I checked out the live stream of a local church Sunday night and came into the middle of a sermon one of the church elders was preaching. He was in Daniel 3 where King Nebuchadnezzar had told some non-compliant Hebrews that they would be best served to bow down to his gods of gold lest they become participants in a human marshmallow roast. In verse 17, the famous 3 known in Sunday schools through the years as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, reply to the King, "17 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. 18 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.”- NKJV
Admittedly, I came in to the middle of this brother's sermon too late to fill in the contextual blanks, but I heard enough to make me cringe. He was pointing out that the phrase, "if not" in verse 18 has to point to the idea "if you don't throw us in the furnace" as opposed to "if God doesn't deliver us from the fiery furnace." On the surface the preacher does make a good observation and this can have far reaching ramifications for the importance of faith. In this brothers view, the 3 hebrew boys must have meant "if you do not throw us in the furnace" because "if God doesn't deliver us from the fiery furnace" doesn't make sense to the end of their reply, "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." In his estimation, why would the 3 say "we will not worship your gods" if God does not deliver them from the furnace? Well, of course they won't if they are burned to a crisp. So the "if not" has to mean "if Neb doesn't throw them into the furnace."
From a grammatical standpoint, my brother seems to be correct because the "if not" in verse seems to parallel the "if that be the case" in verse 17. "If that be the case" points to King Neb throwing them into the furnace (which it seems to be), then the "if not" would naturally point to the opposite of the "if that's the case." So according to this preacher, "if not" has to mean "if you don't throw us in the furnace."
Now let it be said that there are translations that replace "if not" with "if he doesn't". For example, the NIV reads "17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[b] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
You probably are asking," what's the difference."? The important thing is they had faith in God right? Well, according to the local preacher, It's not a displayf of a strong faith if they would even entertain the idea that God would not deliver them from the fire. In his view, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego believed unequivocally that God WOULD deliver them.
Now, the only reason I ever would have noticed this exposition of scripture is due to the fact that my own pastor, Matt Chandler has quoted it several times in the past year in the context of his own fight against brain cancer. Keep in mind, I heard Matt refer to it not in sermon but more or less in coversation or testimony of what he is facing. One such instance was on the LIFE today show with James Robison ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvRCXSPqhN4  ) Chandler harkened back to the Old Testament account of the 3 Hebrews. Chandler said "(they said,)He can (deliver us) He will, and even if He doesn't, and that's where I stand, I believe He can (heal me), He will, and even if He doesn't (I will still have faith in God).
Apparently, according to the earlier preacher, it's not a strong faith to say "even if he doesn't). God delivering you from whatever is because of the strength of one's faith. He then began to tell a story of his own personal healing from a dehabilitating back problem where God supernaturally healed him.
Now, I would never argue against one's personal healing experience, because it is true that God often heals supernaturally and often in response to one's prayer. My point of contention with what the earlier preacher said is the misapplication and potential misinterpretation of Daniel 3. To say that one's healing is tied to the quality of one's faith is simply false. The reason we know this is from scripture itself. As far as what the "if not" points to, I am still undecided. But it's a huge leap to create a whole theory of biblical faith and to say that people die without God's healing because they didn't believe enough.
I hope to expound on this in more detail next time. Blessings, Rob