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Fiery Trials in the Furnace of Life

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Daniel 3

The trials we face in life provide unique opportunities to live out our faith in God before a watching world. Three young men in Babylon present us with a lesson in courage and trust in the midst of a severe trial.


Fiery Trials in the Furnace of Life

Daniel 3


Many Christians today believe that if you live the right kind of life, it will create a spiritual force field around you that keeps bad things from entering your life. One best-selling author says that if you make positive declarations every day, God will give you nothing but good things. He urges people, “Use [my] book as your guide for declaring your victory each day. Declare health. Declare favor. Declare abundance.”[1] Declare it, he says, and it will be yours.

There is an ancient Hebrew word that comes to mind, and it’s pronounced ba-lo-ney.

This teaching is called prosperity theology. I like to call it lottery theology—get the right ticket, and God will make your life—every area of it—easier.

The Bible actually teaches something far different. Jesus Christ never defined a good life in terms of your doctor’s report or how much furniture you have. The truth is, the Bible teaches that a godly life does not save you from trials but prepares you to go through trials.

The apostle Peter wrote this:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Peter’s description of a fiery trial in the furnace of life calls to mind an event that occurred centuries earlier, recorded here in Daniel chapter 3.

Now you might remember that Daniel interpreted the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar back in chapter 2. In that dream, the empires of the world were pictured in the image of a man—and the head of gold represented the Babylonian Empire.

Here in Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar builds an enormous image, some ninety feet tall, to represent this dream. But he has changed something. He has made, not just the head, but the entire image of gold, as if to say, “My kingdom is going to last forever.” More than likely, this image also is meant to honor the Babylonian god Nabu, for whom Nebuchadnezzar was named.[2]

Archaeologists have discovered on the plain southeast of ancient Babylon, the capital of the empire, a brick mound 45 feet long and 20 feet high—which apparently served as a base for a very large structure. Many believe this was the pedestal for Nebuchadnezzar’s image. Of course, the image and the gold have long since disappeared, but the ruins of the pedestal are still there.[3]

Now keep in mind that this event in chapter 3 takes place some twenty years after Daniel and his friends had arrived. They have been officials in the empire for nearly two decades now, when this image is built. Daniel is absent and evidently traveling on some assignment from the king, because this chapter focuses on the faithful testimony of his three friends.

All the important people in the kingdom—the governors, advisers, military leaders, all the VIPS—are now invited to the dedication of the image.

After everyone has arrived, the king’s herald gives these instructions:

“When you hear the . . . music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image . . . And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” (verses 5-6)

This is not just an act of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar but also a religious act.

So, the music starts, and everybody bows to the ground except three men in their early thirties—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And let me tell you, now is the time, if there is ever going to be a time, for them to whisper to each other, “What harm would it do if we bowed down? Besides, everybody else is doing it.” But they refuse.

The news quickly reaches the king, who is told in verse 12: “These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Verse 13 tells us this news throws Nebuchadnezzar into a rage—a fit of violent anger. Frankly, he is hotter than the furnace nearby.

He calls the three men forward and then asks them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?” (verse 14).

Nebuchadnezzar then offers them another chance, but he warns them of certain death in the nearby furnace if they refuse. He says in verse 15, “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

Their reply to the king here is a powerful statement of faith:

“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.” (verses 17-18)

This is one of the most remarkable statements of faith in all the Bible: “Listen, our God is able to deliver us out of your hand, but if not …”

Wait! Back up. “Our God is able to deliver us out of your hand.” You are supposed to stop with that, according to prosperity theology. God will deliver us—period. That is what will sell the prosperity books—declare your destiny with positive thoughts.

Listen, they knew God could deliver them from the fire, but they did not know if God would. Beloved, this is not doubt; this is the deepest statement of faith. You do not speak your destiny; you surrender your destiny as you trust the Lord with your life.

Well, Nebuchadnezzar is so angry, verse 19 tells us that he orders the furnace to be “heated seven times more than it was usually heated.”

This was a smelting furnace—a large structure with a lid up on the top through which materials were dropped. There was a ramp, usually made of earth, leading up to the top. There was a large opening down below, on the ground level, where materials would be removed.

Well, up that ramp these three young men walk. And they are thrown into the furnace like logs on a fire.[4]

But instead of seeing three men writhe in pain and die, the king sees them walking around with a fourth man, whom he describes in verse 25 as looking like “a son of the gods.” This is a Christophany—a preincarnate appearance of Christ in a physical form.

These four men are in there having a wonderful conversation. One author said they are walking around like they’re in a palace instead of a furnace.[5]

The king calls out to them in verse 26, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!”

Abednego could have said, “We aren’t coming out until you apologize—or until we get a raise and a new chariot.” But no, they are not interested in being vindicated; they are interested in God being glorified.

Nebuchadnezzar now makes this public declaration in verse 28:

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.”

Keep in mind, God did not eliminate the fire—He just joined them in it. He does the same thing for you and me. He doesn’t eliminate the trials you experience in the furnace of life. In fact, sometimes He allows the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than normal!

God doesn’t remove us from all trouble; but we can trust His presence in the midst of trouble. And, beloved, He assures us that in the middle of that fiery furnace, we are in the middle of the will of God.   

[1] Joel Osteen, I Declare: 31 Promises to Speak over Your Life (Faithworks, 2012), ix.

[3] Renald E. Showers, The Most High God (Friends of Israel, 1982), 29-30.

[4] Archer, 56.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Resolute (Victor Books, 2000), 44.

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