We're continuing to look at the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace and why the Babylonian king only called three men out of the fire when he clearly saw four walking around in there. Yesterday, we started by positing that maybe Nebuchadnezzar was afraid of the fourth man, the son of the gods, and didn't want Him to come out of the fire.
Today, we'll consider the possibility that, well, he just didn't think about it.
The king threw three men into the fire, and it didn't kill them like it was supposed to. So he called out the three men he was already dealing with. That makes sense. He's simply undoing the action that he himself has done. He's taking responsibility only for what he's already responsible for. It's a very natural thing to only want back what you've put in, to stay kind of locked in a certain mindset that's dealing with a specific set of variables at any given point. I have a really bad habit of not giving all of the information I have when I am asked a specific question that only requires part of it. Not because I am being deceitful, but just because I am so focused on what's right in front of me. I'm not alone in that. So it's easy to see how Nebuchadnezzar could see four men and only think about three of them.
But maybe Nebuchadnezzar thought these three men were the safe choice. Maybe he was hoping they'd be able to teach him something about the fourth man. Maybe he wanted to hear their experience and discover from them who that guy was and what he was all about. After all, he knew these three men. They were administrators in his kingdom. They were wise men on his council. These were not mere strangers in his populous; he had a relationship with these guys. To what extent, we cannot know for sure, but their position in the kingdom assures us that they were not anonymous to him.
That means that he's had ample opportunity to witness their faith. He's seen them in action. He has seen them kneel to pray. He has seen them stand in the face of his own call to worship. He has seen them choose again and again to do what pleases this God of theirs. Maybe what he wants is for them to teach him some of that. Maybe he thinks that they can tell him how to please their God.
Remember- that's Nebuchadnezzar's paradigm for worship. That's the world that he lives in. People have gods, and it is up to the people to please their gods in order to earn the favor of their gods, who will in turn bestow blessings upon them. So maybe he's thinking that he wants these men to teach him how to earn the favor of a God that will literally walk into fire for them.
This is important because this is the relationship that the world still has with its gods - and thinks it can have with ours. This is the way the world naturally operates in relationship to its gods. And so when they see our faithfulness paying off, it's easy for the world to want us to teach them how to earn God's favor. It's easy for them to want us to show them what faithfulness is. It's easy for them to turn us into their reference for all things holy and sacred and good and true.
It's easy for this world to think that we, the faithful, can give them all the things they're actually looking for from God, without all that messy covenant stuff or whatever. They want the favor of our God without an actual relationship with Him, and they think we can give them that.
Which is why it's so important that we continually be pointing toward our relationship with Him. Not our faithfulness and not His goodness or power, but the mutual love that we have for one another. We have to put our covenantal living in the forefront, not just our "good" living. We have to make sure that the world understands that this fourth man in the fire is not something we can give them, but Someone who has already given everything for them. We have to keep reminding them who our God is and not just that He is a god.
Nebuchadnezzar, like most of the world, probably just wasn't thinking much about that fourth man; he thought he had all he needed with the three he already knew. So maybe it should have been Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego - and us - who turned back to the fire and called the fourth man out, proclaiming, "Hey, I have Someone I want you to meet."