There's an interesting story in Daniel 3. It's a story that I have to admit, I've read many times and even been part of an entire VBS centered on the story of Daniel, and still missed this detail. It's the story of three men who walk out of a fiery furnace. Sort of.
Let's look at the text, starting in verse 19: (this one's kind of long. Hang with me.)
Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with anger toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face turned red. H ordered that the furnace should be heated seven times hotter than normal. He told some soldiers from his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego so that they could be thrown into the blazing furnace. Then the three men were thrown into the blazing furnace. ...The king's order was so urgent and the furnace was so extremely hot that the men who carried Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were killed by the flames from the fire. So these three men...fell into the blazing furnace. They were still tied up. ...The king replied, 'But look, I see four men. They're untied, walking in the middle of the fire, and unharmed. The fourth one looks like a son of the gods.' Then Nebuchadnezzar went to the door of the blazing furnace and said, 'Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - servants of the Most High God - come out there.'
For a minute, we pause here because this is the first interesting thing that happens in this story. (Ok, the first interesting thing I'm going to talk about today.) The Babylonian king, in his anger, has condemned three men to die. He throws them into a furnace so hot that it just killed a few of his guards. He's astonished to realize there are four men in the furnace now, one of whom looks like 'a son of the gods.' And yet, when he starts calling people out of the fire, all he wants are the original three.
Shadrach. Meshach. Abednego. Come out! Fourth guy...whoever you are...son of the gods...you seem pretty comfortable in there, so.... The one guy that's caught his attention, he does not call out of the fire. He does not request a meeting with the son of the gods. He doesn't want to see what he looks like or shake his hand or ask him any questions. Instead, he focuses on the three guys he already knows and pulls them out of the fire to start talking a little bit about this God of theirs! He's real! He's a real God! Nebuchadnezzar just saw him with his own eyes...sort of.
He was a bit obscured in there by all the smoke, I'm sure.
It wasn't until my most recent reading of this passage that I started to wonder why Nebuchadnezzar had no interest in actually meeting this God. It seems to me the likely thing to say would not be 'Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego...' but 'Hey, all ya'll....' and invite the fourth man out of the fire, as well. I mean, wouldn't you be curious? Wouldn't you want to know? Nebuchadnezzar is about to admit the divine nature of this whole experience, and yet, he's left the divine in the furnace. (Because God does not come where He is not invited.)
It made me wonder about some of us. It seems there are a lot of us content to meet God only through the experience of others. That it's really cool for us to watch God work in someone else's life, but we still hesitate to invite Him into ours. We're interested to hear the story, to listen to the tales of trust and provision. And we're content to focus on the three guys who don't even smell like smoke (verse 27).
There's one tragic flaw in this, and that is that we miss the most important message of who God is. Nebuchadnezzar missed it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego may have missed it. In fact, nobody in all the book of Daniel seems to notice at all the most important message of God here. The coolest thing God does in this whole story is not that He saves His servants from the fire.
Not by a long shot.
I'll tell you tomorrow what everybody seems to be missing. It changes the way we think about God. It changes the way we think about the fire.