May 17, 2009

Hope against Hope – Part 2 – What if it doesn’t happen?

We know that God is faithful and that we can stand in hope against the wave of faithlessness and slander which cries out, “Your God is not trustworthy!” But what do you do if something unexpected happens? When the deliverance hasn’t come as you anticipated? When the thing that you had hoped for did not come to pass? When it seems as if the cry of the faithless is right? How do you respond when it happens? Is it unbelief to even consider such things?

The Response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - Obedience

Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Dan 3:12-18

Nebuchadnezzar has commanded that the people worship the golden image that he has setup. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse, preferring to obey the God of Israel rather than be spared the penalty of death in a fiery furnace. This is actually an account of a miraculous act of deliverance by the Almighty, and is well worth reading and savoring. However, for the purposes at hand, three little words in their answer to the king are critical:

But if not…

After declaring their faith that God is able to deliver them and their confidence that he will do so, they follow it by saying, “But if not…” How can this be? Did they doubt? Why even consider a scenario in which God doesn’t deliver them? Is this a point of weakness in their faith?

On the contrary, rather than being a point of weakness, this demonstrates the deep roots of their faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego put all their hope in God, and trust in him to deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar. However, their “but if not” demonstrates that their hope is founded upon a trust in God himself and his sovereign wisdom, not simply in the fact that God will bring about the outcome that they desire. That is, they hope in God for deliverance, but even if it does not come as they expect, they will still obey him because they know he is trustworthy, and that if he does not keep them from the fire, then he has greater plans. They could secure their own deliverance by disobeying God and obeying Nebuchadnezzar, but they trust God when he promises that the only wise path is that of obedience to him. If you continue reading Daniel 3, you will see that they were not saved from the fire, but preserved through it, encountering God in the process, and his name was glorified throughout Babylon…

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