Pastor’s Column: Were the Three Hebrew Boys Wrong?
This post comes primarily from my concerns as a minister of the gospel (originally posted June 5, 2018):
As the annual football season sets to kickoff, the conversation amidst rosters, predictions, and the Super Bowl match-up will include the conversation around the NFL Anthem Protests. There has been much ink spilled with many perspectives given. Most have been around the pros and cons of such demonstrations. I’ve watched the NFL protest over police brutality. Primary as a minister, who looks to and loves God’s Word, I’ve wondered, “What do we teach our children of the biblical account of the three Hebrew boys of Daniel 3?
The three Hebrew boys were asked to bow down before a national image/monument/idol.
Daniel 3:4-6 reads, “And the herald proclaimed aloud, ‘You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.'”
A couple of notes on the context:
1) The leader of the nation issued the command.
2) The three Hebrew boys were asked to bow down before a national image/monument/idol.
3) They were told do so when they heard the music.
4) They were state officials employed (“appointed” 3:12) over the affairs of the province of Babylon. This was being asked of them during “work hours.”
5) There would be a penalty (death) upon not obeying (3:8, 11, 15, 17, 19-23).
…the three Hebrew boys stood up to what they considered wrong, in the face of nationalistic, popular belief and practice.
6) The distinctiveness of their ethnicity and the accompanying ethnocentrism is a part of the story in 3:8. Dr. James E. Smith notes in The Major Prophets, “Instead of naming the offenders immediately, the Chaldeans spoke of them in a demeaning way: ‘certain Jews.’ The implication here is that the offenders were part of an inferior race. Lurking behind these words is the ugly specter of anti-Semitism.”
Even more basic than that, the three Hebrew boys stood up to what they considered wrong, in the face of nationalistic, popular belief and practice. But what do we say now?
A couple of correlations:
1) The president has issued a command to NFL players.
2) The players should stand for the flag which represents our nation.
3) They are to do so when the anthem music is played.
4) They are to do so because they are employed by the teams and working on company time.
5) If not, there will be consequences.
6) And interestingly, the NFL players called out (“sons of *******”) share a common ethnicity (which historically had been referred to as inferior).
So, with this backdrop, here are a few questions:
First, would the three Hebrews boys today be considered “out of line”, “unpatriotic”, “disrespecting the image” to the image King Nebuchadnezzar set up or not?
- Despite stating what the protest IS about (police brutality), it has been made into something it isn’t about (honoring the vets/military (my father served 21+ years in the Air Force/national war heroes)). This change would be akin to Harvey Weinstein saying the #MeToo campaign wasn’t about sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood and the workplace but instead about these women not wanting to honor the male producers who gave them an opportunity.
- Others have noted that those who are complaining about standing for the flag aren’t being honest with themselves.
- If they were, they would complain about every hot dog bought, beer sold, and person finding their seat during the anthem. That this issue is a camouflage to hide their real feelings: they don’t support what the protest is about. They simply don’t believe that police brutality is an issue, that police don’t target minorities unfairly, and that this whole issue is being overblown by race-baiting liberals. Why then has this not been an issue in the 96 years of the NFL existence up until 2016?
- A sports commentator asked, if the NFL players would have taken a knee for the ill treatment of our vets by the nation, VA and government, that it was not honoring all of its citizens, especially military vets, this individual felt those opposing would probably be supporting. (A personal note: growing up, I recall walking the halls of the VA Hospital with my own father.) Meaning, there would be a protest, that would involve the flag, but the response would be different. So, may it be that it isn’t the “protest” on which our nation (Boston Tea Party) and our religious tradition (“Protest”ants – 500th year anniversary Martin Luther’s theses) are based on, but the subject or focus of this protest?
Is it possible that what you are supporting today will be used against you in the future in a similar or same manner?
Second, what will you do and teach your children/next generation when in the future there arises “a new pharaoh/king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8) and commands said allegiances to the same nationalistic patriotism that is being stated today? What then when pharaoh invokes Romans 13?
Third, looking at this from 35,000 ft – What is being addressed is culture, customs and people. The commands and actions being pointed out are the same (decision, allegiance, peer pressure, punishment), the actor and players were then, are now and will be in the future different (ex. They are image-bearers, what changes is the “adjective” describing them: Jews, Chaldeans, Joseph, Pharaoh, NFL Players, Bonhoeffer, Nazis, MLK Jr., etc.). And it’s on this key point of adjectival definition that much of this spin. For at the end of the day, we are “image-bearers” (Genesis 1:26-27).
As believers we have been given the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) to see above the noise and remember:
- The devil does not care how he gets divisions as long as he gets it.
- Today, (the devil) takes the ‘flank’ position in this spiritual war of making it about NFL protests, and tomorrow he comes ‘head on’ with religious fidelity and liberty.
- He only comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). I have often noted that the devil’s “go to” Craftsman tools are: division, doubt and discouragement. He seeks to divide us. In contrast, Paul writes, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord. Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
- The devil is patient and will always wait “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Is it possible that what you are supporting today will be used against you in the future in a similar or same manner? Today, he takes the ‘flank’ position in this spiritual war of making it about NFL protests, and tomorrow he comes ‘head on’ with religious fidelity and liberty. The freedoms you want stifled in others for your entertainment, comfort and enjoyment will almost certainly reversed against you in the same manner. Our sin issue is deeper than skin color and a host of other categories.
I do pray that as gospel-centered people, you will continue to teach that those three minority Hebrew boys in Daniel 3 were right in taking a stand (or a knee).
Because what happens when a new national leader who comes on the scene tells believers that they must stand/bow/speak/remain silent for whatever it may be or else be punished, silenced or told to leave the country? When we are “ordered” and “charged to not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).
You see, later in Daniel 6:7 a new decree is given by a new king, that “whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions”. This passage along with Daniel 3 helps us to remember that this is not relegated to a certain party or group (conservative/liberal/moderate/libertarian).
One day it might not only be kneeling in protest, but also kneeling in prayer that will be called into question.
As we see that the command goes from the act of ‘bowing’ to an idol set up to King Nebuchadnezzar (“Chaldeans” – Daniel 3), to even being able to ‘pray’ and make petition to anyone but King Darius (“Medes and Persians” – Daniel 6).
I understand if my last statement may see far-fetched, but sadly, regarding the protest and its connection to prayer, Fox News showed a report of Eagles players “kneeling” in prayer as part of the story on the anthem protest. Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz tweeted the morning of June 5th: “This can’t be serious…Praying before games with my teammates, well before the anthem, is being used for your propaganda?! Just sad, I feel like you guys should have to be better than this.”
what the world needs more is the gospel of Jesus Christ on display and the Church pledging complete allegiance to Christ.
Fox News later issued an apology. One day it might not only be kneeling in protest, but also kneeling in prayer that will be called into question.
Regardless of the subject (kneeling/praying) and the players involved, may we stand/kneel/say with the three Hebrew boys, Daniel and Peter and John, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19; c.f. Daniel 3:17-18). And what the world needs more is the gospel of Jesus Christ on display and the Church pledging complete allegiance to Christ.