The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) is relatively well-known. The emperor Nebuchadnezzar sets up a huge idol and commands everyone bow to it whenever they hear music play. But since Nebuchadnezzar had no control over people’s actions or desires, he couldn’t really make them do what he wanted. All he could do is make them face an option that was so intolerable that they would be willing to bow to the idol in order to avoid that fate. Anyone “guilty” of not bowing to the idol when the music played was threatened to be thrown into the fiery furnace.
But this display of power actually shows weakness. As Dr. Peter Leithart recently wrote:
“The dramatic center of the story is a direct confrontation between king and rebels, without Chaldeans, satraps, governors, prefects, or any of the thousands of worshipers. Nebuchadnezzar is eager to give the friends an out: “We’ll play the music again, and then you can bow.” Perhaps this is mercy; more likely, it’s an effort to save face. The defiance of the three exposes the frailty of Nebuchadnezzar’s decrees and threats, and he’ll bully or cajole if it helps him achieve a show of homogeneity.”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were the king’s chief administrators over Babylon (Daniel 2:49). He likely didn’t want to lose them. Their willingness to die rather than obey the order threatened Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom.
Dr. Leithart's observation about the conflict reminded me of the great economist Ludwig von Mises and his comment on slavery:
“If one treats men like cattle, one cannot squeeze out of them more than cattle-like performances. But it then becomes significant that man is physically weaker than oxen and horses and that feeding and guarding a slave is, in proportion to the performance to be reaped, more expensive than feeding and guarding cattle. When treated as a chattel, man renders a smaller yield per unit of cost expended for current sustenance and guarding than domestic animals. If one asks from an unfree laborer human performances, one must provide him with specifically human inducements. If the employer aims at obtaining products which in quality and quantity excel those whose production can be extorted by the whip, he must interest the toiler in the yield of his contribution. Instead of punishing laziness and sloth, he must reward diligence, skill, and eagerness. But whatever he may try in this respect, he will never obtain from a bonded worker, i.e., a worker who does not reap the full market price of his contribution, a performance equal to that rendered by a freeman, i.e., a man hired on the unhampered labor market. The upper limit beyond which it is impossible to lift the quality and quantity of the products and services rendered by slave and serf labor is far below the standards of free labor. In the production of articles of superior quality an enterprise employing the apparently cheap labor of unfree workers can never stand the competition of enterprises employing free labor. It is this fact that has made all systems of compulsory labor disappear.”Ludwig von Mises, Human Action 3rd edition, p. 631
This seems to apply to political authoritarianism. If the state wants to enslave people, then it will also become increasingly desperate for competent service. Belief systems will be promoted in the hope that they will induce zeal and exuberance that arouse subjects to the duties of citizenship. Wokeness seems to be the current theocratic mandate. But such a lame religion transforms worshipers into relatively unproductive workers. The idol is a source of weakness rather than power.
Thus, it is likely that attempts to marginalize Christians will eventually be understood for what they are: socially unproductive. Getting rid of competent workers leaves a gap in society.
This fact means that we Christians have a way of pursuing freedom from a totalitarian culture: cultivate competence. Be diligent at all you do and do it with alacrity.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”Colossians 3:23–25 ESV
And along with that diligence, cultivate a conviction to never bow!
“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
Mark Horne has served as a pastor and worked as a writer. He is the author of The Victory According To Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel, Why Baptize Babies?,J. R. R. Tolkien, and Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men. He is the Executive Director of Logo Sapiens Communications and the writer for SolomonSays.net.