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“But if not…”

Christians have questions. Sometimes we even question God. It would be nice if we all went around singing, “It is well with my soul,” but we don’t. There are profound challenges in this life, and we struggle to understand why we are facing them. Problems are for others, not for me. Why is this happening to me? Why did she die; she was so good?” Life doesn’t make sense to us sometimes. Do you agree? Have you been there?

Three devout men found themselves facing an impossible choice. They could serve God or obey the king. At first, it seems an easy choice – a no-brainer. Except, the king would kill you in a most gruesome way if you did not obey him. Many would crumble in the face of such a dilemma. But these three did not.

Men of Unbelievable Courage

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, 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. 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.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

I’ve read this story since I was a child. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego were Bible school heroes because they went into the fiery furnace and survived. They didn’t even smell like smoke! But lately, their hero status has increased because of three words, “but if not.”

These three servants of God stood before Nebuchadnezzar and staunchly proclaimed their confidence in the God of heaven. Then, after the king confronted them and threatened them with death by fire, they said: “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.” They were confident in God’s ability to protect them from the fire and in his ability to defeat the king’s plans. Maybe they recalled Solomon’s proverb: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will (Proverbs 21:1). God’s mighty victory over Pharaoh, generations before, could have given them strength too.

But If Not

Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we know that God can deliver us from troubles small and great. Our problem is that we assume God will always act the way we think he should! That’s the power of their next statement to Nebuchadnezzar. “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.” (vs. 18). “BUT IF NOT.” If God has a different plan, we’re ok with that too. They did not doubt God’s ability to save them. Instead, they doubted their understanding of the Lord’s marvelous plans. The Lord said it this way in Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. Oh, how we wish God would answer our prayers our way!

You know how this story ends. Nebuchadnezzar did not change his mind. The soldiers threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the deadly fire. It was then that something truly stupendous happened. The king looked into the fire saw an angel protecting the men! “Come out, come here,” he ordered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The fire did not singe their hair. God had a plan all along! By doing things God’s way, the Lord provides a timeless story of trust and faith. Plus, Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful world ruler of his day, was humbled by God’s show of power.

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.” Daniel 3:28

God’s people gained a great victory that day, for the king issued a decree that protected the Hebrews from any assault on their worship. As for our three heroes, they were promoted to higher positions in Babylon.

God Cares for You Too

God will deliver us, but if not, the end result will always be better. May we live with Habakkuk’s attitude:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:17, 18

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