From the burning bush to the pillar of fire in the desert and the tongues of fire at Pentecost, God’s presence often manifests in flame. Beauty, warmth, and light all blazed within each holy conflagration, entrancing Moses, guiding the Israelites, and baptizing the disciples. But what happens when the safe distance disappears? What happens when you actually enter the fire?
To get the most out of this Bible study, read Daniel 1-6. But first, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in this passage. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Above all, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.
Key Passage: Daniel 3:1-30
In the 6th century B.C. Nebuchadnezzar exiled many prominent and accomplished Jews to Babylon. Among them were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who all received high administrative positions (Dan. 2:48-49).
After an unspecified amount of time, the king erected a gold monument, summoned his officials for a dedication ceremony, and decreed that they must worship the image.
Look at Daniel 3:4-7 and pay particular attention to the word therefore (v. 7). How did Nebuchadnezzar motivate the crowd to worship?
The phrase fall down occurs four times in chapter 3 and each time is joined to the word worship. What does that indicate about the role of the body in acts of worship? Look back at Daniel 2:46, where Nebuchadnezzar responds to Daniel’s dream interpretation. He too falls down—at Daniel’s feet. What does that tell you about how worship can be misdirected?
In worship settings, either individual or corporate, how does your body engage in glorifying God? Now think about how your body conveys enthusiasm, awe, and joy in less overtly spiritual moments, such as sporting events, family celebrations, announcements of good news. Are those postures or motions premeditated or spontaneous? Are they different than how you respond to God? If yes, reflect on why that might be.
Continuing the Story
In the cultural context of the ancient Middle East, this dedication ceremony was more about pledging allegiance to Babylon than adoring a deity. At least that’s probably how Nebuchadnezzar viewed it. To Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, however, bowing to anyone besides Yahweh, even if just for political show, was idolatry.
Even their defiance was worshipful, revealing the resolute belief that God could and would save, as well as their unconditional obedience.
Look at Daniel 3:13-15. Considering that Nebuchadnezzar was furious at their treason, why do you think he gave the young men a second chance to fall down and worship the image?
How would you describe the king’s self-image, based on the second part of Daniel 3:15? With that in mind, what would you say was his real priority: worship or maintaining control?
Notably, the three men’s response wasn’t defensive, but their stance was unwavering—they’d worship and serve only Yahweh. Even their defiance was worshipful, revealing the resolute belief that God could and would save, as well as their unconditional obedience. (See Dan. 3:17-18.) In your life, can you speak as boldly and definitively of God’s power and intentions? Is your worship of Him conditional or unconditional?
Nebuchadnezzar kept his word and had the three men bound and tossed into the furnace.
In Daniel 3:25, pay special attention to the description of the fourth person in the furnace. How do you think Nebuchadnezzar was able to recognize Him as a “son of the gods”?
Many scholars agree the fourth person was the pre-incarnate Christ. In Daniel 3:22, the guards carrying Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to the furnace died, meaning the heat should have killed the Hebrew youths before they fell into the furnace. What does that tell you about God’s presence and protection? The text says it was the king who first saw the fourth person in the furnace. When do you think Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego initially sensed His presence?
In Daniel 3:28, when Nebuchadnezzar praised God for rescuing the three men, he connected their trust of God with their violation of the royal command. How is trust, like worship and service, a zero-sum game? (See Matt. 6:24.)
In verse 28, King Nebuchadnezzar also noted that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego “yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.” His language is very similar to Romans 12:1, where Paul instructs believers to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice … which is your spiritual service of worship.” How is worship an act of surrender? In what ways does this particular account illustrate the role of trust in surrendered worship?
God is neither tame nor restrained.
REMEMBER Worship trusts.
Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.
Like fire, God is neither tame nor restrained—and the bright warmth that attracts us can illuminate the darkness around us as well as incinerate the darkness within us. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego exited the furnace, the king and officials were astonished to find that nothing had been burned by the fire, not even their hair or clothes (Dan. 3:27). The one exception? Only that which bound them succumbed to the flames.
Knowing that God’s fire releases us from bondage, how does that reframe your perspective on trials and tribulations in your life? Are there any fires that you should surrender to rather than suppress?
In the Greek Septuagint, an apocryphal passage records that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were singing praise to God while in the fire. Accepted as canonical in some Christian traditions, though not in most Protestant denominations, the passage includes a prayer from Azariah (Abed-nego) where he says “Let them know that thou art the Lord, the only God, glorious over the whole world.” Consider that it was in the midst of the furnace that the presence of God was most visible to the antagonist of the story, Nebuchadnezzar. What does that tell you about the impact of sacrificial worship on a hostile world? With regard to your own life, does this bring an awareness or change your expectations about what God might be revealing to others when you are in the midst of a fire?
Worship is an act of trust where we surrender our whole being to the Lord. To meet with the God of fire is a risky endeavor, but it’s only there that we find true freedom and fellowship with the divine.
Illustration by Adam Cruft