Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Blazing Furnace

The book of Daniel has 12 nicely contained vignettes, each one serving as a chapter. Together they tell a larger story, sure, but they each stand on their own quite nicely.

I'm focusing specifically on the 3rd chapter/story. And so here's a cliff's notes if you're unfamiliar with the story. It's about a blazing furnace.

This one deals more with Daniel's friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who are Jews that were taken from Jerusalem, proved to be wise and useful, and were then made into managers of the province Babylon.

Being in Babylon, and being Jews, and being in charge, it'd be safe to say that these guys weren't really well liked. I'd even imagine that there were plenty of people who resented their position of authority, and were just waiting for the chance for them to screw something up so they could be rid of them.

Well, when King Nebuchadnezzar made a decree that everyone needs to bow down and worship this giant gold statue that he made whenever he commands it...and whoever did not would be thrown into a blazing furnace (where I'm sure there was weeping and gnashing of teeth)--it appears that this was a good chance to get rid of these guys.

S/M/A were known for standing up for their "Jew-ness" in the past, so it would be easy to assume they weren't going to worship the gold statue. Sure enough, they didn't, and sure enough, someone ratted them out to the king.

He was less than pleased. But he was attempting to be merciful and not go with the word of those who turned S/M/A in, he gave them another chance.
13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 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? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes 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?"
He could have just as easily thrown them straight into the furnace...but he didn't. He knew these men were smart and valuable to his kingdom. He also knew that they don't serve the same god he does. So he's basically challenging them that their god is inferior to his.
  16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
And if you've ever heard anything else about this story, you know how it ends. S/M/A are chucked into the fire (which is heated up 7 times more than normal....the king is pissed, remember?), they don't burn, the king sees an extra person walking around with them in the fire (an angel?), he calls them out, everyone is happy. S/M/A are praised because of their faith in the face of death, we should all take the lesson to heart to have great faith, yaddy yaddy yah.

This sticks out to me for another reason. Thought it does still have to do with faith...

S/M/A in v 17/18 say, "the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not..."

They don't say something about "if it's in God's will, he'll rescue us from your hand", "if it's part of the plan, God will rescue us from your hand" or anything like that. They firmly state that God is able to save us, and God will rescue us. They're bold in their assertion. They are very firm in this. They have faith that God is able, and God will follow through.  So why the but?

"But even if he does not..."

What do you mean even if he does not? You just said that he could, and that he would. So why the but? How can you possibly say that God may not do it? You just said that he would! Don't you have any faith? Aren't you contradicting yourselves?


I think that we grossly misunderstand what faith is. We think that by even acknowledging the possibility that "You know...maybe he won't" or "I'm just not entirely sure" or "Just maybe, I'm wrong" that means that we don't have any faith.  That is absurd. All this means is that we're differentiating between what we believe and what we know.

S/M/A believed that God would rescue them, they said it with great conviction....but they didn't know. There was a chance God wouldn't. Why? Because he hadn't done it yet! And because it hadn't happened, it was a matter of faith as opposed to matter of a historical/provable fact. It was still conjecture, no matter how certain.

S/M/A believed in God, and believed that he would save them...but maybe he won't.

We don't look at this passage and think about how little faith these guys had in God. We don't hold them up as examples of people who didn't have faith. Because they did have it. And at the very same time, by the way that we try to describe faith and define it in our minds, they did not.

The problem isn't in their understanding of God, the problem is in our understanding of faith.