Following the legal redefinition of marriage by the United States Supreme Court, other legal cases have quickly arisen in which the religious liberty of Christians to refuse to accept homosexual “marriage” has been challenged. It is certain that many more religious liberty cases will be brought to the courts in the months and years ahead, as the culture and government of the United States becomes increasingly antichristian and anti-Bible. The book of Daniel is especially timely in this milieu, since it describes how a young Jewish man named Daniel and three Jewish friends of his maintained their devotion to God after being taken by force from Jerusalem to the pagan city of Babylon and impressed into a pagan king’s service.
Most Christians are familiar with the story in Daniel 3 of how three Jews—called by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were thrown into a fiery furnace for their refusal to bow down to a giant idol. This idol was set up on a great plain before a huge crowd of people—probably the officials in King Nebuchadnezzar’s government—and the king demanded that everyone bow down to his idol or face death. To the pagans, there was no question that they would bow down to the image, rather than die. They had no religious loyalty that was greater than their concern for their own personal safety. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood tall and strong while all the others bowed their knees to the king’s idol. After these three Jews spurned an offer of pardon from the king if they would change their minds, the king ordered them thrown into a blazing hot furnace (probably a brick kiln). But God honored the commitment of these three young men and brought them out of the fire completely unharmed, to the king’s utter amazement. Nebuchadnezzar responded by acknowledging that the Jews worshipped the Most High God, and he promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in his government.
Many modern Christians may struggle to understand why Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow down to the idol. Indeed, some other Jews might have obeyed the king’s command, since there were only three people present at that occasion who did not bow. Here are some of the rationalizations that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have considered:
- They could have thought, “It is understood that this is not about changing religions; this is just a symbolic act of political loyalty toward the king. The Bible says we are to obey and respect the governing authorities.”
- Or, “All that matters is what is in my heart. I can pray to Yahweh when I kneel, and not actually be worshipping Marduk at all.”
- Or, “Marduk is just the name the Babylonians use to refer to the Supreme Being, whom we call Elohim. I can bow down to Marduk in recognition of the Babylonian attempt to give expression to ultimate reality, even though my understanding is more complete than theirs.”
- Or, “That statue is just a piece of metal, and not an actual god. I would not actually be worshipping another god by getting on my knees in front of it.”
- Or, “I didn’t have a choice! They forced me to do it!”
The human mind is superb at thinking of excuses and rationalizations, so you may be able to think of others. The problem with all of these rationalizations is that they represent compromise with the world’s demands for the sake of personal expediency, usually by reinterpreting an absolute statement in the Bible (Exod 20:4-6) through the hazy “postmodern” view of reality.
(Some might suggest that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have resigned their positions in the Babylonian government, since the demand to bow down before the idol in Daniel 3 was evidently a test of loyalty for government officials. However, this may not have been possible, since they were working as conscripts [Dan 1:1-7], not as voluntary employees.)
This is not the only example in the book of Daniel where Daniel and his friends demonstrated an absolute refusal to compromise. Daniel’s insistence in Daniel 1 that he would not eat the king’s meat or drink the king’s wine might seem strange to many today, especially since Daniel faced the death penalty for not complying. There are many people who supposedly know how the world works who would say that Daniel’s refusal was foolish, stupid, and petty. In fact, however, none of these people has achieved the greatness that Daniel achieved—a greatness which was achieved through a recognition of God’s sovereignty in the affairs of men, rather than seeing only natural processes at work. In fact, Daniel’s persistent adherence to the law of his God at any price was the entire key to his success in life and to his career in government service.
Many times in American evangelicalism we have seen preachers who seem very theologically sound and fervent when they are in their prime, but who become much less dogmatic in their later years. In Daniel 6, however, we find that when Daniel was a very old man he was still standing strong in his refusal to compromise. In that chapter, Daniel’s enemies in the Medo-Persian government tricked the king into signing a law which prohibited people from making requests to any God or man but the king for a thirty-day period. This law was likely presented as a test of loyalty to the king, although those who made the law were actually seeking to trick the king into deposing Daniel against his own will.
Once again, Daniel had a number of options available to him that might have seemed very palatable to a modern Christian. Daniel was not required by the new law to renounce God, or to pray to the king. Had he simply quit praying out loud, he would have been a law-abiding citizen. Even if he had continued to pray out loud, but had done so privately, he could not be charged with wrongdoing. He could have thought, “I am having such a great influence for God in this government, it does not make sense for me to lose it by insisting on praying in front of everybody.” But Daniel knew that he only had a great influence for God because he had a strong public testimony for God, and because he was a man of uncompromising character. Hence, Daniel refused to pray to God with his window shut. Daniel did not hide his faith or keep his mouth shut about his God when it might be offensive. He was an open servant of the God of heaven, and all the world knew it. The fact that Daniel’s enemies knew he was praying to his God suggests that he prayed out loud, and probably in the Aramaic language instead of his native Hebrew tongue. He may also have read his Bible out loud—not out of pretension, but as a testimony to the world. If Daniel had begun praying in secret as soon as the king banned all prayer to God, this would have communicated that God was not more valuable to him than his life. Thus, Daniel chose to pray publicly even when he knew it would result in a death sentence.
Most people in this world covet money, power, and prestige. But Daniel and his three friends demonstrated throughout their lives that, although they were given great honor and privilege, they were always willing to give it all up in a moment in order to avoid the slightest compromise of their principles. The only thing that really and truly mattered to Daniel was his God. The stories in the book of Daniel teach that God blesses a refusal to compromise, but they also set forth examples of absolute faithfulness—”we will obey God even if He does not deliver us.”
For a more detailed study of the book of Daniel, see my book Dr. Anderson’s Interpretive Guide to the Major Prophets (available here).