Erected in April 2002 in Firdaus Square, the 39-foot statue was pulled down in April 2003. More than 2500 years earlier, Nebuchadnezzar, a predecessor of Saddam Hussein, built “an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits.” It was enormous, the measurements perhaps reflecting the sexagesimal system of the then thousand year history of impressive Old Babylonian Mathematics.
Nebuchadnezzar had confessed belief in Daniel’s God (Daniel 2:47, ESV). But his affirmation may simply have included the Lord in his polytheistic religion. And his self-importance may have been inflated by Daniel’s interpretation of the dream: “You are the head of gold” (2:38). Of course, his kingdom and kingship were not worthy to be compared with the kingdom of the God of Daniel, which is all-powerful, enduring, and eternal (2:44-45).
He wanted the people, all of them, “to fall down and worship the golden image” (3:5). To make his command well-known, he gathered “all the officials of the provinces for the dedication of the image.” The wide variety of their titles reveals the intricate bureaucracy of a widespread kingdom: “the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials.”
The king’s herald proclaimed that at the sound of music, everyone was to fall down and worship the image. Music scholars may want to know what the actual instruments were, but even ability/facility in the original Aramaic language will offer little help. The ESV translates them as “horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe and every kind of music.” Think of horns and stringed instruments like those in your church praise band or an elementary school orchestra — probably not the sounds of our highly crafted and well-integrated instruments.
So the band played, and “all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image” (3:7). Representatives or leaders of all peoples may have participated in this violation of God’s command, but there were some notable exceptions, including three young Jewish men.
Chaldeans (either “astrologers” or “men from the region of Chaldea”) “came forward and maliciously accused the Jews” (literally “ate their pieces,” chewed them out?) before the king. They charged these men of God with: (1) ignoring the king and his command, (2) not serving his gods, and (3) not worshiping the image (3:12).
Nebuchadnezzar “in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego … be brought before the king” (3:13). He explained the rules and offered then a second chance, but with a clear warning: “If you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (3:15). The king’s confession (2:47) must have been superficial or temporary, but hardly what we call “saving faith.”
The young men replied, “We have no need to answer you in this matter.” Not arrogant. More like, “You know of our God and what He can do. We do not need to give you an explanation now, under these circumstances.”
Our God is Able
Please note carefully the affirmations the young men made next. First, “If you require us to worship the image, and we refuse, you will cast us into the fire.” But — listen to this — “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.”
Do you hear the words? “God is able to deliver us. He is more powerful, more capable, than any adversity, any suffering, any disaster you can imagine or devise.” Do we recognize a God that powerful?
Furthermore, “‘he will deliver us out of your hand.’ Somehow, God will deliver us from the fire, or through the fire, or out of the fire.” What a great comfort to know that the Lord will remove us from an experience, be with us in the midst of it, or bring us safely through the experience.
Then, with total abandonment to the Lord’s will, they moved to a higher level of trust and commitment: “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” (3:18).
They wanted — no doubt prayed for — deliverance from being thrown into the fiery furnace (A), but that was not to be granted, and “they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace” (3:21) (B).
Have you ever prayed for A and received B?
In the recent election, some Christians prayed that Governor Mitt Romney would win (A), and President Barack Obama was re-elected (B). A rabbi said that America would never be the same again; voices in Texas predicted secession from the union.
Hurricane Sandy moved up along the Atlantic coast. People in New Jersey may have prayed that it would turn right and head out to sea (A), but it turned west, devastating lives (B).
Think of a woman who prays that the X-ray picture will show no cancer (A), but it is positive (B). Then she prays that it can be eliminated (A), but it isn’t (B).
A father prays that his job application will be accepted (A), but he never even gets a response (B).
Imagine Job and his wife praying: “Protect our children, our family, our business” (A). But you know the repeated disaster that came into their lives (B).
Think of Paul praying three times that God would remove his “thorn in the flesh,” perhaps an eye ailment (A). But it did not happen (B).
The Christians at Philippi may have prayed earnestly for safety and peace as they worshiped and served the Lord (A), but persecution continued (B).
Jesus prayed that He might not have to experience the suffering that seemed imminent (Matthew 26:39) (A). But humiliation and the cross were part of the Father’s will and plan (B).
Have you ever prayed for A and gotten B? Maybe you have an A on your prayer list now, but B may come. It would be interesting to know what lessons you can learn from biblical verses that relate to the prayers of Job, Paul, the Philippians, and Jesus, all of whom asked for A and received B.
Job said to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). He was asking if God is somehow out of control when unpleasant experiences (B) are the Lord’s will for us.
Paul prayed for relief from “a thorn in the flesh.” The Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” His conclusion was, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In our weakness (B), the Lord’s power may be all the more evident.
Christians at Philippi were suffering for the gospel’s sake, and it was continuing. Paul told them, “For it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” (Philippians 1:29). Underline the word “granted.” The Father “grants” faith (“believing in him”) freely, graciously, out of love. How far we have come when we can experience difficulties (B) as coming from the same loving hand.
Jesus prayed that the cup from which He was about to drink might “pass from me” (A). But His prayer continued: “‘nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will … your will be done.’ … (H)e prayed for the third time, saying the same words again” (Matthew 26:39-45). He moved ahead, fully committed to the Father’s will, whatever that outcome (A or B).
Think again of the three young men. “God can deliver us. He will do it. But if not, we will not serve your gods or worship your golden statue.” They surely wanted and prayed for A, but see what does not change if B is to be their, or your, experience. They will obey the Lord, serve the Lord, honor Him, trust Him … whether A or B.
Whatever the outcome of our prayer, we shall worship and serve the Lord alone.
And that is our calling, to be His people with all that affirms, whether in joy or sorrow, whether in pain or happiness, whether A or B is the answer to our prayer. How can we possibly be God’s people when we have to deal with B? And sometimes, maybe even often, that’s the case. What do we need to know?
First, know that God is sovereign. Nothing is out of His control. I cannot explain why you get B when you were praying for A. But we can all affirm that the Lord reigns, now and in the future.
Was the Lord “out of control” when Barack Obama was re-elected, or the storm hit, or the cancer was severe, or the man failed to get the job? Or in the experience of Job and his wife, in the life of Paul, or in the suffering of the Philippians, or at the cross of Jesus. Never. Not once.
“I prayed for A, and B came,” you might feel. Nevertheless, God is sovereign. Nothing is spinning out of control. The Westminster Larger Catechism (12) and Shorter Catechism (7) both affirm: “He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” When B is the result, God is not overruled. Know that.
Is there therefore any reason to pray? Of course there is. Jesus prayed in the garden (for A) and experienced the Father turning the world’s greatest adversity (B) into a victory of infinite value. Pray for A; hope for it, even expect it, but ultimately praise the Lord that He alone is sovereign.
God’s Love is a Given
Secondly, the Christian knows that God loves her. While she is praying. After the prayer, even after the answer has come. Whatever the outcome. No matter what. God has proven, God has demonstrated, God has pledged, God has shown “his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
We may wonder how the Lord could permit apparent tragedy, even disaster. And we do have to deal with many unhappy facts in this sin-wrecked world. But the fact of God’s love stands firm, sealed in the blood of His Son.
So we shall pray with regard to issues in our families, churches, country, and the world. And whatever the outcome of our prayer, we shall join with the three young men and worship and serve the Lord alone. Where do we find strength to do so? Because we know that the Lord is sovereign and that He has made absolutely clear His love for us.
George C. Fuller served as president and professor at Westminster Theological Seminary and as pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Cherry Hill, N.J., before his retirement in 1999.