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The story portrayed in Daniel 3 of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendnego and the fiery furnace is one of the more famous stories not only in the book of Daniel, but in the entire Bible. It’s so popular that Bible story books for generations have included this story among their great stories of the Bible. Sermons have been preached and classes taught on this subject, as participants have been encouraged to avoid idolatry, worship God alone, or even stand up to persecution. Have faith that God will protect you. Don’t bow down to some foreign god. These are all appropriate lessons to draw from wonderful story of faith.

As I’ve been studying through the book of Daniel recently I’ve been confronted with the paradox of power and how it’s wielded by various characters. The heroes of the story, Daniel and his friends, enter the story with no power. They are exiles from Israel, sent to Babylon to be indoctrinated into the ways of the Babylonians. They will gain power through the story, but in ways they always remain in dangerous positions, mostly because of their ethnicity and religious heritage. Nebuchadnezzar, and other rulers, have all the power. Almost every chapter begins with a reminder of who is currently reigning on the throne, and often what year of their reign. What the king commands is followed immediately. The king’s word is final, and cannot be rebuked. It is power wielded for the sake of the one in control.

While not the only way to read Daniel 3, it is an interesting story to read through the lens of the use, and misuse, of power.

Nebuchadnezzar is the one controlling power in the story. As leader of the country he holds all power. In this story, his use of that power is to construct a golden statute and to compel his followers to worship this statue. Whenever you hear the sound of the horn, flute…you must bow down and worship the golden statue. If you do not follow this command, you will be thrown into the fiery furnace and killed. While this society is polytheistic, and most have no problem worshiping any number of gods, this command is power at its worst. Power in this story is being used to coerce and oppress the entire nation, especially minorities, such as the Jews who are not polytheistic, but monotheistic. What may be even more troubling, is that most in the story seem to agree with this use of power. It is as if the greater society accepts the notion that the dominate power in society is allowed to force all minority powers into submission.

Many of us would deny this view of power as an acceptable use of one’s position, yet our own history is filled with similar uses of power. The Native American population during the early years of our (the United States) history was forced to either conform to the dominant (those with power) way of life or leave their ancestral lands for reservations out west. During WWII, many Asian Americans were forced to leave their homes and enter internment camps, mostly out of fear by the dominant culture. Or perhaps the most unnerving form of power that happens without us even realizing it, the call for patriotism above all other allegiances. (Whenever you hear the sound of the horn, flute….or the playing of the national anthem you must rise and salute the flag, otherwise you are not a good American, or a good Christian. Forcing others to conform to the majority rule.) Everywhere around us there are those who are trying to use their power (or perhaps misuse their power) to force others into submission or following their perceived ways.

What becomes meaningful then for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendnego is their willingness to stand up (literally) to the power structures that are trying to oppress them. They have some power, in the sense that they have been granted elevated governmental positions, to speak up for all of those who have no power. They choose to use their own power, not for their own sake (because in fact this action may be the last action they ever take), but hopefully for the benefit of all of those who cannot speak up because they have no power.

Power has a way of corrupting. It doesn’t have to corrupt, but the lure toward corruption is strong. There is an inherent danger of using one’s power to control outcomes or to force others into submission. The more powerful the agent, the more dangerous the temptation. But the example from God is to use our power to enable others to have power. We must use any power we have not to force others to conform to our way of thinking, but to enable all life to flourish. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendnego used their power to help make life flourish; to help over turn an oppressive command. Perhaps a lesson we should learn from this story is to open our eyes to oppressive situations around us, and to use whatever power we have not to force others to obey us, but to give voice to those who can not speak. This, is perhaps, a proper use of power.