Demonstrable faith (February 11, 2024)

Naomi McQuiller thinks about "VeggieTales," King Nebuchadnezzar and the impact of a faithful act.

Outlook Standard Lesson for February 11, 2024
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Daniel 3:19-28

When I think about the early 2000s Christian “aesthetic,” I immediately envision WWJD bracelets, mini scripture pamphlets and monogrammed Bible covers. This vision also includes the wonderful collection of art that is “VeggieTales.” I specifically remember being completely devastated as a child when I learned that the figures in the Bible weren’t vegetables! Nevertheless, the episode “Rack, Shack and Benny” is one that always stuck with me. This episode tells the story we read this week – one of faith in the face of demise.

Typically, readers study this Scripture from the angle of three heroic, brave men who defied the mean king in the name of their God. But for this week, I want to focus on another character – King Nebuchadnezzar. The “Rack, Shack and Benny” episode of “VeggieTales” indeed tells the story of great faith in the face of demise, but let’s think about the faith that was produced afterward.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s mind shift

In the text, we see King Nebuchadnezzar’s love of fanfare – both figuratively and literally. And everyone under his rule seemed to fall into place; everyone, that is, except Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Nebuchadnezzar was not impressed or entertained by the Jewish men’s unwavering declaration of faith in their God. Verse 19 tells us that the King’s face became distorted, wrought with disgust. The Hebrew word ‘fury’ in this context is hema, which means “burning wrath.”

Nebuchadnezzar’s hema manifests in several ways – the order to increase the blaze’s heat to seven times the normal temperature, the guards who did so being killed in the process and the attempted murder of three men, for instance. Seriously, what made the King so full of rage? One thing that comes to mind for me is fear. Was it that he might be seen as weak had he not handled the situation the way he did? Or maybe, fear of the chance of being wrong: was it possible that the God of these Hebrew men was greater than his gods? The further we read, the more I lean toward the second wondering.

“Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!’” (v. 26).

Here, we see a significant attitude and heart posture change from what we experienced in verse 19. It was so great a shift that everyone who had just finished bowing and worshiping – the satraps, prefects, governors and the king’s counselors – hurried over to see what caused so great an exclamation! The king just witnessed a holy miracle, which his gods could never perform in this way.

“Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God'” (v. 28).

Let’s shift to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for a second. Can you imagine the utter confusion they must be experiencing? First of all, they are alive and unharmed after being thrown into a fire that was heated up seven times more than was customary. Secondly, wasn’t the man blessing them and their God in this moment the same one who threw them into the furnace in the first place? When you sort through all of this, you’ll notice that they also witnessed something special – a “coming of faith” moment. By disobeying his orders and standing firm on their personal convictions, their spiritual witness provided the king with an opportunity to take a key step – being wrong.

It’s important to note that this is happening in front of a massive crowd of people, people of all social levels. Nebuchadnezzar is showing humility here – changing his mind after being proven wrong and telling people about it. King Nebuchadnezzar’s declaration (a “thinking out loud” moment) in verse 28 shows us his understanding of what it means to be faithful and to have faith.

Demonstrable faith

When we as believers are challenged or threatened spiritually, I wonder how our perspective might shift if we think about our witness – how other people might experience God because of us. What would happen if we didn’t react out of fear or a desire for perfection but by asking, “How can my reaction show this person what faith could look like?” Just think – you could be encountering the next King Nebuchadnezzar.

Questions for reflection

  1.  At the end of this passage, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were rewarded for their faithfulness by the king. Why do you think Nebuchadnezzar felt moved to do so?
  2. When we have an internal understanding of what our faith means to us, it gives us our “why” – why you do or don’t do something, for example. How could a deeper understanding of your faith strengthen your “why”?

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