When Disaster Comes, Where Does Faith Go?
Since the time some of us were old enough to be in the toddlers’ bible class, we have been transfixed by tales taken from the book of Daniel. Familiar stories – such as that of Daniel and His providentially-engineered escape from the den of hungry lions, or, the story of his three faithful friends who found themselves facing death by inferno, but who turned out “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:35-39) through the furnace-negating force furnished by the Son of God who walked through the fire with them. And even on into teen and adulthood, how many times have we sat in silent wonder during the retelling of these actual, factual, precious and priceless illustrations of God’s coming to the aid of His people who remained faithful no matter what? And that is precisely the point: There’s a lot more to the “no matter what” of these incredible accounts than might first meet the eye. And so, the “rest of the story…”
Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were all born during a rare period of religious reform, instituted under the righteous reign of “good” King Josiah (Please see 2 Kings 22:1-23:25). Their parents originally gave all four of them names that reflected their reverent Jewish heritage and reliance upon God. For example, Daniel’s name meant “God is my Judge.” His three contemporaries’ given birth names were, “Hananiah” (“God has shown mercy”); “Mishael” (“Who is Equal to God?”); and “Azariah” (“Whom God Helps”).
As we consider Daniel 1:1-4 (which see), we can easily conclude that all four of them were either members of the royal family, or at least born into Jewish nobility – rich, affluent, influential and aristocratic families. And as such, they probably either resided in, or near, the royal palace, where they would have enjoyed and benefitted from access to the best possible social and religious education available at the time. Perhaps at some point they might have even heard Jeremiah preach or prophecy – who knows? But one thing we can know for certain, is that their suffering at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar and his forces, was at first, almost incalculable for us to truly appreciate.
Consider the totality of Nebuchadnezzar’s brutality, unleashed during his three invasions into Palestine (See II Kings 24-25). Second Chronicles 36:15-21 details God’s sending of Nebuchadnezzar’s armies to fully and fatally inflict wholesale destruction on Jerusalem during that third and final invasion:
“And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. Therefore He brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, on the aged or the weak; He gave them all into his hand. And all the articles from the house of God, great and small, the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his leaders, all these he took to Babylon. Then they burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious possessions. And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah…”
As we consider the above description of destruction, we should have no problem with the possibility – or even potentially, the probability – that these four young men not only saw and suffered their beloved homeland being invaded and conquered, but also of witnessing their very homes and palaces being burned and pillaged, while also more than likely experiencing the incalculable pain and suffering of beloved family members – such as maybe mothers and fathers or even brothers and sisters – being mercilessly butchered by sword in the streets and temple, while they stood by captive, completely and utterly powerless to help.
And their pain and suffering certainly didn’t stop there. (Let us take just a moment here to remember, that to the Israelite, family ancestry and lineage was everything.) When they first arrived captive in Babylon, they were immediately and effectively stripped of their highly-prized Jewish heritage, both past, present, and future. First off, their god-honoring and parentally-given birth names were summarily changed, effectively cutting off all ties to their paternal past. “Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego” (Daniel 1:6-7).
In that passage we also see the very ominous indicator of their future heritage lost as well. Did you notice that they were under the immediate authority of the “chief of eunuchs,” a fact that is seen repeatedly reaffirmed throughout verses three through eleven? And who were the only people under the authority of the chief of eunuchs? Only eunuchs.
There is every reason to believe – short of a scripture verse that comes right out and clearly states that the four of them definitely were eunuchized – that any hope for their family lines to endure into the future was also completely lost at the hands of the Chaldeans. Consider for a moment: Where do we ever see any record in the Scriptures that even one of these young men went on to have wives and children? We don’t. But by far the most convincing proof can be seen in the divinely-inspired words which Isaiah the prophet had spoken to King Hezekiah nearly a century earlier: “’Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the Lord. ‘And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon’” (II Kings 20:17-18; Isaiah 39:6-7). So even if the Temple had been left intact – which it wasn’t; and even if they had ever been returned to their beloved homeland – which apparently they weren’t; as eunuchs, they could never worship God in the purity of holiness with their Jewish brethren ever again anyway (Deuteronomy 23:1).
As we consider the contents of the scriptures we’ve covered thus far, we can surely see that Daniel and his three contemporaries had certainly lost everything – everything. Their homes, homeland, families, friends and freedom; their past heritage as well as any future hope of familial perpetuation; even their ability to worship God as they had once been able to do.
And so the question becomes, “When God allowed absolute disaster after all-consuming disaster to rapidly occur in every area of their lives, how did these young men respond?” Correspondingly, how would we react under similar persecutions and circumstances? How do we routinely react under much less serious circumstances? How often does the least amount of tribulation or persecution arising because of the word cause Christians today to fall away and leave the Lord (Matthew 13:20-22)? How often do see some Christians who seem to want to hold God responsible for the slightest perceived slight; grumble at the most gratuitous inconvenience; or gripe when they don’t get from God what they think they should have; and eventually some who subsequently wind up choosing to doubt His care, surrender their “faith,” and walk away from Him forever in response?
The real question we must therefore ask ourselves in response to the desperate realities outlined above regarding Daniel and his three fellow captives, is simply this: “When real disaster comes, where does true faith go? Into hiding, or into high gear?” In Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah’s case, God has not left us to wonder, but left us in wonder by supplying us with their beautiful stories of sustained faith – despite all the monumental losses God had allowed them to suffer as young men. Stories which should now, in light of the above background once more brought to light, be all the more special, incredible, and personally faith-building for each one of us, just as God intended them to be (Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:11-13).
Despite plenty of past physical reason to doubt and deny God’s power and providence (and perhaps even existence at that point), when King Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t sleep because of his troubling dreams which his wise men could neither detail nor decipher, and when he subsequently became “angry and very furious, and gave the command to destroy all the wise men of Babylon… and they began killing the wise men; and they sought Daniel and his companions to kill them” (Daniel 2:12-13), Daniel showed incredible, incalculable, and immovable faith in the Lord his God yet still. “So Daniel went in and asked the king to give him time, that he might tell the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went to his house, and made the decision known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, that they might seek mercies from the God of heaven concerning this secret, so that Daniel and his companions might not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. So Daniel blessed the God of heaven” (Daniel 2:16-19).
Similarly, in Daniel, chapter 3, we see Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego if you would prefer) brought before King Nebuchadnezzar’s great golden idol and demanded to compromise their convictions and bow down in reverent worship of the idol as the pagan instruments of the king’s pagan worship began to play. Once again we also see King Nebuchadnezzar in a fiery rage and fury when informed that these three young captives would not do so (vss. 8-15). Keeping in mind the king’s total might and authority; all that he had brought to bear in the utter destruction and devastation he had heaped upon their beloved Jerusalem; as well as the complete suffering he had perpetrated on them personally, we might wonder momentarily just how far their faith in God had possibly fallen, or if our faith would falter if it were now us there in this “life or death,” “under the gun” situation. And this is exactly what makes their faithful response all the more beautiful and faith-building for us. “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up’” (Daniel 3:16-18).
And that incredible, God-spawned faith and practice was no less evident or obvious in the story of Daniel’s faith-driven obedience, and faith-rewarded, death-defying rescue from the lions’ den in Daniel 6 (which see again, through new eyes now, being more aware of Daniel’s previous, potentially faith-destroying experiences).
If one thing is clear from the Book of Daniel, it is simply this: God is; and He is always able and in control, no matter what we may see or experience in this life, just like the Psalmist said (See Psalm 2). Hence, we must walk by faith and not by sight – always (II Corinthians 5:7); always understanding that life’s devastations and difficulties are nothing more or less than God-given opportunities to energize and exercise our faith in Him!