here?

Let us hear what the three friends are saying. “We may or may not have a miraculous experience here,” they said. “We may not see something spectacular. But we will be true to the revealed Word. We will not willfully violate the First and Second of the Ten Commandments.” Their commitment was to remain true to God because of what He had already revealed to them, and not to a possible future experience.

Nice group, but where’s your zitherist?

In the 21st-century church, when we hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, we know that worship service is underway. We react in anticipation. Our songs reflect our expectations: “Send your Spirit,” we plead. “Fill this place with your grace.” “Come into this room.” We are a needy people. We express our neediness in our pleading songs. We long for some sort of unique or special experience to transform us now.

I apologize for harping (pun intended) on the same point as the previous post, but this is heavy on my heart right now. I believe our worship music reflects precisely where we have lost a key lesson of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Instead of declaring our faith in the God who has already redeemed us and blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), instead of standing on the promises, instead of singing “How Firm A Foundation,” we ask for more.

I would encourage Christian worshipers to learn the New Testament truths about what Christ has already accomplished on our behalf, and so worship God with gratitude and humility. I would encourage Christian worship leaders to think carefully about the implied messaging of the music used in a service. And I would encourage Christian songwriters to work harder to avoid the easy clichés and patter of contemporary worship music, and to think carefully about lyrical content and its congruence to Biblical theology.

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