Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – God’s Will Be Done

“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 3:17-18)

Like the prophet Nathan, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego find themselves in a difficult situation that requires them to confront a powerful authority figure.  Throughout history, God’s people have sometimes found it impossible to both serve God faithfully and still follow the strict regulations of sinful earthly authorities.  In these cases, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have the correct approach: honor God by respectfully confronting the authority with his wrongdoing, continue to steadfastly follow God’s Word, and humbly trust in Him as you accept whatever consequences may come.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego know full well that they are probably going to die for their rebellion against King Nebuchadnezzar.  Their words, “even if he does not [save us from the furnace]” reveal tremendous faith in God’s grace.  Even if they are to be executed for their refusal to worship idols, God has already saved them from death.  They are willing to be thrown into a fiery furnace for the sake of their Lord, because He has saved them from the eternal fires of Hell – and nothing Nebuchadnezzar can do to them will ever change that.

These three faithful warriors of God bravely face their doom, walking in the light of God’s Word and trusting in Him to take care of the end results.  Following this course always brings glory and honor to God, as we have seen time and again.  For some heroes, like Josiah and Samson, physical death is still the means by which God’s name is honored and His love is demonstrated for the world – and they can then celebrate His goodness and mercy in His very presence.  But for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, God’s will is for their temporal salvation first, so that the King Nebuchadnezzar and all his subjects could see the power and majesty of the Lord.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were able to stand firmly against the king’s wicked proclamation because they put God’s will before their own fears and desires.  In this selfless act, they point forward to an even greater Hero who would face down the combined evil of all human sin and wickedness, Jesus Christ the Son of God.  Faced with the threat of shame, suffering, and death, our Lord trusted in the Father’s mercy and put His life into God’s hands, saying, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  Although death awaited Him, Jesus knew that the greatest triumph would come later, in His glorious resurrection.  Because of this, we can also face even death boldly, trusting in this same Resurrection.  God’s will is done when we faithfully and fearlessly serve Him, just as it will be done when we are raised to life again on the last day and are reunited with Him forever.  Come what may, let us walk with God and glorify Him, even when His path leads into the fiery furnace.

“Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!  They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God… Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.” (Daniel 3:28; 4:37)

Prayer: Lord God, our lives are always in Your hands.  Guide and direct us in Your will, that we may please and honor You with each step of our journey.  Let me always trust You alone and Your Word, seeking strength and courage through the death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Elijah – The Whispering Warrior

“Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:37)

Elijah was an enormously important hero of the faith.  Like Shemaiah and others before and after him, Elijah faithfully proclaims God’s Law as well as demonstrates His loving Gospel.  Elijah pronounces divine judgment on Ahab and the rebellious Israelites throughout his ministry.  Yet, God also uses him to bring life and healing to many along the way, demonstrating the extension of His covenant beyond the children of Israel to all the world.

Despite the incredible things God does through him, Elijah sometimes becomes frustrated with the apparent lack of results from his ministry.  His spiritual warfare against the darkness in Israel seems to culminate at the epic battle of Mt. Carmel where Elijah calls down fire from heaven and puts the false prophets to the sword.  But even this glorious triumph is short lived, being quickly swallowed up in seeming defeat through the queen’s return to hostility and idolatry.  Elijah quickly flees for his life, then prays for God to let him die.

As Elijah lies there at his lowest point, defeated, depressed, and bereft of all hope, God reaches out and gently touches him.  He gives Elijah the daily bread that he needs to sustain his weary body and spirit a little longer.  Then He does it again.  God continues to sustain Elijah for forty days as he struggles through a spiritual wilderness, questioning God and struggling with doubt and despair.

How easy it is for God’s warriors today to find themselves wandering the same spiritual wasteland!  We look at all that we’ve fought for and done for the Lord, and then look at the world around us and wonder, what’s the use?  We run away from the battle and away from God, ready to give up completely.  And in times like this, our loving Father comes and gently touches us.  We turn, and behold, the Bread of Life, baked over the coals of atonement!  This daily Bread and the Living Water comes to us miraculously from God, through His Word, and it is enough to sustain us as we wander through the desert of our own doubt and despair.

We come at last to a mountain – the mountain of God’s covenant.  And we say to God, “I’ve kept my end of the bargain, why haven’t You kept Yours?”  Like Elijah, we are looking for God to sweep through our nation in a mighty wind, to shake the foundations of secular society by a thundering earthquake, or to purge the evil of this world in the consuming flames of His mighty wrath!  If we were God, that’s how we’d do things.  We would smite the evil-doers with bolts of judgment!  We would come down from that cross and show those mockers who God really is!…

…But our God is really the God who stayed on the cross until death, scorning its shame, and rising again in triumph only after full atonement was made on our behalf.  His greatest triumph over the enemies of His children came not in a fiery blast from heaven, but in the dying whisper of His holy, innocent Son: “It is finished.”

Sometimes God calls warriors to be instruments of impressive displays of His power by worldly standards.  Miracles do happen; God does reveal Himself at times through fire, and the blind see again, and the lame walk, and the dead live once more.  But it is the still, small voice of His Word that effects the greatest miracle of all.  The fire of the Holy Spirit comes upon those who hear it.  Their eyes are opened to God for the first time.  Then then walk in faith as a new creation, made alive in Jesus.

God calls His warriors today, equipping them with that gentle whisper, and assuring them that it does not go out from them in vain.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, nourish and sustain me always with Your Word.  Give me wisdom, courage, and patience, that I may faithfully be a still, small voice in a world of darkness and noise.  Bless Your Word as it goes out from my lips, through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Amen.

Nathan – Boldly Confronting Evil

“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!…Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?’” (2 Samuel 12:7a,9)

“Don’t kill the messenger!”

This expression has become a common saying because all too often those in authority do kill the messenger, either literally or figuratively.  These words have no doubt gone through the head of anyone and everyone who has had to approach a powerful person with bad news or in any sort of confrontational situation.  Carrying out this task takes a great deal of courage – perhaps even more so than squaring off against giants or attacking enormous armies.

Nathan was sent by God to deliver a terrible message.  King David, the most powerful man in the land (and perhaps on Earth at the time), needed to be told that he had sinned against the Lord.  Nathan told him so, and none too gently.  He faithfully and boldly carried out the Lord’s instructions to confront and rebuke evil, despite the fact that his head might well become part of the palace’s exterior décor as a result.

Standing up for God’s truth in opposition to powerful men and women can be extremely challenging.  Christians often struggle with fear and doubt over the consequences of doing so: “Will I lose my job?  Will I lose my freedom?  Will I lose my life?”  Many times, it seems easier to just “go along and get along” rather than sticking your neck out and losing your head by humbly pointing out that your boss has given immoral, unethical instructions – or that a government or political leader has despised God’s Word by doing evil.  These people have authority over us; authority given by God.  But the ultimate authority in our lives, and theirs, must always be the Word of God.

Not only was King David a very powerful man, he was also well loved by the people and – all in all – typically obedient to God’s Word.  While this makes confrontation easier in some ways (he responds in repentance and contrition rather than anger and retribution), it can be very difficult to accuse otherwise “good people” of doing evil in God’s sight.  Because we respect them for their past and want to protect their reputations, it can be easy to look the other way while they hurt others, harm themselves, and dishonor God.

Like Nathan, we must sometimes confront those in authority with God’s Law.  We need to remind the world of the awful consequences of sin.  We need to call people to repentance and invite them to live once again in God’s precepts.  Then we, like Nathan, must also proclaim to them God’s love and forgiveness.  Though there may be earthly consequences for the sins they have committed, Jesus’ death atones for their guilt and brings life and renewal.

Nearly every one of us is in a position of authority in one aspect or another.  Ask God for the humility to meekly accept the censure of God-fearing people who confront you with your own sins.  Like David, we can humbly confess, “I have sinned against the Lord,” and hear God’s reply; “The Lord has taken away your sin.  You are not going to die” (2 Samuel 12:13).  Although our sin warrants eternal physical and spiritual death, the High King of Heaven has pardoned our guilt.  Therefore let us ever walk with Him, striving daily to more closely follow His commands.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the courage to stand up for Your Word, even when it may be difficult or dangerous to do so.  Give me the joy of proclaiming Your forgiveness and salvation to all those who come before You in faith.  Give me the grace to humbly acknowledge my sin before others and to look to You alone for redemption, through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Amen.

Jonathan – Friend of the Lord’s Anointed

“He loved him as he loved himself.” (1 Samuel 20:17)

Saul’s son Jonathan is one of the most overlooked heroes of the faith in the whole Bible.  If we are to speak of the courage of Gideon and David, Jonathan could also be numbered among them.  After all, he climbed a hill and fought the army of Philistines, trusting in the Lord alone for success.  He single-handedly killed twenty of their warriors, and the Lord used his courageous assault to throw the rest of the army into a panic.  Jonathan understood that God can do great things despite overwhelming odds: “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving whether by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).

But the thing that rightly sets Jonathan apart from the rest of the faithful men and women in the Bible is his loyalty and friendship toward David, God’s anointed king.  This is no small thing, considering that Jonathan’s father was the current king (with whom he seemed to be on pretty good terms).  He cared enough for David that he was willing to give up his own future rule for the sake of his friend.  His support and friendship of David would eventually lead to his own death at the hands of his enemies, the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:2).

Jonathan’s friendship and love for David is beautifully reflected in our relationship with Jesus.  Like Jonathan, we are friends with God’s Anointed One – Christ, the promised Messiah.  Although we were children of this world, we are called to turn aside from our worldly inheritance and follow Jesus out of love for Him.  For the sake of friendship with us, Jesus, like Jonathan, gave up His throne in heaven and even His very life at the hands of His enemies.  He has redeemed our life from the threat of death by the ruler of this fallen world, just as Jonathan rescued David from the hand of King Saul.  As Jonathan’s truthful words and earnest pleas turned aside the king’s wicked wrath from David, so Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death plead on our behalf and turn aside the righteous judgment of His Father, our Holy God.

Only Jonathan was able to reconcile his father, King Saul, with David.  Through Jesus, we are reconciled eternally with His Father and our gracious King.  His blood has formed a pact of friendship that nothing can ever break.  Jesus loved us enough to give up His life for us, and we in turn are moved by the Spirit to love Him as ourselves: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  Even though we fail time and again to honor the pact of friendship that Jesus has purchased for us, He will remain our friend forever, pleading with the Father on our behalf.  Now we can say with Jonathan, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving.”

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for the reconciliation purchased by the blood of Your Son, Jesus Christ, through His friendship.  Amen.

David – Defending God’s Honor

“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:27)

King Saul and his Israelite warriors were suffering from an acute lack of faith.  Saul went from following God’s commands and serving Him to rebellion and self-glorification in a matter of a few short years.  The Israelite warriors had forgotten that they served a powerful Heavenly King rather than a physically impressive but spiritually weak mortal king.  Their faith rested in their own power, and fear and doubt were the inevitable results.

When Goliath spews his bile once more, the Israelite warriors run for cover.  But David will not suffer His God to be mocked and scorned while His very armies are close at hand; he stands valiantly for the honor of the Almighty One.   How can we let this Philistine talk about our God like that?  The Spirit of the Lord was with David (1 Samuel 16:13,18), and from this Spirit was born the faith that God would deliver His people from their enemies.  This same Spirit gives David the courage and strength to stand up against the monstrous villain who was bringing calamity and destruction upon the Israelites.

Like Gideon, David knows that the power to defeat his enemies lies in God’s hands, not his own: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).  Because David goes forth in faith, mindful of God’s honor, glory, and purpose – and not his own fame or grandeur – the Lord gives David the victory over Goliath.

Again and again, God chooses the lowly to exalt His name.  The boy David glorifies God with his triumph over the champion of the Philistines.  His descendant, Jesus, the humble carpenter’s son, born of a virgin in a lowly manger, would bring even greater glory to the Father through His victory over the champion of this world – Satan.  The forces of death and hell were put to flight, never to menace God’s people again.  The same Spirit that gave David the faith to overcome the Philistine gives us the faith to claim Jesus’ victory for ourselves.

Armed with this faith, with God’s promise to be with us, and with a burning desire to honor our Lord and King, we venture forth onto the field of battle to encounter the forces of darkness.  Like the Israelite warriors, we often cower in our tents when we see the size and might of the foe that mocks God’s name.  But when we see our enemy through the eyes of faith, we realize, like David, that the spiritual darkness in our world is a joke compared to God’s mighty hand.  So we rise each morning, look the forces of evil in the eye, and say to our King, “Your servant will go and fight.”

“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37)

Prayer: Lord God, my Heavenly King, let me never lose heart on account of the darkness and adversity of this world.  Keep my faith firm, knowing that You who have delivered me from sin, death, and hell will also deliver me from all the trials of this life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, to whom all glory belongs!  Amen.

Joshua – Strength and Courage

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Perhaps the fearless warrior Caleb is surpassed in strength and courage only by his faithful companion and Moses’ protégé, Joshua.  God reminds Joshua when he assumes leadership of the Israelites that courageous obedience is a direct command from the Lord, as Caleb had testified many years earlier.

In his “inaugural address,” God tells Joshua three times in as many verses to “be strong and courageous.”  After all, he’s going to need plenty of strength and courage as he faces fortified cities, iron chariots, and warriors of incredible stature.  God knows that the tasks He is giving to Joshua are difficult indeed, and He therefore blesses him with strength and courage.  God’s Word is powerful, and it does what it says.  When He says, “Let there be light,” there is light.  When He says, “Lazarus, come out!” the dead man comes forth.  When He says, “Be strong and courageous,” he imparts strength and courage.

At the same time that God is blessing Joshua with the gifts he will need for the journey ahead, He is also emphasizing obedience to His Word: “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left…Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it…”  Even in this strict command, however, we find God’s grace at work in the form of promises attached to these orders: “…that you may be successful wherever you go…Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:7-8).

God’s Word always does what it says.  In the law, God promises strength, courage, and success for those who follow His commands; success in our most vital struggle of life – drawing ever nearer to Him.  But we don’t always follow His commands and obey His good and gracious law.  The good news is that He also promises something else: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Yes, God’s Word is powerful and effective, and it can be trusted.  When He says, “Your sins are forgiven,” there is cleansing and renewal.  When He says, “I am with you always,” His presence is real and immediate.  Knowing this, we His warriors can venture forth with genuine strength and courage.

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace” (Isaiah 55:11-12).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, be with me on my journey this day.  Preserve my faith, keep me ever mindful of Your promises, and grant me true strength and courage to do Your will.  Wipe away all of my failures and restore me to service to You and to those people around me.  Let me always proclaim the source of my joy and peace; the promise of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord!  Amen.

Caleb – A Fearless Warrior

“Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up.  Their protection is gone, but he Lord is with us.  Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:9)

One of the ongoing themes in this devotional series is the fact that no matter how great our spiritual victories and accomplishments may seem, we must always realize that it is the Lord’s hand at work in our lives, not our own strength.  God gives His warriors strength to win their battles for two reasons: because He loves and cares about our well-being, and because doing so brings honor and glory to Himself (something that aids the spread of His Gospel, bringing others to repentance and salvation, bringing us back to the first reason yet again…).  God does not give anything to us for the purpose of inflating our own self-conceit.  God’s purposes always move toward bringing people closer to Him.  Displaying a trust in self rather than in Him takes us and others further away from God.

At a time when his fellow scouts were proclaiming doom and gloom about the inhabitants of the Promised Land to which God had led His people, Caleb remained confident of victory.  He knew that their strength lay not in their own numbers or size or weaponry, but in the promise and protection of God Almighty.  He reminded his comrades that no matter how fearsome the enemy, God is greater by far.  And he also pointed out that courage in the face of hardship and trouble isn’t just a mental health exercise, or a positive thinking tactic, or some other “feel-good” approach to life; it was a command given to them by the Lord Himself, and to disobey meant open rebellion.

God takes our well-being very seriously – especially our spiritual well-being.  He’s not about to sit idly by while we get into a habit of fear and doubt regarding His promises to us.  After all, those promises are the foundation of our life and salvation.  If I doubt that God will give me strength to bear my trials and burdens in life, or grace to fight bravely against the darkness of this world, what will stop me from doubting His promise to forgive and redeem me?

Like all commands, we as sinners often break God’s orders to act with faith and courage in our lives.  Thanks be to God that He is faithful even when we are not: “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).  Though we fail to trust many of the wonderful promises that God makes to us – for strength in adversity, for courage in hardship, for help in time of temptation – the one promise that we mustn’t doubt is the central theme of the entire Bible: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me strength and courage in all of life’s trials and temptations.  Give me grace to glorify You before men for the victories unto which You lead me.  But most of all, keep my faith steadfast in Your promise of forgiveness, renewal, and eternal life through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Moses – God’s Instrument of Leadership

“The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” (Exodus 15:2)

There are many stories and examples of reluctant heroes who went on to do great things.  They run from whatever task is given them or whatever destiny is laid upon them, thinking themselves unworthy or unable to accomplish it.  These peculiar heroes demonstrate to us that there is a warrior within each of us, waiting for God’s call to adventure.  They teach us the theme that life is not so much about who we think we are as about who God is making us into.

Moses was certainly reluctant to begin the great quest that God had planned for him.  To be a human being living under the curse of sin means to be deeply flawed, and Moses was no exception.  Despite his flaws, God turned him into one of the greatest leaders in the history of the world.

Our loving God cares not only about the “big picture” – in Moses’ case, the Israelites fleeing Egypt and settling in the Promised Land – but also about our personal, individual journey.  The Moses we see after forty years of leading the people of Israel through the wilderness is a very different man than the stubborn, unwilling individual who kept trying to weasel out of following God’s orders.  As Moses walks with God and is led by His Spirit (however reluctantly), God’s power and love change and shape him into the faithful leader and hero God meant for him to be.

Where is God leading you?  How does He intend for you to be a leader in your own life and spiritual journey?  You may not feel like leadership material, but the God who created the universe out of nothing and made the prize of His creation out of the dust of the Earth can certainly make something great out of you.  He has already transformed you from a sinful, rebellious state of spiritual death into a new creation and an heir of His heavenly kingdom.  Whatever other leadership roles God entrusts you with in this life, you can know that your most important one is, like Moses, to lead others to the Promised Land through sharing the Gospel of forgiveness and redemption.

“In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.  In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” (Exodus 15:13)

Prayer: Lord God, through Your servant Moses You led your people out of captivity, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land.  Grant us Your Holy Spirit, that through the Gospel we may also lead those who are enslaved by sin to freedom in Your forgiveness; that we may have the strength and courage to face the wilderness of this life; and that we may come at last to the promised inheritance of eternal life, through Jesus Christ.  Amen.