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But if Not …The Faith of 3 Young Boys, 3 Proclamations, 3 Little Words
“But if not” are three words that should call to mind the three young Hebrew boys in Daniel 3: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Who are these three, you might be wondering? It’s likely you know them better by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
It was King Nebuchadnezzar, of ancient Babylon, who changed the names of these three from their Hebrew names of Hananiah, which means “Yahweh is gracious,” Mishael, meaning “who is what God is” and Azariah, “whom Yahweh helps.” Nebuchadnezzar gave each boy a new name with a new meaning, one that included the name of a Babylonian god. Hananiah became Shadrach, meaning “may Bel protect his life,” Michael became Meshach, which means “command of Aku” and Azariah was given the name Abednego which means “servant of Nebo.” What a travesty against the Lord to remove their names — names that honored God– and give them names that honor false gods.
However, while Nebuchadnezzar could change their names, He could not change their hearts. Even while bearing the names of Babylonian gods their trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob remained steadfast. This is most clearly seen by the confidence these three demonstrated when facing a fiery test that threatened their lives.
In chapter two of Daniel the well known dream of King Nebuchadnezzar is recorded, and in chapter chapter three we read of the king erecting “an image of gold” 60 cubits high and 6 cubits wide (Daniel 3:1). It is thought that this statue was an image of himself, because King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that his subjects bow down and worship the statue (Daniel 3:4-5) or face the consequences of a burning fiery furnace (Daniel 3:6).
Faithful to God
Remaining true to their God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused and responded with some of the most inspiring and faithful words in all of Scripture:
Daniel 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
- “Our God..is able to deliver us”
- “He will deliver us from your hand…” and
- “But if not …”
The third proclamation gives three powerful words of strong and prevailing faith.
Do we have that kind of faith? When facing trials, tests and tribulation, do we have the kind of faith to respond as the three young Hebrew boys did? Their simple and straightforward response should be remembered by their three proclamations:
1) My God can… 2) my God will… 3) but if not …I will will worship my God and not bow to another.
King David spoke similarly when he said, I will bless the LORD at all times… (Psalm 34:1). To “bless the Lord at all times” means that in all things we trust in Him and have confidence in His love and protection. David’s faith was the same kind of trusting confidence that enabled the three Hebrews boys to boldly stand before the king of Babylon and proclaim their faith.
The Presence of Jesus
We all know the rest of the account. There was a fourth man in the fire…and it was Jesus! What a lesson for us. He’s always with us and He promises to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). The account tells that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were released from the fiery furnace unharmed.
That’s the account of the faith of these three young boys. Many know the biblical account and find hope and strength from it in times of trouble. But do you know the legacy of the faith of these three? Passed down through the centuries on the pages of Holy Scripture, the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego encouraged and empowered a nation to stand strong in the face of evil. More than two millennia later, the words of these three young boys were recalled and relayed in war torn Europe during World War II.
Don’t stop reading now. The transforming power of their three little words will encourage you with hope in the trials in your life.
Three Little Words
In late May of 1940, the German forces had closed in on and trapped more than 350,000 Allied soldiers in Dunkirk, France. Unable to evacuate, they were facing almost certain capture by German forces. A British commander cabled these three words back to London, “But if not.”
Those three little words ignited a spirit of faith and courage in the leaders of Great Britain, the English military and the British people. Those three little words became the battle cry of the nation. They were written on everything from posters to school books and they were spoken by the young and old. Those three little words became a demonstration of faith and an expectation of fulfilled hope.
Do we recognize those words the way the British people did? Do a few words from the Holy Bible cause us to remember the whole passage? And do they evoke in us the same passion of faith, trust and hope as displayed in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and much later in the leaders and people of Great Britain?
Three Little Words: “But If Not”
Those three little words are from the 1611 King James translation of the Hebrew Scriptures and they are the same, or similar, in most English translations. In 1940 Europe, the King James Version was the most widely accepted and read English Bible. Additionally, the people of that time were more biblically literate than most of today. Therefore, it is no surprise that the British leaders and people recognized the words from Daniel 3 and remembered the entire passage in which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego proclaimed, my God can…my God will… but if not …”
Just as those young Hebrew boys faced what seemed to be an inescapable fate, so did the Allied forces in Dunkirk in 1940. Just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego proclaimed trust in God to send a miracle in their tribulation, so did the leaders and people of Great Britain proclaim trust that God would send them a miracle. And He did.
A Miracle of Protection
For reasons unknown, and still widely debated, the German forces halted, giving time for Allied forces to evacuate out of France and back to Great Britain.
Of course we know the real reason why the German forces halted their advance. It was the miracle that the British people had prayed for and expected. It was the same faith that is recorded in Daniel 3…my God can and my God will. Do we have that kind of faith in every circumstance? And do we remember “but if not …” and have the same kind of devotion that surrenders our will to the will of Jesus?
The next time you face a fiery trial, a terrifying test or any kind of tribulation, remember those three little words. Let them call to mind the blessing of Daniel 3, which is the hope of knowing God’s power (my God can), God’s love and kindness (my God will)…and God’s sovereignty over all things (but if not …).
The Rest of the Story in 1940
With the successful evacuation of troops from France, England’s newly elected (May 10, 1940) Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom on June 4, 1940. In his speech, he repeatedly proclaimed a “we shall” confidence.
The battle cry of “but if not” is also found in the speech. Using the words “and if” Churchill continued with a proclamation. He stated that if success did not come they knew God was in control and He would, in His power and might, provide and protect their nation. It was this kind of faith that fueled the Allied forces to a victory over an evil regime. Take a minute and reflect on Churchill’s words.
The “We Shall Fight” Speech
“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.
“We shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
As I wrote these words and re-read this article, one song rose up in my mind and in my heart. The words are a reminder of the power we have. Just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had Jesus with them in the fire, we have Him with us presently and eternally through the power of His indwelling Spirit. Listen to the word of this song. They echo the words of the three Hebrew boys and the people of Great Britain. As you listen, determine to always remember:
My God CAN, my God WILL… but if not …
I will love and honor only Him, knowing He is good and He loves me.
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