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Previous Bible Studies:         If Not, Be It Known

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  If Not, Be It Known  

"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." Daniel 3:16-18     (Read the whole Bible story.)

Ranking in the top ten all time favorite Bible stories, the miraculous deliverance of the three Hebrew children from the fiery furnace has given hope to multiple generations of persecuted Christians. Today we speak metaphorically of the fiery fires of persecution, but these were men of old who literally stepped into a furnace heated so hot as to devour all who came too near.

This story of faith literally steps beyond the realm of human reason and enters directly into the presence of an Almighty God who moves freely in what man calls the impossible. But this story is not only a wonderful testimony of God's power of deliverance, but also the resolve of a man to obey his God, even if it costs him his life. "...be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image..."

History is full of powerful testimonies of how God miraculously brought deliverance to the persecuted soul and health to the dying man. But what of the testimony of those whom God stayed His mighty hand, those who cried, "But if not, be it known unto thee, O king..."

Lets read about a few of these martyrs. "...others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; Of whom the world was not worthy..." (Hebrews 11:35-38)

What man would not fear being burned alive, but herein was the choice given Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, either bow or burn. Faith was put to the ultimate test, if God does not show up, death is certain. Like these three men of faith and those who followed after in Hebrews 11, we must be resolved in our hearts, even unto death, that we will not bow to the idols of this world. Resolve that says, "But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods...", is the great reward of a steadfast faith. Men of this resolve are inscribed forever in God's hall of faith.

John Wesley wrote this, "But if not,.... If our God does not think fit to exert his power, and deliver us, which we are well assured he is able to do; if it is not his will, we are content, we are resigned unto it:  be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, be it as it will, whether we are delivered or not; we are not sure of the one, but we are at a point as to the other:  nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up; come life, come death, we are ready; we had rather die than sin: they were all of one mind, and agreed in this matter; a noble instance of spiritual fortitude and courage!"  (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes)

Beloved, we are closer than we think to this identical type of trial. Very soon we may face the command of a king of this world who will demand that we bow or burn. Is your faith ready for such a trial as this, whose outcome will carry eternal consequences? Oh, that the Church had men of this resolve to stand in the face of the worlds idols and say, we will not bow down, we will not serve your gods, but will obey the Lord our God and serve Him only. Men who will not flinch at the white-hot flames of this world demands to sin, men of courage, discipline and faith. Lord, raise up such men in these last days!

Before you say to yourself, that day may be far off, remember this, your trial is not just the big test that comes once in a life time, but the everyday little tests that challenge your faith in God. Your resolve to obey God now in the little things, the little choices, is your assurance that not only will you be unmovable in the day of your fiery furnace, but that Christ Himself will walk there with you.

"And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb , and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death."
Revelation 12:11

Matthew Henry wrote of Daniel 3:18
I. Their believing confidence in God and their dependence upon him, Dan_3:17. It was this that enabled them to look with so much contempt upon death, death in pomp, death in all its terrors: they trusted in the living God, and by that faith chose rather to suffer than to sin; they therefore feared not the wrath of the king, but endured, because by faith they had an eye to him that is invisible (Heb_11:25, Heb_11:27): "If it be so, if we are brought to this strait, if we must be thrown into the fiery furnace unless we serve thy gods, know then,"
    (1.)   "That though we worship not thy gods yet we are not atheists; there is a God whom we can call ours, to whom we faithfully adhere."
    (2.)   "That we serve this God; we have devoted ourselves to his honour; we employ ourselves in his work, and depend upon him to protect us, provide for us, and reward us."
    (3.)   "That we are well assured that this God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; whether he will or no, we are sure that he can either prevent our being cast into the furnace or rescue us out of it." Note, The faithful servants of God will find him a Master able to bear them out in his service, and to control and overrule all the powers that are armed against them. Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst.
    (4.)   "That we have reason to hope he will deliver us," partly because, in such a vast appearance of idolaters, it would be very much for the honour of his great name to deliver them, and partly because Nebuchadnezzar had defied him to do it - Who is that God that shall deliver you? God sometimes appears wonderfully for the silencing of the blasphemies of the enemy, as well as for the answering of the prayers of his people, Psa_74:18-22; Deu_32:27. "But, if he does not deliver us from the fiery furnace, he will deliver us out of thy hand."

Nebuchadnezzar can but torment and kill the body, and after that, there is no more that he can do; then they are got out of his reach, delivered out of his hand. Note, Good thoughts of God, and a full assurance that he is with us while we are with him, will help very much to carry us through sufferings; and, if he be for us, we need not fear what man can do unto us; let him do his worst. God will deliver us either from death or in death.

II. Their firm resolution to adhere to their principles, whatever might be the consequence (Dan_3:18): "But, if not, though God should not think fit to deliver us from the fiery furnace (which yet we know he can do), if he should suffer us to fall into thy hand, and fall by thy hand, yet be it known unto thee, O king! we will not serve these gods, though they are thy gods, nor worship this golden image, though thou thyself hast set it up." They are neither ashamed nor afraid to own their religion, and tell the king to his face that they do not fear him, they will not yield to him; had they consulted with flesh and blood, much might have been said to bring them to a compliance, especially when there was no other way of avoiding death, so great a death.
    (1.)   They were not required to abjure their own God, or to renounce his worship, no, nor by any verbal profession or declaration to own this golden image to be a god, but only to bow down before it, which they might do with a secret reserve of their hearts for the God of Israel, inwardly detesting this idolatry, as Naaman bowed in the house of Rimmon.
    (2.)   They were not to fall into a course of idolatry; it was but one single act that was required of them, which would be done in a minute, and the danger was over, and they might afterwards declare their sorrow for it.
    (3.)   The king that commanded it had an absolute power; they were under it, not only as subjects, but as captives; and, if they did it, it was purely by coercion and duress, which would serve to excuse them.
    (4.)   He had been their benefactor, had educated and preferred them, and in gratitude to him they ought to go as far as they could, though it were to strain a point, a point of conscience.
    (5.)   They were now driven into a strange country, and to those that were so driven out it was, in effect, said, Go, and serve other gods, 1Sa_26:19. It was taken for granted that in their disposition they would serve other gods, and it was made a part of the judgment, Deu_4:28. They might be excused if they should go down the stream, when it is so strong.
    (6.)   Did not their kings, and their princes, and their fathers, yea, and their priests too, set up idols even in God's temple, and worship them there, and not only bow down to them, but erect altars, burn incense, and offer sacrifices, even their own children, to them? Did not all the ten tribes, for many ages, worship gods of gold at Dan and Bethel? And shall they be more precise than their fathers? Communis error facit jus - What all do must be right.
    (7.)   If they should comply, they would save their lives and keep their places, and so be in a capacity to do a great deal of service to their brethren in Babylon, and to do it long; for they were young men, and rising men. But there is enough in that one word of God wherewith to answer and silence these and many more such like carnal reasonings: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to any images, nor worship them.

They know they must obey God rather than man; they must rather suffer than sin, and must not do evil that good may come. And therefore none of these things move them; they are resolved rather to die in their integrity than live in their iniquity. While their brethren, who yet remained in their own land, were worshipping images by choice, they in Babylon would not be brought to it by constraint, but, as if they were good by antiperistasis, were most zealous against idolatry in an idolatrous country. And truly, all things considered, the saving of them from this sinful compliance was as great a miracle in the kingdom of grace as the saving of them out of the fiery furnace was in the kingdom of nature.

These were those who formerly resolved not to defile themselves with the king's meat, and now they as bravely resolve not to defile themselves with his gods. Note, A stedfast self-denying adherence to God and duty in less instances will qualify and prepare us for the like in greater. And in this we must be resolute, never, under any pretence whatsoever, to worship images, or to say "A confederacy" with those that do so.

— Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible


Consolation in the Furnace
By C. H. Spurgeon

"He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire and they have no hurt. And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." Daniel 3:25.

THE narrative of the glorious boldness and marvelous deliverance of the three holy children, or rather champions, is well calculated to excite, in the minds of Believers, firmness and steadfastness in upholding the Truth of God in the teeth of tyranny and in the very jaws of death. Let young men especially, since these were young men, learn from their example both in matters of faith in religion and matters of integrity in business, never to sacrifice their consciences. Lose all rather than lose your integrity, and when all else is gone still hold fast to a clear conscience as the rarest jewel which can adorn the bosom of a mortal.

It were no waste of time for the preacher to spend half-a-dozen mornings in insisting again and again upon the necessity of the Christian being obedient universally and constantly to the dictates of his conscience, for this is an age requiring sturdy independence and stern adherence to the truth. As to whether the most severe precision of integrity will turn out to be the best policy or not, I shall not care to dispute. I am talking just now, not to men guided by the will-o'- the-wisp of policy, but by the pole star of Divine light and I beseech them to follow the right at all hazards. When you see no present advantage, then walk by faith and not by sight.

I do pray you, Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, do my God the honor to trust Him when it comes to matters of loss for the sake of principle. See whether He will be your debtor! See if He does not, even in this life, prove His Word that "Godliness is great gain," and that they who "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, shall have all these things added unto them." Mark you, if in the Providence of God it should be the case that you are and continue to be a loser by conscience, you shall find that if the Lord pays you not back in the silver of earthly prosperity, He will discharge His promise in the gold of spiritual joy! And I would have you remember that a man's life consists not in the abundance of that which he possesses.

To have a clear conscience, to wear a guileless spirit, to have a heart void of offense is greater riches than the mines of Ophir could yield or the traffic of Tyre could win. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and inward contention. An ounce of heart's ease is worth a ton of gold. And a drop of innocence is better than a sea of flattery. Burn, Christian, if it comes to that but never turn from the right way! Die, but never deny the Truth. Lose all to buy the Truth of God! Sell it not, even though the price were the treasure and honor of the whole world, for "what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

But my particular design in referring to the narrative this morning was not to use the whole of it as an incentive to young Christians by way of earnest advice, although I confess I feel much inclined to do so. But I have this one verse on my mind, where the astonished despot saw his late victims quietly surviving the flames which he intended for their instant destruction. I desire to use his exclamation as a consolation to afflicted Christians everywhere. Concentrate, then, your thoughts on the words before us and may the Holy Spirit be our Instructor.

I. We will commence by gazing into the place WHERE GOD'S PEOPLE OFTEN ARE.

In the text we find three of them in a burning fiery furnace, and singular as this may be, literally, it is no extraordinary thing spiritually, for, to tell the truth, it is the usual place where saints are found. The ancients fabled of the salamander, that it lived in the fire. The same can be said of the Christian without any fable whatever!

The ancient Church, in a favorite metaphor, described itself as a ship. Where should the ship be, but in the sea? Now the sea is an unstable element, frequently vexed with storms. It is a troubled sea which cannot rest. And so the Christian finds this mortal life to be far from smooth and seldom settled. It is rather a wonder when a Christian is not in trial, for to wanderers in a wilderness, discomfort and need will naturally be the rule rather than the exception. It is through "much tribulation" that we inherit the kingdom. There is no life so joyous as that of a man bound for the Celestial City.

And, on the other hand, there is no life which involves so much conflict as does the life of a pilgrim to the skies. The furnaces into which Christians are cast are of various sorts. Perhaps we may divide them into three groups. First, there is the furnace which men kindle. As if there were not enough misery in the world, men are the greatest tormentors of their fellow men. The elements in all their fury, wild beasts in all their ferocity, and famine and pestilence in all their horrors have scarcely proved such foes to man as men themselves have been.

Religious animosity is always the worst of all hatreds and incites to the most fiendish deeds. Persecution is as unsparing as death and as cruel as the grave. The believer in Jesus, who is one of a people everywhere spoken against, must expect to be thrown into the furnace of persecution by his fellow men. "If the world hates you," says our Lord, "it hated Me before it hated you." "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." Some suppose that these words are out of date old-fashioned words words that refer only to Apostolic times. I answer, you are out of the Apostolic faith or else you would painfully find them to be still standing in all their force!

At times the Christian feels the heat of the furnace of open persecution. What multitudes of saints have mounted to Heaven like Elijah in a chariot of fire? Their seraphic spirits found a safe way to Heaven through the flames, for they were guarded by ministering spirits whom God has made as flames of fire. Thousands of the precious sons of Zion have been left to rot in dungeons, or have been slain upon the mountain side, or have perished in penury and need. And to this day there are many that endure trials of cruel mocking and are, in various painful ways, made to bear the cross, for if any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he must suffer persecution.

Another furnace is that of oppression. In the iron furnace of Egypt the children of Israel were made to do hard bondage in brick and in mortar. And doubtless many of God's people are in positions where they are little better than slaves. Oppression is far from dead under the most free form of government there is always a possibility for the heads of households and the masters of establishments to practice the most galling oppression towards those whom they dislike. And doubtless many choice spirits are still trod down as straw is trod for the dunghill. There is also the furnace of slander. The ripest of fruit will be pecked at most by the birds. Those who have most of God's image will have most of the world's contempt. Expect not that the world shall speak well of you, for it never gave your Master a good word. "Shall the disciple be above his master, or the servant above his Lord?"

Expect to be misunderstood that is man's infirmity. Expect to be misrepresented that is his willful hatred. A very strenuous effort is being made just now to mark our denomination with the famous "S. S." which was the old log of the Puritan "Sower of Sedition." This slander is very ancient, for in Nehemiah's day the accusation ran, "This city of Jerusalem of old made sedition against kings." And this is the charge now against our missionaries and, indeed, the whole of us, that we are accomplices with those who stir up the people to sedition. Sirs, we shall not disclaim the fact that we are ever swift to vindicate the liberties of all men and are little given to flatter tyrants whether in Jamaica, or elsewhere! On the contrary, our witness is very loud and clear that there is one Lord who will execute righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.

We hate the treading down of the needy and we abhor wholesale butchery quite as much when perpetrated by Englishmen as when laid to the door of Turks or Russians. And however unfashionable it may be, we maintain the opinion that liberty is the birthright of every man, not only the liberty which permits his neck to go free from a chain, but the liberty which allows the exercise of the rights of manhood. Suffering humanity is to be aided even when it wears the ebony hue, and high-handed wrong is to be impeached even when the much despised Negro is its victim! It can never be too much lamented that the terrible passions excited by years of wrong should have led to a riot so fierce and cruel.

But we must remember that oppression makes even wise men mad, and in justice we must lay the onus of the outbreak not alone at the door of those unhappy and uneducated men who were goaded to this passionate display of wrath, but we must give the greatest measure of blame to the men of standing, wealth and education who have laid grievous burdens upon these people and refused to hear their earnest cries and grant their justifiable demands. The infernal revenge taken by their enemies almost exonerates me from even this word of apology, for it alone is sufficient proof of the spirit which has dominated over the Black race and compelled the unhappy victims to rise against it.

But of course it will still be insisted that the Baptists are at the bottom of the outbreak and so God's Church will be the scapegoat for offenders. We are the friends of liberty, but we never taught rebellion. We endeavor to implant manly principles of independence and freedom, but we put side-by-side the gentle precepts of the loving Jesus! Yet scandals of every sort we expect to receive and we count them no strange thing when they happen to us.

Continued

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