In the opening chapters of the Book of Daniel there are two events that are often highlighted for their significance and ease by which they can be related as children’s stories. But beyond the surface of storytelling, there is more here, as is usual with God’s Holy Word.
In chapter 1 of Daniel we are placed in the setting of Babylon just after the siege of Jerusalem (See Ezekiel and Jeremiah) and those of education and prominence who were taken as prisoners. Of these, we are told in Daniel 1:6 are, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. The latter three are more recognizably known by the Babylonian names given to them, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. As we read, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, assigned to them a daily portion of the food and wine that he consumed. At this offer, Daniel had, “resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.” Daniel 1:8 While some have read into the story that the basis of Daniel’s resolution was a desire to obey the ceremonial law, difficulty arises when one considers what to do with the rejection of the wine, which would not have been against the law (under most circumstances). Others have considered that this food was offered to idols, but Daniel did not reject all food, as he suggested the possibility that he only be allowed to consume vegetables. A more likely explanation is that Daniel’s resolution was rooted in a desire to reject assimilation into Babylonian culture. For Daniel, and the others, this was a matter of conscience. Standing against what had been assigned by the king was a sure death sentence, but God gave them favor and blessed their stance by allowing them to be strengthened in appearance over the ten day period (Daniel 1:11-16).
The second event is perhaps much more familiar. It involves the three friends from above, but not Daniel. This is the story of the fiery furnace into which Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were placed for refusing to bow down to the idol that Nebuchadnezzar had made. In chapter 3 of Daniel, we find the dedication of this golden idol, which was some 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. All of the who’s who of Nebuchadnezzar’s administration were commanded to bow down and pay homage to his idol. We ought to be reminded that after the first event in chapter 1, Daniel, along with the three here, were given positions of honor because God had blessed them and given them far greater wisdom than their contemporaries. Despite their rejection of being absorbed into Babylonian culture, they were nevertheless given a seat at the table, so to speak. It is because of this, along with the other, “satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces” (Daniel 3:2) that they were called to dedication and demanded to pay homage. As we know, the three refused the king’s edict on the basis that they did not serve the king’s gods and refused to worship the image of the idol. We may surmise that they did so on the basis of the command of God, specifically the first two of the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:3-6). As a result, the three were thrown in the fiery furnace, yet God preserved them leaving them unharmed and revealing a fourth person in the furnace among them, “like a son of the gods,” which was most likely the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus.
Consider This: In the passages above, we see two clear examples of God’s people rejecting the King’s edicts on the basis of conscience and command. In our day, particularly over the last two years or so, there has been extensive confusion over the meaning and application of passages such as Roman 13:1-7 as it relates to submitting to authorities. This confusion has resulted in declaring a near universal obedience and unquestioned submission to governmental authorities. But as we’ve seen in Daniel there are specific occasions when opposition is not only permitted but is actually honored by God. These occasions specifically relate to matters of conscience and obedience to God’s commands.
Christians ought to follow the pattern of Daniel and his friends in rejecting assimilation into surrounding cultures. Additionally, any matter that requires us to worship – in any form that this may take – a man-made idol ought to be immediately rejected, even if it costs our lives.
In what ways have we been faced with similar decisions over the past 2 years? Have we gone against either conscience or command? In what ways might believers be called to take a stand in the near future? Are our consciences and our desire for obedience to God’s Word such that we are equipped to stand, even unto death?
Soli Deo Gloria