“Bow down or die!” Little boys are fond of playing games of war and fighting imaginary battles. They envision themselves as combatants who fight the foe and overcome the enemy. They are conquerors who experience the thrill of victory, stand tall at the end of the fray, and are proclaimed by all to be the hero of the hour. Youngsters in our day visualize this. Little guys in Bible times played the same way.
Daniel’s childhood must have been similar. “The Babylonians are coming,” shouted his friend Hananiah. “Come on Mishael and Azariah,” Daniel called, “Grab your weapons and let’s show these enemies that God is on our side.” Hours of imaginary sword fighting always yielded peace and safety. Nighttime would come, and they would lay their heads down on their own beds in their own homes knowing that they had done all that was necessary to secure the victory. Until, one day when the four young men were in their teens, the Babylonians came.
The war was anything but imaginary. Real battles were fought. Family and friends died. Houses were burned; the wall of Jerusalem was torn down; and most devastating of all, the temple was utterly demolished. “Bow down or die,” were undoubtedly the words that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah heard as they were bound and taken captive into the land of the enemy. In one horrendous event, the life of imagination fell along with all the security they had ever known.
Their captor, King Nebuchadnezzar was shrewd. He selected the sons of the nobles of Israel to be trained in Babylonian knowledge and customs in order that they might serve him in the king’s court. In the battle of knowledge, the conflict of traditions, the skirmish of cultures, or the fray of lifestyles, the young men were made to bow down. Even their identity was confiscated. Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were given names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, respectively.
Bowing down became a lifestyle. They would bow their backs to serve the king in obeisance, but they would only bow their knees before the God of their youth. “Prayer time is coming,” shouted Shadrach. Daniel called, “Grab your spiritual weapons and let’s show these captors that God is on our side.” Their outside environment may have been compromised, but these heroes still envisioned themselves as conquerors and victors.
The day arrived when the king raised up a golden statue to honor himself and commanded everyone to bow down to the image. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused. “Bow down or die,” the king demanded in fury. The battle line was drawn. Had every bowed knee and every prayer been just an exercise in imagination like the war games of their youth? Their spiritual combatant skills were being tested. This time, would the outcome be different?
A fiery furnace was prepared and stoked extra hot. The young men were bound and cast inside the incinerator. When the king looked inside, he saw the men alive, unbound, and accompanied by a Heavenly Being. Nebuchadnezzar recognized that the God of the Israelites had won the battle for spiritual dominance. He released his prisoners. For the rest of the days of their captivity, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood tall as the heroes of the Lord.