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The Golden Image


King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 3So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, 4the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” 7Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

8 Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. 9They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, 11and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. 12There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. 14Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? 15Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

The Fiery Furnace

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, 20and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics, their trousers, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. 22Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” 25He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.” 26Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. 28Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 30Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

In this history it; is necessary to observe with what unbroken spirit these three holy men persisted in the fear of God, though they knew they were in danger of instant death. When, therefore, this kind of death was placed straight before their eyes, they did not turn aside from the straightforward course, but treated God’s glory of greater value than their own life, nay, than a hundred lives, if they had so many to pour forth, and opportunity had been given them. Daniel does not relate all their words, but only their import, in which the unconquered virtue of that Holy Spirit, by which they had been instructed, is sufficiently evident; for that denunciation was certainly dreadful, when the king said, If ye are not prepared to fall down at the sound of the trumpet before the image, its all over with you, and ye shall be directly cast into a furnace of fire. When the king had so fulminated, they might have winced, as men usually do, since life is naturally dear to us, and a dread of death seizes upon our senses. But Daniel relates all these circumstances, to assure us of the great fortitude of God’s servants when they are led by his Spirit, and yield to no threats, and succumb to no terrors. They answer the king, We do not need any long deliberation. For when they say they care not, they mean by this word, the matter is settled; just as that sentence of Cyprian is related by Augustine, 186186     Cyprian was martyred under the edict of Valerian, A.D. 257. — See Euseb. Eccl. Hist., lib. 7, chapter 10. when courtiers persuaded him to preserve his life, for it was with great reluctance that the emperor devoted him to death, when flatterers on all sides urged him to redeem his life by the denial of piety, he answered, There can be no deliberation in a matter so sacred! Thus those holy men say, We do not care, we do not enter into the consideration of what is expedient or useful, no such thing! for we ought to settle it with ourselves never to be induced by any reason to withdraw from the sincere worship of God.

If you please to read — we ought not to answer you, the sense will be the same. They imply that the fear of death was set before them in vain, because they had determined and resolved in their inmost souls, not to depart a single inch from the true and lawful worship of God. Besides they here give a double reason for rejecting the king’s proposal. They say God has sufficient power and strength to liberate them; and then, even if they must die, their life is not of so much value as to deny God for the sake of preserving it. Hence they declare themselves prepared to die, if the king persists in urging his wish for the adoration of the image. This passage is therefore worthy of the greatest attention. First of all we must observe the answer — for when men entice us to deny the true God we must close our ears, and refuse all deliberation; for we have already committed an atrocious insult against God, when we even question the propriety of swerving from the purity of his worship through any impulse or any reason whatever. And I heartily wish every one would observe this! How excellent and striking is the glory of God, and how everything ought to yield to it, whenever there is danger of its being either diminished or obscured. But at this day, this fallacy deceives the multitude, since they think it lawful to debate whether it is allowable to swerve front the true worship of God for a time, whenever any utility presents itself on the opposite side. Just as in our days, we see how hypocrites, of whom the world is full, have pretenses by which they cloak their delinquencies, when they either worship idols with the impious, or deny at one time openly, and at another obliquely, true piety. “Oh! what can happen? — such a one will say — of what value is consistency? I see some evident advantage if I can only dissemble a little, and not betray what I am. Ingenuousness is injurious not only to me privately, but to all around me!” If a king has none around him who endeavor to appease his wrath, the wicked would give way to their passions, and by their greater license would drive him to the extremity of cruelty. It is, therefore, better to have, some mediators on the watch to observe whether the wicked are planning anything. Thus, if they cannot openly, they may covertly avert danger from the heads of the pious. By such reasoning as this, they think they can satisfy God. As if Shadraeh, Meshaeh, and Abed-nego, had not the same excuse; as if the following thought would not occur to them — “Behold! we are armed with some power in favor of our brethren; now what barbarity, what cruelty will be exercised against them, if the enemies of the religion which they profess succeed us? For as far as they can, they will overthrow and blot out our race and the very remembrance of piety. Is it not better for us to yield for a time to the tyranny and violent edict of the king than to leave our places empty? which the furious will by and bye occupy, who will utterly destroy our wretched race which is now dreadfully oppressed.” Shadraeh, Meshaeh, and Abed-nego might, I say, collect all these pretenses and excuses to palliate their perfidy if they had bent the knee before the golden image for the sake of avoiding danger; but they did not act thus. Hence, as I have already said, God retains his rights entire when his worship is upheld without the slightest doubt, and we are thoroughly persuaded that nothing is of such importance as to render it lawful and right to swerve from that profession which his word both demands and exacts.

On the whole, that security which ought to confirm the pious in the worship of God is opposed here to all those tortuous and mistaken counsels which some men adopt, and thus, for the sake of living, lose life itself, according to the sentiment of even a profane poet. For of what use is life except to serve God’s glory? but we lose that object in life for the sake of the life itself — that is, by desiring to live entirely to the; world, we lose the very purpose of living! Thus, then, Daniel opposes the simplicity which ought to mark the sons of God to all those excuses which dissemblers invent with the view of hiding their wickedness by a covering. We are not anxious, say they, and why not? Because we have already determined God’s glory to be of more consequence than a thousand lives, and the gratification of a thousand senses. Hence, when this magnanimity flourishes, all hesitation will vanish, and those who are called upon to incur danger through their testimony for the truth need never trouble themselves; for, as I before said, their ears are closed to all the enticements of Satan.

And when they add — God is sufficiently powerful to preserve us; and if not, we are prepared for death, they point out to us what ought to raise our minds above all trials, namely, the preciousness of our life in God’s sight, since he can liberate us if he pleases. Since, therefore, we have sufficient protection in God, let us not think any method of preserving our life better than to throw ourselves entirely on his protection, and to cast all our cares upon him. And as to the second clause, we must remark this, even if the Lord should wish to magnify his own glory by our death, we ought to offer up this as a lawful sacrifice; and sincere piety does not flourish in our hearts unless our minds are always prepared to make this sacrifice. Thus I wished to remark these things shortly now, and with God’s permission, I will explain them fully to-morrow.

WE said yesterday that the constancy of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, was based upon these two reasons:-Their certain persuasion that God was the guardian of their life, and would free them from present death by his power if it were useful. And also their determination to die boldly and fearlessly, if God wished such a sacrifice to be offered. What Daniel relates of these three men belongs to us all. Hence we may gather this general instruction. When our danger for the truth’s sake is imminent, we should learn to place our life in God’s hand, and then bravely and fearlessly devote ourselves to death. As to the first point, experience teaches us how very many turn aside from God and the profession of faith, since they do not feel confidence in God’s power to liberate them. It may be said with truth of us all — God takes care of us, since our life is placed in his hand and will; but scarcely one in a hundred holds this deeply and surely fixed in his heart, since every one takes his own way of preserving his life, as if there were no virtue in God. Hence he has made some proficiency in God’s word who has learnt to place his life in God’s care, and to consider it safe under his protection. For if he has made progress thus far, he may be in danger a hundred times, yet he will never hesitate to follow whenever he is called. This one feeling frees him from all fear and trembling, since God can extricate his servants from a thousand deaths, as it is said in the Psalm, (Psalm 68:20,) The issues of death are in his power. For death seems to consume all things; but God snatches from that whirlpool whom he pleases. So this persuasion ought to inspire us with firm and unassailable constancy, since it is necessary for those who so repose the whole care of their life and safety upon God, to be thoroughly conscious and undoubtedly sure that God will defend a good cause. And this is also expressed by these words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego Behold our God whom we worship When they bring forward God’s worship, they bear testimony to the surliness of their support, when they undertake nothing rashly, but are worshippers of the true God, and labor for the defense of piety. For this is the difference, between martyrs and malefactors, who are often compelled to suffer the penalty of their madness for attempting to overthrow all things. We see, indeed, the majority tossed about by their own intemperance. If they happen to suffer punishment, they are not to be reckoned among God’s martyrs; for, as Augustine says, the martyr is made by his cause, and not by his punishment. Hence the weight of these words, when these three men attest their worship of God, since in this way they boast in their power of enduring any urgent danger not rashly, but only as supported by the sure worship of God. I now come to the second point.

If God be unwilling to deliver us from death, be it known to thee, O king, we will not worship thy gods I said first of all, we should be constantly prepared to undergo every conflict, to commit our life to his charge, to submit to his will and hand, and to the protection of his custody. But the desire of this earthly and fading life ought not; to retain its hold upon us, and to hinder us from the free and candid confession of the truth. For God’s glory ought to be more precious to us than a hundred lives. Hence we cannot be witnesses for God without we lay aside all desire of this life, and at least prefer God’s glory to it. Meanwhile, we must. remark the impossibility of doing this, without the hope of a better life drawing us towards itself. For where there is no promise of any eternal inheritance implanted in our hearts, we. shall never be torn away from this world. We are naturally desirous of existence, and that feeling cannot be eradicated, unless faith overcome it; as Paul says, Not that we wished to be unclothed, but clothed upon. (2 Corinthians 5:4.) Paul confesses that men cannot be naturally induced to wish for departure from the world, unless, as we have said, through the power of faith. But when we understand our inheritance to be in heaven, while we are strangers upon earth, then we put off that clinging to the life of this world to which we are too much devoted.

These then are the two points which prepare the sons of God for martyrdom, and remove hesitation as to their offering their life in sacrifice to God. First, if they are persuaded that God is the protector of their life and will certainly liberate them should it be expedient; and secondly, when they live above the world and aspire to the hope of eternal life in heaven, while prepared to renounce the world. This magnanimity is to be remarked in their language, when they say, Be it known to thee, O king, that we do not worship thy gods nor adore the statue which, thou hast set up Here they obliquely accuse the king of arrogating too much to himself, and of wishing religion to stand or fall by his own will. Thou hast erected the statue, but thy authority is of no moment to us, since we know it to be a fictitious deity whose image thou wishest us to worship. The God whom we worship has revealed himself to us we know him to be the maker of heaven and earth, to have redeemed our fathers from Egypt, and to intend our chastisement by driving us into exile. Since, therefore, we have a firm foundation for our faith hence we reckon thy gods and thy sway valueless. It follows:

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