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).