Wise Solomon warned against angering a king: “A king’s wrath strikes terror like the roar of a lion; those who anger him forfeit their lives.” For exhibit “A” we can turn to today’s passage. Nebuchadnezzar was trying to give them another chance, which he probably wouldn’t have offered someone who didn’t already have his favor. They respectfully but flatly turned down his gracious offer. And he got so angry he didn’t even think. Think about it—the furnace was (I’m sure) plenty hot to burn a man to death, but that wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted the furnace so hot that it wouldn’t just burn them, it would disintegrate them. It was so hot that the soldiers who threw them in died from the heat. In they went into the furnace.
Unless you’re completely new to the stories in the Bible, you know how this ends. I mean, this is one of the famous narratives in the whole Bible. It was told to me multiple times to me as a child. So for most of my readers, I’m not going to tell you much that you’re completely unfamiliar with.
I’d like to say first of all that this would make an awesome movie. I love the drama here—it looks like it was tailor-made for it. The king sees the figures walking around in the flames, not screaming in agony, and he notices something. He asks his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men into the furnace?”
Once they respond in the affirmative, we come to a little bit of a controversy. The first question to ask is, “What did the king actually say?” Different translations render it as either “like a son of the gods” or “like the son of God.” OK, being a follower of Christ means I have to be honest. The most likely explanation is that he said it was “a son of the gods,” both for translation and other reasons. It’s highly unlikely that this one incident revealed the truth of monotheism to him.
Also, the well-meaning people who take Nebuchadnezzar’s exclamation as a proclamation of the Trinity need to stop doing so. It might have been Jesus who was with them in the furnace. But the king's words aren’t giving us insight into who exactly that was. All he’s saying is that the “man” walking around with them had something different about him, and was obviously not human.
Then we come to the second intriguing question raised: “Who was the fourth man?” Well, it seems to me that it’s either 1) An angel, or 2) Jesus himself. Quite frankly, I’d like to think that it was Jesus himself, but it certainly isn’t a “hill to die on.” The Scripture tells us that he uses his servants to guard us, and that could be the case here.
And ultimately it doesn’t really matter and doesn’t affect my theology either way. Whether it was an angel or the Son of God that the king actually saw, the Lord was with them.
The lesson here seems obvious to me. When you stand up for what’s right, when you defy the spirit of the age and the powers of this world in order to obey your King, you never stand alone. Even if no other human stands with you, you still are never alone.
He is with you. He stands with you.
Even if he doesn’t physically rescue you like he did these three men, he is still with you, and either in this world or in the next one, he'll vindicate that trust. He’s never failed anyone who trusted in him, and he’s not about to start with you.
Lord Jesus, whenever I’m in the fire, you are there. You’re never going to leave me or forsake me, and I trust in you. Oh for grace, to trust you more!
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