Jonathan B. Falk
The book of Daniel can be summarized as “changing kings and kingdoms, but God unchanging.” In the accounts of God’s deliverance of his people in the first six chapters, and in the dreams and visions of the last half of the book, Daniel reveals the profound spiritual conflict that underlies human history.
And Daniel exposes the constant threat posed by the kings and kingdoms of this world against the kingdom of God.
In both our private and our corporate worship, we often pray the words our Lord Jesus taught us: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We are praying for God to grant obedience on earth, as it is practiced in heaven.
In the third chapter of his book, Daniel records the story of three young men standing before an image of gold outside the city of Babylon. They did the will of God. They knew the true God and his revealed will: “You shall have no other gods before me.” “You shall not make for yourself any graven image.… You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” They knew that God had the power to deliver them from the fiery furnace. There was no doubt in their minds as to God’s power to save them. But as mere mortals, they could not know God’s specific plan for them in this situation. Even if the God we serve is not going to save our lives, they declare, “Be it known unto you, O king, that we will not serve your gods nor worship the golden image that you have set up.”
God knows the temptations of his children. The idols of this world still exert a powerful influence on believers in the living and true God. At times they seek to seduce us in a more subtle manner, but at other times they are able to use the power of the state to oppress us. When everyone around us seems to “go with the flow,” when the pressure to conform feels irresistible, it takes faith and courage to stand alone.
More and more today, it seems like the people of God are rowing against the current of our popular culture. And like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we cannot be certain that choosing the path of obedience will keep us from suffering. These three men knew this; they trusted and obeyed God, even if he would not deliver them from the fiery furnace.
A Dutch pastor told the story of a Christian man who lived to tell his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. He was helped by an older Christian man, who did not live to see freedom. One day the young man asked his fellow prisoner: “Is the war going to last long?” The older man replied: “Nobody knows how long the war will last. To us, that’s not an important question. The only important question is, how are we going to live through it?”
We don’t know how long the conflict between the kingdoms of this world and God’s kingdom will last. The only important question for us is whether we are trusting in the God who is unchanging and whose kingdom cannot fail—and whether we will stand in obedience to God against the idols of our age.
We have the promise of God’s presence with us now and of a wonderful future in his kingdom of glory. And we have the assurance of this blessed hope through faith in the One who suffered the hatred of this world and the fiery wrath of God against our sin: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The author is associate pastor of Falls Presbyterian Church in Menomonee Falls, Wis. This meditation first appeared in their church newsletter, Under the Steeple, February-March 2013. New Horizons, February 2014.