North Koreans are indoctrinated from an early age to adore “The Eternal Leader” and his two sons, including the current dictator. Last fall, Christian Solidarity Worldwide described testimony from defectors: “Christians are reported to have suffered brutal violence. Forms of torture include beatings with fists or implements such as electric rods, wooden pokers, metal poles, water torture through forced submersion, and being used as test subjects for medical training and experimentation.” Underground churches still exist, though the number of Christians is difficult to quantify. (Open Doors USA estimates 300,000 Christians out of the country’s 25 million citizens.) Since most assemblies are forbidden, gatherings might include a small family or a married couple who don’t include their children until they are old enough to keep a secret. Christians aren’t the only North Koreans who suffer. Gulags are filled with other prisoners, including North Koreans sent back after fleeing into China. In other cases, a citizen might be merely suspected of disloyalty and imprisoned with his whole family.
A landmark 2014 report by the United Nations described a litany of atrocities: “beatings, starvation, exposure to cold, various torture techniques, rape, infanticide, and public executions.”
When the ultimatum was put to these three men in Daniel chapter three, we do not read that they took time to think the issues through. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego seem to have responded at once: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up”. (Daniel 3:16-18)
What if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had listened to our kinds of rationalizations? Someone might have said, “The three of you are obviously sincere and quite dedicated. We need more people like you, and that is just the reason why you must listen to reason in this matter. Because if you do not listen and instead persist in this obstinate disobedience, you are going to be killed and your beneficial influence on Babylon will be over. Consider first that your disobedience is already being entirely misunderstood. You think that you are standing for the identity of the true God. But what you are doing is actually being construed as political rebellion, defiance of the king’s order. You are not going to be executed for religion but for civil disobedience. So what good does persisting in this rebellious state do? The proper course is to bow down, live, and extend your ‘godly’ influence in other ways.”
Or again, a wise head might have argued, “Understand that Nebuchadnezzar is actually on your side. He did not need to give you a hearing. When he did, he did not need to give you another chance. He has done these things only because he is already well-disposed toward you and likes you. He does not want to execute you. I think that if you would only stand at a distance from the statue and tip your head forward slightly – you won’t need to prostrate yourselves on the ground – Nebuchadnezzar would be pleased by that and respect you all the more. He would realize that it was a difficult thing for you to do, but that you did it for his sake. It takes men of courage to compromise like that.”
A theologian might have gotten into the argument. “Remember that in the New Testament it says – I know the New Testament hasn’t been written yet, but it will be – ‘an idol is nothing.’ Now if ‘an idol is nothing’, then to fall down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image is to fall down and worship nothing, and worshiping nothing cannot possibly be construed as idolatry, can it?”
If Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had stopped to consider these arguments, they might have wavered. But they did not stop to consider them or waver because they already knew where they stood and why they stood there. In other words, they had already wrestled through such issues and knew that whatever else they might have been, they were first and foremost worshipers of the true God, and he had said, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:3-6)
There were three things that gave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the strength to stand firm in this great test of their commitment. (1) They knew that God was sovereign. (2) They knew the Scriptures. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego triumphed because their minds were filled with Scripture and because they kept coming back to Scripture as the only fully trustworthy and inerrant authority in all matters. (3) They were willing to die for their convictions.
Some people do pay for their faith by dying. God spared Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You know the story. Nebuchadnezzar was furious that the three young Jews would not obey him, so he ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual – in case the Jewish God was able to save from normally heated furnaces only – and had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego thrown into it. The flames from the superheated furnace killed the men who took the three Jews to it, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not killed. Instead, when Nebuchadnezzar peered into the furnace, he saw them walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed. And he also saw a fourth person who looked “like a son of the gods”. (Daniel 3:25)
It is not difficult to know who that fourth person was. He was Jesus Christ in a preincarnate form – It is a vivid portrayal of the fact that God stands with His people in their troubles.
God does go with his people in their trials. Countless believers have testified to that. So let us be confident in the promise of that presence and be strong. Let us stand for the right and do it. Let us refuse to compromise. Let us stand with unbowed heads and rigid backbones before the golden statues of our godless, materialistic culture. Let us declare that there is a God to be served and a race to be won. Let us shout that we are determined to receive God’s prize, which is far greater than this world’s tinsel toys, and that we are servants of Him before whom every knee will bow.