This week, we're looking at the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were thrown into the fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar. When the king saw four men walking around unharmed in the fire, he called these three men to come out of it. But why didn't the king call out the fourth man? Why doesn't Nebuchadnezzar seem interested in meeting this 'son of the gods' he sees in his furnace?
One of the reasons Nebuchadnezzar may not call the fourth man out of the fire is simply fear. He knows that the three men he threw into the fire are faithful Jews. He knows that it is their faith in God that got them here in the first place. He knows that they just stood in his face and said they were willing to die, knowing their God could save them. Nebuchadnezzar just took three men of God and tried to burn them alive. It's not difficult to see how that might cheese off the Lord. A bit.
Maybe Nebuchadnezzar knows that he's burned the holy city, taken all of the Jews captive, exiled them to a foreign land. Maybe he's realizing a resume of his own wickedness in his head, and he doesn't want to face the God of this anointed people.
Maybe he's afraid that if he calls this fourth man out of the fire, this fourth man might turn around and throw him right back into it.
This happens all the time. (Not God throwing persons into the fire, but persons being afraid to encounter God because of His potential wrath.) At just the moment that someone is prone to believe that God might perhaps be real after all - like, say, if they see Him with their own eyes, saving the people who call on His name from certain death - something inside of them grips them with fear and panic. Something inside of them thinks, instinctively, that if God really is real, then maybe all those other things they heard about Him are also true. And if those things are also true, then maybe they are in a load of trouble for messing up their lives - and the lives of others - so severely.
It's interesting how we can watch God in the act of grace and still somehow become afraid of His anger.
But it's because when you first come to encounter God, there's just not a lot that you know about Him. You haven't had the time that His people have had to build a relationship. You haven't invested yourself in His story. You don't know His heart. It's easy to have a bit of tunnel vision and only see this or that thing that most captures your attention and miss...well, miss a whole lot of stuff. Stuff that you can't even imagine, for one reason or another.
This fourth man is walking around in the fire, and Nebuchadnezzar's first thought has to be, 'My furnace didn't kill these men. These men are not dying in my fire.' His first thought has to be why his plan isn't working. After all, isn't that our first thought, too? Why isn't my plan working?
And his second thought is probably that this fourth man, this son of the gods, is stronger than his fire. This fourth man is not only walking around in there, but gives everyone else the ability to walk around in there. And that's probably as far as Nebuchadnezzar's thinking takes him. He probably never gets around to thinking that this God is walking around in this fire because of His love for these three men.
In fact, there's no reason to believe the thought would have crossed his mind. Because in those times, you worshiped gods not with love, but with offerings. Worship was centered around pleasing a god so that you could earn its favor. Nebuchadnezzar's paradigm told him that these three men must have pleased their God and earned His favor; he could not possibly fathom that this God loved them first.
This is one of the issues that we're up against. When the world sees our God loving us, they can't even entertain the idea. It's not in their experience; it's not in their vocabulary. The world, even the non-worshiping world - tends to have a tit-for-tat concept of its gods. That is, a god will take care of you if you please it. And that's why, when the world comes face-to-face with an undeniable presence of God, their first reaction is pure fear - if this God is real, they have not been pleasing Him. And if it's tit-for-tat and they have not been pleasing Him and this God is real, then they are in real trouble. Have you ever noticed that the first thing God says to His people is almost always, "Don't be afraid"? It's because our instinct is not to see love, but to see power and this incorrect dynamic that the world has always had with its gods (our God, of course, excepted, but even that is easy for us to forget).
That's why we have to be diligent about making sure our message about God is a message about His love. That our talk about Him is talk of His grace. Not because He doesn't hold a high standard of truth, but because He holds His children close, wrapped in tender mercies. We have to make sure that when the world looks in the furnace and sees four men walking around, they aren't stuck with just thinking that this God is more powerful than their fire. They have to see that this God's love will walk through the flames to get to us.
Nebuchadnezzar couldn't see that, and maybe he was afraid. Maybe that's why he didn't call the fourth man out of the furnace.
Or maybe...(stay tuned).