Holding on to your identity.

As we continue to look at the theme of fighting injustice; I want us to look at the story of Shadrach Meshach and Abednego and how they stood firm in their identity.  The story takes place when the Israelites are in exile in Babylon. The King enforces a command in which everyone must bow to an image of gold that has been erected or they would face death for disobeying this command. However, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew their identity was fully established in who their God was. They were not going to break their covenant with God by bowing down to another god. The main theme I want us to look at this week is how important our identity is. Injustice can and is used to strip people of who they are. It is instilling the idea that other people’s belief, identity, purpose is not worth acknowledging. The oppressor has an ideal that there is a certain way to look and to live; those who do not adhere to those ideals are punished. We have seen the effects of oppression and injustice being significantly challenged over the past few weeks. Though it has been a long-fought battle for hundreds of years. We have heard and we have raised our voices to proclaim Black Lives Matter. We stand together and we call for freedom for people who have had their identities stripped from them for 100’s of years. While the story we will look at will not directly correlate. It does highlight how important it is to fight for your identity, in a world which will quickly strip it away.

Context:

  • Exiled in Babylon
  • Israelites, who have been brought into the King’s service.
  • Renamed- The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. (Daniel 1v7)
  • Set themselves apart from the beginning. Would not allow themselves to be stripped of their customs.
  • But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.
  • Although the chief official is fearful of allowing this exception, God makes him favourable towards Daniel to accept this request.
  • Daniel asked for 10 days to be allowed to eat just vegetables and drink water and then to compare them with the others who have been allowed to eat the royal food.
  • At the end of ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. (1v15-16)
  • They were men who were blessed by God and they were highly favoured by the King.
  • To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kind. (1v17)
  • In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. (1v20)

 

From the brief context, we see how even in their differences they were prosperous in the king’s service. They were able to abide by keeping themselves true to their beliefs that formed their identity. No one could compare to the wisdom that these men had, and the King looked to them for wisdom and understanding. However, this all changed when the image of gold was erected.

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and people of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (3v4-6)

 

They are being forced into this position of worship for fear of their life.  Losing liberty and freedom, for it is the safer and easier option to follow what is being commanded. Instead of trying to oppose a command that would ultimately lead to their death. It is at this moment that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are revealed to not be following what has been commanded of them. Although they may be regarded well by the King, this act is not something that can be overlooked. The king in his frustration and anger, gives them another chance to abide by his command. Only for him to be met with this response.

 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”   (23v6-18)

 

They were defiant because they knew who they belonged to. They knew the power and might of their God. No man or man-made object was going to strip them of their hope and trust. For their identity was firmly established in the Lord.

 

Their actions come with a price, which they are fully aware of. They knew that in holding on to their identity would cost them their life. The King is so furious with them that he demands for extra measures to be put in place. Which included the furnace being heated seven times hotter and the strongest soldiers in his army were to tie them up.

 

The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.  (3v22-23)

 

The king wanted to see the death of three men, who had only served him well. They were men the King relied on for knowledge and wisdom. However, their disobedience to the king’s command is a threat to the king’s authority. Especially in how they spoke over the king’s authority by proclaiming the ultimate authority and power of God; nothing the king could do would separate them from God.

 

In relation to the King, there is great cruelty in our world; when people do not adhere to a certain ideal way of looking or living people are put to death or cruelly oppressed. Similar to the King, when those in power or authority feel threatened due to their ideals being challenged. They retaliate by getting rid of the problem. This is a widespread issue we have seen time and time again throughout history. Certain groups are oppressed, when they challenge the adversity they are facing, their lives are seen as disposable. This is an issue we are fighting today, for those who have been cruelly oppressed for simply not meeting the ideal skin colour or way of living.

 

Where the king believed he was getting rid of his problem, that was far from the truth. He said “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” ( 3v25). What had been used to kill and destroy Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego ultimately led to their freedom. There is this witness of a fourth figure within the furnace with them. They were protected and cared for through it all. They were willing to sacrifice their lives because of where their identity lay within the Lord. The Lord shows up in an incredible miracle of freedom and joy.

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. (3v26-27)

The king could only marvel at what had happened, for his power and authority had come to nothing. He was attempting to be a god in his own right but his power could never compare to the power of God.

 

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their homes turned into piles of rubble, for no other God can save in this way.” (3v28-29)

 

This is a huge victory, but it could have gone either way, they were willing to pay to the price to not bow to a god who was not their own. Their identity lay in who their God was and the covenant they had with him.  He was a God who could not be overpowered and who cared and protected his people.

 

The reason I wanted to look at the theme of fighting for your identity is due to the injustice of people being stripped of theirs for too long. We need to keep fighting for Black lives to matter in a system that has only ever stripped them of their identity. A system that has been quick to label and to oppress. We need to remember how we have had the freedom to find our identity in what we love and who we love. While many of our black brothers and sisters have never had the opportunity. They have been brought up in a system that has only ever crushed them or portrayed their successes in a negative way. It is so important that we all have the opportunity to live the life we have been blessed to have. As Christians, we know what it is to be set free from a world that has only ever tore us apart. In knowing that freedom, may we be people who fight for the freedom of others. Where we can live in a world where people are not simply stigmatised for their skin colour but they live in the freedom of being known by their name and their successes. May we be people who do not quickly bow to ignorance or turn a blind eye to someone’s suffering. May we believe in a God who can bring men out of a furnace unharmed. May we believe in a God who fights for the oppressed and will set them free. May we rejoice knowing that God will make a way and change will come. May we keep prayer at the forefront of all we do and allow God to lead the way forwards.

 

I have linked resources and conversations in which we can learn, donate and sign petitions.

 

Have a blessed week. May we continue to look out and care for those around us. God bless, love Victoria. xx

https://colorofchange.org/

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

https://blacklivesmatter.com/

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/

 

 

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