Great Escapes 2, from Daniel: How and Why God Sometimes Rescues at (or Past) the Last Minute

From the hordes of obedient government officials summoned to the plain of Dura to fall down and worship the image made by King Nebuchadnezzar, just three captives from Judah refused. Amid the noise and flattened crowds in all the broad plain of Dura, only Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego stood tall before the looming ninety-foot high, nine-foot wide image of solid gold. The publicly proclaimed punishment for such defiance was to be immediately cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. However, the enraged king gives the three men a second chance (Daniel 3:14-15):

“Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

Had Nebuchadnezzar not issued an offhand challenge that the men’s God accepted, perhaps their fate might’ve been different.

Unabashed by the king’s fury but unknowing what their future holds, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego nevertheless answer coolly (Daniel 3:16-18), “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Their harsh, determined words further stir up the king’s anger, who commands the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual, causing the death of the valiant warriors he chooses to deliver the tied men to their death, but (Daniel 3:24-25) “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, ‘Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?’ They replied to the king, ‘Certainly, O king.’ He said, ‘Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!’”

Was God Himself with the men? A pre-incarnate Jesus? Or just an angel? I’ve heard my mother and others say that during their worst trials, they felt God’s presence so near that afterwards they sometimes longed for those times and the peace they experienced “which surpasses all comprehension” (Philippians 4:7). I, on the other hand, have sometimes felt most alone during my trials, relating better to King David’s anguish in Psalm 22:1 and Jesus’ cry on the cross in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I’ll discuss this in a later “Great Escapes,” but for now rest assured that although God may not be evident in the midst of even an unprovoked trial, He is actively working for good. As one of my mother’s favorite verses says in Job 23:9-10, “When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him. But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

It’s hard to wait for a rescue, especially one that seems too late, but in this case, at least one of the reasons for delay wasn’t for the Jews alone. An astonished Nebuchadnezzar staring into the fiery furnace commands them in Daniel 3:26, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” This time, they obey and (verse 27), “The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.”

Confronted with the God he dismissed, or at least His power, Nebuchadnezzar does an about-face and decrees (verse 29), “that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”

Daniel 3 ends in the next verse, “Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon.” That’s how I’d prefer my trials: short, accompanied by God’s presence, ending in vindication and prosperity, and without a scratch or even a whiff of smoke!

The man for whom the Bible’s book of Daniel is named suffers a similar fate for King Darius’s sake (a later ruler of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom). To prevent the king from appointing Daniel over the kingdom, jealous government officials scheme to have him thrown into the lions’ den for praying to God in defiance of an irrevocable order they flatter King Darius into decreeing. After a sleepless night, Darius rushes at dawn to the den and cries (Daniel 6:20), “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?”

The next verses continue (21-23):

Then Daniel spoke to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.” Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den and no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Because of his trust in God, Daniel is unharmed. He exhibits the same audacity toward his ruler as his countrymen, attributing his divine rescue to his innocence before God and implying that the crime for which he was indicted was invalid.

A delighted Darius takes Daniel up from the den then commands the schemers, their wives and their children to be thrown in; the lions overpower them and crush all their bones before they even reach the bottom (verse 24). Tragically, innocents sometimes literally pay for the sins of their fathers.

Through Daniel’s witness, Darius apparently had some favorable knowledge of God even prior to the lions’ den rescue, but like Nebuchadnezzar, he must see to believe (verses 25-27):

Then Darius the king wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land: “May your peace abound! I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel;

For He is the living God and enduring forever,

And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed,

And His dominion will be forever.

He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders

In heaven and on earth,

Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”

Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, Darius refrains from threatening horrible consequences for those who disregard his decree.

Verse 28 continues, “So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, Daniel gets a happily ever after.

No fault is mentioned regarding any of the men which might have justified their suffering, and other innocents also suffer simply because of their connection to the guilty. However, as a result God is glorified far and wide: Kings alter their decrees to honor Him and cause others to turn to Him. Although it’s hard to wait and endure, who can guess what massive, far-reaching changes may come from even innocent suffering and God’s rescue at (or past) the last minute?

  • Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) copyright by The Lockman Foundation

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