There’s an old Chinese saying, “There is gold beneath a man’s knees”. What it is trying to say is that a person with dignity should not kneel down easily. It implies that the Chinese people rarely knelt down, but the reality in fact was the exact opposite. They would worship anyone who could give them peace and prosperity, if by kneeling down they could win people’s favors and avoid problems, they would gladly do it. What we see in ancient China is not unique to ancient China, we see this throughout all of human history. The same worship could appear in different forms. It could be as serious as a Nazi salute, or it could be as casual as a rainbow flag.
In Daniel chapter three, we arrive at a scene that is very similar to this. King Nebuchadnezzar had set up a golden statue, he gathered all the most important people in his kingdom and commanded everyone to bow down on their knees. Almost everyone did, but out of all the people in the crowd there were three people remained standing, Daniel’s three friends. Their political rivals, the Chaldeans were definitely paying attention to Daniel’s three friends These three Israelites knew very well that the Chaldeans would definitely report this to the king, and they also knew very well that they would get into serious trouble when the king found out. We should try to understand how much pressure uh the three friends of Daniel were under at that moment firstly they were under the authority of the king they served, secondly, they were experiencing the pure pressure coming from thousands of people who knelt down around them, thirdly they were being watched by their enemies who couldn’t wait to see their downfall.
The golden statue is a symbol of human Glory, specifically the glory of the Babylonian empire. It is rather ironic that this story happened after King Nebuchadnezzar had those fearful dreams. In his dream he saw a great statue. It looked scary and powerful but then this great statue was destroyed by an asteroid that fell from the sky, and after that the asteroid became a great mountain and filled the whole Earth. Later Daniel would be the one sent by God to interpret the dream, and this is the interpretation the great statue represents the four powerful kingdoms that shall arise in ancient near east: Babylon babel, Persia, Greece, and Rome. At first King Nebuchadnezzar seemed to get it right after Daniel interpreted his dreams, when he saw the statue in the dream, he was probably so frightened that he wanted to fall down and worship it himself. But then Daniel said to him you are the golden head he was probably very happy to hear that turns out the super scary statue was his.
So, he gave into the temptation, and he recreated the statue in his dream in real life. Perhaps when others see the statue, they too will be drawn to worship it. In the dream, the statue was made of four kinds of metals: gold, silver, bronze and iron. Each one represented a kingdom that would destroy the previous kingdom. Babylon, represented by gold, will be destroyed by Persia, represented by silver; in turn Persia will be destroyed by Greece, which is represented by bronze, and lastly it would be destroyed by Rome, the fourth Kingdom represented by Iron. But the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar set up was entirely made of gold. It is as if he was trying to say my kingdom will never fall; there will be no greater kingdom that shall come after his. The statue was more than just a symbol of human Glory it was also a symbol of human unity. After King Nebuchadnezzar set up this golden statue he called everyone with authority and status to come and worship this statue. All these people came from different cultures, they worshiped different gods and they spoke different languages but in the midst of all this diversity there was something that united them all. Interestingly this golden statue was built at a very special location because this was the place where the Tower of Babel was built. Why did mankind try to build the Tower of Babel? Once again it was a display of human glory and human unity (Genesis 11).
Human beings are stuck in a cycle of repetition. Since the fall of mankind, we are stuck in the same loop, we do the same things again and again thinking that each time it will yield a different result. When a new day comes, we go back to the same sins because we always forget the emptiness we felt yesterday. Just because times have changed it doesn’t mean we have escaped the slavery of our own sins. We see that everything they do is to fulfill what Ecclesiastes 1:9 says what has been will be again and what has been done is what will be done and there’s nothing new Under the Sun.
The second thing we can learn about from this code in statue is that human beings always try to achieve glory and unity through worship. There is an idiom that says there is strength in numbers. Humans have always tried their best to unite together because when they work together they will have great power, they can achieve great things and earn glory for themselves. How do you unite people together, it is often through worship. Once again most people in this world worship comforts and prosperity. Therefore if you want to unite people together you only need to appeal to what they worship. You threatened to take away their comforts at the same time you offered them prosperity. This way you will be able to unite people in worship.
In Daniel’s time, everyone had to worship the golden statue, if you kneel down you earn the king’s favor, if you don’t you have to face the king’s anger. What about our time, it could be the worship of the government, it could be the worship of sex, it could be the worship of money or in China the government promises to give you religious freedom as long as the Communist Party remains your highest allegiance. In Indonesia, you can get permits and contracts as long as you make a valuable contribution to the corrupt system that is destroying the country. A man once told me that if someone does business in Indonesia, he is either very brave or very corrupt. When we put things into this perspective, we appreciate the intense pressure that these three men Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were enduring. If you kneel down you will have peace, comfort, prosperity and status but if you don’t all these things will be taken away from you.
What is the choice of these three men? They chose to stand and not to kneel before the statue, they chose the victory of the Chaldeans, they chose the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar, they chose danger and harm, they chose faithfulness to God because the first commandment of God says you shall have no other gods before Me. Soon after that, the three men were brought before the king and the King said to them in anger, if you fall down and worship the image that I made well and good but if you do not worship you shall be immediately cast into a burning fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar asked them who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands, well we can only say that King Nebuchadnezzar is very forgetful he has he forgotten that he had what he had said after Daniel interpreted his dreams (Daniel 2:47): truly your God is the God of gods and Lord of kings.
The three men believed that God is faithful to His promises and they knew that their God is their protector and so these three men responded to King Nebuchadnezzar. In fact they sounded prepared and unafraid and the response to King Nebuchadnezzar’s question shall become one of the most important declarations in the history of Israel. They said in Daniel 3:16-18. oh Nebuchadnezzar we have no need to answer you in this matter if this be so our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king but if not, be it known to you O king that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. Daniel’s three friends didn’t know what God would do, would God save them or would God allow them to be burned to death in that fiery furnace. But they knew two things: that God is able to save them, and God’s command for them is to worship Him alone and bow down to no other gods. The only thing they knew for sure was who God is, that God was watching over them, they were sure that God was in control of the situation, they were sure that God is just and loving and right. King Nebuchadnezzar could not threaten them.
When we compare ourselves with these three men we realize that we often kneel down in life even when we face smaller threats and smaller benefits. We could laugh at something inappropriate just because everyone’s laughing because we could watch something inappropriate just because it’s fun. We could throw away our values just to earn more money or gain more respect. When we recognize how weak we truly are we realize that we are not Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Unfortunately the story of Daniel 3 is not written to show us that we can be heroes as well, it was written to show us that we are not heroes. But there still hope for us, when everyone kneels down one Man stood up for us. He rejected all false worship and stayed true to God. He is the greatest, he stood against Satan’s temptations and he emerged victorious and through him we have received forgiveness and victory. Who is this man? He is Jesus Christ, He stood so that we could no longer kneel before the golden statue. He is the asteroid who shall destroy the statue and establish the kingdom of God on Earth.
While the story of Daniel 3 ends with a happy ending. God sent his Angel to protect the three men so that they were not harmed by the Flames. Once again King Nebuchadnezzar was humbled and he praised the God of Israel. However many good Christians did not get the same ending Stephen was stoned to death, John the Baptist was beheaded. Even Jesus was crucified. Paul was executed by the Roman Emperor. If we cannot be certain that God would bring us out of danger we still can be certain that if God leads us into the fiery furnace there He will be with us. We can be certain that if God does not allow it, not even a strand of our hair falls. We can be certain that obedience to God is always the right way to go and we can be certain that God is indeed good all the time. Let us understand the love of God more and more each day recognize His power and authority more and more each day and choose to follow him all the rest of our days.