22 June 2013

Nebuchadnezzar and the Fiery Furnace

It has been a long time since I've updated you on my memorizing goals and progress.

So today is the day for a progress report, because it's good for me to evaluate how it's going.   And for something beautiful and difficult and mind boggling I've seen in the Bible, and may not have seen in any way other than through memorizing large chunks at a time and repeating small chunks over and over until I get familiar with the large chunks.

And in the whole package you get the regular and gorgeous Shasta daisy that was growing wild along the road, along with the totally strange and cute two-faced daisy that I didn't notice until I stooped down to take a picture of what I thought was a normal daisy.  It startled me a little.  I had never seen such a thing.  Which is a small reflection of what happened to Nebuchadnezzar at the fiery furnace, but more of that later.

First, the progress report.  I have to honestly say that even though I have all my little goals plotted out on the extra calendar I told you about, I've been behind quite a few times.  Things get crazy, I pack up my house, jump in the car, and end up clear on the other side of the country....and the next thing I know I haven't been memorizing for a week.

The thing that has been totally great about this system, though, is that I am MEASURABLY behind.  Which for someone with my personality bent, is huge.  It means I don't have to beat myself over the head for getting behind.  All I have to do is catch up.  All I have to do is look at my calendar to see how far I'm behind, come up with a reasonable system (not trying to make up for a week's worth of work in one day), and catch up.

I know that may sound strange.  You might think I should just acknowledge that I haven't been perfect, pick up from there, and be happy whenever I do something.  But for me, a measurable goal means something, and it helps me reach my goal if I have a way to catch up.

So.  This system has been the best ever for me.  I love it.  I just finished catching up from a being-behind stint today, and it makes me so happy to know that it hasn't all been time lost, that I'm still reaching for my goal in meaningful ways without giving up or being behind where I feel like I should be.

Now for Nebuchadnezzar.

You know the story of Daniel chapter 2, right?  How the king has a dream that outlines world history to the end of time via an image with different metals (gold, silver, brass, iron, iron-clay mixed)?  And you remember how Daniel 3 opens with Nebuchadnezzar blatantly trying to deny prophetic world history by building an image made entirely of gold?

Yeah.  Bold.  Blatant.  Blasphemous.

Because with that gold image, Nebuchadnezzar snubs his nose at the God of heaven who not only gave the dream and provided the interpretation (through Daniel), but also showed through prophetic vision that His own kingdom would be the everlasting kingdom from generation to generation.  It's  obvious and intentional rebellion against the God he just acknowledged as the only God who could reveal secrets this way.

He invites--nay, commands--all his officials to be present at the dedication of the image.  These officials include the newly promoted Hebrews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refuse to participate not only in the worship of a God other than their own, but also in such flagrant blasphemy against Him.

What's surprising is that when they do not worship the image, Nebuchadnezzar gives them a second chance.  In the face of such mercy, however, they boldly declare in front of the king and his closest advisers that it doesn't matter how many chances he gives them.  They will remain faithful come what may.  Furnace or no furnace.  Divine rescue or no divine rescue.

Here's the difficult part.  The furnace is so hot that being close enough to throw in the three Hebrews is enough to kill the mightiest men in the army of Nebuchadnezzar.

Think for a second about how large his dominion really is.  It's big enough that the Bible says Nebuchadnezzar makes a decree for all people, nations, and languages.  His authority essentially covers the earth.

And out of the whole world, he has the best of the best in his army.  But without giving it a second thought, he has just thrown away their lives in a fit of rage.  

Makes a person think about the implications of losing a temper.

The top people in his army are gone, their lives lost in throwing away the lives of three of the four men who came out ten times better "in all matters of wisdom and understanding" than all the wise men in this extremely large kingdom.  (See Daniel 1:19, 20.)

We already know these three of the four wisest get rescued, and have a chance to walk with Jesus in the furnace.  I'm not going to dwell there, partly because Nebuchadnezzar could not have known it would happen that way when he willingly gave the command to murder them and partly because although the story from their angle is bursting with promise and victory, there are other perspectives that leave me in awe.

First, in contrast with the men who bound and tossed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the flames, Nebuchadnezzar, seemingly forgetful of what just happened to his mighty army men, draws near to the flames.  And not only does he draw near, he lives to tell about it.  He's the fourth one spared from the fury of the flames, by nothing less than Divine intervention.

He doesn't deserve it.  He just lost his temper and did his best to throw other people's lives out the window, with partial success.  Yet somehow, the God who "searcheth the reins and hearts" (see Revelation 2:23) sees something in Nebuchadnezzar that's still worth working with.

Because God doesn't look at people like I do.  He looks at the heart.

And it brings up a bit of a question for me.

Why did God spare Nebuchadnezzar, and not the men who simply followed his orders to their own death?  In these moments where God certainly knew how to spare those who were faithful to Him as well as the wicked king who tried to take them out, couldn't He have had room to spare the ones who bound and threw them into the furnace?  Were they really more beyond hope than this apparently pompous, tempestuous king?  After all, Daniel later describes Nebuchadnezzar this way:  "Whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive."  (Daniel 5:19) 

Sounds pretty heartless.  Pretty hopeless.  Yet somehow God looks all the way through the temper tantrum and pride, and sees something He can work with.

Amazing grace.

Yet what about the others?

I don't ask these questions to arouse doubt.  In my heart of hearts, what these questions bring on a great sadness, a grief for those men who lost their lives, but not doubt. 

Maybe it's my personality not to doubt.  (Don't worry.  I have plenty of other flaws.)  With the story of these men, however unnatural it may seem, I am overcome with grief, not doubt. I have no answers.  I don't know why their lives were allowed to end that day.  I'm simply and incredibly sad that they did lose their lives; and I'll just tell you what I do know.

In the Bible, which I have always found to be the word of God to my very own soul, I have found a God who knows everything and everyone.  He knows who is completely hardened against Him and without hope, and who has even the slightest potential of someday hearing His voice.  He knows what would happen with every life, whether spared from tragic death by heat of a furnace or not.  He knows better than anyone else can how temporary the deaths on this earth really are for those who trust Him.

It's not that He always gets His way.  He labored and labored and labored for Judas, for example, only to have Judas turn completely against Him and lose his life in spite of all the Lord's efforts on his behalf.

But he knew those men who picked up His servants and threw them in the fire, inside and out.  He knows whether He will resurrect them to eternal life at His second coming, or not.  He knew whether more life coursing through their veins would be a blessing or a curse to them and those around them.  So while I want to be careful to say that I don't at all believe God would ever take pleasure in the death of any person, I want to also carefully and intentionally say that whatever the questions, I trust Him.  We can trust Him.  With all of it. 

We can trust Him to give amazing grace in the face of our terrible rebellions.

We can trust Him with our living and our dying, as well as that of all those around us.  Even when we and He don't get His way.  He'll sort it all out, and we can trust His judgment.

We can trust Him, even when our questions don't have immediate answers.  Because there's no way we can know all the answers.  That's part of why He's God, and we are not.

1 comment:

  1. WOW!! I'd never seen a double faced daisy, it's a bit strange & fascinating. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this chapter of Daniel with us!


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