The penalty for refusal to bow down to this image was death by being cast into a fiery furnace.
The reply of these three courageous servants of God was direct and to the point. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. God sent an angel and delivered the three Hebrews.
There is a vitally important lesson in this well-known experience of the three Hebrews. While God is always abundantly able to deliver his people from physical harm, he does not always do so. His providential care over his people is not always manifest in the same manner in their individual experiences in the narrow way. He may permit some to suffer and die. Others he might deliver from suffering and permit them to continue in his service for a while longer, though perhaps under difficult circumstances.
The apostle names many of them, such as Abraham, Moses, and David. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection. It will be noted that all of the ancient people of faith in this listing had their faith visibly rewarded by the protection and deliverance which their Heavenly Father afforded them.
Through faith they knew, as did the three Hebrews, that the God whom they served was able to deliver them, and in their case he did. However, this was not true of all the Ancient Worthies. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
They were destitute and seemingly uncared for. It was by faith that they realized that the great God of heaven permitted their trying experiences for some good purpose although they could not always—perhaps seldom—understand what that purpose was. They knew, although they may not have expressed it in these words, that their God was too wise to err and too loving to be unkind. They knew that their privilege and responsibility as his servants was to be loyal to him regardless of what the cost might be.
They knew by faith that, in the end, God would give his very best to those who left the choice with him.
We who are now living in the closing years of this present Gospel Age are encouraged by our realization that our loving Heavenly Father is also dealing with us in much the same way as he did with his faithful people of old. His dealings we see exemplified in the life of Jesus and in the experiences of those in the Early Church. Jesus was delivered from a calamity near the beginning of his ministry, but the Heavenly Father withdrew his protection at the end and allowed him to be crucified.
The Early Church was bitterly persecuted by the king. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. Peter was no doubt surprised at his miraculous release. He went immediately to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where the brethren were holding a prayer meeting. They were so surprised by his arrival that at first they could not believe he was really there. The brethren were no doubt praying for James as well as for Peter. Although James had been killed, it is certain that the prayers for him gave him strength to bear up faithfully during his final hours of trial.
Peter, by the same prayers, was able to sleep during the night even though he was chained to prison guards awaiting death. God sustains them in their trials, even though he does not always deliver them. That is to say, the power of their gods is better adapted to preserve multitudes than individuals, — as if a multitude were not composed of individuals. But if they say that M. Regulus, even while a prisoner and enduring these bodily torments, might yet enjoy the blessedness of a virtuous soul , then let them recognize that true virtue by which a city also may be blessed.
For the blessedness of a community and of an individual flow from the same source; for a community is nothing else than a harmonious collection of individuals. So that I am not concerned meantime to discuss what kind of virtue Regulus possessed; enough, that by his very noble example they are forced to own that the gods are to be worshipped not for the sake of bodily comforts or external advantages; for he preferred to lose all such things rather than offend the gods by whom he had sworn. But what can we make of men who glory in having such a citizen, but dread having a city like him?
If they do not dread this, then let them acknowledge that some such calamity as befell Regulus may also befall a community, though they be worshipping their gods as diligently as he; and let them no longer throw the blame of their misfortunes on Christianity. But as our present concern is with those Christians who were taken prisoners, let those who take occasion from this calamity to revile our most wholesome religion in a fashion not less imprudent than impudent, consider this and hold their peace; for if it was no reproach to their gods that a most punctilious worshipper of theirs should, for the sake of keeping his oath to them, be deprived of his native land without hope of finding another, and fall into the hands of his enemies, and be put to death by a long-drawn and exquisite torture, much less ought the Christian name to be charged with the captivity of those who believe in its power, since they, in confident expectation of a heavenly country, know that they are pilgrims even in their own homes.
But they fancy they bring a conclusive charge against Christianity , when they aggravate the horror of captivity by adding that not only wives and unmarried maidens, but even consecrated virgins , were violated. But truly , with respect to this, it is not Christian faith , nor piety , nor even the virtue of chastity , which is hemmed into any difficulty; the only difficulty is so to treat the subject as to satisfy at once modesty and reason.
And in discussing it we shall not be so careful to reply to our accusers as to comfort our friends. Let this, therefore, in the first place, be laid down as an unassailable position, that the virtue which makes the life good has its throne in the soul , and thence rules the members of the body, which becomes holy in virtue of the holiness of the will; and that while the will remains firm and unshaken, nothing that another person does with the body, or upon the body, is any fault of the person who suffers it, so long as he cannot escape it without sin.
But as not only pain may be inflicted, but lust gratified on the body of another, whenever anything of this latter kind takes place, shame invades even a thoroughly pure spirit from which modesty has not departed — shame, lest that act which could not be suffered without some sensual pleasure, should be believed to have been committed also with some assent of the will. And consequently, even if some of these virgins killed themselves to avoid such disgrace, who that has any human feeling would refuse to forgive them?
http://www.medyalitim.com.tr/components/bipekagy/808.php And as for those who would not put an end to their lives, lest they might seem to escape the crime of another by a sin of their own, he who lays this to their charge as a great wickedness is himself not guiltless of the fault of folly. For if it is not lawful to take the law into our own hands, and slay even a guilty person, whose death no public sentence has warranted, then certainly he who kills himself is a homicide, and so much the guiltier of his own death, as he was more innocent of that offense for which he doomed himself to die.
Do we justly execrate the deed of Judas, and does truth itself pronounce that by hanging himself he rather aggravated than expiated the guilt of that most iniquitous betrayal, since, by despairing of God's mercy in his sorrow that wrought death, he left to himself no place for a healing penitence? How much more ought he to abstain from laying violent hands on himself who has done nothing worthy of such a punishment! For Judas, when he killed himself, killed a wicked man; but he passed from this life chargeable not only with the death of Christ , but with his own: for though he killed himself on account of his crime, his killing himself was another crime.
Why, then, should a man who has done no ill do ill to himself, and by killing himself kill the innocent to escape another's guilty act, and perpetrate upon himself a sin of his own, that the sin of another may not be perpetrated on him? But is there a fear that even another's lust may pollute the violated? It will not pollute, if it be another's: if it pollute, it is not another's, but is shared also by the polluted.
But since purity is a virtue of the soul , and has for its companion virtue , the fortitude which will rather endure all ills than consent to evil ; and since no one, however magnanimous and pure, has always the disposal of his own body, but can control only the consent and refusal of his will, what sane man can suppose that, if his body be seized and forcibly made use of to satisfy the lust of another, he thereby loses his purity?
For if purity can be thus destroyed, then assuredly purity is no virtue of the soul ; nor can it be numbered among those good things by which the life is made good, but among the good things of the body, in the same category as strength, beauty, sound and unbroken health, and, in short, all such good things as may be diminished without at all diminishing the goodness and rectitude of our life.
But if purity be nothing better than these, why should the body be perilled that it may be preserved? If, on the other hand, it belongs to the soul , then not even when the body is violated is it lost. Nay more, the virtue of holy continence, when it resists the uncleanness of carnal lust , sanctifies even the body, and therefore when this continence remains unsubdued, even the sanctity of the body is preserved, because the will to use it holily remains, and, so far as lies in the body itself, the power also. For the sanctity of the body does not consist in the integrity of its members, nor in their exemption from all touch; for they are exposed to various accidents which do violence to and wound them, and the surgeons who administer relief often perform operations that sicken the spectator.
A midwife, suppose, has whether maliciously or accidentally, or through unskillfulness destroyed the virginity of some girl, while endeavoring to ascertain it: I suppose no one is so foolish as to believe that, by this destruction of the integrity of one organ, the virgin has lost anything even of her bodily sanctity. And thus, so long as the soul keeps this firmness of purpose which sanctifies even the body, the violence done by another's lust makes no impression on this bodily sanctity , which is preserved intact by one's own persistent continence. Suppose a virgin violates the oath she has sworn to God , and goes to meet her seducer with the intention of yielding to him, shall we say that as she goes she is possessed even of bodily sanctity , when already she has lost and destroyed that sanctity of soul which sanctifies the body?
Far be it from us to so misapply words.
Let us rather draw this conclusion, that while the sanctity of the soul remains even when the body is violated, the sanctity of the body is not lost; and that, in like manner, the sanctity of the body is lost when the sanctity of the soul is violated, though the body itself remains intact.
And therefore a woman who has been violated by the sin of another, and without any consent of her own, has no cause to put herself to death; much less has she cause to commit suicide in order to avoid such violation, for in that case she commits certain homicide to prevent a crime which is uncertain as yet, and not her own. This, then, is our position, and it seems sufficiently lucid. We maintain that when a woman is violated while her soul admits no consent to the iniquity, but remains inviolably chaste, the sin is not hers, but his who violates her.
But do they against whom we have to defend not only the souls , but the sacred bodies too of these outraged Christian captives, — do they, perhaps, dare to dispute our position?
But all know how loudly they extol the purity of Lucretia, that noble matron of ancient Rome. When King Tarquin's son had violated her body, she made known the wickedness of this young profligate to her husband Collatinus, and to Brutus her kinsman, men of high rank and full of courage , and bound them by an oath to avenge it. Then, heart-sick, and unable to bear the shame, she put an end to her life.
What shall we call her? An adulteress, or chaste? There is no question which she was. Not more happily than truly did a declaimer say of this sad occurrence: Here was a marvel: there were two, and only one committed adultery. Most forcibly and truly spoken.
For this declaimer, seeing in the union of the two bodies the foul lust of the one, and the chaste will of the other, and giving heed not to the contact of the bodily members, but to the wide diversity of their souls , says: There were two, but the adultery was committed only by one. But how is it, that she who was no partner to the crime bears the heavier punishment of the two? For the adulterer was only banished along with his father; she suffered the extreme penalty. If that was not impurity by which she was unwillingly ravished, then this is not justice by which she, being chaste, is punished.
To you I appeal, you laws and judges of Rome.
Even after the perpetration of great enormities, you do not suffer the criminal to be slain untried. If, then, one were to bring to your bar this case, and were to prove to you that a woman not only untried, but chaste and innocent, had been killed, would you not visit the murderer with punishment proportionably severe?
This crime was committed by Lucretia; that Lucretia so celebrated and lauded slew the innocent, chaste, outraged Lucretia. Pronounce sentence.
But if you cannot, because there does not appear any one whom you can punish, why do you extol with such unmeasured laudation her who slew an innocent and chaste woman? Assuredly you will find it impossible to defend her before the judges of the realms below, if they be such as your poets are fond of representing them; for she is among those. Who guiltless sent themselves to doom, And all for loathing of the day, In madness threw their lives away.
And if she with the others wishes to return, Fate bars the way: around their keep The slow unlovely waters creep, And bind with ninefold chain. Or perhaps she is not there, because she slew herself conscious of guilt, not of innocence? She herself alone knows her reason; but what if she was betrayed by the pleasure of the act, and gave some consent to Sextus, though so violently abusing her, and then was so affected with remorse, that she thought death alone could expiate her sin?