“Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?” (Ecc. 8:4). Kings in the Old Testament, both Hebrew and non-Hebrew, had great power. Defying a king usually meant suffering a swift execution. In fact, one could be put to death under the Persian king Ahasuerus’ rule by simply walking into the inner court of his palace without an invitation (Esther 5:11).
Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man on earth during his reign. As king of the mighty Babylonian empire, his authority had few limits. He was used to getting his way. Who would dare to defy an order from a man with this kind of power? Yet this is what three young Hebrew men did. Nebuchadnezzar made a large image of gold which many believe was a statue of himself. At the dedication of this image a herald announced that everyone present was to fall down and worship it. The penalty for refusing to pay homage was a gruesome death in a furnace of fire. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would not bow to the image. When certain Chaldeans reported their actions to Nebuchadnezzar, the proud and mighty king was furious and had these Jews brought before him.
Unlike one might expect, Nebuchadnezzar did not immediately have them executed. Instead, he gave them another chance. Was there a warm place in his heart toward the Hebrews, or was Nebuchadnezzar so determined to make them do as he said that he didn’t care if he looked soft by not carrying out the penalty? Whatever the reason, the king offered them a second chance to worship the image and assured them it would be their last. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused: “Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Dan. 3:18)
Before they refused his offer, Nebuchadnezzar thought he could intimidate them. He had a confident look on his face. He had surely made threats before and made good on them when he saw fit. But these three God-fearing Jews were different. If they had to choose between obeying God and obeying the king, they would obey God and suffer the consequences. Their refusal to obey the king made Nebuchadnezzar even more furious. His look of confidence changed into a countenance full of rage (Dan. 3:19). He was so angry that he was almost beside himself as he commanded his men to heat the furnace seven times hotter than usual and to cast these Jews into the fire. They had offended, embarrassed, and defied the king, and Nebuchadnezzar was determined to make them pay.
We remember how the story in Daniel 3 ended. God saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fire and Nebuchadnezzar had a change of mind. This story is a thrilling example of God delivering His people. It is also a lesson in human nature. It is not good for anyone to get his way most of the time. A man who does easily becomes ungrateful and arrogant. He gets so used to having his way that he explodes like Nebuchadnezzar when anybody refuses him or disagrees with him.
I am not speaking of the rightful use of authority in government, the home, or the church. I am talking about the expectation that other people and even the circumstances of life will accommodate a person whenever and however he wants. This attitude is ridiculous, of course. There are too many variables in life for a person to think that he will have his way just because he wants it. People have a mind of their own. Circumstances change. Life does not bow down to us just because we want something from it.
This expectation is foolish but common. Somehow people get the idea that the world is here to serve them. They expect to have their way and they expect others to give it to them for no other reason than the fact that they said it. People like this are menaces in marriage, trouble to any church that is unfortunate enough to have them, and thorns in the sides of people that have to work with them.
Where do people get this attitude? Most often they get it from parents who let them run the house when they were children and led them to believe life is some kind of wonderland that will always be just what they want it to be. Now they are grown and act like Nebuchadnezzar when they don’t get their way.
Nebuchadnezzar had to go through much fear and pain before he learned to be humble. What will it take to humble the kings and queens of this spoiled generation?