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 ESV]
Suffering for righteousness’ sake occurs because of the sinful actions of usurping God’s ultimate and absolute authority by those who deny God. Those who endure such suffering are those who know they belong to God even while working for and living with those who hate Him.
In the book of Daniel there are two significant times when those who belong to God would not violate their relationship with Him for the sinful dictates of the authorities. Daniel, Hannaniah, Mishael and Azariah each faced the unrighteous anger of the false religious peoples of their exile.
Like every other king Nebuchadnezzar thought himself above God, or at least equal to other gods. Those who surrounded him fed him their continual patronizing worship. By increasing their popularity with the king they maintained a comfortable and powerful lifestyle. Any danger to their arrangement brought immediate anger and fear and manipulation to maintain control.
When the king built a tall, impressive golden idol and commanded everyone to worship the idol, it did not matter that the thing was a lifeless piece of metal, precious as it was. People worshipped it on command. Nebuchadnessar could have built it out of cow patties, told them to worship it and they would have done so. He expected everyone to do what he commanded, no matter how bizarre. Except in his mind worshipping an idol was not bizarre.
When the king was told his three advisors would not obey his command and worship an idol he was furious. How dare they disobey him, the king. He threatened them with agonizing death if they did not immediately obey him.
Please note these men were his trusted advisors. They, with Daniel, were wiser than any of the other advisors to the king. They were not known for disobeying his commands. They carefully weighed the commands of the king against their growing relationship with God and never compromised the eternal with the temporary. Yet, when asked to place anything above God they politely refused.
Daniel was confronted by a similar experience. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom had ended and Darius, king of the Medes and Persians, was in power.
It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; and over them three presidents, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. [Daniel 6:1-3 ESV]
He loved Daniel. His advisors hated Daniel. “Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God’” [Daniel 6:5 ESV].
They manipulated Darius to write a law which could not be voided or revoked. Everyone in his kingdom must pray to Darius and not to any other god for a period of time. Anyone who violated this law was fed to the lions. Without thinking Darius agreed. Daniel heard the law and immediately went to his home, opened the window facing toward Jerusalem, and prayed to God in front of all people. It was his custom to do so and he refused to hide. Darius, manipulated by his advisors was forced to uphold his law.
God saved these four men, who suffered for righteousness’ sake. Hannaniah, Mishael and Azariah were not burned in the fire. Daniel was not eaten by lions. But other Christians, persecuted by the Caesars of Rome or other nations have been eaten by lions and burned with fire and killed in other ways. Those who are persecuted for righteousness show their allegiance, not to this world but for God. We are members of His kingdom and our hope is in Him.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. [Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV]
God’s promises are trustworthy because God is trustworthy.