Lessons From History: Fear Not
Fear is temporary.

The date was July 18, 1965. Cmdr. Jeremiah Denton was leading a group of 28 aircraft on a bombing mission near the Thanh Hoa Bridge in Vietnam. During their attack, antiaircraft artillery opened up on the squadron, and Commander Denton’s plane was hit. It went into a tailspin, and Denton was unable to regain control. The commander and his navigator were forced to bail out.

Soon after, they were captured by North Vietnamese troops.

For the next seven years and seven months, Commander Denton suffered cruel treatment as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. He was held hostage at prisons such as Hanoi Hilton and Alcatraz—facilities used for prolonged solitary confinement, interrogation and torture. For four out of the seven years, Denton was held in complete solitary confinement—the only people he saw were his torturers. Throughout the imprisonment, he was repeatedly tortured for days at a time.

Despite the unsavory conditions of the wartime imprisonment, Denton and his comrades maintained a chain of command within the prison fences. Commander Denton still felt a sense of responsibility toward his men—even under conditions that would cause many to neglect or even forget their duty. Instead, Denton picked up the responsibility of keeping a sense of order among his men even under enemy watch and cruelty. He devised a communication system that included coughs, sneezes and sniffs that would keep him and fellow inmates in touch. Because of the poor health constantly circulating around the prison, the prison guards didn’t suspect the system.

Ten months after Denton’s capture, his captors interviewed the commander on live television. Before the propaganda interview, Denton was briefed on what he had to say: he was supposed to heap praise upon the Vietnamese government while debasing his own. He was supposed to betray his country. If he didn’t, he would be tortured even more.

Worn down and haggard from previous torture, he slumped into the chair in front of the cameras. While sitting in that chair, he knew he had a decision to make. He could either succumb to the threats of his captors and feed lies to whoever was watching on the other side of the television screen, or he could hold fast in a state of adversity and stand up for what he believed in. With an unbreakable will, he chose to stand—no matter the consequences.

He looked into the harsh lights being shone on him and began to answer the questions that came from his interviewer. As he answered, it became apparent that he was not saying what his captors had told him to say. At one point, when he was asked what he thought about the Vietnam War, he said: “I don’t know what is happening, but whatever the position of my government is, I support it—fully. Whatever the position of my government is, I believe in it—yes sir. I’m a member of that government, and it is my job to support it, and I will as long as I live.”

As Denton spoke, he began to blink systematically—almost as if the bright lights were hurting his eyes. But what seemed like random spasms from the bright lights was not random at all—Denton was using Morse code. In repeated blinking, he spelled out the word “t-o-r-t-u-r-e.”

On the other side of the tv screen, the Americans detected the code. Denton’s message was the first confirmation that American pows were being tortured in Vietnam. This was a first glimpse into what American soldiers were pushing through to fight for their country.

After the United States withdrew from the war, Commander Denton was among the first groups of prisoners to be released. Denton was awarded the Navy Cross and promoted to the rank of captain during his captivity. In addition, his honors included the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and three awards of the Silver Star.

Flash back a couple thousand years, and you’ll find three men who went through a similarly harsh trial: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. In the account told in Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar constructed a golden idol and commanded all the people in the land to bow down before it when they heard “the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick” (verse 10). If the people didn’t obey, they would be thrown into a fiery furnace.

When the music started to play, an entire nation dropped to its knees. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to fear this powerful human leader or death in a fiery furnace—they would worship nothing but the true God.

They were quickly spotted—it would be hard notto be spotted when you’re the only ones standing in a crowd of fearful, kneeling people—and brought to King Nebuchadnezzar. He was livid. He practically shouted at them as he repeated his threat of a fiery death and asked “[W]ho is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (verse 15).

The three men didn’t blink an eye—they didn’t answer the questions the way their interviewer was expecting them too. Here was their response: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery 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 hast set up” (verses 17-18).

This infuriated the king so much that he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter—so hot that the men leading the three friends to the furnace were killed. But when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown bound into the furnace, the witnesses could not believe what they saw: Three men walking around, uninjured, with a fourth man with a visage “like the Son of God” (verse 25).

When the three stepped out of the furnace and back into fresh air, there was no sign that they had even been close to a fire. When Nebuchadnezzar saw this, he blessed the God that they had stood up for. He praised the three friends for following their God rather than giving in to his commands. He was so impressed by these young men’s courageous acts that he made a decree that anyone who spoke against their God would be severely punished. He then promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to high-ranking offices, ensuring them long-lasting privileges and honor because of their obedience to God.

Both Denton’s and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s stories portray a lesson that is valuable to us all. These men fearlessly stood their ground in the face of persecution and death. Jeremiah Denton risked his life to uphold his country. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stayed devoted to the true God, even when their situation appeared hopeless. These men did not falter, nor did they even consider turning their backs on God to save their own lives.

2 Kings 6:16 states: “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” God will allow our lives to be full of situations where we are faced with tests of courage. He will allow Satan to tempt us with negative peer pressure at school, singing “Happy Birthday” during class, accepting Valentine’s Day candy, or wishing someone a merry Christmas because they said it to you first. They might seem like little things, but they are not to God.

These things may seem petty compared to seven years of torture or being thrown into a fiery furnace, but God uses these little things to gauge how courageous we are. God wants to know if we will stand for Him in the little situations so He can know that we will stand for Him in a fiery furnace situation. And if we do stand up for God in the little things, He will know that He can trust us with the big things—like ruling for eternity!

God will allow Satan to tempt us sometimes because He is preparing us for the highest calling any human can obtain. Ultimately, we are fighting to uphold God’s government. If Jeremiah Denton had enough courage to stand up for a government of this world, how much more courage should we have in our fight for God and the future positions He is offering to us in His government?

Fear is temporary. God is permanent. Being able to stand up and fight for God is the highest honor we could ever be given—a much higher honor than fighting for a physical country. And if we overcome our fears and stand for God, we will not have to fight by ourselves. God will always fight for us if we choose to fight for Him. We can be alone, facing the same fate as Denton or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and still be invincible with God by our side.

So take heart in your trials. Stand strong for God. Be courageous. Fear not.