Problems With Images and Egos
by David Reagan
I was going back to my rooms after dealing with some petty bureaucrats when Arioch stopped me. “Shadrach, I just learned what that secret project of the Kings is.”
“Oh? Good, it sure has been using up the treasury, what is it?”
“The King has made a gold image of himself and is going to set it up on the plains, everyone is to worship it, or they will die.”
“Oh, great. This is not good.”
“No, it isn't. I have already told Meshach and Abednego, they are waiting in your rooms to talk to you.”
“Thanks for the warning, you are a true friend Arioch.”
I hurried to my rooms thinking hard. “Great, Nebbie's pride is getting away from him again. Last time it just made a few satraps mad, this time it could kill me. Grr... Stupid forefathers who didn't worship God... If they had I would still be in Bethlehem taking care of Grandma.”
When I reached my rooms I found Mishael, who was renamed Meshach, and Azariah, who was renamed Abednego, (my real name was Hananiah, the annoying Babylonians called me Shadrach) munching on my private stash of Benach nuts. “Sheesh, guys! Those things are rare! Only three trees left in the entire known world. You could at least ask first.”
Mishael just grinned, “Hey, we're nervous, we always eat when we're nervous.”
“Yeah, I know, I am rather nervous too. Do you have any new details?” I replied.
“Nope, my spies never got close to that project. Ol' Nebbie really had good security. Had all 50 of his elite troops guarding it. Of course, with the amount of gold he brought into it, he would need that.” Azariah said.
For the next hour we wrangled about what to do. Eventually it came down to the fact that we did not have enough information. So we agreed to meet the next day after Azar's spies had more of a chance to ferret out information. After a quick prayer, they left, Mish of course stole a handful of Benach nuts on the way out. I took a bath and spent the rest of the night praying.
* * *
The next day I sent a couple messengers east to try and find Daniel. If he could get back soon enough, he would have a good chance of convincing Nebbie to give up on his gold ego trip. Unfortunately Daniel was at least a weeks ride away, even at the speed post riders went. So unless we were able to delay the unveiling for a couple months he didn't have much chance of getting home to help.
After a long day fielding merchants asking how to avoid taxes, I didn't really want to talk. But, this was an emergency, so I just dealt with it. Mish and Azar were both waiting in my rooms when I got back. This time I had made sure to have lots of refreshments out for them. Which were already half gone when I got there.
“So, you find anything out yet Azar?” I asked.
He munched harder as he answered, “Yes, we have one week before he has the first “worship” time.”
“Yeah, what can we do?! I wasn't even able to get a meeting with the King, and I am the prince's personal counselor! He hasn't ever denied me an audience before!” Mish said.
“Ok, let's look at what we know.” I said, they nodded. “One, Daniel is to far away to help; two, we have one week before we get in trouble; three, we can't seem to get an audience with Nebuchadnezzar; four, and most important, we have the Creator of the Universe on our side.
They looked thoughtful for a minute when Azar spoke up, “You are right, we have Yahweh on our side, we are agonizing needlessly. God can stop it if it is His will, and if it isn't, He will either save us from death, or take us home.”
Mish nodded, then we prayed for a while, and broke up.
* * *
We spent the next week trying unsuccessfully to get an audience with the King, we also fasted. We got the distinct impression that he was avoiding us. I suppose it was because we and Daniel always cautioned him about his ego. He really did have a big ego, always was coming up with new ways to glorify himself. It really couldn't be helped, Babylon was in control of almost all the world, and he had conquered most of it. Plus the fact that the common belief measured how powerful a god was by the strength of the people that followed it. So any people's god was considered weak if its people were conquered. So, everyone considered Yahweh weak because Israel and Judah had been conquered. Back to Nebuchadnezzar's ego, he figured that when he defeated a people, he also had defeated their god, hence the big head.
* * *
We spent the night before the king made his ego trip public praying for God's help. When the gong rang to announce the first light of dawn, Mishael closed our prayer time, “God, we are your servants. You have seen fit to bless us with power and influence in this Kingdom of Babylon. Because of this we know that You are with us. We ask that you would spare our lives from the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar, and enable us to stand firm in our faith in You. We know that You can save us, but we also know that You will take care of us even if we die. Thank You for Your mercy. Amen.”
As Mish ended his prayer I felt a blanket of what I can only describe as pure peace descend on that room. In that peace we felt God telling us not to flee, but to stand firm and show the King our faith. It was the most awesome thing I ever felt. There are no words adequate to describe it.
Then there was a knock at the door. Azar went and opened it, it was Arioch. He came in and closed the door behind him, looking around to see if there was anyone else he said, “I found out that the King has prepared a furnace for anyone who does not bow down. The flames are so hot right now that you can barely get close enough to throw wood on.”
Azar commented sardonically, “Well, at least it isn't the usual, 'cut them all in pieces and hang their family' stuff.”
Arioch gave him a strange look, “I have arranged it so that you can get to the stables without being seen. There are provisions and horses waiting for you there. If you hurry you can be miles away before the King makes his announcement.”
Mish looked at him and shook his head, “We are not leaving.” Arioch looked incredulous as he said, “What?! I know you would rather die than bow before an idol, how can you not leave?”
Az replied, “We will go to the gathering and hear what he has to say, but we will not bow down.”
“You'll be thrown into the furnace, I don't think even Daniel could get you out of it. The King will be furious with you.”
“Yes, we know. But our God is more than powerful enough to take care of us. He will protect us, or take us home. Either way, we win.” I said.
Arioch muttered, “Yeah, the god who let your cities be overrun with barely any fighting.” He spoke up, “Well, I know you well enough to know that you will not change your minds. I am sorry though, you were good friends.”
He walked off shaking his head sadly.
After he left we all went to our respective duties.
I was translating a scroll from the east when the messenger came. He said that the King was ordering every noble and courtier to gather on the Plain of Dura by the fifth hour after noon.
* * *
The image was huge, at least 90 feet high. It was polished mirror bright and the sun shining on it nearly blinded me. If I didn't know Yahweh, I would have been awe stricken. As it was, it struck me as pitiful. I mean Yahweh has mountains to show His glory! A 90 foot tall statue isn't all that impressive compared to the entire world. Mishael, Azariah, and I were at the very front of the crowd in the place of honor. We were after all the three most powerful men other than the king there. Not that I particularly liked that fact at the time.
After everyone had arrived and settled in, a herald stood up and announced, “To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, at the time you hear the sound of the horn, the pipe, zither, the lyre, harp, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship, at that moment they will be thrown into the middle of a burning fiery furnace. “
After the herald positioned across the plain had time to translate the announcement, the music started. There was a loud rush of sound as everyone but us bowed to their face to the idol. The music played for a good half hour as we stared straight ahead praying to God.
When it stopped I turned and looked back at where the King sat on his platform. The old head of the wisemen was bent over whispering in his ear pointing at us. The man hadn't been too happy when Daniel had replaced him. Mish, Az, and I headed back to our carriage. Waiting there for us were ten of Nebuchadnezzar's elite guard. They seized us and took us to the King.
* * *
King Nebuchadnezzar was furious. His face was beet red. I had never seen him in such a state. He glared at us as he spoke, “I save you from being sent to the mines, give you the best education in the world, set you over all of Babylon, and this is how you show your gratitude?! I should have to thrown into the furnace right now, but because you have served me faithfully until now, I will give you one more chance. If you will worship my image tomorrow when the music is played, I will spare your lives.”
I looked my companions and then answered the King. “We have no need to answer you in this. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace, He will. But even if He doesn't, we will still serve Him and only Him, because He is the Creator of the Universe and it is He who gave you your power, and it is He who has set us high. You and your kingdom are but one of His tools.”
When I finished, the king's face distorted into a mask of evil, and he screamed, “ARRRGGHHH! Heat the furnace as hot as it will go and throw these men into it so that will know as they die that I am the ruler of this world, and I am the one who set myself over it, and I am the one who gave them the power they had, and I am the one who takes it away!”
The soldiers grabbed us and tied us up, then they took us to the furnace room to watch as they heated it up. It took five hours before the steward told the king it couldn't be heated any hotter. By that time it felt like we were standing around a bonfire in the middle of a hot day in the Sahara. We were thirsty and hungry and thoroughly miserable.
Then the king told the guards to throw us in. They grabbed us and started forward. Just at the first step forward I felt a peaceful coolness wrap around me. All my thirst and hunger disappeared too. Looking at Mishael and Azariah I saw that they felt it too. The guards didn't, they were sweating and starting to look faint. But they were still strong enough to force us to the furnace, they grabbed us two to each of us and lifted us by our shoulders and feet, with a great swing, they threw us into the furnace.
* * *
It is impossible to truly describe what happened to us in that furnace, the feelings and sights were so wonderful that I cannot describe them with the understanding I have now. They can only be described when you are in Gods presence. God truly did save us, He came down in person to us and talked to us. To be in His presence was timeless, I have been close to Him before and since, but none ever compare to that day. After that day I felt all my life before had been centuries before. That encounter changed my life. It also showed Nebuchadnezzar who was boss.
Arioch described Nebbie's reaction to it after we came out of the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar was watching with a smug smile on his face, the old head of wisemen was there as well. He was happy, but not as happy as if Daniel had been there. When the guardsmen threw us into the furnace there was a blast of heat that could be felt way back where Nebuchadnezzar was sitting. The guardsmen were killed by it.
After a couple minutes of watching us standing there in the fire, Nebuchadnezzar asked, “Did we not throw three men bound into the furnance?”
Arioch answered, “There four men who are loose and walking around. And the fourth is like a son of the gods.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar got up and did something that amazed his counselors there, Nebuchadnezzar walked up close to the entrance of the furnace. He called out, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the most High God, come here out of the fire.”
When we heard Nebuchadnezzar's voice, we were surprised, we had forgotten that we were in a fire, but God told us to go out even though we did not want to. As we stepped from the furnace everyone gathered close to us. They stared in awe, for we were unharmed. We did not even smell like smoke!
Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His Angel and has delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and have changed the king's words and have given their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any god except their own God. And a decree is given by me, that every people, nation, and language, who speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be made into mere members, and his house shall be made an outhouse. Because there is no other God who can deliver in this way.”
Just as he made his decree, Daniel ran in. Hearing the King's words and seeing us safe. He just looked at me and said, “This has got to be a good story.”
After a few weeks of talking Daniel and the rest of us were able to convince the king to remove his idol. He had it melted down and stored with the rest of his gold. He also gave Mish, Azar, and I some of it to use as we saw fit. I invested mine and dedicated it to helping the Israelites for when we were finally allowed to go home.
* * *
And now I have finally written up an account for posterity. I still think Daniels was perfectly fine, but no. Mish and Azar had to have me write about it... Sigh...