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Cover image: Three Men in the Fiery Furnace (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Fiery Furnace), by William Maughan.
Daniel 1; Daniel 3; Daniel 6; Esther 3-5; Esther 7-8
Twin Testaments of God’s Power to Deliver
The Old Testament is teeming with examples of the Lord delivering his true followers. The experiences of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Esther, and Mordecai are all inspiring testaments to God’s will and ability to save his faithful children. Each of these members of the covenant was subject to potentially compromising situations, and each relied upon the Lord unfailingly. As such, they stand as witnesses of God’s power to deliver His disciples from every kind of danger.
The Lord has crafted his scriptures, ancient and modern, to illustrate the salvation—temporal and spiritual, mortal and eternal—that is available only through Him. King Mosiah summed up the immediate salvation history of his people (particularly the people of Limhi and Alma1) by declaring, “thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him” (Mosiah 29:20). Nephi also prefaced the entire Book of Mormon with a similar statement. “Behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20; see also JST Gen. 14:29-32).
In Daniel and Esther, we find accounts not only their deliverance, but what was required of them to receive the Lord’s power. From their faithfulness and obedience we, too, may be inspired to so act before God as to also receive His delivering power in all our latter-day needs.
“He Would Not Defile Himself”
When Daniel and his fellows were chosen out from among the Israelite youth as worthy of Nebuchadnezzar’s attention and training (Daniel 1:3-4), they were faced with an interesting dilemma. The king proposed to feed them from his own court’s fare—meat and wine for three years (Dan. 1:5). However, Daniel and his three companions felt that this would be unhealthy for them and pleaded with their handlers to have water and foods made of seeds and grains instead (Dan. 1:12).
Certainly from an LDS perspective, choosing a diet of grains and water versus meats and wine is an easy one. The health benefits of such a regimen are well-documented in our modern era, not to mention the Lord’s specific instructions in D&C 89—the Word of Wisdom, which spell out His dietary plan for healthy bodies that can facilitate spiritual revelation.
Two other facets to these young Israelite’s spiritual integrity present themselves. First, what of the temptation of Daniel and his friends, far from Jerusalem, potentially hopeless about their national and even familial future, to sample in the Babylonian delights of Nebuchadnezzar’s feasts? Who would even know? Their integrity at this juncture is all the more remarkable knowing that they knew no one else would know—except, of course, their God.
President Kimball once commented on the temptation to defile ourselves when we think no one is watching.
Sometimes it is easier to explain what integrity is by showing what it is not. I stepped into the Hotel Utah Coffee Shop in Salt Lake City to buy some hard rolls, and as I placed my order with the waitress, a middle-aged woman I knew was sitting at the counter with a cup of coffee at her plate. I am sure she saw me, though she tried not to show it. I could see her physical discomfort as she turned her face from me at a right angle, and there it remained until I had made my purchase and had gone to the cash register. She had her free agency—she could drink coffee if she wanted to, but what a wallop her character had taken because she was unwilling to face a friend! How she shriveled! At the waters of baptism, in sacrament meetings, and in the temple, she had promised that she would have a broken heart and contrite spirit, repent of all her sins, take upon herself the name of Jesus Christ, and serve him unto the end, manifesting it by her works.
Probably she was certain that I had not seen or recognized her, but the ten stories of the building above her were not enough to keep the angels in heaven from photographing her movements and recording her thoughts of deception. It was a petty thing, but for her it was withering—a weak, mean, cheap, little tricky thing that sent her honor skidding down the incline toward bankruptcy of self-esteem…. Did that woman think she was hiding from God? How wrong she was! No one can conceal thoughts or acts from God, for the photographic cameras are running night and day. So sensitive are they that they record not only sights and sounds but also thought and inclinations. Remember, we are not talking about a cup of coffee; we are talking about the principle of integrity. (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, 241).
Secondly, Professor Richard D. Draper has written about the further spiritual implications of eating the King’s meat might have had on Daniel and his friends. Had they done so, they may have symbolically worshipped the Babylonian gods!
The issue was not so much that he feared the food violated the Mosaic dietary code as that he knew of the pagan practice of consecrating the king’s meals to Babylonian deities. Such meals then became a sort of sacrament through which the king partook of the power of the gods. For Daniel to have eaten the king’s food would have been tantamount to idol worship, an admission that these gods had something to offer. Daniel’s request that he and his Jewish colleagues be permitted instead to eat vegetables (“pulse,” consisting primarily of legumes) for the brief period of ten days was, in reality, little less than a challenge to the notion that one gained power from eating food consecrated to an idol. That the Jewish boys’ countenances were noticeably different after such a short period proved the prophet’s point; strength came not from idols but from the true and living God (Dan. 1:8-18; in Studies in Scripture, Vol. 4: 1 Kings to Malachi, 324.)
In these modern days, when we refuse to purchase products and entertainment from companies whose profits are derived from avenues and motives not in harmony with gospel standards, we are not only rejecting the inherent impropriety in those products/services, but we are also refusing to support their whole “Babylonian” franchise. The Savior insightfully taught, “No man can serve two masters…. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).
“We Will Not Serve Thy Gods”
Daniel’s inspiring companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, also illustrate how to maintain spiritual integrity in spite of the potential consequences. In his gross pride, Nebuchadnezzar had implemented a law that forced worship of an idol he had commissioned—prompted by a national musical cue (Dan. 3:5). The penalty for non-compliance was death by fiery furnace (Dan. 3:6). When these three Israelites refused to pay homage to the image, their Chaldean counterparts accused them before the king. As so often is the case, the king “in his rage and fury” (Dan. 3:13; see also 19) foolishly ordered their execution, which he flippantly concluded with this question: “who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:15).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s answer wonderfully expresses their faith. “If it be so, our God who we serve is able to deliver us from the burning furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou has set up” (Dan. 3:17-18).
First, they state that the Lord is able to deliver them. This is reminiscent of the Brother of Jared’s famous prayer. “Behold these things which I have molten out of the rock. And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones…. Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power…” (Ether 3:3-5).
Second, they unashamedly reserve the Lord’s right to exercise His will in their lives by faithfully submitting to the potential “if not”. They know He can—they just do not know if He will. They recognize His omniscience in all circumstances. There is an art to living in constant submission to the Lord while asking for his specific blessings (see Jacob 7:14). Disciples of Christ must know and live in light of this great fact: God can do anything for the benefit of his children, yet He wisely and omni-potently withholds—deliberately not saving us from some of our mortal distresses!
In the “law” given to the Church through Joseph Smith in Kirtland, 1831, the Lord reveals things relative to sickness, death, and His omniscient timetable. “And the elders of the church, two or more, shall be called, and shall pray for and lay their hands upon them [the sick] in my name; and if they die they shall die unto me, and if they live they shall live unto me…. And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed” (D&C 42:44, 48).
President Kimball rightly stated, “If we say that early death is a calamity, disaster, or tragedy, would it not be saying that mortality is preferable to earlier entrance into the spirit world and to eventual salvation and exaltation? If mortality be the perfect state, then death would be a frustration, but the gospel teaches us there is no tragedy in death, but only in sin” (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, 101). Relative to our faith in the Lord, Elder Eyring recently noted the following about our reaction to death. “Tragedy, loss, and hurt often arrive unanticipated. How we react when we are surprised will tell our families whether what we have taught and testified lies deep in our hearts…. When tragedy strikes or even when it looms, our families will have the opportunity to look into our hearts to see whether we know what we said we knew” (Elder Henry B. Eyring, Ensign, May 1996, 64).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were as courageous and they were doctrinally-correct. The Lord truly “is preserving [us] from day to day, by lending [us] breath, that [we] may live and move and do according to [our] own will, and even supporting [us] from one moment to another” (Mosiah 2:21). I pray that I can be so faithful in accepting His will in my life as they were.
“For Such a Time as This”
Esther, another Israelite living under foreign bondage, also exemplifies faith in God. Interestingly her name means “hidden.” She and her uncle, Mordecai, were favored of the Lord to be in key political positions at a time when the entire Jewish nation was at risk. As the treachery of Haman unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear how the Lord may well have “hidden” Esther in this Persian kingdom’s royal family in order to preserve the Jews at that time.
Mordecai’s statement, “who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” necessarily broaches the subject of foreordination. As Jeremiah had learned a century and a half earlier, the Lord knew us all before our entrances into mortality (Jer. 1:5-6). There, based upon our performance in that “first estate” (Abraham 3:26) and with those “first lessons” (D&C 138:56) we were foreordained to certain mortal roles and opportunities and even challenges.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell has commented that
Premortality is not a relaxing doctrine. For each of us, there are choices to be made, incessant and difficult chores to be done, ironies and adversities to be experienced, time to be well spent, talents and gifts to be well employed. Just because we were chosen “there and then,” surely does not mean we can be indifferent “here and now.” Whether foreordination for men, or foredesignation for women, those called and prepared must also prove “chosen, and faithful.” (See Rev. 17:14; D&C 121:34-36). In fact, adequacy in the first estate may merely have ensured a stern, second estate with more duties and no immunities! Additional tutoring and suffering appears to be the pattern for the Lord’s most apt pupils. (See Mosiah 3:19; 1 Pet. 4:19). Our existence, therefore, is a continuum matched by God’s stretching curriculum (“Premortality, a Glorious Reality,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 16).
There is much we do not know about the Lord’s specific purposes in assigning us to specific earthly circumstances. Therefore, we must patiently and prudently avoid judging each individual’s mortal placement without the aid of revelation. It could be mistakenly argued that a poor mortal circumstance, in regards to both spiritual and temporal conditions, necessarily means a person performed poorly in Premortality. This, of course, is wonderfully overturned in the example of Abraham—who learned by revelation that he was indeed part of the “noble and great” ones prior to this earth’s creation (Abr. 3:22-23), yet was born into an idol-worshipping family, presided over a spiritually bereft father and subject to corrupt national/ecclesiastical tyranny (see Abr. 1).
Certainly the examples of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego, Mordecai, and Esther also testify that the Lord chooses to place his noble and great sons and daughters in such a way as to bless the most lives. The key, as beautifully taught throughout their lives, is what each person chooses to do with their mortal opportunities. Each of these ancient Israelites bravely subjected themselves to a course that could have easily resulted in their death, yet they faithfully demonstrated the power of faith in the Lord, Jehovah. Esther’s great resignation, “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) continues to inform and inspire Latter-day Saints. May we go forward in this great day of our mortality buoyed up by such great witnesses as these, seizing our chance to declare in life and in death our complete loyalty to Jesus Christ.