The Golden Image of Intolerance

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), August 7

UnknownDaniel and his friends live in a nation of intolerance. Nebuchadnezzar constructs a big, shiny, and expensive image and makes worship of this image public policy, “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages . . . whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Dan. 3:4,6).

The plain of Dura in the province of Babylon is a zone of intolerance—no place for religious freedom. The image is an outward expression of an inward attitude—an image worshiped by those with hearts full of pride, who crush those who dare to disagree. The policy is government-endorsed, brutal in its reinforcement: bow down and worship—or be thrown into a blazing furnace!

The decree places Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and all the Jews in the crosshairs of Nebuchadnezzar, who sees himself as god, “Who is the god who will deliver from my hands?” (3:15).

Daniel’s friends demonstrate the cost of conviction, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (3:16-18).

Their conviction reveals the pride and hatred that fill the heart of the pagan king and his cronies. They strike out in brutality, “Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” (3:19). Nebuchadnezzar has his friends tied up and thrown into a blazing fire. They reveal their true conviction in their dedication to serve God even if He does not save them from the fire. The LORD does rescue his servants, but even if He had not, they were prepared to die for their belief in the Living God. They prove that captivity in a foreign land has cured Judah of idolatry for the first time in her history.

Unbeknownst to Daniel and his friends, Jeremiah (in Jerusalem) also suffers for being a man of conviction during days of intolerance, “Now Pashhur the son of Immer, the priest who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. Then Pashhur struck Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks” (Jer. 20:1).

These scenes reveal a number of truths about people of conviction:

  • Hate crimes are carried out by proud and intolerant people, who prefer darkness to light, who imprison and kill those who disagree with them.

  • Sometimes the tests of faith are subtle, but sometimes they are loud, public, and painful.

  • Those who have Bible-based convictions often suffer persecution for those convictions. God births conviction along with boldness in the hearts of those who fear Him rather than man.

  • God may not always rescue men of conviction, but right is always worth suffering for. “But if not” faith ought to be the watchword of God’s people in every generation.

Questions from today’s chronological Bible reading (Dan. 2-3; Jer. 7:1-8:3):
What does Nebuchadnezzar come to know about God as a result of his dream?
God uses Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation to catapult Daniel from obscurity into a highly visible role. What problems does promotion create for Daniel? How has Daniel’s earlier insistence on standing by his convictions regarding the food of Babylon prepared his friends for the test facing them regarding bowing to the golden image? What does this reveal about the spiritual formation of those whom God uses?