Three Faithful Young Men
To have “integrity” is to be honest and sincere, doing what is right regardless of the costs. The Old Testament book of Daniel teaches us much about integrity, not only in the example of the book’s namesake, but also in his three contemporaries; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
In addition to the examples of faith, courage and commitment, there are other themes running throughout the book as well. One theme is that the Hebrews were not in captivity because the gods of Babylon were stronger than Jehovah, but rather because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people; “Indeed all Israel has transgressed Thy law and turned aside, not obeying Thy voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him.” (Daniel 9:11).
Another message of the book is that the people would soon be allowed to return home and rebuild Jerusalem, and that a Messianic kingdom was coming, but it would not be established immediately upon their return home from captivity, but about 490 years in the future (Daniel 2:44; 9:24-26). This, of course, speaks of that which was fulfilled in Jesus and His kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
But let us turn our attention to the example of faith seen in Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
The King’s Selection
“…youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding, and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service.” (Daniel 1:4,5). These were not three young men with nothing to live for. They were mentally, physically and socially qualified. They were to be trained for three years and then serve on the highest court of advisors in the land. The policies of a world empire would be formed based on their input. The honesty, dedication and integrity of these three men was no accident. Spiritual mindedness and seeking to please God goes hand in hand with being the best you can be.
The King’s Decree
“…that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up.” (Daniel 3:5).
A new law was passed that required worship of an idol. Now these three young men have an opportunity to do what so many are willing to do; compromise a bit to maintain their favored position. A report reached the king that the three Hebrew youths refused to worship the king’s idol (Daniel 3:12). The king reacted with anger, but he’ll get plenty angrier before he gets any calmer. It had been ordered that any who refused to comply would be thrown into a fire.
The king summoned the three youths and ordered them to worship the image as commanded, or they would be burned alive. They were given every opportunity to compromise. Everyone waited to see the outcome. Would they do the sensible thing? Would they crack? Are they so fanatical that they won’t even just agree to do what everyone else has already done? What’s wrong with them? Do they think they are better than everyone else?
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered and said to the king, “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.” (Daniel 3:16-18).
Well, that did not go over well with the king! “Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.” (Daniel 3:19). The end result was that they were thrown into the fire which was so hot that those who threw them in were killed by the heat. But God did not allow the flames to harm these young men. Upon seeing such power behind the three, “Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.’” (Daniel 3:28). He also decreed that no one throughout the empire was to say anything derogatory about Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews.
Some Lessons About Temptation to Compromise
First, these were young men. One thing that stands out in the Bible is the blessing of being faithful to God in one’s youth. Age is not an excuse to compromise with the world in matters contrary to God’s will. The principle of reaping what is sown applies to the young and the old (Galatians 6:7,8; cf. 2 Timothy 2:21-22; 2:1-3; 1 Tim 4:12 and Ecclesiastes 12:1,12-13).
Also, these young men were far from home. Being in a strange place is sometimes seen as a cloak for participating in evil. Perhaps those back home would never hear of transgressions, but God always sees. We can hide behind a cloak so thick that God does not see (Job 34:21,22).
Finally, we see the proper answer to the invitation to compromise our faith. It is “no” even when it will cost us plenty. These young men did not have to be given a second opportunity to sin against God, because their answer would be the same, whether God delivered them from harm or not. It did not matter. It would be worse to reject God than to suffer the cruelest of hardships caused by faithfulness. There is simply no other proper response to the world than this same bold response.