Without a doubt, the account of the fiery furnace is the most famous and exciting story in the book of Daniel. In fact, when most people think of this Old Testament book, they think of this event, and yet Daniel himself isn’t even mentioned.

The story’s focus is neither the furnace nor the faithfulness of the three, nor is it even the mysterious divine presence with the men in the fire. The focus of the story falls on a question—the blasphemous question that King Nebuchadnezzar asks: “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:15)

In an act of delicious irony, when it comes to answering this query, God makes Nebuchadnezzar do most of the talking. Daniel’s three friends don’t even answer his question directly. You might have expected them to launch into an impressive doxology, waxing lyrical with Isaianic prose: “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth” (Isa. 40:21–22). This is the God who “will deliver us out of your hand” (Dan. 3:17).

But their answer is much more understated than that: What kind of God? The kind who is worth dying for. He can deliver us, and we think He just might deliver us, but even if He doesn’t, we are not going to worship your gods. We would rather die for Him in the furnace than live with you in the palace (Dan 3:16–18).

What kind of God? The kind, Nebuchadnezzar says, who is Most High over His people and their troubles: “Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!’ ” (Dan. 3:26).

With these words, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges the exalted glory of God. He sits enthroned in a position of irresistible, unimpeachable, unassailable, absolute authority. He rules over everything. Nothing is above Him. Everything else in existence lies beneath Him. This holds true not just for our triumphs, but also for our troubles. “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” When the psalmist finds himself in the depths, it is, so very often, to the Most High that he directs his plea (Pss. 18:13; 91:1–3).

Whatever trials befall you today, Christian, rest content knowing that God is over them. He is the Pantokrator (the all-holding One). Your life is in safe and strong hands. What kind of God? The kind, Nebuchadnezzar says, who is most near to His people in their troubles: “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? . . . But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods’” (Dan. 3:24–25).

“I cast them into the furnace alone,” Nebuchadnezzar says, “but now they are not alone!” Isn’t that always the way with God and His people? “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (literally, a help in tight places, very findable) (Ps. 46:1).

Generations of believers have experienced the warm edge of this promise. Take Jeremiah, for example. When he offended the king with the truth of God and found himself up to his neck in subterranean slurry (Jer. 38), what was his testimony? “I have been hunted like a bird by those who were my enemies without cause; they flung me alive into the pit and cast stones on me; water closed over my head; I said, ‘I am lost.’ ‘I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’ You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’” (Lam. 3:52–57). Paul had many similar experiences (Acts 18:9–10; 2 Tim. 4:16–18).

One final detail to note here: God did not merely provide these men with a spiritual sense of His presence. That in itself would have been wonderful, but in this apparition, He went one step further, making tangible His spiritual presence. He came in the form of a man, a form that they could touch. There is no doubt in my mind that this was a preincarnate appearance of the Lord Christ. And isn’t that exactly the kind of presence we have in Christ, God’s real presence in our midst through His indwelling Holy Spirit? Though the physicality of this presence is removed to heaven for the meantime, He is ubiquitous by His divine nature, present with us always in every place (Matt. 28:18–20).

Whatever trials befall you today, Christian, rest content knowing that God is over them.

What kind of God? The kind of God, Nebuchadnezzar says, who keeps His servants most secure through trouble:

And the satraps, prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. . . . “herefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” (Dan. 3:27, 29)

What we have here is a picture of total deliverance. The fire had absolutely no power over their bodies, hair, or clothing. In fact, not only were these men not burnt, but they weren’t even smoked! The smell of smoke is the first effect of fire and the hardest to escape. But such was the overruling providence of God in their lives that they escaped every trace of the flames.

What relevance does this have for us? Think for a moment about the many places in the Psalms where God promises to keep us from all evil (Pss. 91:10; 121). How can this be? Christians face and feel the approach of evil every day. Has God kept His promise? The answer becomes clear when we consider the experience of these three men. They were kept from the fire while they went through the fire. Might there not be a parallel here in our own lives? Evil comes at the Christian from all sides, even from the inside. Yet, God keeps us from its evil effects and ends. When we come to die and look back over our lives from the far side of Jordan’s stormy banks, we will have cause to say that no evil—no true, unintended-for-good evil, no loose-cannon evil had ever befallen us. When Satan was doing his dead-level worst to destroy us, God was there as well, working to overturn hell’s worst into heaven’s best.

What kind of a God? The kind, Nebuchadnezzar says, who expects His servants to be most loyal in the face of trouble: “Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God’” (Dan. 3:28).

God is not a genie in a lamp that we rub when in trouble only to banish Him back again to “His place” once things settle down. He is the Ultimate Savior and the Ultimate Master, and if you know Him as the one, you will have Him as the other.

As such, God expects a radical loyalty from His servants. Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t asking these men to stop worshiping Yahweh. He simply wanted them to worship his statue as well, and only once at that! Surely, God wouldn’t mind a quick bow in the wrong direction? But He does. In fact, this principle cost many Christians their lives in the second century when they balked at the yearly test of Roman citizenship by refusing to put one pinch of incense on the altar and utter quickly, “Caesar is Lord!” Clearly, the logic of the first commandment cannot be escaped.

God also expects a revealed loyalty. It is very hard to follow God privately. There will be times when we are called to take a public stand for Jesus Christ. Daniel and his three friends were incredibly wise at this point. Every issue wasn’t a hill on which to die. They submitted to much of Babylon’s playbook. But this was a step too far. And they stood out. And when they did, they did not stand alone, and neither will we.

God also expects a risky loyalty. This could have very easily cost these three men their lives, and they knew it. God doesn’t always step in with a miracle. Sometimes God calls His people to martyrdom. Some are called to pay this price, but we all must remember that a God who is not worth dying for is not a God who is worth living for either.

From where does this kind of loyalty spring? It springs from the power of the cross. God joined these men in the fire. Don’t you see a shadow of Calvary here? On the cross, God comes to where you are; He became flesh for you. He became sin for you. He became a curse for you. He did it because He loves you and because He is determined to be with you forever (Immanuel). Is any sacrifice too great for such a God? If God will take on frail flesh and die, should you and I not be willing to drive our flesh to the gates of Sheol and beyond in His service? He alone is worthy. His life, death, and resurrection are eternal proof of that!

The Allure of Sin

Reformation Women: Catherine d’Bourbon