Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us – Tuesday, 3rd Week of Lent – Daniel 3:25, 34-43/ Matthew 18:21-35
Most of us are familiar with the Biblical narrative of Daniel in the lion’s cage. Perhaps few are aware that Daniel was not the only young man to be taken into the Babylonian captivity. The first reading of today highlights the lesser known three young men; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These were their Babylonian names which was changed by the palace master (Daniel 1:7).
By chapter three, the three young men and Daniel had found favour with King Nebuchadnezzar. While Daniel is retained as the king’s advisor in his court, the three young men were appointed administrators over the affairs of the province of Babylon. What one needs to know at this point of time is that while this book appears to have been written in the 6th century BC ,during the time of the Babylonian captivity, in reality it was written in the second century BC during the Maccabean revolt against the Greek King, Antiochus the IV Epiphanes.
King Antiochus had decreed (Read Maccabees) that the Jewish people should worship the Greek gods by offering them incense and demanded that they eat pork which was forbidden by Jewish dietary law. Many of the Jews had succumbed to the Kings decree but a few chose to die than deny their faith.
The book of Daniel was written to give hope and encouragement to the Jews of the second century. By highlighting the examples faith such as those of these young men from a bygone era; young men who were faced with a similar situation and who did not succumb, the author of the book of Daniel hopes to revive a great zeal and fidelity for God in the midst of this second century BC persecution under another cruel king Antiochus the IV Epiphanes.
The narrative of today tells us that King Nebuchadnezzar wanted the three young men of Jewish descent to worship a statue of gold that he had set up on the plains of Dura in Babylon (Daniel 3: 1). These three devout Jewish men who by now held posts of great importance in Babylon would rather die than betray their faith (apostasy).
So enraged is Nebuchadnezzar that he orders a furnace to be heated seven times more than was customary for such an execution. The text of today is a prayer of one of the three young men, Azariah, who standing bound with his companions in the fire sing hymns of praise to God, blessing his holy name. The text of today is part of that long and moving prayer of testimony. It is a prayer of supplication, a prayer of trust, a prayer of praise and a prayer of petition. The three young men emerge unscathed and Nebuchadnezzar confess the power of Yahweh.
Nebuchadnezzar is amazed by God, not merely by the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The latter are promoted, but not deified. Looking into the fire, Nebuchadnezzar is undone. He had sought total control. He unleashed all his destructive powers but at that very point he lost control. In addition, the officials who gathered before the king’s statue now gather to observe the failure of the king’s fire. God succeeds; Nebuchadnezzar fails and here in lies our Lenten message for today.